If you are renovating or following any designer on Instagram you know lead times are truly OUT OF THIS WORLD right now. I’m talking 20 weeks for even a piece of furniture (ok that’s a long one but not as rare as you’d think). So when our friend Anne Sage emailed us about this stunning kitchen and told us it was completed in two months…during covid (cut to everyone doing a spit take) we needed to know HOW! Plus I mean, look at this beauty. Like we weren’t going to show you regardless?? It’s perfectly modern and sleek while still being warm and inviting. NOT an easy combo but one that was very important to her clients as they have, let’s just say… opposing styles.
So for the first WOW moment, take a look at this before…
I KNOW. So let’s get to Anne and see how she made this possible in such a short amount of time.
How did you get this beautiful kitchen done in two months…during covid?? Any tips and tricks?
It definitely feels pretty miraculous that we turned it around as quickly as we did! A few reflections on how we managed to do it:
1. We jumped on a last-minute opening in our contractor’s schedule and ran with it! We met with him for the first time at the house on a Wednesday, and by Friday we were in demo mode. We didn’t even have designs for the kitchen yet! While I of course don’t suggest making hasty decisions, but I do recommend keeping your eyes open for the signs and opportunities telling you it’s go-time.
2. We chose materials based on when we could get them (i.e. ASAP!) and worked our design around that. If something couldn’t ship out in time for our install, we didn’t even consider it. (BOXI by Semihandmade played a huge role here, since their cabinets ship in 2-3 weeks from the date you order them!)
3. Incorporating vintage elements into the space also helped us stay on track. There are already so many great reasons to shop vintage—it’s environmentally responsible, it’s one-of-a-kind—but in these COVID times, it has the added benefit of no manufacturing delays since it already exists! Plus if you purchase your vintage items locally, you can have them THAT DAY. Incredible, haha!
If you can share what was your client’s budget? Did you have to pay extra to rush anything?
We started with a budget of $60k, but that included also redoing the floors throughout the entire house and painting every room in the house. We ended up spending more like $80k, after deciding to do some additional work like giving the fireplace in the living room a facelift and replacing all the baseboards. It’s a bit tricky to separate out what the kitchen itself cost, since it was all folded into the work on the house as a whole. But if I had to guess, I’d say $40k? And while we didn’t have to pay extra to rush anything materials-wise, my project manager and I definitely put in a ton of extra hours visiting the house (usually twice daily, morning and evening!) to make sure the tradesmen were staying on track. Which I guess is paying extra, in a way.
On the topic of visiting the job site daily to monitor the work, and racking up our hours that way, we also had some unfortunate occurrences with one of our tradesmen that is all-too-frequent in the construction industry. I won’t go into great detail, but suffice to say that the relationship became sufficiently strained that two days before my client was scheduled to move in, our painter walked off the job site leaving the work unfinished and the site sabotaged.
I was SO determined that my client not have to change their move-in date that I scrambled to find an emergency crew to replace him. I’d learned about a home project management app called Pulled last Christmas when I ordered my Christmas tree through them, so as a last-ditch effort I gave them a call and explained the situation. The next morning at 8 am, the founder of the app himself showed up with a crew of four pros and helped us finish painting all the rooms and laying all the baseboards. (LIFESAVERS!!!)
Then, since the day we’d reserved for cleaning the house ended up being used to finish the construction, I and a few friends did the cleaning the morning before the family moved in. (It was Easter Sunday, so all the cleaning crews were understandably not available). I guess the moral of this story is that to finish an 8-week renovation like this, you have to be willing to all hands on deck and get ‘er done no matter what!
Did you have to deal with any structural issues when demoing?
We took the main floor of the space from three small, cramped rooms (kitchen, dining, living) into one large open concept! It required opening out big chunks of the ceiling, taking down the dividing walls, and shoring things up with some new structural support beams in the ceiling. There were also several different levels of ceiling (thank you, 1980s architecture) and we made them all one height for a greater sense of continuity. All that work represented a pretty significant chunk of our budget and timeline—but it also gave us a bit of breathing room in the schedule for the kitchen materials to arrive.
What did your client ask for in terms of style, materials, and function?
The client was a husband/wife pair and the project was a balancing act between her boho inclinations and his more modern taste. There were a few style requests they both agreed on from the beginning: They both wanted black cabinets, liked the earthy look of concrete, and didn’t want the space to feel too delicate or fussy. They’re both quite tall, so appreciate finishes and furnishings that have a certain weightiness to them.
Height also played a role in some of the functional decisions we made—specifically, raising the countertops from the standard 36” to a custom height of 38”. Since our BOXI cabinets and all our appliances were off-the-shelf in terms of standard sizing, our contractor built a platform beneath everything. Rather than use the 4” toe kick that came with the cabinetry, he then painted a 1×8 board to match the matte back cabinets and used that as our toe kick. We got the clients the extra height they wanted but still managed to stay on schedule without any time-consuming customizations!
