To Thine Own Self Be True
William Shakespeare wrote these words for Polonius in “Hamlet”. But old Willie was by no means the only writer to urge us to follow a road less traveled. In 1854, Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” noted, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”. Renowned “Beat Generation” novelist and poet Jack Kerouac stated, “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends…” The music world has also contributed numerous examples of this sentiment. 1969 brought us two songs that bear similar messages, albeit in very different styles: Frank Sinatra crooned “I Did It My Way”; and the Isley Brothers sang “It’s your thing, do what you wanna do”. Then in 1977, Fleetwood Mac advised us to “Go You Own way”. And let’s not forget the age-old parental admonition, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?”
Although these pithy quotes, lyrics and idioms have different origins and slightly different connotations, the one common thread is they all extol the virtues of heeding one’s inner voice, whether it pertains to ethical dilemmas, major life decisions, romantic plights or, yes, even to your design choices when remodeling your kitchen.
It’s easy to be swayed by the trend du jour. When I started in this business a quarter century ago (!!!), all the customers coming in were looking to replace their golden oak cabinets. First it was pickled maple, then it was cherry wood in cinnamon or burgundy-toned stains. Before long, they were adding glazes over the stains. The next big trend was started by a certain English designer’s cabinet line, whose butter-yellow glazed finish caused a ripple effect throughout the entire kitchen industry; his print ads appeared everywhere! Customers by the droves walked in clutching that ad and stated, “This is what I want!”
We all designed countless variations on that theme, including wood “mantle hoods”; applied molding door styles; and ornately carved corbels, onlays, legs and moldings. After that era of excess ornamentation, it’s not surprising that homeowners were longing for a cleaner, more pared-down look. Enter the white kitchen! Now I’m not saying that people hadn’t done white kitchens before this: I’ve been designing them for 25 years! But with the popularity of Houzz, Instagram, and Pinterest, customers were now seeing beautiful examples by the thousands! Instead of a photo torn from a magazine, they were now coming in with their devices to show us their kitchen idea boards: white cabinetry, Carrera marble countertops, and white subway tile backsplashes.
Most designers would tell you that, for over five years, a white kitchen is overwhelmingly the most frequently requested scheme. There’s no doubt that it’s a timeless classic, and if you’re contemplating resale in the foreseeable future, it’s the surest way to guarantee that your home will appeal to the greatest number of potential buyers. Renovating a kitchen is a costly investment, and nobody wants to make an expensive mistake. Faced with the preponderance of social media “evidence” that some shade of white is the only way to go, many customers are afraid to veer from the current norm. We are constantly being asked, “What are other people doing now?” We want to encourage our customers to do what they love no matter what other people are doing. An anti-white kitchen isn’t just about color: it’s about choosing items and materials that really speak to you and, as Marie Kondo would say, “spark joy”. So this month we are celebrating those homeowners who bravely approach their new kitchen design with an adventurous spirit and the conviction to march to the beat of their own drum.
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the waters of nonconformity yet still want to proceed with caution, you may be more comfortable choosing white with a different color or wood species on the island. For a young active family with a design flair, senior designer Rita Garcés used Benjamin Moore’s “Blue Toile” paint on the island, then punctuated the white perimeter with a gloss black and brass La Cornue CornuFe’ range and a custom hood to match.
The globe pendants over the island carry this black and brass accent into the center of the room.
This same customer threw caution to the wind for a nearby bar by choosing a coordinating shade of deep blue for the wall color. Here the cabinetry is contemporary in a dark walnut finish, serving up a splash of drama with that cocktail!
Designer Peter Bittner was charged with creating an “invisible kitchen” that would accentuate the blue ocean and sky of their Miami waterfront location. The perimeter maintains a low profile to blend in with the adjoining areas, accomplished with semi-gloss white integral-handle doors.
The bold feature of this design is the sapphire blue jeweled Galaxy Glass countertop. Resembling geodes, it incorporates a waterfall end, inlaid with horizontal glossy black bands. The island cabinetry’s black gloss finish continues the lines of the inlaid bands, avoiding any distraction from the showstopping countertop material.
So when is a white kitchen not really a white kitchen? When there are so many unique elements in the room that the white cabinets serve merely as a visual respite from the abundance of exciting details! For this new construction that was envisioned as a contemporary farmhouse, senior designer Randy O’Kane helped the customer realize her dream for an eclectic mix of vintage, rustic and modern. The focal point of the entire room is a 1930’s Chambers commercial range that the homeowner had refurbished and painted a bold verdant green by an autobody shop.
Hand-finished, distressed wood was used in a unique dual island with a built-in dining table sandwiched between two counter-height sections. The same wood was used on the curtain-front base for the console sink.
