Chef cooks up divine living space with his workmanship

Judy Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

For Pete Loren, executive chef and the director of Culinary Development for Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace, food is just one of the artistic mediums he’s comfortable in.

In fact, Loren says he has been making stuff ever since he can remember. “I was the most creative kid in the world,” he says. “I loved to rescue lumber and was constantly building things…tree houses, forts, rocket ships, plywood boats and go-carts. If I had not gone to the CIA (the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York) to learn to be a professional chef, I probably would have gone to CCS (the College for Creative Studies in Detroit,) to become a professional artist.

Unlike most typical homeowners who purchase a home, furnish it and then occasionally tweak it, Loren is constantly both editing and adding to his freestanding West Bloomfield condominium that has been featured in several Detroit area publications, including 10 years ago in Homestyle.

One recent addition to this supremely colorful home is the striking room divider that separates the lounge area from what most would call the living room but what Loren calls “The Blue Room.” He says, “I hate the name ‘living room’ because it seems so stuffy and not a place where people sit.”

Consisting of a brushed steel metal planter that is chock-full of hand-blown glass reeds, it sits on top of a metal Parson’s table. And the orange and yellow of the reeds echoes the buttercup yellow color of the room’s Natuzzi leather sofa and armchairs as well as the harvest orange color used on one wall of the adjoining dining room.

The Blue Room’s dramatic 18-foot-high back wall is painted in Ralph Lauren’s Premium Blue. And its very cool fireplace surround is made out of both Tennessee slate and concrete. “I love concrete because it’s damn cheap and it has a great look,” Loren says. “It’s an underused material, especially indoors.” (Besides the concrete and the slate, several other outdoor materials are utilized throughout the interior of the home. To wit: Corrugated aluminum is used as a wall covering in several different areas, copper tubing plays a major part in the both the dining room and master bathroom light fixtures and, in homage to iconic architect Frank Gehry, Loren recently lined one wall of his bedroom with stainless steel tiles that are normally used as exterior rather than interior cladding.

Other traditional outdoor materials he enjoys using include galvanized steel, river stone, perforated and expanded metal panels and diamond plate aluminum. “I’ve never met a material I didn’t like,” the chef says.

Loren designed and hand-built the dining room table in his home studio several years ago. Composed of eight circular black metal and clear glass pods, all attached to an enormous steel tube frame, it enables each guest to essentially have his or her individual table while still being part of a community. The light fixture that hangs over the table and the steel plank floor are recent additions.

“For the chandelier, I wanted something food related,” the chef says. “So I created spaghetti out of copper tubing. Then, because I love seafood, I crafted shrimp, mussels and scallops out of a powdered marble called Hydrostone and hung them from an inverted wok. I also replaced the room’s original carpet with 1/8th thick shiny steel planks. It was some of the last steel ever made at that very famous foundry called Bethlehem Steel,” he says.

And just last year, on the lower level of the condo, the chef created a semi-circular “whiskey cellar” out of glass, wood and slate. “I travel all over the world to find unusual whiskeys and I age my own whiskey and spiced rum,” he says.

The home’s kitchen design clearly reflects the chef’s dual interest in cooking and crafting. For example, between the refrigerator and the sink and below a kitchen cabinet, he attached a metal rod to a quilted-patterned stainless steel backsplash (which he made), then suspended several steel and glass containers from it to hold his favorite (and often colorful) cooking utensils to keep then handy and to provide a nice decorative touch as well. “I think of it as a utensil palette,” he says.

And while the kitchen’s vertical ribbed glass cabinet door inserts are visually attractive, they serve another purpose as well. “It allows me to see just what’s inside,” he says.

So what’s next on Loren’s home front agenda? The answer is two new projects he already has on the drawing board. “The first is some spectacular outdoor landscape lighting I have designed for my front flower beds and front walk. There will be towering columns of brushed steel and illuminated cobalt blue glass. The other project will be a cat tribute sculpture of my Oriental cat, Mon-Kee. It will be clad in small ceramic tiles reminiscent of the fabulous Antonio Gaudi pieces I saw this past fall in Barcelona, Spain,” he says.

Judy Solomon is a Metro Detroit freelance writer. You can reach her at judyfreelance@aol.com.