A Chef’s Kitchen

For Kevin Rathbun and his wife, Melissa, designer Joel Kelly interprets old New Orleans style in a contemporary vernacular.

A sweeping glance of Melissa and Kevin Rathbun’s Morningside kitchen belies the diversity it represents. She, who loves all that is New Orleans, wanted to incorporate elements of the city’s rich architecture, while he—one of Atlanta’s most celebrated chefs—was steadfast in his desire for clean, modern style. As it turns out, however, there was no need for compromise; thanks to the deft hand of architect/designer Joel Kelly, the two diverse viewpoints coexist beautifully, creating one extraordinary space.

“It’s very open, and the spaces are expansive,” notes the designer. “It’s a modern take on New Orleans style; with 12-ft ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, it feels like one of the old row houses—but not in that decaying state. It’s a really clean version of what those houses would have been like.” The kitchen design, like the rest of the house, was a “very quick process,” says Kelly. “Both Melissa and Kevin knew what they wanted, and we were in sync from the get-go.”

In fact, the only real challenge came in determining the color palette. “Melissa doesn’t like brown, so we put together an unusual black-on-black palette. We had to find just the right subtle grays and blacks that came together without clashing.” Balancing the abundance of dark neutrals, however, is a generous dose of lighter shades—in the walls, the ceiling, even floors that have been bleached and pickled to white, then given a white-gray stain. (In yet another nod to New Orleans, the Rathbuns refer to the color as “Gumbo.”) And the entire room sparkles, thanks to custom chandeliers by Fabbian that Kelly painstakingly installed himself, each made up of 140 crystal tiles. “They become an architectural element of sorts,” says Kelly, “acting as room dividers, too.”

Appropriate for a chef of Rathbun’s stature, the kitchen is fitted with Viking appliances from Hadco—a good fit for the expansive space. “I’m a big guy, and I like big houses,” he says. But this kitchen proves his talents lie beyond the culinary world. “I love design, and I wanted it to be timeless,” he adds. But Kelly takes that one step further, offering the ultimate compliment: “He could have been an architect or a designer, if he chose that path.” High praise indeed.

Architecture & Interior Design Joel Kelly, Joel Kelly Design, (404) 221-0422; joelkellydesign.com