Pittsburgh architect Gerard Damiani, AIA, NCARB, calls his live/work row house a “prototype of how to build well and affordably, as well as sensitively to the site and the feel of our city.” That's a hefty goal for a 1,770-square-foot building, so Damiani and partner Debbie Battistone took their time designing it—six years, in fact. The resulting space, with its nine types of windows and five ways to open a cabinet, is a showcase of fine design and clever craftsmanship.

The kitchen is the first space potential clients see as they walk through the foyer to stairs for the second-story studio [see Workspace], so the couple made it the heart of their architectural laboratory. A serene, seemingly simple layout conceals numerous bells and whistles. “When you take on a strategy like this, you have to make sure it has an architectural continuum,” Damiani explains. Solid maple plywood provides that continuity, with nary a handle or knob in sight to break up the expanse of blond wood.

The kitchen's only other material is steel—a practical choice that also links to the city's heritage. Stainless steel appliances match commercial-grade countertops and an exposed frame on the island. That frame extends past the countertop, forming sturdy towel bars that double as handles to roll the caster-mounted island aside when space is tight.

Other innovative strategies maximize function and space within the compact footprint. A partial wall floats between the kitchen and living area, concealing open pantry shelves next to the fridge on the kitchen side and more storage in the living room. Perforated maple panels provide ventilation for air registers, as well as a microwave cubby. And the trash bin can be reached either by opening a cabinet door or through the circular hatch cut into the island countertop.

Damiani and Battistone say their lengthy effort has paid off in spades. Prospective clients venture into the kitchen to see its clever details and often wind up commissioning the firm for their projects. And once the workday ends, it's simply a great place to make dinner or unwind with a glass of wine.

architect: studio d'ARC architects, Pittsburgh

general contractor: Jeffrey M. Smith Construction, Gibsonia, Pa.

structural engineer: The Kachele Group, Pittsburgh

cabinetmaker: Kramer Kustom, Pittsburgh

resources: dishwasher: Miele; faucets: The Chicago Faucet Co.; fireplace: CFM Corp. (Vermont Castings); refrigerator and stove: GE Consumer & Industrial (Monogram)