Moveable Feast: A Quirky 'Gypsy Kitchen' Rolls Into a Sausalito Home

Jennifer Nix, an editor, writer, and activist, has a stylish eye when it comes to home decor. And now that she's moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, she's outdone herself on a genius kitchen remodel that was part DIY, part art project, and all cool.

After traveling the world, Nix and her husband, Steve Leonard, finally settled down in Sausalito, CA, in 2015, where they bought a property with two houses.

They rented out the larger home and moved into the smaller, one-bedroom unit, which measures about 600 square feet. "It was a pure fixer-upper," Nix says of the cottage built in the 1880s.

To Nix, the first order of business was removing the eyesore of a kitchen that owed its awful decor to the 1980s. "It was so hideously ugly we had to tear it out immediately," she says.

For a short-term solution that didn't involve a major remodel, Nix thought way out of the box. She remembered from her travels in Italy and Germany that "people typically moved with their kitchens. So that was in the back of my mind."

She wanted something for an Ikea price without the Ikea look. "I was looking for something I could just get in here quickly and would be attractive and lovely to live with." And it had to be small.

But when she searched for mobile kitchens (the kind you might see in a camper) there were none readily available in America. In Europe, the high-concept designs were too pricey.

Once inspiration struck, she called artist and sculptor Jeff Smith. Smith had crafted custom cabinet doors for her Brooklyn Heights rental that were so eye-catching she brought them with her to the Bay Area.

She asked him to collaborate on the kitchen concept and "he got it right away," Nix recalls. She wanted a fully functional unit to house the appliances (a Breville Smart Oven, a two-burner induction cooktop) and a full-size sink with Grohe fixtures. "Nothing in it is miniature," she adds. Plus, she wanted something she could move by herself.

Smith, who does set design for commercials and films, says, "My thing is using all reclaimed materials and finding practical solutions in an artistic way, and putting things on wheels."

This fused with Nix's thinking: "I want to live lightly on the planet. I want to look at things that I love."

For raw materials, Nix headed to Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley, CA, where she snapped up a marble slab for the countertop for $40. She also picked up a box of overstock Heath tiles for under $30.

The oak chopping block is left over from another renovation project. A Craftsman tool cart from the 1940s was found on Craigslist. Smith cut it down to three drawers. The doors to the under-sink storage came from an old wardrobe.

"I'm aiming for ramshackle chic," Nix jokes.

After months of acquiring the materials, the kitchen took about two weeks to build and cost about $7,500 (including Smith's airfare, time, and meals). The $3,100 True under-counter fridge was the big-ticket item and sits next to the mobile kitchen.

The entire unit fits snugly along the wall, sharing space with the living room. It is 36 inches high, 25 inches deep, and 7.5 feet long. "Even in my 15-by-15-foot room, I could create an open-concept kitchen with an inspiring view," Nix says.

She's not kidding. The spectacular scene out the window could inspire anyone to volunteer for dish duty.

The "Gypsy Kitchen," as Nix dubbed it, has become a prototype for future kitchens on wheels from Nix and Smith. The two have since launched a fledgling business, ModNomadStudio, to custom-build mobile kitchens.

"We can live artfully in small spaces. It was truly something I needed and what I wanted to look at. That's a cool place for something to come from," Nix says.

It's certainly food for thought.