Another functional request from the client was a place to store cookbooks. It ended up being the perfect way to use that corner area to the left of the sink! Corners are SO tricky in kitchens and often end up being dead space, but I really love our little solution of continuing the open shelf into the corner and then adding a second shelf above. It looks intentional and streamlined, and makes use of every inch in the kitchen!
Was there a discussion of island vs dining table?
There sure was! We explored multiple layouts before arriving at this one. Because we were opening out the kitchen walls and extending the kitchen space into what had been the original dining area, it meant there was no longer a designated dining room. We played around with layouts that had only a kitchen island, but ultimately decided that for daily family life, it wasn’t ideal to have only a counter-height spot to eat. Then, we tried layouts that featured a small island and small dining table, but that would have felt cramped in a space whose entire purpose was to cultivate an open and airy feel. So I rounded up several photos of kitchens in which a long table sits where an island would, creating a hybrid island/dining vibe. We all agreed that it was our best solution!
I love how the appliances really blend into the kitchen so perfectly! But was there a discussion of integrated appliances? If so, what was the determining factor to forgo them?
Appliances are amongst the most back-ordered materials on the market right now, so we were lucky to get these in time! As mentioned before, we limited our selection pool to what was most readily available, and these appliances were the first available in a darker colorway. Integrated appliances would have meant waiting weeks more.
However, we did base our cabinet layout on the idea of making the three tall pantry cabinets on the left to be the exact dimensions of the fridge and single tall cabinet on the right. That is to say, three 18” cabinets on the left are the mirror of the 18” double fridge doors and one 18” cabinet. So there’s the streamlined feeling of integration without having to wait or pay extra for actual integrated appliances. As well, the gorgeous waterfall edge surrounding the dishwasher also adds to that streamlined, quasi-integrated effect!
So I don’t think I’ve ever loved an espresso-like toned wood tone so much! What was the inspo to go darker in a world of light/medium wood tones?
The choice of wood was informed by a couple of things! Firstly, I mentioned the client’s boho inclinations; bringing some earthy raw walnut into the space was a way of adding an organic touch to soften the modern matte black finish of the cabinets.
Secondly, since we were doing white oak floors throughout, I didn’t want to use light woods in the open shelving, table, and chairs. It felt like I needed to incorporate materials that provided a half-step between the light floors and dark black of the kitchen cabinets; the espresso-toned woods tie the light and dark elements together by acting as a bridge.
Jess Note: Ok I think “espresso” or very dark woods like walnut are going to hit big this year. And while this wood table and chairs are, of course, the most beautiful form, we are pretty into it. Is this year that light, blonde wood will be knocked out of first place???
The subway tile is both simple but so special because of the color you chose. What is that tile and what grout color did you use?
Isn’t that tile a showstopper? Fireclay Tile is my go-to, and this is their Glazed Thin Brick in the color “Elk”. Fireclay offers several of their colors in a quick-ship option (ships out in 5 days or less!) and I ordered samples of all of them to show to the client. Elk was not in fact a quick ship, but I threw it into the mix because I knew with the initial structural work we were doing, we had that room for a bit of a longer lead time on the tile. (Tile has the benefit of being one of the last things to go in!)
Jess Note: Not all subway tile needs to be the classic white. You can still have that classic look while stepping a little outside the box with varying tiles and grout color combos.
We tried a few different tile colorways in our renderings and the Elk won by a landslide. It felt cool and modern—and evoked the feel of concrete, which the client had listed as style inspiration—but also brought warmth and organicism, since each tile is handmade and unique.
In terms of the install, we considered a grid layout but opted for a traditional offset subway pattern (with a ⅜” thickness), again for that feeling of warmth (a grid was farther down the path of contemporary than we wanted to go).
I chose the Polyblend Oyster Gray grout because it was the closest tone-on-tone warm grey to the color of the tile. I briefly toyed with the idea of a dark charcoal-colored tile—it would have been a very cool effect to be sure—but ultimately really wanted the tile itself to be the star. A monochromatic grout lets that Fireclay Brick really shine!
Oof those countertops are beautiful! What kind of stone is it and how did you go about finding it?
The counters are a quartz by an Italian company named Antolini. This is their Belvedere colorway, a delicious black with tons of yummy gold, white, and burnt sienna veining. I’d received a sample of it in a press kit about a year earlier and had been keeping it in my back pocket for just the right project to use it on. Everywhere I looked was sold out of it, though, so I dragged my fabricator to a few different stoneyards in LA looking for something similar. At the last place we tried, I showed them my sample and they just happened to have one slab that someone had bought and returned! It felt like stars aligning and I was jumping up and down like a little gleeful kid when they forklifted it out for me. The total surface area of our counters was small enough that one slab did the job, thankfully.