Topping the well-worn wood of the island prep areas is Pyrolave, which is a French-made enameled lava rock counter material with a subtle crackled finish. White glass counters grace the perimeter. Tying together the wood tones and the green range is the floor, with its stained and painted oversized checkered pattern. More vintage touches can be found in the tin ceiling, faux enamel labels on drawers, and a paneled refrigerator detailed with replicas of icebox hardware. A long storage wall resembles an old country store, with its floor-to-ceiling cabinetry and walnut rolling library ladder. The custom vent hood is comprised of shallow glass-fronted shadow boxes to showcase decorative serving pieces, and yellow walls provide a warm complement to all the finishes. Oh, and I almost forgot: the cabinets are white!
“Shades of Gray” isn’t just a best-selling series of erotic novels: it’s actually the next step forward in emboldened design choices for your kitchen renovation. Senior designer Danielle Florie’s customer was blessed with a beautifully landscaped property and wanted all the interior materials to bring an organic feeling to the room. The foundation for the scheme began with the flooring, whose variegated slate-look porcelain tiles serve as the jumping point for the design and reference the rock outcroppings just beyond their door.
A soft driftwood-inspired stain on the maple cabinetry allows the grain to peek through to reinforce the natural elements. The kitchen’s long wall boasts upper clerestory windows to bring in treetop views, so large-format wood-patterned backsplash tiles were installed all the way up to the ceiling to emphasize the woodsy outdoor environment.
What do you do when you own a center hall Colonial but dream of a farmhouse kitchen with a barn door and distressed wood? You design a farmhouse kitchen! This customer’s first statement to senior designer Randy O’Kane was, “I’m experiencing white kitchen fatigue”. She loves interior decoration and possesses a wonderful design sense, so her directive to Randy was to create a cozy, comfortable space that didn’t feel too “done” or untouchable. The challenge was to infuse a colonial home with a barn esthetic without going too rustic, so the decision was made to be judicious in the use of reclaimed wood.
Consequently the cabinets were painted with a warm green-tinged gray and the sliding barn door (a “must have “on the client’s list) for the entrance to the laundry room was constructed from hand-selected reclaimed barn wood. The long, wide planks of fumed wood flooring give the appearance of reclaimed lumber but don’t compete with the barn door.
A unique design detail is the double-door wall cabinets whose equal height doors are a welcome deviation from the more conventional smaller-door-on-top configuration. Some of the doors in the kitchen are fronted with wire mesh, while the butler’s pantry doors incorporate antique mirror fronts.
In addition to the chunky double pedestal table in the breakfast room, a custom counter-height farmhouse table was designed to sit against the center island countertop yet still remain freestanding for flexible placement when entertaining. The farmhouse comes to the colonial in perfect harmony!
Blue: the color of clear skies, our vast oceans, and our beloved jeans. It’s no surprise that blue is the favorite color for so many. When homeowners are willing to take a color risk for their kitchen, blue is often in their comfort zone. Whether light or dark, it’s always appealing.
Senior designer Rita Garcés worked on a Manhattan project that has been twice featured in Traditional Home Magazine. Its first appearance was in 1992, where the galley space was separated into two separate areas with traditional dark cherry cabinetry and polished brass hardware.
Twenty-three years later the revamped update earned a coveted cover spot! Rita opened the space into one area and selected a soft matte blue paint for the cabinetry to brighten the room. Reflective materials were chosen for other surfaces in order to add light: glass mosaic tiles; tinted mirror backsplash; polished granite counters; bronze-glazed porcelain floor tiles; stainless steel appliances; and polished nickel hardware and fixtures. The owners refused to play it safe and were rewarded with a twist on a classic look.
When your client is an interior designer renovating their own home, “tried and true” will probably not be a mandate in the design process. This New York City apartment is located in an early 20th century brownstone. The owner was just starting a family and not planning to move anytime soon, so the kitchen had to fit her playful personality. She chose a dark navy paint for the cabinets: Farrow & Ball’s “Railings”, and wasn’t afraid to pair it with a striking black Lacanche “Chagny” range.
Vermont soapstone countertops and apron front sink blend beautifully with the cabinets, and the unlacquered brass faucet and pulls repeat the brass trim on the range.
To ensure the space didn’t feel too dark, Randy suggested open walnut shelving with built-in LED lights for more illumination. Other room-brightening devices were the custom white vent hood and the crackle-finish subway tiles. A daring design that paid big dividends!
A bachelor with a White Plains penthouse apartment requested that his kitchen be a jewel box, since it was the centerpiece of the home. The space boasted floor-to-ceiling windows with views overlooking all of Westchester county, its sight lines reaching all the way to Manhattan. That breathtaking backdrop called for drama, so designer Jeni Spaeth responded with a deep regal blue on the perimeter cabinetry and natural walnut on the island.
