At Home in the Kitchen

The Thompsons made sure every detail and finish of the kitchen and home fit their exact specifications, including hand-carved mahogany cabinetry and plenty of counter and storage space. Photos by Stephen Clarke.

Driving through the gates of Sea Alissa it is hard to imagine the type of kitchen one would expect given the owners run one of the longest-established homegoods store in Grand Cayman – A. L. Thompson’s.

Being surrounded by fashionable homewares, top-line appliances and so much more, it could be hard to choose one particular style or theme, but not so for Melissa and Al Thompson. (Al is known affectionately as “Altee” by his friends and family.)

They knew what they wanted from the moment they designed the house and it was all based around the heart of the home – the kitchen. “The kitchen came first and everything else came around it,” says Melissa.

Many already know this stately home’s location on South Church Street in South Sound, as it’s hard to miss. Sea Alissa overlooks the serene Smith Cove, which provides a spectacular backdrop with its character-filled sandy white beach and turquoise waters.

It took five years and a lot of effort to build the impressive home.

The traditional kitchen reflects the couple’s love of all things Victorian and the same elements and custom-cabinet finishes can be seen throughout the home. “Our kitchen reflects the overall style of our home – Victorian with a very clean concept,” she says.

Apart from the elegant crown molding, the kitchen boasts hand-carved mahogany cabinetry which Altee and Melissa painstakingly custom-designed together. They commissioned a company in Colombia called Selecta whose skilled craftsmen carved each piece by hand.
The pieces were then shipped to Cayman to be erected; the classic-style workmanship details can be seen even with the untrained eye, including in the more intricate carvings of leaves and flower details embedded into the cabinet panels and column corners.

Before running the hardware store empire, Altee trained as an architect. He met Melissa, a California native, when she sold him plumbing supplies for his new store 26 years ago. She then designed Altee’s first plumbing showroom. Now married for 24 years with a young daughter, Melissa still plays a key role in the business as the main buyer for the housewares, plumbing and seasonal goods departments.

Altee used his trained eye to meticulously pre-measure (and measure again) every nook and cranny of the kitchen so that no mistakes were made. With the couple’s combined expertise and unique skillsets, they made the perfect pairing to get every detail and finish of the house – and especially the kitchen – to their exact specifications.

“Putting dream on paper took longer than expected, but even though it took a while, it came easier due to Altee’s background in architecture,” Melissa says.

When it comes to her favorite design elements, Melissa finds it hard to choose. She loves the custom-made hood, which blends professional stainless steel products with hand-carved wood, as well as the corner cabinet that was customized and chosen as a focal point. Her favorite appliance is the 60” Wolf 6-burner, double oven with grill and griddle gas range.

Other stainless steel products throughout the kitchen include two Subzero refrigerators (including freezers with icemakers), a Kitchen Aid single-drawer dishwasher, and plenty of Miele appliances such as a double electric wall oven, convection steam oven and microwave oven, and built-in coffee system.

The custom-made hood blends stainless steel products with hand-carved wood.

There’s also plenty of counter and storage space throughout the kitchen. Double-edged granite countertops, two Kohler farm sinks, and rows of family photos create an intimate setting. A generous walk-in pantry is fully stocked with food and canned goods.

The kitchen features ample cabinet space, especially for fine china sets and crystal glassware.

The kitchen was built for cooking but also for entertaining with a lot of cabinet space to hold the kitchenware and accessories, especially the fine china sets and crystal glassware that can be seen behind the glass-paneled cabinets; the galley also contains smaller appliances like a Cuisinart bread maker.

The breakfast nook overlooks the large outdoor garden situated in the backyard. Carefully tended to, it yields a variety of organic vegetables that the family uses regularly for their own feasts at home. (The day of the tour, a few ripe white Cayman yams were displayed in a beautiful bowl.)

Traditional elements are reflected in the numerous Schonbek chandeliers and Renaissance era-inspired artwork on the walls from Hungarian artist Csaba Markus.

The couple host many events, big and small, and this is reflected in the layout, from the nearby formal dining room to the bar and living area, which is also made with the same custom-cabinetry and accents. Just beyond the doors of the kitchen’s galley is a spectacular ballroom meant for large-scale events; but it also doubles as their six year-old daughter’s playroom.

“We host every Thanksgiving and Christmas for family and friends. We also host our Tool Fest and Home Fest for our overseas vendors, which can include up to 150 people. I do charity events, family weddings, baby showers, etc., as well as smaller dinner parties. We also do breakfast, lunch and happy hours on a weekly basis at least three times a week,” says Melissa, adding that they do the majority of cooking themselves.

“Nothing came easy with designing this kitchen. Trying to figure out how to serve 110 people for a sit-down dinner as efficiently as possible, and also make it a working space for just a few was almost impossible,” she says.

No doubt, it’s the couple’s enduring partnership – both at work and home – that helped create their dream kitchen and home, leaving one wondering what their next inspiring project will be.