Photos by Nicole Byrne Photography
By Kate Rossing
Never did I ever think that I would have the chance to design interiors for priests, but for my most recent project I did just that.
Since 2006 my diocese has hosted priests and consecrated lay people from the Spanish religious order, The Society of Jesus Christ the Priest. Seven of them live in the rectory at my parish and the others are housed in neighboring parishes. The primary mission of this order is to foster vocations to the priesthood. Living in community is central to life in the Society. Part of their community life means that they gather every Monday for a day of rest, fellowship, and a big Spanish family style meal. The superior, who does most of the cooking on those community days, dreamed of having an open kitchen and dining area where they could all visit and enjoy each other’s company as the meal was being prepared. For over a decade the priests made do, crammed into the kitchen or divided themselves between the two spaces. It was time to change that.
I had heard about the rectory kitchen in the past. We had had our priest, who has now become a dear friend, over to our home for dinner on several occasions. As he sat in our home enjoying a meal with us in our open concept kitchen/dining area, the unsuitability of his own kitchen to the life of he and his brother priests would often come up. “We really need something like this” he would say. Finally, after several years of this he approached me about a redesign of the space. I leapt at the opportunity. This was the perfect project, integrating two of my life’s passions, my Catholic faith and interior design.
The existing kitchen was small and dark, the oven range was about to fall apart, and it, along with the ventilation system, was not sufficient for the amount and type of cooking they did. In fact, some daily Mass goers had even reported the aroma of rich Spanish cooking making its way into the Sanctuary! Aside from that, the layout wasn’t ideal for the large, family style meals the brother priests shared each week. Because community is a central tenet of life within the Society, remodeling this space to fit the need could only help them to live out their vocation more fully.
The priests hoped to achieve a sense of elegance in the space, but also wanted it to feel like a man’s kitchen. My goal was to create a beautiful workhorse of a kitchen -- one that would take heavy use and whose aesthetic would stand the test of time.
To make the space function we took down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. We used the bigger space to create “zones.” The goal was to allow these men a place to share meal prep and fellowship without ever feeling like there are “too many cooks in the kitchen.” I designed a big, beautiful island in the center of the kitchen with seating for 7. We relocated the pantry door and placed the refrigerator, coffee bar, and double oven on the same wall. We upgraded the stove to a cooktop unit with 6 burners and a griddle and two deep drawers underneath for storage of pots. The new sink is a deep single basin with a pull-out faucet and the dishwasher was moved to the left side of the sink for a better workflow in the often-crowded kitchen.
The brass chandelier in the dining room was going to stay, so I let that be my starting inspiration for the rest of the space. I selected a rich medium brown stain for the cabinets with brass hardware. Clean white quartz countertops brighten the space while glossy white subway tiles on the backsplash create depth and are easy top clean. The existing doors were painted black and outfitted with brass knobs. In the dining room a lovely, long dining table with the capacity to seat 12 was placed on top of an ornate traditional style rug. We also created a cozy seat in the bay window with a custom cushion and a few throw pillows. Finally, vintage framed maps of Spain and a collection of hand painted Spanish plates add a personal touch.
It was an honor and a privilege to work with these holy men on this renovation project. I got a glimpse into priestly life that not everyone gets to see, and I was happy to be able to use my talents to enrich the lives of these men who do so much for us and for the life of the Church.
Kate Rossing is an Interior Designer and Decorator dedicated to bringing Truth, Beauty, and Goodness to the world of design. She lives in the Madison, WI area with her husband and four children. You can find her at her website, katerossing.com or follow her on Instagram.