The Unicorn Is In The Details

About four years ago we engaged in our first foray into the wonderful world of kitchen redesigns. At the time, we took an early-90’s builder-grade townhouse kitchen, with its indeterminate-origin wood cabinets and laminate floor, and turned it into what we thought was the pinnacle of individualistic design. We wanted white cabinets, dark stone countertops and stainless appliances. After our designer got through yawning hugely, he suggested we consider doing the little island in — gasp! — a different finish. This totally rocked our worlds, and we got wild and crazy by adding a dark cherry island to go with our white surround cabinets. Then we realized that every single other kitchen looks exactly like that.

This time around, we wanted something a bit more unique, and our designer was visibly relieved when the first thing we said to him was, “No white cabinets.” What we really wanted, though, was black painted cabinets. That notion was quickly torpedoed when we discovered that even with an astronomical budget, we couldn’t afford paint. Apparently they paint black kitchen cabinets with solid gold or something. So our designer suggested we go with a dark cherry base wood with a black stain, and we were really taken with how it was as dark as what we were looking for, but had the pleasing warmth of natural wood.


The only problem with this finish is that we couldn’t think of a single thing we wanted to off-set it with. We’d liked the look in our last kitchen of the island being like its own piece of furniture, but in this new design, if we went with the dark wood in the surround, we couldn’t imagine what finish would make the island and hutch look even more sophisticated. The thought of having a lighter wood or, heaven forbid, white, was too much to bear. So with no small reluctance, we decided the only thing to do was have every single cabinet in the cavernous kitchen be made of exactly the same thing.

After scaling back our dreams of painted cabinetry, we had to move on to our dreams of having ornate cabinetry. We hate, hate, hate shaker-front cabinets. HATE. We have a personal style we like to call “Modwardian”, a combination of our taste for masculine Victorian/Edwardian design and fondness for extremely modern style elements. (We also like just about everything in between, so we just call anything we like “Modwardian”. Hey, we invented the style, so we make the rules.) In this case, we wanted all kinds of fancy working on the cabinet panels, but, alas, we couldn’t afford to have that on the acres and acres of cabinetry that the new design was going to incorporate. So our designer suggested we get back into the mindset of the island and hutch not matching the surround, but in a more subtle way, with the difference being the style of the cabinets.

It seemed so easy, and so brilliant! We could totally swallow the idea of Shaker front (read: “cheaper”) cabinets on the surround if we could ratchet up the Modwardian with each other element of the kitchen. As it turns out, the wood finish we picked ends up making the Shaker front look more modern than plain:


So we painstakingly selected two other styles of cabinet fronts, and then, in the 18 months before the job actually started, our designer lost the paper on which he’d written down our choices. Muttering under our breath the whole time, we hastily tried to re-create what we wanted, going with a moderately ornate front for the hutch, and a super-swanky panel for the island. After the order was placed, our designer found the paper with our original choices, and it turns out we’d flipped the swankiness — our original thought had been to make the hutch fancy and the island more plain, but in the end, there’s more cabinetry on the island, so we’re happier with the really detailed stuff on there.

Here’s the hutch’s cabinet front:


And here’s what we went with on the island:


Our designer’s big thing is that his wife has a storefront design business that specializes in knobs and drawer pulls. So when you work with him, you have to put in hours of selecting drawer pulls. We nearly cried when he told us he’d lost the paper with our choices, because really, who can go through 10 million drawer pulls twice? Thank heavens we didn’t go through the process a second time before he stumbled upon our choices.

With the Shaker front, on the surrounds, we picked something we thought screamed “Modwardian!”:


With the medium-swanky hutch we decided to take our inspiration from the bathroom at our grandmother’s house in the Chicago suburbs:


And on the island, we opted for fancy:


We’d be lying if we said our designer didn’t try to beat us into giving up on the “multiple cabinet fronts” thing after he forgot our original choices. In fact, he ordered all Shaker-front, and it was only after much protestation on our parts that he started straightening things out. At this moment, we’re still waiting on two of the correct drawer fronts. But we’re glad we stuck to our guns, because this kitchen totally wouldn’t be Modwardian if it wasn’t just a bit more complicated than it needs to be.



