Kitchen Design: Functionality & Longevity.

As a kitchen specialist, I try to educate my clients on the mistakes they can easily avoid when remodeling their kitchens. While beauty and functionality are important in the design, longevity is an equally important factor. Kitchens are a significant investment and should be designed to last twenty years or so. Here is my latest blog post from the Huffington Post with some useful advice on kitchen design.

These tips not only explain the most costly errors made by homeowners, but also serve as a guideline for ensuring a greater lifespan for your kitchen.

Good Lighting is Essential

Proper lighting in a kitchen is essential as it serves many different functions. Kitchens require bright task lighting to define usable prep work areas, and softer mood lighting to create ambiance for the island, seating, and entertaining spaces. Great mood lighting can be achieved with a fabulous statement light fixture over an island or eating enclave. While the light fixture may be an investment piece, it can easily be swapped into another room if it doesn’t work in the kitchen.

Task lighting is a different issue. I advocate planning task lighting in the early stages of the design as it should be built into the original framework of the space; either under the wall cabinets, inside the cabinetry, or recessed into the ceiling.

Design your cabinets with task lighting built in, as it’s difficult to add after they’re installed. You’ll also avoid having pockets of shadow and darkness in the most important prep areas. Task lighting needs to be carefully planned — not only because it’s costly to change, but also because it’s absolutely vital for the functionality of your kitchen.

Costly Kitchen Mistakes 1 The sink area above is brightly illuminated for prep work and does not affect the natural mood lighting of the room.

Understand Your Materials and Finishes

I always say to clients that there are no bad choices when it comes to materials, only poor applications. Materials and finishes need to survive the day-to-day stresses of the space and suit the owner’s lifestyle. If you’re concerned with staining, avoid using white marble countertops in prep areas. They may look beautiful, but marble is extremely porous and thus easily stained. If you’re interested in using marble in your kitchen space, opt for incorporating the material in another prominently featured area. For example, luxurious Calacatta marble is a fabulous material for a backsplash or buffet island.

Changing countertops is expensive as they’re custom cut and difficult to install. Most of the magnificent marble slabs or semi-precious stone counters we use are so large and heavy that we commonly remove windows or walls in order to even get them into the home. Once the counters are installed, the plumber needs to come in to fit the faucets, and the electrician needs to seat the appliances! It’s a huge and costly undertaking.

Like marble countertops, painted white cabinets are a popular finish. However, if you have young children or a lot of activity in your kitchen, chipping is inevitable. Painted cabinets chip, even with the best topcoat. So you need to consider the long-term maintenance of the material you’ve chosen.

Metal cabinets are a more durable alternative — and remember, there is more to metal than stainless steel.

Costly Kitchen Mistakes 2

A combination of metal and lacquer coated cabinets in this kitchen for a family of active cooks.
A few more tips:

Wood floors look gorgeous, but if you have large or active dogs at home, they might not be the best choice, as they are likely to show signs of scratching.

Stone floors can last forever, however they can be hard on your feet if you spend a lot of time prepping in the kitchen. Try to minimize the amount of grout between the stones as it catches excess dirt quickly and can show signs of discoloration.

Stainless steel is a very practical and functional countertop material, but it scratches easily and tends to evoke a colder, industrial feel.

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! 

Luxury Kitchen Design: Floors, Walls & Ceilings

Status statement appliances. Luxurious cabinetry. Stunning countertops. Typically, these are the centerpieces of most kitchen design and renovation projects while the floors, walls and ceilings often are given short shrift.

I’m a big proponent of making sure all of the areas and surfaces of a kitchen are addressed.

Doing something surprising or unique with these frequently overlooked elements can make the difference between a fairly standard-looking kitchen and one that’s unforgettable.

Here are some examples of our projects that illustrate making the most of a kitchen’s floors, walls and ceilings – and the dramatic impact that attention to these basic structural components can have.


This project is all about rich texture and color, and every surface in this kitchen contributes to that end. The walls are clad in square Moroccan tiles in a hue that complements the custom cabinetry.  The tiles cover every wall in the kitchen, providing decoration and continuity throughout the space, without the tedious maintenance that paint or wallpaper require.


The same concept is repeated in the butler’s pantry:  A mosaic of tile in shades of green envelops the room, which, again, accentuates the color of the surrounding cabinets. Above, a coffered ceiling adds another decorative element, underscoring the formal  nature of the space.

Floors of wire-brushed cerused oak are found in both spaces, chosen to complement the original warm oak flooring used throughout the 100-year-old townhouse. An added embellishment:  Persian throw rugs that contribute to the visual interest, as well as to greater comfort underfoot.


Using tiled surfaces, I applied a much more modern vocabulary to this kitchen, located in a pre-war high rise. Here, a mosaic of shiny white and silver grey tiles in a small, half-inch matrix covers the walls to create an intriguing perimeter while also serving as the back panel of minimalist, glass-fronted cabinets.

In contrast, the warm brown tiles on the floor are composed into a bold, geometric pattern that echoes the white one on the wall. A custom leather banquet and individual seating at the kitchen island reflect the autumnal palette.


Here’s another example of a decoratively tiled floor, this time inlaid with a pattern that mimics the look of an area rug. As for the walls, we applied large format limestone tiles crowned by a tinctured surface treatment above. Attention also is lavished on the ceiling, which features a trio of round plaster medallions from which pendant lights are suspended. Sculpted molding attractively frames up this overhead view.

