Design Challenge: Through the Window

In the world of luxury kitchen design, designers and clients alike seek to achieve a level of grandeur in their work– perhaps in the form of a drop dead gorgeous burgundy La Cornue island, a statement light fixture, or a massive semiprecious countertop. But sometimes these heavy-hitters are simply too big to be brought up in an elevator or up the stairs – what then? 


Let us take a scenario I recently encountered in for a client with an elegantly appointed loft on the upper east side. The client wanted a 9 x 5 foot Carrara marble island; one continuous, giant slab. This piece, however, couldn’t fit even horizontally in the largest elevator in the building!

While the facades of luxury high-rises in Manhattan echo grandeur of an earlier time, their interiors especially back and service entrances often also reflect an older period- one of far more diminutive proportions! These narrow staircases and petite elevators were truly not built for the rigors of modern construction nor the magnitude of modern taste.

The alternative: We take out the windows and hoist the giant countertop in on a crane!

Fortunately, kitchen designers are not alone in their woes of spacial constraints. Often the decorator will need the crane as well to bring in an oversize sofa, large works of art, or (classically) a grand piano.

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These pieces are brought up near the end of the job, when almost everything else is in place. Decorators, designers, and architects team up to ensure that all oversize items are coordinated to be hoisted up on the same day. Often the entire street will have to be blocked off for several to accommodate the crane as it carefully hauls up materials piece by piece.

While attempting to install a kitchen on the twentieth (or higher!) floor poses significant challenges, private houses are often just as difficult if not more challenging to install. Fortunately many kitchens are built on the ground floor of the home but, as to any rule, there are always exceptions. When I renovated the kitchen for a brownstone in Brooklyn where the kitchen was situated on the second floor (pictured left). The design of the kitchen was sleek and I specified some heavy-hitting appliances that would suit the needs of a busy family and high volume kitchen: a large integrated Sub Zero refrigerator and a Wolf range.

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Normally these appliances can be brought up (thankfully) in a service elevator for apartment buildings; but here, there was no service elevator and the stairs in the house curved gracefully in a way that would simply not accommodate their substantial size. As a result, these two appliances had to be hoisted by crane up just one story to that second floor and brought in via the balcony. A lot of work for such a short distance.

The added effort (and drama) that can arise from designing and installing on a larger scale, makes these kitchens just that much more special and unique. It allows the kitchen to acquire a narrative ofits own- and isn’t that what having a custom kitchen design all about? So for your next project feel free to dream large, but be aware that the oversize pieces require substantial productions to execute! 

The Ultimate Luxury Kitchen Coffee Maker

The beautiful glossy catalog for the new TopBrewer coffee maker features the quote “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and I have to tell you: this is one sophisticated product.


The in-counter coffee brewer, designed and produced in Denmark, is installed into a regular kitchen counter, with only the elegant stainless steel spout and integral round drip tray in sight. All the mechanics are hidden in the cabinet below.

As a kitchen designer, I find this a great improvement on the typical high-tech, “statement” coffee maker, as it frees up counter space and is customizable for just about any kitchen.

The TopBrewer delivers speedy servings of barista coffee drinks like espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, café latte and of course, traditional black coffee along with either hot or cold milk, all with the touch of a single button. The steamer unit then froths the milk to the perfect texture.

Controlled by smartphone or tablet app, this is not a Starbucks experience. You can customize your perfect drink and get it brewed to perfection time and time again. With just a touch of your iPhone. Genius.

And it’s not only coffee-lovers who get to enjoy the experience. Accessories enable it to dispense hot chocolate, ice water, and juice, so it’s perfect for any occasion, from a lazy Sunday brunch with the family to Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, as it brews an espresso in just 25 seconds!

We have a unit set up in our showroom, so give us a call and come over for a unique café latte experience on us.


My recent trip to Paris and the La Cornue factory

Photo by Jean-Christophe Bendist

Aren’t the Tuileries Gardens just glorious in Spring?

As a designer, I find travel to be one of the most effective ways to get new ideas. I’ve just returned from an energizing trip to Paris — one of my favorite places to soak up creative inspiration — and wanted to share some of the highlights with you. It was full of food, fun, and fascinating people and places.

Envisioning and creating one-of-a-kind custom kitchens is a true labor of love for me. The process is as satisfying as seeing the final product installed in a client’s home. That’s why it is especially gratifying when I have the opportunity to visit and personally meet the suppliers and craftspeople around the world who create the individual elements of St. Charles of New York designs.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be invited for another tour of the 105 year-old factory of La Cornue, artisan manufacturers of exquisite kitchen ranges.

