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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
Steve Johnson, Designer
4242 N. Craftsman Ct.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251