The overall effect achieved is a Mediterranean feel that is warm and inviting.

Brooklyn Home

The mix of materials in this kitchen yields pleasing results and an opulent personality to the townhouse.

The oak flooring is finished with a medium dark stain. Walls and backsplash are white marble. And the recessed ceiling casts a glow on the space thanks to the silver leaf coating. Adding to that effect is a pair of surface-mounted crystal chandeliers.

A finishing touch: I installed sconces on the sides of the cabinetry and flanking the bowed window that light the primary sink area yet provide one more note of elegance.

Lighting, by the way, is another sometimes overlooked but powerful way to make a design statement in a kitchen. Watch this space for some of my favorite lighting tips.

Designing the Perfect Transitional Kitchen

Here is my latest post from the Huffington Post. Enjoy!

Anyone who’s been thinking about remodeling or creating a kitchen for more than 10 minutes has come across the term “transitional.” It’s a popular term in design circles, but what does it really mean?

Transitional designs are somewhere in between traditional and modern styles; they bridge the gap between the two, borrowing from each aesthetic. What it yields is an environment that is warm and welcoming, unfussy but incorporating classic components .

Most of my designs would be described as transitional: some read very modern, others more traditional — and yet they are all wildly different from each other.

So while almost everything is up for negotiation when designing a transitional kitchen, here are some of the style’s hallmarks, as well as some examples of how I’ve interpreted the look recently.

1) A mix of natural and manufactured materials

Perhaps the cornerstone of the style. A transitional kitchen will often feature wood, steel, glass and stone or marble all in the same space. This is a kitchen I designed for a Tribeca loft space; you can see wood cabinets, concrete floors, marble, and stainless steel working together to create a harmonious whole. I wanted the space to reference the building’s industrial history, while also maintaining a sense of warmth.


2) A neutral palette

A pop of color here or there is certainly welcome, but in general, transitional kitchens feature neutral colors in varying shades. The result is typically a sophisticated, and timeless look. A good example of this is the kitchen I designed for a Florida high-rise, which features different tones of brown in the floor, island, cabinetry, and furnishings.

3) Lots of texture

While transitional kitchens are often subdued when it comes to color, that doesn’t mean they’re boring at all! Transitional kitchens are often delightful explorations of texture, using everything from interesting tile surfaces to polished or rough stone to provide visual interest.

4) Streamlined cabinetry

Cabinetry in transitional kitchens tends to keep a low profile. You won’t find a lot of intricate carving, or elaborate hardware on transitional cabinetry. What keeps it from looking too modern, is the material: I typically use wood as opposed to glass or lacquer to keep it transitional. This kitchen, which was designed for a Pre-war high-rise, features minimalist cabinetry in a warm rich wood with recessed handles. I love how the clean lines and the natural material balance each other out, creating an uncluttered but still inviting effect.


5) Blending old and new

In the broadest sense, this is the definition of a transitional design. A transitional kitchen borrows elements or references styles of the past and combines them with contemporary features to produce something new and fresh. The beauty of it is that you can decide how you want to mix and match the past and the present so that it’s a kitchen truly expressing who you are and how you live!

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.



Trends Magazine Recognizes St Charles in Top 50 American Kitchens List

At St Charles, we love what we do and feel lucky to be recognized for our rewarding work. A happy client and a project well done is what make us happy. That said, we can’t say we’re not proud to have been a part of the design team of one of Trends magazine’s Top 50 American Kitchens!

Overlooking Central Park, the pied-à-terre was a stunning piece of real estate—except for the kitchen! Headed by my fellow St Charles Principal Robert Schwartz and the owner’s architect & interior designer, the space in question was transformed into a chic kitchen that matched the rest of the luxe abode. Trends called it out for its excellence in design, function, product specification and style.

Check out the coverage here (and below)

We congratulate all those who worked with us on the project & our industry peers who also made the list!

And thank you to Trends!

~Karen Williams


GLitz and glitter kitchen by karen williams draws crowds at Architectural Digest Home Design Show

A rich burgundy La Cornue Château island set off by a stunning 24Kt platinum gold mosaic wall and  gilded sconces drew big crowds to Karen Williams’ glitzy and glamorous  French kitchen at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show last week.

Visitors were also intrigued by the unique La Cornue Flamberge rotisserie, a favorite of Williams.

Karen Williams' glitzy and glamorous kitchen was a big hit at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show

In addition to designing a show-stopping vignette for La Cornue, Williams participated in “The Evolving Kitchen” panel discussion along with celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto and Anne Puricelli, director, La Cornue North America.  Williams stressed that as an enthusiastic cook, she designs kitchens today with an emphasis on stations to accommodate several cooks, rather than around the old-fashioned work triangle.

Karen Williams AD Home Design Show panel
Karen Williams participated in “The Evolving Kitchen” panel discussion at the Architectural Design Home Design Show.

She also talked about creating zones or multiple islands in large kitchens to make them more user-friendly. And she outlined her approach to creating relaxing culinary spaces in vacation homes.

Karen Williams at The Evolving Kitchen panel discussion
Williams said she often designs a breakfast center in a second home kitchen  because it’s such a leisurely meal on weekends and vacations.

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.