Located in the French countryside just 45 minutes outside of Paris in the town of Saint-Ouen-l’Aumone, La Cornue produces some of the finest kitchen ranges in the world. Owned and operated by the Dupuy family for three generations, the company employs just 60 people, who painstakingly craft each La Cornue range by hand.

Karen at the La Cornue Factory

Here I am at the La Cornue Factory

Of course, I’ve always thought La Cornue ranges were beautiful, but seeing them being created piece by piece by craftsmen in the French countryside makes me appreciate them all over again. La Cornue produces only a few hundred ranges a year, and each one is created by a single person from start to finish — like a true work of art. No assembly lines here! It was such a treat to see this wonderful tradition of excellence and attention to detail in action and up close.

Capping off the trip to the factory, we had delightful lunch at the historic Auberge Ravoux, or House of Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise, where the influential artist spent his prolific last days. It’s easy to see why this region inspired the Dutch painter; the rustic charm, lush and pastoral landscapes, and vivid hues depicted in his work are still found here and I left brimming with notes and ideas.

Auberge Ravoux

Auberge Ravoux where Van Gogh spent his last days

And that was just the countryside. If you’ve ever been to Paris in the spring, you know it’s a magical time there.

More about that next week…

Enjoy a Taste of T at A & D!

Sandy cannot prevent the New York Times Style Magazine and the Architects & Designers Building from their mission to raise money for God’s Love We Deliver, and we are excited to be part of it!  This charitable organization is the tri-state area’s leading provider of nutritious, individually-tailored meals for those who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves. Tackling the crises hunger and illness, they generously deliver “food as medicine.”

We are inviting you through our doors and into our kitchen to celebrate an evening of food, design, and health!

Joining you in our showroom will be esteemed chef Rebecca Charles of Pearl Oyster Bar with her deliciously unreal lobster rolls. Also offering his taste will be Simpson Wong of Wong, who has won over the taste buds of fellow artistic visionary Martha Stewart with his delicious pan-Asian cuisine.

New York’s premier food and design event will take place on Thursday, November 8, 2012 from 6 to 8:30 PM.  Bring your appetite!

Click here for tickets and to see a full list of participants.



In Honor of the Olympics…A Fab Find From London

With the London Olympics already in full force, I’ve been reminiscing about my times in the games’ fantastic host city. I’ve had great luck shopping and design hunting in the land of royals. Take for example this unique red toaster I spotted in the storied department store Harrod‘s.  Bugatti’s Volo toaster is a stand-out, featuring a bold design, wide slots and a warming rack.  What I most love about it is that you don’t have to push anything or stick your finger in any slots to retrieve your toast. The gadget is motorized- your breakfast bread elevates itself once perfectly golden!

Wherever I go I often take snaps of great products like this one. Stay tuned for more fab finds from here in the States and around the world!
~ Karen Williams

Stunning St. Charles Kitchen & Breakfast Room at the 40th Anniversary Kips Bay Decorator Show House

If you haven’t seen the St. Charles kitchen and breakfast room in the Kips Bay Decorator Show House, be sure to check it out before it closes on Thursday. After designing the space in 2003, 2006 and 2009, St. Charles’ veteran designers Karen Williams and Robert Schwartz once again accepted the challenge to transform the space into a dream designer kitchen. Williams and Schwartz used the penthouse’s incredible view of both Manhattan and the Hudson River as inspiration for their design. Schwartz describes the space as “a hot design with a cool sophistication.” As a nod to NYC, the room they created is an open floor plan that combines two distinct areas in an elegant and exciting fashion.

Let’s take a closer look….

The kitchen’s design is based on the full-service, vibrant red cooking island by La Cornue. This “red hot” color is shown throughout the room. Mixed metals, figured walnut wood and high gloss cabinetry are just some of the elegant features that make this stunning room a one-of-a-kind space. The breakfast area is centered around a striking 1940s Murano Glass Tulip fixture, which hangs over a quartz table. The area also features a custom curved furniture-server designed by Karen Williams herself.

Photography by Eric Van Den Brulle

Karen Williams joins Jonathan Waxman on Architectural Digest Kitchen Panel

On Thursday, March 22 Karen Williams joins celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto and Anne Puricelli, Director La Cornue North America, for a stimulating panel discussion on “The Evolving Kitchen.”  It takes place at 10:30  at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show, Pier 94, 55th St. and 11th Avenue.

