This time around, Dowley said, they were seeking form, function — and just a touch of drama. Today one enters their kitchen through a colonnade of arches, where one can see straight through to the family room.
And instead of boring, white cabinets, the Dowleys' are shiny, bright blue — auto paint that's actually an Audi factory color.
Visitors on the Spring Kitchen Tour, a May 15 fundraiser for the Woman's Club of Palo Alto, will have the opportunity to view the Dowleys' kitchen, along with four others in Palo Alto, ranging from modern to traditional, simple to eclectic.
At the modern end of the spectrum, the Dowleys worked with Los Gatos designer Ahmad Alaadel to create a room that blended the best of their Longueville Price-designed home with the need to modernize and update.
Even the bright blue that Mary Dowley was so drawn to already existed in their home. Price, the architect and first owner, brought back tiles from the Alhambra Palace in Granada, and they now surround the old pedestal sink in the downstairs bathroom. More blue tiles are utilized in the outside fountain, seen from the kitchen window, and in the risers of the tiled stairway.
Some things Dowley was adamant about keeping from the original kitchen: the Mexican tile pavers on the floor, single-paned windows with wrought-iron curtain rods, the built-in ironing board cabinet (now a spice rack), even the old pass-through slot where milk was delivered.
Dowley's and Alaadel's ideas evolved as they went along, she said. At first, they planned to set the large island straight, but soon they thought it would look and work better on a slant, with a curved marble counter top.
"We knew we wanted circular, a soft look to match the arches," she said.
The edges of the cabinets are all rounded, with little hardware to break up the line.
The room itself now encompasses smaller spaces, including the old laundry area. By taking down the wall between, light now filters in from two sides. The washer and dryer are stacked in a closet, behind an arched doorway. A laundry chute runs from upstairs to that closet.
Just before they started the kitchen project, their old refrigerator died. They designed the cabinetry around the brand-new one, with flexibility in case future owners wanted a larger appliance.
What Dowley likes best about her updated kitchen is the space. "I feel the freedom. When we first came, there were bits and pieces of space everywhere, little rooms," she said. "We got space without adding an inch to the houses."
The Aga stove sits in the island, but no hood obscures Dowley's view of the drop-down large TV screen from the adjacent room. Instead the ceiling height is staggered above the stove, with an exhaust fan directly above.
Dowley was particularly taken with the Aga built-in rack: When she opens the oven door, a roast can be pulled out on a rack attached to the door. Very little bending is necessary. A second, narrow oven can be used for warming (or storing) plates.
Other delights in Dowley's kitchen include an Aga wine refrigerator with a curved door, soft-close drawers and recessed fluorescent ceiling lights with chrome linings.
After living with the results for a year and a half, Dowley could think of only one possible "issue": The Calcutta marble — the whitest they could find — is already etched from fruit-juice spills. She's thinking of having a part of the counter honed, so the light coming in through the window doesn't shine directly on the juice marks. Or not.
Right now she's just enjoying the space, the light, the storage and the drama.
The other four kitchens on tour include:
* A Spanish Colonial-style home designed by Charles Sumner in 1925 with a kitchen re-design in 2008 that includes Carrera marble counter tops and arched windows offering garden views;
* A home designed by Palo Alto architect (and Woman's Club member) Aino Vieira da Rosa that reflects the family's love for all things Italian. A second kitchen in the basement offers handy access to the entertainment area, and a third kitchen with a pizza oven is outdoors;
* A 1985 kitchen remodel that has stood the test of time — and visits from 18 grandchildren. The 1928 Birge Clark-designed home is on the Historic Resources Inventory;
* A 1902 Craftsman-style home with a kitchen remodeled in 2008 that features hand-pounded copper sinks, granite counters and imported French mosaic tiles.
In addition to touring kitchens, the fundraising event will include a food demonstration by chef Letitia Cheng from Williams-Sonoma, Stanford Shopping Center, at one of the homes, small pizzas made by one owner's personal chef, homemade cookies and a raffle.
The Woman's Club of Palo Alto, founded in 1894, raises money to support nonprofits that serve women and children.
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What: Spring Kitchen Tour
When: Saturday, May 15, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Five houses in Palo Alto (addresses are on tickets)
Benefits: The Woman's Club of Palo Alto
Tickets: $30 before May 9; $35 day of tour at 125 Southwood Drive, Palo Alto.
Info: Call 650-269-3517 or visit http://womansclubofpaloalto.org.