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! 

What’s Your New Year’s Resolution?

It’s January 2nd and that means we are already two days in to our New Year’s resolutions. I think it is a pretty safe bet to say that organization is part of your plan. Am I right? With that in mind, let’s start in the kitchen!

Less is more…too much counter space serves to create clutter.  It’s different stations that are important for organization. I am an avid cook, so it’s helpful to have room around the sink. Outfitting it with accessories like cutting boards, colanders and a pull-out faucet makes it easy to prep fruits and vegetables. Another station many clients appreciate is a breakfast/snack area that can be concealed by a drop-down switch-operated panel or behind a cabinet door. It is zoned for breakfast prep and as a station where kids can make snacks without intruding on the rest of kitchen.


Also be sure to place items where they logically should be – the trash area is near the clean up area, the knives are near the cutting surface in the prep area, pots and pans are near the range.

Hope these tips were helpful! Here’s to a happy, healthy and organized 2013!

~Karen Williams

Kicking Off the Holidays with BiTTT

I’m so proud to be a supporter of BiTTT, Bring it to the Table, a leading networking group for women in design. The growth the group has experienced in the two years since its inception has been truly moving. Together, we are now hoping to make a difference in a young woman’s life. St Charles is delighted to be a sponsor of the Holiday Fundraising Party they are hosting on Thursday, November 15 to raise funds for a female, full-time BFA sophomore at NYSID. Eligible students applied by writing an essay describing what motivated them study interior design and submitting photos of a residential design project.

In addition to being presented with an award at the event by BiTTT founder Lana Lawrence and interior designer Alexa Hampton, the winning student will be mentored for the remaining three years of her study at NYSID by designers including myself, Katie Ridder, David Kleinberg, and others. As a parent, I know how important the proper guidance, mentoring and encouragement can be, and I am honored to be able to play such a significant role in the life of a student who represents the future of interior design. I absolutely cannot wait to meet this special young lady and I am looking forward to helping and watching her grow into a successful, devoted and inspiring designer!

~Karen Williams


Friday Fun

It’s Friday and what better day to share something fun with you. As part of Condé Nast’s “Fingerprints” series showcasing “style innovators,” I filled out a short and irreverent questionnaire. If you click on this link, you’ll find out that, in addition to poring over glossy design publications, I do enjoy a shot of gossip mags with a side of mac n’ cheese every now and again!

Much like a Pinterest board, the inspirational product collage you will see was put together by Condé Nast using my questionnaire responses. It was interesting to see their choices. I was excited that they included one of my “Signature Elements by Karen Williams for St Charles” pieces, the Aldyn credenza, which was specially designed for the 2012 Kips Bay Show House.

I hope you enjoy checking it out and that you browse through some of the boards of my industry peers–perhaps while sipping a glass of wine or indulging in some mac n’ cheese!  It is Friday after all.

Wishing all a great weekend.

~Karen Williams


Labor Day: A Time to Relax & Reflect

I’m excited for the holiday weekend and I’m sure you all are, too!  While many are lamenting that it signals the end of summer, it’s important to remember the significance of Labor Day. The uniquely American holiday pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of U.S. workers. My colleague Robert Schwartz and I are proud to be at the helm of an American icon that has been a part of our nation’s history since 1935. This weekend, we will certainly enjoy the last bit of summer, but we’ll also be thinking of all those who worked to make St Charles what it is today and of those who are currently a part of our fantastic team.

Wishing everyone a much-deserved holiday!  To kick it off, I’ve got my fresh ingredients for a celebratory dinner at the ready!

~ Karen WIlliams

Breaking News!

Big things are happening over here at St Charles of New York. Robert Schwartz and I [Karen Williams]  have some exciting news to share with our loyal readers… We are proud to announce that we have recently acquired the exclusive design and manufacturing rights to the iconic St Charles cabinetry brand from the Viking Range Corporation.  We broke the news last week and have been making headlines. Below is the official press release. Stay tuned for more!



(New York, NY, August 2012) St Charles of New York is pleased to announce its recent acquisition of the exclusive design and manufacturing rights to the iconic St Charles cabinetry brand from the Viking Range Corporation. Moving forward, St Charles of New York, the multi-disciplinary design studio led by Principals Karen Williams and Robert Schwartz, will conduct all business under the St Charles name. The company’s New York location in the prestigious A&D Building in Midtown Manhattan, will serve as both national headquarters and a NY showroom. St Charles will provide a full breadth of services including kitchen design and interior architecture as well as upscale cabinetry and signature furnishings that bridge the kitchen to other rooms in the home. The recent development broadens St Charles’ nationwide reach and enhances its offering of high-end design products and solutions.

The acquisition gives new life to the beloved American brand, which launched in St. Charles, Illinois in 1935. Called the crème-de-la-crème of vintage cabinets, the made-in-the-USA line has been installed in some of the most prestigious and trend-setting homes, including Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. This corporate pedigree is completely in line with St Charles of New York’s reputation for creating the absolute finest and most exclusive kitchens available. In fact, Williams and Schwartz have been selected as the kitchen design team for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House, a nearly unprecedented, four times in the last ten years.

“St Charles of New York is a three generation boutique kitchen design firm that can trace its partnership with the national St Charles brand back for more than 50 years. When we learned about the opportunity to purchase the brand, we could not resist the chance to broaden our national reach and image. We are already busy with projects in markets as diverse as Louisiana to Thailand. The timing was perfect for this new chapter in our development as a brand and design firm,” says Williams.

“St Charles is known worldwide for its timeless design, enduring style and unsurpassed quality. We wanted to build on this tradition of excellence and bring it to another level. We are leaders in the luxury market and pride ourselves on designing, manufacturing, delivering and installing complete environments from start to finish. This acquisition of St Charles will serve to further enhance our offerings and help us to continue to satisfy the needs of our discerning clientele,” adds Schwartz.

In light of the exciting acquisition, St Charles will be launching a new website in the coming weeks, It will offer a comprehensive overview of the company and spotlight a wide range of projects. It will also host Karen Williams’ lively blog, which is currently accessible through An industry speaker and culinary/entertaining tastemaker, Williams’ blog provides tips and observations on kitchen design and lifestyle trends. Finally, the company will also soon be announcing a new Facebook page and Twitter handle, @StCharlesUSA.


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

Happy 4th of July!

It’s time to celebrate our nation’s independence! As the country gets ready for backyard BBQs and family parties, I thought I would share my July 4th menu with you. I’ll be heading out to Long Island and stopping at one of my favorite places, Briermere Farms for some peach cream pie and local corn – two perfect dishes for a nice patriotic meal!. The fresh fruit used in the bakery is grown right there on the farm. Gotta love that! I’m looking forward to spending time in the kitchen cooking with family and friends, as I am sure you are too. Wishing everyone a very Happy & Healthy 4th! Until next time…

~ Karen Williams

Final Day at Kips Bay

As the 2012 Kips Bay Decorator Show House comes to a close today, designers Karen Williams and Robert Schwartz can add another successful edition to their repertoire. In the coming weeks, they will be sharing fun stories and more snapshots from this year’s show house. Stay tuned and (if you haven’t already) be sure to see the space before it closes tonight at 8PM.