Home & Garden

All the kitchen's a stage

If you have a cooking show, you've  got to have cookbooks handy, above. Near right, TV host and homeowner Laura McIntosh also has a knack for arranging flowers.  Far right, chickens add to the country ambience on the back patio, which adjoins the backyard.
If you have a cooking show, you've got to have cookbooks handy, above. Near right, TV host and homeowner Laura McIntosh also has a knack for arranging flowers. Far right, chickens add to the country ambience on the back patio, which adjoins the backyard. aalfaro@sacbee.com

Laura and Tim McIntosh have spent a lot of their lives performing before the public.

She has completed seven seasons of her syndicated food-and-travel TV series, the Emmy-nominated "Bringing It Home With Laura McIntosh" (5 p.m. Sundays on Channel 10, KXTV). He put in six seasons as a catcher and utility player with the Milwaukee Brewers and other major league teams.

They entertain frequently at their home off Eight Mile Road in the Morada area east of Stockton, and both love to cook for crowds of family and friends.

So once they settled into the 4,000-square-foot house they bought nine years ago and their thoughts turned to remodeling, it was natural for a kitchen-as-stage focus to emerge.

"I love people being able to sit and look while I cook," Laura said. But she also needed room to work without the guests crowding around.

The solution – and the centerpiece of the home's reworked interior – is a massive black soapstone kitchen island, 11 feet long and nearly 6 feet across.

A cooktop installed along one of the island's long edges lets the chef of the day face guests and the sprawling backyard across the smooth expanse of stone, but a narrow aisle limits access to keep spectators away from hot pans and fast-moving blades. A full wall of custom storage, designed to look like a huge Italian cabinet, stands at the cook's back.

The overall effect is a bit like the sight of a captain on the bridge of a ship or the lead in a play at center stage.

"We wanted to open everything to the backyard" with the redesign, Laura McIntosh said. That was achieved in part by swapping a sink and the stove, which originally was on the kitchen's north wall. Space between the kitchen and the home's back wall – used for a breakfast nook in the home's original design – was opened up into a cozy seating area; they added a narrow tailor's table along the side wall as a buffet for appetizers.

"Because otherwise, (guests) stand right here," she said, indicating the edge of the island opposite the stove.

What once was the living room alongside the kitchen is now a dining room. The original formal dining room, at the front of the house, was converted to a library, with bar supplies tucked away in another cabinet for those who prefer a quiet drink away from the whirl of action in the kitchen.

It's no coincidence that the new arrangement puts the cook in the spotlight.

The redesign opened the possibility of staging Laura's TV show at the house, said Keith Winterbower, a Stockton-born, Orange County-based architect who created the remodeling design for the McIntoshes, including the custom cabinets. Segments of the show have been taped there.

"You can't work with your back to the camera," he said.

Winterbower knew that Laura McIntosh wouldn't be the only player on that stage.

"Laura's the one with the cooking show, but I've seen Tim put on an eight-course meal," he said.

Both McIntoshes put sweat equity into the project, which has advanced in phases and isn't done yet. The couple helped tear out the old kitchen cabinets, and Tim even broke out his catcher's gear to protect his legs as he scraped and refinished the reclaimed wood flooring.

"Ten-by-ten feet – that was one day," he said.

The floors aren't perfect, and the family likes them that way. The same goes for the soapstone kitchen island, which picks up marks that wouldn't show on granite or quartz counters.

"The more nicks it has, the better I like it," Laura said. "I didn't want it to be one of those houses where you can't touch anything. I want everything livable and warm and comfortable."

But comfortable doesn't mean cluttered.

Winterbower said he took pains with the redesign to avoid the "old lower run and upper run of cabinets." Instead, he used vertical units, like the faux Italian cabinet in the kitchen, that open to reveal both storage and work surfaces. Other compartments hide or unveil the toaster, microwave oven and coffee maker.

"When it's a kitchen, it's a kitchen," Tim said, "and when you put it away, it's gone."

The remodeling has helped turn the home's focus to the backyard, which takes up most of the 2-acre lot. The yard is dotted with fruit trees, and it's common to see the family's chickens picking and scratching their way across the patio.

(There's also a subtle nod out back to Tim's baseball career – the pool is 60 feet, 6 inches from the back door, the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate.)

The McIntoshes are still working on one major project: a two-sided fireplace that would warm both the former breakfast nook and the patio outside.

"We will get it done," Laura said.

With Laura and Tim and their two daughters on the go so much of the year – whether traveling for the field-to-table TV show, scouting ballplayers or taking their recent trip to Spain to judge a tapas contest – it can be tough to keep the long remodeling effort in motion.

The end of shooting a season of "Bringing It Home" provides a respite and an opportunity, Laura said.

"This time of year is when I get a chance to break and say, 'OK, where did I leave off?' "