National Post (Latest Edition)
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
When it comes to high-end kitchen design, the difference — and staying power — is all in the details
These days, it’s really not that hard to design a kitchen that looks fabulous. You can pretty much load up your car with boxes from the local building or Scandi design store and build something that looks just like a magazine picture, and you can spend as much or as little money as you choose. But, not surprisingly, there’s a reason one pictureperfect kitchen costs 10 times as much as another.
As kitchen designer Kevin Karst observes diplomatically, it might not be such a disappointment if a kitchen from a box store doesn’t last more than a few years, if you only paid a few thousand. It’s when you get into the higher end that the differences between a good kitchen and a great one really begin to tell: A client who commissions a kitchen that costs $85,000 or more is entitled to a product that will last for decades. And that kind of durability is much more than skin-deep.
Over the course of a 35-year career, Karst has gathered a unique perspective on what goes into a really well-made custom kitchen. He worked for years in the contract furniture industry, where he gained insight into, among other things, how to make cabinetry and veneers that stand up to years of hard use. From his work in the retail interior industry, he internalized the principles of space organization and the importance of efficient lighting. He has also worked as a custom millworker, and in product management for Irpinia Kitchens and AyA Kitchens. In short, Karst is intimately familiar with both the economies of massproduction and the techniques of Old World craftsmanship.
Karst showed us a beautiful Modernist kitchen he recently completely in the Beaches area that not only has a sleek and stunning look, but is easy to live and work in. But some of its most high-quality details, just as in the finest haute couture, are in places you may not notice.
BOOK-MATCHED AND SEQUENCED CABINETRY FRONTS
Customizing the veneer for the cabinetry and other sections (such as the buffet and island) is one of the most painstaking parts of Karst’s process. He learned the ropes while working at the contract furniture company Knoll, where different furniture pieces are often made in different areas of the factory, so the wood grain must be carefully matched.
First, the veneer is cut from a single tree and the slices sequenced numerically. When the sheets arrive at Karst’s east-end Toronto factory, they are laid out side-by-side and the pattern of the fronts outlined in chalk, ensuring that the grain matches exactly before being cut. It also allows him to select the most beautiful parts of the grain (what he calls “flames and cathedrals”) to be shown to best advantage. For a broad expanse such as the island front, he custom orders a single piece to eliminate seams. In this case, the island is fronted by a single piece nine feet wide.
Often, the first areas that deteriorate in a kitchen are the working parts — door hinges, shelves, and drawer rails. While wandering through the Chicago Merchandise Mart during a trade visit a few years ago, he stumbled across the Austrian hardware manufacturer Grass. “They are the best on the planet, in my opinion,” he says. The undermount steel rails can support some 70 kg, more than enough for a deep drawer filled with pots and pans.
The rails on the overhead folding doors also stay put in any position you place them, so you can leave them half open while you put away dishes. Hardware of this quality, he says, will continue to operate smoothly for a lifetime with only occasional tightening.
One of the hardest areas in a kitchen to turn into usable storage space is the corners. Here, an ingenious contraption attached to the corner drawer pulls out and to the side, revealing two full-size, cantilevered steel shelves. The steel wire construction not only adds strength, but also allows light transfer so you can see the contents more easily, and also makes them much easier to keep clean.
Even the strongest components can be affected by years of opening, closing and bearing heavy loads, so the fronts and other working parts can be adjusted using hidden screws. “Particularly in a Modernist design, if the grain doesn’t line up, it looks awful. But it’s also a wear point — if the edges begin rubbing together, that’s where the finish can be rubbed off or chipped, and you get moisture and other problems.” All surfaces of both carcasses (boxes) and front edges are “eased” — slightly rounded — with thick edge-banding, making them more durable than solid wood.
Karst himself designed a special system for mounting floating shelves, seen in the buffet in the dining area, that makes them very strong without any visible means of support. The secret is welded steel tubing, mounted at regular intervals in a support structure hidden in the wall behind, and which are threaded into corresponding holes drilled into the shelf boards. “We did a single long shelf like this for an academic’s office for his books, that was 14 feet long.” Try that with a regular shelf and brackets.
LIGHTING AND BACKSPLASH
Karst may be an expert on kitchen construction, but he understands the importance of specialists, such as his lighting subcontractor, DDM Lighting, to focus on this critical aspect of kitchen design. The lighting consists of a single, slim LED strip light mounted on the ceiling, placed precisely to elimin- ate shadowing for a person working at the counter below, and a matching strip suspended on aircraft wires over the island. A series of smaller strips attached to the underside of the cabinets is angled at an exact 20 degrees toward the back-painted, tempered-glass backsplash. This not only allows light to bounce softly off the backsplash, but prevents people sitting at the island from being blinded. A white quartz counter also helps to brighten the working area.
Not only does Karst believe that working closely with specialists where desirable is highly cost-efficient, but he understands that the entire process of designing and building a kitchen works most efficiently when you collaborate with the other trades right from the initial stages. “In this way, you can design in a way that suits each subspecialty without having to compromise or adjust once the construction is underway.”
A perfect example is the sink in the island. Plumbing for the deep 10-inch sink had to accommodate a large drawer placed directly underneath. The drain and other pipes were angled to the back of the drawer opening, while the drawer interior was designed to be low enough to clear the pipes neatly when closed.