convertible surface for a kitchen island

Ellen Silverman

Ten years after it was built, my kitchen still looked great EXCEPT for the counter tops. The speckled black-white-and-gray granite that seemed so right at the time looked dated, and its pattern was too busy to use as a surface for the food photography we did in my space. My friend Holton, who is an amazing artist, designer, and gifted improvisor said “Why don’t you make a top to fit over the one you have?…Make a form out of plywood that will fit over the granite,  and cover it with a soft-ish metal that can wrap around the form…”

I remembered the old burnished zinc bars and cafe tables I’d seen in France, and thought that zinc’s soft luster would be make a beautiful surface to photograph food on. So I looked up ZINC FABRICATORS in the Yellow Pages, and found a guy in Brooklyn who would make me what I wanted. All I had to do was send him a plan…

Sally Schneider

Sally Schneider

It’s easy to draw up a plan IF you don’t care about looking like a designer or mind rendering perspective like a kid. A plan just has to communicate essential information. I took the gist of Holton’s idea and measured and figured and made my odd plan which I faxed to the zinc guy (we never met). A few weeks later, his delivery men arrived with the top which fitted snugly over the granite top of the island – or perhaps better put:  the old granite top fit INTO the new one, so it was completely engulfed and hidden.

The zinc IS a perfect surface for photography; it makes any food look good although you can’t put food directly on it (zinc is somewhat reactive, like copper); you have to use cutting boards. And, on occasion, during a photo shoot or when we are working on a big project, my assistant and I carry the zinc top into the other room and make a work surface with a couple of saw horses; the island with its original granite top is still totally usable.

Ellen Silverman

Ellen Silverman

The lessons in this story are partly about collaboration – how talking about a problem with someone else can lead to solutions – and about the possibility for us all to make rough, imperfectly-drawn plans and then bring them into being.

(It’s also a lesson about the enduring greatness of Business-to-Business Yellow Pages, where you can find the likes of a zinc fabricator. I hold onto my ancient paper copy from 2001 because I still find great resources there, although the zinc guy has disappeared.)

Related posts: Who Says You Can’t Design Your Own Table?