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! 

A Look Inside My Kitchen in NYC

Designing my own kitchen was a great pleasure, because I knew just what I wanted–both from a cooking and a design perspective. That’s why I’m so glad I was able to share my project with Better Homes and Gardens’ Kitchens & Baths magazine in their Winter 2012 issue. As anyone who lives in NYC knows, space is precious and always a challenge. However, there are solutions to create more out of less.  I shared some of my space maximizing tips and tricks with the magazine’s editors. Below are a few key things I kept in mind when thinking about my kitchen planning.

Consider counter space: While more counter space may seem like a good idea, it can be a catchall for all kinds of clutter.  In the cooking zone, for example, you only need enough counter space to use as a landing spot for a pan, a platter, or a spatula.

Add variety: Use different materials in the same cabinent type or the same elevation–it can change the overall architectural feel of the room.

I’ve shared some pages of the feature with you here. It’s also on St Charles USA‘s Facebook page and the issue is available at newsstands now. Thanks to Better Homes and Gardens’ Kitchens and Baths!

Happy reading!






























Elle Decor talks to Karen Williams about counter surfaces

Elle Decor magazine in its November “Punch List” feature interviewed Karen Williams and other leading designers including Steven Gambrel, Carl D’Aquino, Amy Lau, James Biber and Laura Kirar for a piece on surfaces. In the article titled “What the pros know,” Karen noted that while white marble is classic, some people are looking for what they feel are more durable options. She suggested three of her other favorite materials, pewter, lavastone and semiprecious stone.

Elle Decor Nov. 2011

Elle Decor Punch List Nov. 2011

She told Elle Decor she likes pewter tops, which are handmade in France, because they develop a soft patina as they age.

Pewter bar top

Karen Williams chose a pewter countertop for this bar, knowing it will develop a beautiful patina as it ages.

Semiprecious stone tops are a go-to for their brilliant colors and striking patterns.

semiprecious stone countertops

For a new home in Florida, Karen Williams selected this petrified wood semiprecious stone for the countertop in the butler's pantry. She loves how it brings color and pattern into the room, which will have French-style cabinetry doors like this one.

And she loves lavastone because it’s heat, stain and scratch resistant, as well as having a subtle crackled texture. Plus she can create a custom color in it.

lavastone kitchen counter detail

Karen Williams specified a custom blue lavastone countertop for a Florida highrise, picking up the color of the ocean outside the kitchen window.

Karen Williams Project Diary: an English Castle in Westchester

Last but not least is the bar area Karen Williams designed for the renovation of the English castle. It incorporates a pewter top handmade in France, and a highly custom base built by fine Pennsylvania Amish craftspeople.

English castle bar install

The base of the bar designed by Karen Williams to integrate with the style of the English castle is installed by St. Charles of New York craftsmen.

bar detail

Elegant detailed carving highlights the bar.

pewter bar top

The pewter bar top, hand made in France, is installed.

counter in france

The pewter bar countertop as it was being made by hand in an atelier in France.

bar edge detail

The edge of the bar features beautiful details.

bar edge detail

The bar top was first fabricated from wood, then the pewter was applied using old world French craftsmanship.

Finding just the right resources, creating the perfect design and then managing the entire process is what distinguishes St. Charles of New York. It’s no wonder clients return to them regularly for new projects.

Karen Williams Project Diary: an English Castle in Westchester

Behind the scenes in an atelier in France, the renovation of a kitchen in an English-style castle in Westchester is beginning to come to life. Karen Williams has selected pewter bar area countertops for their old-world charm and beautiful patina.

After careful checking and double checking of drawings and specifications, the hands-on work has begun. First, the wood base is meticulously fabricated.

wood base for pewter countertop

In a French atelier, work on a pewter countertop begins with the meticulous building of the wood base.

Then the pewter is laid over the base.

pewter countertop

Pewter is laid over the wood base for the countertop.

Then the metal artisans begin the hand work of applying the pewter, using age-old techniques.

pewter countertop atelier

Using age-old techniques, the pewter countertop is fabricated in a French workshop.

Hand crafting a pewter countertop

Handcrafted pewter countertop will add old world grace to a renovated kitchen and bar in Westchester.

Karen Williams regularly seeks out one-of-a-kind resources in the U.S. and abroad for her discriminating clients.  Like this handcrafted pewter countertop, her special sources always bring a unique touch to her projects.

Next up: the countertop and a French range arrive at the Westchester location.