Photo by Stephen Schafer
When Anna Dawn and John Miller decided to leave London and move their family to California in early 2003, there were a few things they knew for certain: They wanted to live near the beach. They wanted to settle within walking distance of enough shops and restaurants so as not to abandon every last shred of their urban sensibilities. And, perhaps most importantly, they did not want to lose themselves in the never-ending sprawl of Los Angeles.
John, a journalist who grew up in Thousand Oaks, was already somewhat familiar with Ventura. And it seemed like the right kind of place, especially after the couple looked at a charming two story Victorian home, circa 1888, for sale downtown that seemed to have jumped out of the pages of a children’s storybook.
They moved in in February 2003 with vague plans to do some minor renovations on the front room. “We thought we’d just paint the walls,” Anna says now, with a good natured roll of the eyes.
What began as a small project — pulling up the green shag carpet, restoring the wood floors, pulling down the wallpaper, painting — turned into a major home renovation, the most intensive phase of which lasted eight months and centered on what is now a huge, warm, beautiful kitchen.
The first thing that John and Anna knew they needed to do was knock out the back wall of the kitchen and expand the room by incorporating the area that was once a covered porch. They also wanted to be able to see their backyard, so they installed huge windows and French doors in the new back wall. And while the spatial addition constituted much of the heavy lifting, it was the small choices that transformed the kitchen to the room everyone in the family, including daughters Marina and Anika, seems to gravitate toward.
Wood countertops — which John and Anna saw in a friends home and immediately loved — wood floors, intricately shaped, egg-shell white Mexican tile over the stove, warm blues and greens and cream colors on the walls and cabinets, strategically placed transom windows and a nice-sized island with stools make the kitchen warm and bright and inviting.
And then there is the fact that the kitchen is literally warmer than every other room in the house, thanks to the family’s four-oven Aga cooker. Aga ranges, popular in England and Wales, are continually and consistently heated gas ranges; which means they are always on and there is no fussing with dials. Each of the four ovens and two hot plates are pre-heated to specific temperatures.
Anna first saw an Aga in Panama and immediately fell for the unusual but, in culinary circles, highly acclaimed range. And she isn’t the only one who enjoys what has become the true centerpiece of their new kitchen. Everyone jockeys for the most popular spot in the house — directly in front of the range — because it exudes warmth all day, every day.
And although eight months of cooking on the porch and in the dining room, and hauling dishes upstairs to be washed in the bathtub was a little trying at times, things definitely worked out well. Anna and John’s home is eclectic, comfortable and incredibly easy on the eyes. It is modern enough to provide all of the necessary comforts while retaining the charm of a historic home.
Oh, and an added benefit of the somewhat costly new range? “John, he’s started to cook,” explains Anna, smiling, “and that’s saying something.”