There is something magical about stepping into the home of a passionate chef. Even if there isn’t anything being prepared, the very idea that you are in the proximity of Michael Levitt’s kitchen is enough to start your mouth watering with visions of French-pressed coffee or a tender Argentine steak.
Tucked away on the canal within Britannia Villas, Michael’s newly-renovated one-bedroom condominium is at once a fusion of African and Caribbean, native craft and state-of-the-art gadgetry, smooth and textured, cosy and abstract. The calming ambience invites you to kick off your shoes, pull up a chair, put your elbows on the kitchen counter, watch Michael chop vegetables and toss spices into a frying pan, and be enveloped in the savoury smells of dinner being prepared.
Growing up in South Africa and crisscrossing various countries, Michael’s overarching goal was to achieve a look and feel that reflected his multicultural background and love for entertaining at home.
Staying in boutique hotels when he travelled, Michael was always thinking about what worked and what didn’t. He thought that one day he might take on designing a boutique hotel. So, in a way, this wasn’t just about renovating his home, it was also a creative challenge.
“I thought I had a good eye and head for detail and I am not scared to experiment, whether it is in cooking or colour,” Michael says. “I saw this is as a trial run to see if I could create the look and feel of a place.”
Stuck in neutral
When Michael first looked at the condo last year it had a clinical, soulless feel. The floor tiles and kitchen cabinets were white; the walls were off-white; even the blinds covering the windows and sliding glass door were white. The ceiling was sprayed with popcorn texture. Fittings and fixtures, such as Formica countertops, PVC lighting wicker and leather furniture, gave the impression of the everyday Florida rental. There was just no warmth or personality.
But Michael could see the possibilities.
At 1,370 square feet, the condominium was unusually large for a one bedroom. The breakfast nook in the kitchen was promising. And natural light flowed in from the sliding glass doors and the windows in the kitchen and bedroom, although it is enclosed by condos on both sides.
Michael’s home is dominated by the kitchen, which combines the functionality of a serious chef with artistic whimsy.
The eye is immediately drawn to the cook-top, encased in a custom-made glass countertop, itself a work of art. Inspired by the constant motion of the Caribbean Sea, tropical blue and green colours are splashed throughout the glass.
The vent hood over the cook-top has curved corners. The counter extends from the cook-top in a gradual rounded shape, emphasising the sense of fluidity and warmth in the cooking area. The counter is custom-made from concrete in earthy tones of light brown with flecks of sand.
Comfortable leather bar chairs line the other side of the counter for dinner guests, providing a close-up view of the cook in action. Michael’s lifestyle is all about cooking and entertaining with 16 to 18 guests at a typical dinner party.
“The cooking area gives them a chance to see what I am doing and they can talk to me while I am cooking and feel like they are a part of it,” Michael says.
The counter and cook-top are so prominent that one could easily overlook the artistic tile backsplash covering the wall behind the sink.
Layers of small shimmering tiles line the walls, changing colours and tones with the light. The red tile layer picks up the colour in the cherry wood cabinets. Champagne and gold layers emphasise the warm earth tones while the blue-green layer continues the theme of the sea.
To give the room an air of spaciousness, part of the wall that enclosed the kitchen area was taken out.
A tray ceiling with recessed lighting was installed, adding several inches of height to the room. Cherry wood kitchen cabinets maintain the overall effect of warmth while the energy-friendly Bosch appliances, from Bon Vivant, give the kitchen a polished look.
Entertaining at home
The clean lines of the long, cherry-coloured wooden table is the key feature in the dining area, allowing maximum space for meals. The table is surrounded by comfortable chairs in mixed leather and suede fabric earth tones: black, cream, burgundy and dark brown.
The drop lights of crystal glass cones illuminate the room, matching the gold tone of Travertine floor tiles. The yellows and browns in a painting of Caymanians in a traditional catboat by Chris Christian reinforce the peaceful atmosphere of the space.
“The last time I had a dinner party here, we were having such a good time talking at the dinner table that we never got to the living room,” Michael says.
Out of Africa
There is no question that the centrepiece of the living area is a painting of elephants at a river. Especially commissioned from artist Avril Ward for the living area, the bold red, orange and grey colours of sunset give a sense of Africa undiscovered, at once brooding, wild and peaceful.
The couch from West Indian Design is in neutral colours and emphasises comfort rather than luxury, reinforcing a cosy, homey feel. A leather chair from Woods Furniture & Design sits off to the side, a family tradition from Michael’s South African roots.
Throw pillows with stripes of bright orange, green and red, in a range of bold patterns and textures, grace the couch and chairs.
A lamp featuring a leopard print shade sits on one end table while another lamp has a wooden mosaic of elephants, reminiscent of East Africa.
The Zanzibar ceiling fan features a wooden base carved with giraffes, elephants and rhinoceroses with fan blades of grass and palm leaves.
A coffee table sits on a grass throw rug. South African wire figurines of football players in action are displayed on the entertainment centre. These touches give the room an authentic African texture.
The bright blue walls set the tone of Michael’s Caribbean-themed bedroom. The blue paint on the back wall is just a shade darker, adding a sense of depth. Recycled light maple wood is used for the flooring. The bed is a Caribbean-style wood frame from West Indian Design, a touch of the colonial age, adorned with light blue bedding and a mixture of blue and bright green pillows.
Michael also uses the work of a local artist to set the mood for this room; in this case, Patrick Bodden’s photograph ‘Reef Blues’, with its range of dark and light colours of the Caribbean.
The attached bathroom suite continues the tropical theme and incorporates some of the artistic flourishes used in the kitchen. The bathroom sink is a whimsical study of abstract shapes in subtle blue, beige and brown. Like the kitchen, the backsplash has layered blue and gold tiles that change tone with the light.
The flooring is dark charcoal granite with gold flecks. The shower and Jacuzzi tub are lined with the earth tone gold tiles used in the kitchen and living room. The shower curtain has been dispensed in favour of a custom-made glass panel. Similar to the kitchen countertop, vivid blues have been poured over the glass, evoking the motion of the water, an ever present reminder that this condominium on the canal is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea.
Renovations are all in the detail, Michael explains. Taking into account the renovations, appliances, furnishings and fixtures, the total cost for the remodelling was in $80,000 range. For Michael, patience, compromise and careful budgeting were essential to achieving a result that he could be satisfied with.
“I accepted that I wouldn’t recoup the money I spent on renovations. It was more important to me to have a place that I could live in and be happy and have my friends around. When I come home at night this feels like home and I sleep well at night,” Michael says.