The focal point of the kitchen is the black CornuFe’ range, trimmed with satin nickel and brass accents. The custom stainless and brass hood ties the mixed metal finishes together, and the brass accents are seen again on the cabinet latches, knobs and pulls. To maintain an open feeling, wall cabinets feature glass doors at the top; open display cabinets with arched valances anchor the two ends of the L-shaped layout. Blue Bahia granite on the island and soft beige tones for the perimeter counters and backsplash marry all the design components.
Senior designer Paula Greer has collaborated for many years with a designer whose vision has always been ahead of the curve. Before anyone else was even contemplating a blue kitchen, he was specifying a vibrant navy blue paint for this New York City client.
The bones of this room are very traditional: classic beaded inset construction for the uppers with separate top door sections; dark wood floors and ceiling coffers; subway tiles extended all the way to the ceiling; and hutch styling for the wall cabinets along one side of the room. But the striking blue perimeter and light-stained quarter-sawn oak island provide a fresh interpretation of a time-honored favorite. Gray grout for the backsplash creates a subtle graphic element, and the two different quartz countertops plants this beauty squarely in the 21st century.
When asked, “What’s your favorite color?”, most people would state either “blue” or “green”. My customers were definitely green people, but it had to be subtle. We finally settled on a custom pale sage green that was further muted with a hand-brushed pewter glaze.
Although the cabinet construction was flush inset, the doors and drawers were simple slabs. The glazed finish gave the impression of texture but didn’t overshadow the rugged surfaces of the reclaimed wood that was used on the floors, custom crossbuck end for the peninsula, and the open wall shelving.
The spacious room practically cried out for a large center island with abundant seating, but these homeowners had no intention of yielding to that design convention. In its place they found an antique carpenter’s bench (complete with a functioning vise!) to serve as a one-of-a-kind prep surface.
They also resisted the temptation to add recessed lighting, opting instead for a series of individual caged ceiling fixtures. This property is a working horse farm, and their unique kitchen puts a sophisticated, personal stamp on a rustic farmhouse concept.
Senior designer Randy O’Kane’s design-savvy customers were in total agreement about the direction they wanted to take for their kitchen renovation: she always dreamed of a sherbet-colored space, and he was onboard with whatever she wanted, as long as it wasn’t white! Pale yellow and mint green created a lighthearted atmosphere, while traditional inset cabinetry and cottage-inspired details on the wall cabinets and bar area kept it rooted in the classics. A pastel color theme could easily lean towards the cartoonish, but Randy wisely grounded the design with honed
Black Absolute granite countertops on the perimeter and teak countertops for the island and bar. Attached to the island is a custom dining-height farmhouse-style table, also in teak, that’s perfect for family gatherings. The backsplash tiles are pale green glass mosaics, and the cheerful pendant lights are Murano glass, custom made in Italy. Self-assured and balanced design choices turned this pastel palace upside down and helped it land firmly on its feet!
From the onset, senior designer Randy O’Kane knew these customers were gutsy: they announced their desire to incorporate a wide variety of metal finishes, which most people are hesitant to do. The backsplash tiles are honey bronze metal; appliances are stainless steel; faucets are pewter; hardware is antique gold; and the hood is stainless steel with antique gold accents.
Their color scheme offered even stronger confirmation of their fearlessness: a pale grayish green on the perimeter cabinets, and the deep eggplant tone of Benjamin Moore’s “Caponata” on the island. Their eclectic taste is exhibited at every turn: traditional inset cabinetry with contemporary pulls; a shapely classic metal hood set against a shimmery metal backsplash; and a mid-century tulip dining table surrounded by Lucite chairs.
But the most memorable element in the kitchen is the counter-height table cantilevered off the end of the island. This ingenious design consists of a 48” diameter live-edge slice of a burled maple tree supported by bundled tree limbs. This stunning room is a testament to the confidence of the owners, and perfectly reflects their personalities.
A non-white kitchen doesn’t have to be a painted one. If you’re “going against the grain”, then choosing wood surfaces is a logical direction. But these wood kitchens are far from run-of-the-mill. For a customer looking for a fresh interpretation of a timeless wood look, senior designer Danielle Florie created this contemporary stunner. Flush-front cabinets were chosen in a flat-cut natural walnut veneer for the base cabinets and island. For a touch of glamour, the wall cabinets were finished in a high-gloss black lacquer, and the hood and cabinet pulls are up-to-the minute brushed gold.
