Two language barriers confronted architect Frederick Stelle when he began renovating this lakefront house in Zurich, Switzerland. A German-speaking Swiss associate in his office solved the obvious one. But the existing visual expressions were more difficult to sort through. The 1920s house had a strong traditional vocabulary jumbled by misguided renovations. To solve the puzzle, Stelle reiterated a lesson he learned from his first project for this long-time client. “It's not so important to mimic the original house as to reinforce the integrity of the structure,” he says. “So from the beginning it was clear that the kitchen and bath addition would stand apart.”

Stelle's next clear choice was glass curtain walls to counter the region's long gray winters. He reversed the entire floor plan to move the kitchen to the southeast corner, where it benefits from morning light and an adjacent terrace overlooking the lake. In good weather, two sets of swinging doors, each measuring 3 meters tall by 1.5 meters wide (nearly 10 feet by 5 feet), open the terrace to a casual dining nook. A steel column marking the original exterior wall is the fulcrum for the kitchen's L-shaped layout. Stelle organized the room into distinct working and socializing quadrants. The nook, terrace, and an island bar are places for bystanders to congregate, while kitchen work takes place along the two perimeter walls.

The honed granite floor changes textures around the perimeter of the room to signal the glass wall. A steel column blends into the framing while supporting the concrete floor of the second story.

The honed granite floor changes textures around the perimeter of the room to signal the glass wall. A steel column blends into the framing while supporting the concrete floor of the second story.

The elegant pearwood island shields the primary cooking zone (ovens, fridge, cooktop, and a dumbwaiter that descends to a basement prep kitchen). The pale wood puts a softer public face on what Stelle describes as a “bulletproof” workstation of stainless steel lower cabinets, matching backsplash, and polished granite counters. Open shelves above and full-extension drawers below virtually eliminate hunting or stooping.

Slats of Western red cedar screen the more private rooms of the addition.FBM Studio: Manica/Bodmer And a nearby butler's pantry with built-in grill, under-counter refrigerator, and microwave diminishes kitchen congestion. Says Stelle, “The idea is that two people can be cooking at once or the kids can grab drinks and snacks without interrupting meal preparations.”