Filed under Unicorn Kitchen

17 responses to “The Unicorn Is In The Details

  1. The Unicorn Kitchen continues to leave me awestruck. The time that you have invested in it makes me think you are creating golden egg scrambles daily.

  2. I never meant to imply we aren’t creating golden egg scrambles daily. We don’t have all the amenities previously discussed in the golden-egg thread, but the scrambles themselves? For sure.

  3. I’m impressed that you don’t stop with the Modwardian look. You work in the whole Modwardian concept.

  4. Lovely knobs. I love the little octagonal glass knobs. They never look out of place.

  5. Oh, Modwardian is TOTALLY a way of life. :P

    I adore glass knobs like that! If this had been entirely up to me, all the cabinets would have had them. They are my absolute fav flav!

  6. I am not up on my design terms. I’m so confused… I didn’t want to admit it because I like to claim I know everything but really I don’t. Shaker-front? Beats me. It’s kosher to call things I like Modwardian? Am I reading this right?

  7. I’m sorry, HG, but we can’t be friends anymore now that you’ve admitted you don’t know everything. :P

    Shaker style cabinets have simple, plain paneled fronts (like in the picture of ours), inspired by the craftwork and design aesthetic of the Shakers. It’s a pretty versatile style if you’re looking for something Craftsman-y, or Arts-and-Crafts-y, or really modern. But it’s not, in principle, really our thing. We like much more froufy cabinetry!

    And Modwardian, while technically a fusion of Modern and Edwardian, really has just become a term for “things we like”, so yeah, it’s probably kosher for you to use it that way, too! :D

  8. But at least I know to admit it. :)

    You had me right up until Craftsman-y. Just kidding. I found that link neat-o. I love Wikipedia. On one visit to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, I wrote down all the different design aesthetics and what time period they were most popular. It’s somewhere in my craft room/foot stool/coffee table so one day I’ll find it.

    I think using Modwardian as a blanket term for “things you like” is a good plan. I don’t think there is a classification for “things I like.” It’s more if I look at it and I like it then I like it. Maybe I’ll call it “HGian.”

  9. HGian! That’s a fantastic design term! (Pookie and I both have degrees in Art History, so we like to pretend we know what we’re talking about. She actually studied architecture and shit, though, and has a mind like a steel trap, so she remembers all that crap. Me? I know nothing. I just nod and smile and pretend I’m keeping up.) (Okay, that’s not true. I learned how to tell what part of the 18th Century a piece of furniture has come from: “The curlier the earlier, the straighter the later.” That’s all you need to know.)

  10. She actually studied architecture and shit, though, and has a mind like a steel trap, so she remembers all that crap.

    My problem is that I hear about a style and go, “Ooh, I love Neo-Classical!” then “Ooh, I love Viennese Arts & Crafts!” then “Ooh, I love Rococo!” then “Oooh, I love Bauhaus!” Um… Pookie? I hate to tell you this, but those styles are all pretty much mutually exclusive. You can’t love Rococo and Bauhaus! Of course, if it’s Modwardian Rococo and Modwardian Bauhaus, it’s all good!

  11. Um… Pookie? I hate to tell you this, but those styles are all pretty much mutually exclusive.

    This is why we need six kitchens.

  12. I can’t wait to see our Modmannerist kitchen!

  13. Modmannerism is going to ROCK.

  14. I think my design style has something to do with texture. I love things that feel good. And something to do with the way they fit into my routine. An HGian textine, if you will.

  15. Oooooohhh! A textine! Texture is an oft-overlooked element that is way more important to sensory satisfaction than many give it credit for. I think the fact that you’re a texthete is something to celebrate!

  16. I think I might start calling my style, “Post-Retro”.

    It really wants to be retro, but retro’s getting kind of passé. :D

  17. Post-Retro is a perfect term for it — it keeps you cutting edge!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s