Urban Styles:
Stepping into Tempe's Orchidhouse

by Wendy Williams
Photography by Peter Taylor

It was an idyllic spring afternoon when a photographer, editor, writer, kitchen designer, and homeowner met at the entrance to the Orchidhouse in downtown Tempe (21 East Sixth Street). The mission was clear enough: view samples of Atelier's designer/owne r, Steve Johnson's work. In this one building, we would have the opportunity to tour three of his very contemporary kitchens.

Our first stop was a fifth-floor loft where owner Tom Tokoph and his wife reside. The kitchen is almost entirely aluminum: cabinets, legs, drawers, accents, appliances, and the backsplash. For variety, etched glass cabinets sit on high, offering light from inside and underneath. White Carrera marble countertops split the space and maintain a fresh look. "A lot of people are afraid of using white Carrera marble," Johnson admits. "It stains more easily than granite. But in this kitchen I can't picture anything else... it's perfect.

The Dornbracht faucet, one of the highlights of this kitchen, doesn't just look good - it pulls out, rotates, and swivels. A popular choice with clients, this exceptional faucet is on display at the Atelier showroom. With its x-shaped handles, the faucet may seem to be one of the mast fashionable pieces of this kitchen, though there is something else of interest that could easily be missed. "We incorporated the washer and dryer into the kitchen," adds Johnson. The Bosch duo is housed in a tall, paneled cabinet at the left end of the kitchen.

Flanking the right side of the space is a paneled Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer. Viking appliances reside elegantly along the wall, including a paneled dishwasher, an oven, and five-burner range with a utensil bar conveniently hanging above. A tall, double-sided spice drawer is tucked discreetly away to the left of the oven.

Six months after the 16-foot-long main counter was installed, Johnson added the 12-foot-long island with six self-closing drawers... a feature that continually surprises guests. On the living room side of the island are four cabinets with shelves - a sensible place to store things like cookbooks or games. Completing the sleek look of the island, four white stools are poised as perfect complements to the marble.

In regard to the island's counter space, Tokoph explains, "We wanted a really big worktop... we wanted to be able to spread out. Everybody who comes in comments- 'That island is huge!' Well it really isn't as big as you think when you start laying stuff out there."

Twenty, tiny inset lights beam down from the ceiling - a very stylish touch. Maple flooring with a unique ebony finish add interest and warmth to a room that might otherwise be too stark. Johnson sums up this kitchen appropriately as simple and minimal. There is indeed an inherent beauty to its simplicity.

While working with a talented designer facilitates the process, choosing the right kitchen can still take some time. Tokoph recalls, "We spent the first year and a half trying to figure out what to do." Their plans changed completely four separate times before they decided on the kitchen you see today.

What struck us all during the tour was the view from this kitchen. Tall windows, paired with a corner lot equal great views to the north and west. As you pan across the landscape you can see A-Mountain, the old mill, Papago Buttes, and the neighboring Brickyard on Mill. It makes you feel like you're really at the heart of urban life.

"Living down here is unbelievable..." exclaims Tokoph. "Right when we closed escrow on the unit, I started my company, Urban Realty & Development. Doing this live-work thing is awesome..." Tokoph has acted as the broker for many of the units in Orchidhouse and is a huge advocate of urban living. Like many residents in the building, he enjoys being within walking distance of eateries such as Z'Tejas and Bamboo Club. He adds, "I know it's not San Francisco, and it's not New York... but it's so much fun. And all these events down here are great...there's an event going on right now.

Additionally, urban living offers a sense of community. He explains, "You actually have neighbors that you know by their first names. More than that, we'll bump into somebody from the building, and we'll all go out and have dinner. That's something you don't get in a suburban environment. I don't know how I'm ever going to move." Tom wonders, "How do you go from this kind of lifestyle to suburbia?"

It was a thought-provoking question, but we didn't have time to indulge ourselves in the answer. It was getting late in the day and we still needed to see two more of Johnson's projects. So while we reluctantly left this loft, we were delighted at what we discovered down the hall. Upon entering the next loft - a flat, glass wall fountain impressively divided the foyer from the kitchen. A more eccentric space altogether, bright, multi-colored light fixtures delicately hang from the ceiling.
This kitchen contains the same Carrera marble that we observed in the first loft, as well as similar aluminum accents. However, chestnut cabinetry dominates the space and etched glass cabinets glow with interior lighting. Overall, the effect of combining white marble, deep wood, etched glass, and aluminum pieces is brilliant. A quick ride down the elevator to the third floor brought us to the end of our "tour-o-Steve's-work." Though similar in many ways to the second kitchen, this space features Dakota Mahogany granite, instead of the marble, Aluminum takes on a more prominent role here, especially with the bi-level shelving that rotates around a central pole. We admired the magnificent hood, which unifies both the aluminum and etched glass themes present in the cabinetry. The beverage cabinet is cleverly placed on the opposite side of the kitchen, beyond the hustle and bustle of kitchen activity. Thus, those sitting on barstools are within easy reach of their favorite spirits.

We left the Orchidhouse building convinced of the virtues of urban living: the close proximity to shops and nightlife; the tight sense of community within one's building; and the opportunity to design a flat with urban style. Indeed, many of us would walk to our dinners that night and imagine what it would be like to live this way everyday.

We also departed with an appreciation for Steve Johnson's work. Originally from Chicago, he is very much a part of the Valley now and is helping to redefine the style in which people live. These three kitchens demonstrate his ability to design custom kitchens that are practical, modern, and elegant.

When summing up the designer's work, leave it to a customer to say it best: "Steve is just really talented," Tokoph boasts. "That's the bottom line."

Urban Realty & Development
Tom Tokoph, Designated Broker
21 East 6th Street, Loft 514
Tempe, AZ 85281
Tele: 480.829.1000
Email: ttokoph@mac.com

Steve Johnson, Designer
4242 N. Craftsman Ct.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Tele: 480.424.7900
Email: atelier36@aol.com