They will talk about changing trends in kitchen design and equipment, and offer advice on ways to make kitchens truly personalized culinary spaces. Williams, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic home cook, and Waxman, a professional chef, will both offer their insights on what makes a kitchen a delight to work in.

The panel will be moderated by John (Doc) Willoughby, cookbook author and executive editor at America’s Test Kitchen.

Visitors to the show can also see a glamourous kitchen designed by Williams in the La Cornue booth 475. For more information go to

Karen Williams
Karen Williams offers her insights on “The Evolving Kitchen” Thursday March 22 at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show at 10:30.
Jonathan Waxman

Celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto shares the panel with Karen Williams Thursday March 22 for a discussion of today's important kitchen trends at the Architectural Digest Home Show.

Anne Puricelli

Anne Puricelli, director North America, for La Cornue adds her observations on deluxe cooking equipment at the Architectural Digest Home Show kitchen panel.

Karen Williams creates a custom cooking center in a softly contemporary kitchen

Working in a small 20’x30′ Manhattan kitchen, Karen Williams wanted to keep the look clean and simple, yet interesting. So she created a softly contemporary space with warm overtones by playing off the lovely texture of cerused oak cabinetry against the beautiful sheen of white lacquer cabinets and the deep luminosity of white glass countertops. The stainless toe kicks keep it light as well. And to further ensure an uncluttered design,  there is no decorative hardware except for the refrigerator.

In a small Manhattan kitchen Karen Williams created a softly contemporary kitchen with cerused oak cabinetry and white glass countertops.

Because it’s a small room, Williams wanted the island to feel like a piece of furniture. A traditional island would have been too heavy, like an anchor in the middle of the space. This one feels lighter thanks in part to the sculpted table-like legs finished with stainless feet. The island is open on the bottom with room for storage, and has a drop down panel for electrical outlets, plus a breadbox and cutlery drawers. And there is convenient seating for two.

cerused oak kitchen island
The island feels more like a work table with sculpted legs.

She also created a special custom cooking center, one of her Signature Elements, developed over more than 30 years of design experience.  Here Williams used a six-burner cooktop and added a steamer on the left and a stainless counter on the right, all with the same profile for one unified piece. She believes there is no need to settle for an out-of-the-box solution when it comes to appliances.

custom cooking center
Karen Williams created one of her Signature Elements, a custom cooking center.

For the built-in ovens, Williams borrowed a look she first saw in Europe and loves because it’s so clean. She recessed the panel that holds the ovens resulting in a very smooth architectural line.

flush ovens
Borrowing a look she first saw in Europe, Williams installed the ovens totally flush with the cabinetry.

Kitchen & Bath Ideas magazine talks to Karen Williams about ranges

Kitchen & Bath Ideas magazine sought expert advice from Karen Williams for an article in its December issue on choosing a range. In “Chef’s Choice,” Williams told readers they should think about “who cooks, how they cook and their skill level” when shopping for cooking equipment.

Kitchen & Bath Ideas Dec. 2011

“If you’re an avid cook and the only person using it, a professional range may be the right fit, but if the babysitter is heating up chicken nuggets for the kids every day, a less complex model might be better,” she advised.

She also recommended taking into account all the new options now. “How much you need to learn in order to get the full benefits of the product should be a deciding factor when choosing a range,” she pointed out. Some people love learning a new technology like induction, others don’t want the hassle.

Larger or more complicated ranges aren’t always the best solution. Instead, it might make sense to combine your range with a drop-in component such as a steamer or fryer. Williams did that in her own kitchen, creating a custom cooking center with a teppanyaki grill and deep fryer.

Williams Hamptons custom range
Karen Williams designed this custom range in her own kitchen with a teppanyaki grill and deep fryer. It’s one of her Signature Elements, created over more than 30 years of designing singular culinary spaces.

With all the individual elements now available (deep fryers, wok units, induction units, grills, griddles), a custom range can be created to suit anyone’s needs.

And in  some kitchens the range may become the design focal point. In that case, you may want to splurge on a custom range where you select the color, the trim, and the cooking elements.

La Cornue Chateau 120 yellow
A La Cornue Chateau range in a distinctive color can become the focal point of a kitchen.

With all the choices now on the market, there is a great range for every cooking need.