Oh, and as for that waterfall edge next to the dishwasher, that was something we decided we wanted pretty early on in the design process. The stairs and outer edge of that cabinet bank are the first thing you see when you walk in the front door, so it felt really important to make it a special visual moment!
Tell me about the stairs? What was that process like to get them to look like that?
OH BOY, those stairs! What a journey! So as I mentioned previously, our initial scope of work included redoing the floors throughout the house. Downstairs, it was a simple swap of replacing the old vinyl floors with new engineered hardwood in a 7” white European oak. Upstairs, however, had hardwood floors already—so the client opted to sand and stain them to match the finish of the new floors downstairs. To replace the floors entirely would have blown out our budget, so sanding and refinishing them with the same stain used upstairs was the route we chose. They’re not an exact match with the new floors used downstairs, but they’re pretty darn close!
Have you ever worked with IKEA boxes before and Semihandmade fronts? If so, how was using BOXI different?
I’ve done two IKEA/Semihandmade kitchen installs before, including one in my own home! I’ve always loved the result from a Semihandmade kitchen, both in terms of function as well as finished aesthetics.
And now, working with the BOXI cabinets was a total dream beyond even the Semihandmade. For starters, my contractor was thrilled to learn that he didn’t have to assemble anything from IKEA, ha! It was really easy to design the kitchen using the BOXI components—there was enough variety in the offerings that I could get exactly the look and function that I wanted, but not so many options that I got overwhelmed. Then cabinets arrived ready to install just two weeks after we placed our order, the ultimate in cabinetry plug-and-play. They look so luxe, too. It really feels like a custom kitchen with none of the waiting time, cost, or additional work!
How did you and your client go about planning out the cabinets/storage needs to best fit their lives?
My client is a family of four with two young children, so we knew that maximizing storage would be essential. Floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinets are a great way to do that, and BOXI offers a pull-out drawer option in those tall cabinets, which I love for easy access to food and dishwares. Around the stove, we opted for a mix of deep drawers for pots and pans, and then hinged cabinet doors that hide additional pull-out drawers for utensils. (Can you tell I love drawers?!) Then right next to the sink is BOXI’s pull-out trash receptacle cabinet, which hides both trash and recycling bins!
I love the simple detail and added warmth of the open shelves. What was the process of getting them made?
The open shelves I commissioned from a fantastic finishing carpenter I’d worked with before. They were the last thing to be installed—actually they went in the week after the family moved in! They’re 12 inches deep and are mounted using super heavy duty brackets that required opening back up the drywall. (I had a small heart attack when I saw him doing that!)
What are some tips you can give people who want a dark kitchen but still make it feel warm and inviting like this one?
1. Work with a contrasting mix of finishes: We paired earthy, grained walnut wood with our modern matte black cabinets, chose a black countertop material that still had plenty of warm, chocolate-y veining in it, and added touches of brushed brass to bounce light around the space.
2. Leave some white space: We opted to do tile only beneath the open shelving. This of course helped keep our budget and timeline in check, but mostly we did it because we wanted to leave some negative space and provide the eye with relief from all the surface finishes. I like to think of the white walls above our open shelving as visual palate cleansers, a break for your eyes in between admiring those black cabinets, grey tiles, and dreamy black counter slab!
3. Go light on the floors: I definitely would have approached this kitchen totally differently if the client hadn’t opted for those European white oak floors! They lay such a bright and breezy foundation, we could afford to go moodier with cabinets, counter, and backsplash.
4. Don’t skip a rug: A rug in a kitchen is a great way to warm things up no matter what your color palette. This vintage runner from Bente Vintage was an absolute perfect fit, both in terms of size and vibe. It adds that boho flair the client likes, but also feels very graphic and crisp!
5. Incorporate playful shapes!: I’ve been dying to use Louis Poulsen’s VL38 sconces in a kitchen for ages, so I was thrilled when the client was into them. They’ve got this pudgy, squatty silhouette that reminds me of a cute little gnome—yet they manage to be utterly sophisticated at the same time. They bring a jovial energy to the space!
It’s Jess again! I told you it was good. Hopefully, if you are renovating or planning to start a reno that you got some great tips because there were so many. Thank you Anne for sharing this wonderful kitchen and your wisdom with us:)
Did you think I’d end this without a before and after side by side?! NEVER.
And actually, I’m not done yet because I want to talk covid renos! How have you been dealing with the lead times? Do you have any other tips and tricks you’d like to share with the class? Any cautionary tales? Do you think dark woods are going to be a trend this year? See you in the comments!
Love you, mean it.