NEW YORK — Clare Donohue first met with her clients in their Harlem, NY loft apartment just as the sun was setting. That timing proved to be fortunate and foundational to its entire transformation since it exposed a significant issue the homeowners had experienced since moving in.
Originally, they had a white kitchen with bright, white laminate cabinetry. On the surface, it sounded appropriate. However, the open-concept space was shared with the living and dining area, which, at certain times of the day, showcased a beautiful city view via two walls of windows.
“When I walked in, I immediately noticed that you couldn’t see out of the windows…at all,” says the owner/designer of One to One Studio in New York City. “All you could see was the reflection of the kitchen. It destroyed the nighttime view.
“I was lucky to have that early evening appointment,” she continues. “I loved the idea of the white, lofty open space, and if I would have walked into the kitchen at noon, I would have thought it should be white. But as I stood there, I knew we needed to do something to eliminate those reflections, because without a doubt, the windows and the view are what make this space great. It was my job to make that visible to everyone.”
Ironically, that ‘something’ turned out to be a complete 180 degrees from light to dark, beginning with custom-made charcoal-stained white oak cabinetry from NR Wood Design.
“I figured that if we made that back wall dark, my clients would be able to see out at night…and it worked!” she remarks.
The dark cabinetry is not only a practical solution but also ‘softer’ than going black, and it fits the personality of Donohue’s clients, who she describes as a little bit rock and roll.
“They previously lived downtown and they have a really cool vibe,” she explains. “They have some rock-related artwork they love, and every time I saw them, they seemed to have just been to an amazing concert.”
Donohue accented the wall cabinets with glass wire doors, which add texture and a hint of ‘antique’ to keep the space from being too hard edged or uber modern.
“We agreed early on that we liked the texture of dishes and dry goods being visible through the doors,” she notes. “And that element brings color, warmth and vibrancy to what might otherwise be a strictly modern design. This ‘warm modern’ style is something I really like to do, and I like kitchens that look like they actually get used and cooked in!”
Since a ventilation hood is not a requirement of New York City kitchens, the designer was able to extend the glass-door cabinetry the entire width of the kitchen for an uninterrupted visual. A passive ceiling vent over the Wolf stove recirculates air and stainless sheeting protects the underside of the cabinets.
“The husband cooks, and he’s very tall, so we were able to include storage over the stove,” she explains, adding that he wanted to be able to easily grab oils and staples as he cooks.
To keep wall cabinetry contents accessible to his petite wife, the designer specified that holes for the shelves be drilled nearly to the bottom of the cabinets so shelves could be positioned at an easy-to-reach height for her.
“Oftentimes, shelves are spaced out every 12″,” she says. “But you can lose so much space because you really don’t need that much height for a stack of plates or cups.”
While the kitchen is large by New York City standards, by American standards it’s relatively small. Fortunately, Donohue’s clients are relatively minimal so they didn’t have huge storage needs.
“They don’t collect extraneous stuff,” she indicates. “We were actually lucky to have enough space to provide more cabinets than they could fill.”
Even so, Donohue was cognizant to make every cabinet count. For example, the base drawer to the right of the stove organizes spices horizontally in the top and stores cutting boards vertically in the bottom. The island supports storage needs with deep drawers for pots/pans and a pullout for trash/recycling.
The designer was even able to create a cocktail niche that she accented with an antiqued mirror wire glass backsplash, storage for glassware and a Sub-Zero beverage refrigerator. Located next to the Liebherr refrigerator, which is paneled in cabinetry sheathed in Benjamin Moore’s Whale Gray, the niche complements the more extensively furnished bar cart around the corner.
“It’s a special space for my clients, and is one place they really enjoy,” she explains. “They can come home, set down their keys and mix a drink.”
Incorporating texture and warmth
The charcoal gray cabinetry is complemented with a backsplash in the same color palette, represented by TileBar’s Diesel Camp Rock Black 4″x12″ ceramic tile. Made to resemble brick, it offers a bit of sheen that keeps the wall from looking too flat, while its crackle finish adds texture for interest.
“It does a great job of maintaining the darkness of the wall to prevent reflections, but it’s also interesting when you walk up to it,” she states.
Admittedly, it wasn’t Donohue’s first choice, as she had envisioned a dramatic stone backsplash that would be a focal point from the dining table.
“But when we made the trip to Queens to the stone yard, I saw that my clients simply could not get excited about any of the gorgeous slabs I showed them,” she recalls. “As an afterthought, as we were waiting on the platform for the train heading back to the city, I pulled out two brick tile samples I had stuck in my bag. I couldn’t believe it when I saw their eyes light up…there was the excitement I’d been waiting for all day!”
A Kohler Purist bridge faucet in Matte Black blends relatively quietly against the tile so as not to detract. The Signature Hardware farmhouse sink, also in black, offers a spacious basin for cleanup.
“Initially they were concerned that a farmhouse sink would be too ‘country’ for them,” she says. “But I assured them it would look more industrial in this setting. I love using farm sinks, especially in small rooms, because they have so much usable basin space.”
Caesarstone’s Rugged Concrete quartz serves as the countertop surface. Quartz is often a recommendation from the designer given its durability and stain resistance, and this particular pattern’s remarkable resemblance to concrete supports the kitchen’s vibe.
While gray is the overriding hue for the room, Donohue wanted to bring in some warmth, thus the walnut island and floor. Giving the island legs disguises its mass and makes it feel ‘lighter’ and smaller than its actual size. In addition to providing storage, it is also home to the speed oven/microwave, which she positioned directly across from the Bosch dishwasher and sink, thereby keeping all the ‘utility’ functions faced away or hidden from public view.
Two black Andrew Neyer ‘Yoyo’ pendants hover above the island. Their location was tweaked slightly from the original kitchen because Donohue made changes to the adjacent entry and laundry closet.
“My clients inherited a terrible layout with terrible sightlines,” she recalls. “The entry was a small, closed-off mess that blocked the amazing views. The previous owner made things worse by building a wall of closets that pushed the furniture into the middle of the room and blocked the pathway to the windows and balcony. By reorganizing the foyer, flipping the laundry closet 90° and moving the refrigerator to create an L-shaped kitchen, we were able to gain storage in the foyer and kitchen. It really made the entire design work!” ▪