The eye-catching pendants over the island are 12-sided frosted glass globes trimmed in brushed gold, their artistry reflected in the glossy black cabinet fronts. Neutral-colored quartz countertops continue up the wall behind the hood and on the backsplash area for a clean, uncluttered look. They even captured the gold in the base of the the dining table, designed to look like the trunk of a tree.
Bilotta designer Daniel Popescu was challenged with designing a minimalist kitchen that enhanced the original architectural details of a downtown Manhattan loft. The raw space featured a rustic floor, exposed wood ceiling beams, raw steel support columns and an exposed brick wall, which was painted white.
To contrast all the roughhewn elements, Daniel chose a high-gloss polyester finish over dark-stained walnut veneer cabinetry. An unexpected touch is that the entire back wall of the kitchen was covered in mirror! It reflects and unifies the room’s sleek and rugged components and creates perfect harmony in this former industrial space.
When senior designer Rita Garcés set out to work on this new lakefront vacation home in upstate New York, the owners made two requests: they wanted the kitchen to complement the beautiful nature views, and there was no such thing as too much wood. Rita delivered a Craftsman-style masterpiece in richly grained walnut, with wide-framed repeated small panels characteristic of Arts and Crafts joinery.
On the long appliance wall, she employed the inventive technique of slightly recessing the center section of cabinets. The variation of planes creates depth and a visual dance of surfaces. And because entertaining large groups is the prime directive for a vacation home, the island employed some clever engineering that allows the attached table to pull out to seat a crowd.
Rita Garcés is also the creative hand behind this reinterpretation of a 19th century scullery kitchen. Originally a typical New York City galley layout, this project is all about textures, patterns and mixing materials. The focal point of the room is the regal La Cornue range and matching hood in black enamel trimmed with nickel and brass.
Matching La Cornue base cabinets flank the range and are repeated on the opposite wall. More period detailing can be found in the checkered marble floor, coved tin ceiling, and additional cabinetry in a traditional cherry raised panel door style.
To avoid the railroad tunnel pitfall of a galley kitchen, Rita divided the room with archways to visually cut its length. Beyond the archways, at the far end of the kitchen, are not just a refrigerator, but a stacking washer/dryer, both disguised with cherry panels. The only white to be found here is marble!
What happens when you cross a downtown NYC loft with an uptown “classic 5” apartment? You get this chic contemporary industrial loft stunner! Senior designer Jeff Eakley’s customer is a designer with whom he’s collaborated for many years, so for his own apartment he wanted something completely original and individual: drama was the order of the day, with dark moody finishes and rich textural contrast.
The star of the show is the patinated stainless steel surface of the wall cabinets, whose golden undertones echo the blackened burnished gold decorative hardware. Leathered limestone backsplash tiles and honed black granite countertops on the perimeter are upstaged only by the horizontal-grained rift cut white oak bases with ebony stain and wire-brushing effect.
A traditional rolling library ladder, here interpreted in modern black lacquer, make short work of the high ceiling-level cabinets. Designers always do something unpredictable in their own homes, and this kitchen is no exception: he rejected the typical island base cabinets with an overhang for seating and opted instead for a custom dining table with a honed marble top. It can still serve as a prep surface, but the open base creates a clear sight line from the adjacent living area straight through to the back wall.
Now for the grand finale. These owners loved the look of the La Cornue enameled cabinets with metal strapping, but wanted it for the entire kitchen, not just for a few accent pieces. This kitchen sets that look on its ear with a one-of-a-kind twist. Senior designer Paula Greer, in collaboration with the architect, set about to make these customers’ dreams come true, but it would require some serious custom manufacturing ingenuity.
The cabinet boxes (minus the doors and panels) were made by our own “Bilotta Collection” cabinetmaker. The design team engineered the doors and panels to an exacting 1/32 of an inch, and Paula sourced them from a local custom metal fabricator. They’re framed entirely in metal with polished chrome perimeter strapping that surrounds a gray powder-coated center surface.
The effect is reminiscent of 19th century steamer trunks, here realized in modern metal. This room provides another example of replacing conventional recessed ceiling lights with a series of individual glass fixtures. It’s worth noting that this kitchen was planned years before metal doors first entered our kitchen design lexicon: it was way ahead of its time!
So, did any of these extraordinary kitchen ideas resonate with you? If yes, we hope you’re inspired to take a leap of faith and do what makes your heart sing! We’re here to hold your hand every step of the way. Cheers to 2020!
This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 25 years. In a recent review of a project she completed her client said: “[Paulette] has many years of experience and her knowledge, taste, suggestions, and planning were outstanding. Her designs…were always on target and on time. Her attention to detail was impressive. Her flexibility and patience were outstanding. She was always available and treated us warmly and professionally. She never missed a step. We can unequivocally recommend her.”