From the December/January 2013 Issue:

Room for Improvement

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge | Photographer: Wing Wong | Interior Designer: Leslie Hyans-DePalma, Oakleigh Interiors, Allied Member ASID | Cabinetry: Sean Benetin, Millwork & More LLC |

Function rules in this Warren kitchen, which contains two dishwashers and more than 60 drawers and rollouts after a complete remodel

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enlarge | The homeowner wanted an “old-school look” for her kitchen, and the Calcutta Gold marble countertops and backsplash as well as the deeply stained alder cabinetry are crucial to the result. The original kitchen, with traditional styling in cherry, did not function well for the homeowner, a serious cook and baker.
When the homeowner—an accomplished baker and cook—she knew the kitchen needed improvement. Then, after she had to prepare a Thanksgiving meal without a working oven, she got serious about her wish list.

“I wanted two dishwashers; that was key. When we have company, I fill one dishwasher as I cook and the other one after dinner. I don’t have to run one while company is here,” she says. “I also wanted a big sink, and now I’ve got a deep sink for my giant pots.”

Other must-haves were “a huge oven that works, a bigger island, more work space, a sink in the island, and an overall old-school look. I visited the Vanderbilt estate in Rhode Island” and wanted that look, including a vintage icebox appearance for the refrigerator. “It’s a Sub-Zero but it doesn’t look like a Sub-Zero. We covered the ventilation with a radiator cover.”

For help, she went to her good friend Leslie Hyans-DePalma, an allied member of the American?Society of Interior Designers and owner of Oakleigh Interiors in Morristown. “Leslie has a great eye, loves color and warmth, and is very easy to work with,” she notes.

Hyans-DePalma says her client also wanted to borrow from the appearance of a favorite restaurant in Montclair and to that end, the cabinetry would be a black-brown espresso stain complemented by Calcutta Gold marble countertops and backsplashes.

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enlarge | The island’s cherry butcher-block top surrounding the sink provides a spacious prep zone. Across from the island, a high shelf houses collectibles.
Function Rules
Sean Benetin, owner of Millwork & More in Ber­nards­ville, executed the cabinetry design and suggested some functional perks for the roomy kitchen, which measures about 15 by 24 feet (including the eating area).

“Every nook and cranny was maximized, every inch,” Benetin says. “We installed over 60 drawers and rollouts, many of the drawers with two tiers for silverware, wraps and zipper bags, and things like that. The overall look of the cabinetry was determined first. A lot of doors are actually drawers, and some of the cabinets look like three drawers but instead there’s a mixer lift or trash can inside. The two dishwashers are behind what appear to be drawer stacks.”

“We chose alder because it takes a deep stain very consistently, and we were going for an aged tone. I think this kitchen looks like an old apothecary,” he adds. “The cabinetry design is very clean. There are no carved details, no architectural details like corbels.”

The one budget compromise was to leave the range, refrigerator and main sink in their original locations, Hyans-DePalma says. However, she did add a sink in the new, larger island.

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enlarge | The Warren homeowner has ample storage for staples in this double pantry. A series of smaller doors and drawers, plus a recessed area with a limestone countertop, prevent a monolithic look.
Up for the Challenges
Four challenges had to be overcome. First was to plan for ideal function because the client uses the kitchen for complex baking, everyday meal preparation and feeding her two daughters. The room is split into functional zones for cleanup, cooking, prep, eating and baking. “We housed baking supplies so they wouldn’t interfere with the day-to-day function of the kitchen,” Hyans-DePalma says. All baking needs are within three steps, Benetin adds, so the homeowner doesn’t have to walk around the large island to fetch anything. And when she entertains, she can work in the kitchen while visiting with guests.

A surprisingly tricky detail was capturing the icebox look for the refrigerator. The client saw the hardware in a magazine and knew it would be perfect. But the artisan, when he heard his handcrafted hardware wouldn’t be used exactly as he intended, balked at selling it for the project. “It took me three hours to design it so it didn’t look slapped onto the refrigerator,” Hyans-DePalma says. “The artisan was won over.”

Another challenge—maybe “problem” is a better word—cropped up during demolition. Soffits quite often are no more than gap-fillers between the tops of cabinetry and the ceiling. But lurking behind a soffit in this kitchen was a large vent duct for the range. “We ended up building a custom chase-way and made the upper cabinets extra-deep,” Benetin says. The vent ducting hides behind the nicely finished back of the cabinetry.

Finally, the island needed to be scaled down in look but not size. “The joke was, ‘It’s not an island. It’s a continent,’” Benetin says. To make the island seem smaller, it’s topped with two materials: cherry butcher block in the prep area and marble in the eating area.

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enlarge | The dining room connects with this butler’s pantry, which is a good spot for preparing beverages.
Final Assessments
What does everyone think of this project now that it’s been in use for a while?
“I love the look…especially my refrigerator,” the homeowner says. “For practicality, I like the two dishwashers and the big range with a griddle, six burners and two 30-inch ovens.”

“I love the scale in this kitchen,” Benetin says. “Because it’s tall, we could do the details larger.”

“I just adore this kitchen,” Hyans-DePalma adds. “The space is big but functional, not overwhelming. It has great flow…It was a great collaboration with the client. She was very much a participant but didn’t get in the way of the project.”

Mary Vinnedge ( is managing editor of SUCCESS magazine based north of Dallas. She was founding editor of Design NJ and still loves to write about design.

Details make a difference

The kitchen has many hidden assets such as dishwashers that appear to be drawer stacks, bilevel drawers, swing-out corner storage and deep drawers for small appliances, says Sean Benetin, whose company built the cabinetry.

Courtesy of Millwork & More LLC

Kitchen Keys
Interior designer Leslie Hyans-DePalma of Oakleigh Interiors shares these kitchen-design tips:

1. Always plan for function first. “That’s huge. It’s nice if a kitchen looks pretty, but function comes first.”

2. Think about resale. “The kitchen must function for this client and the next homeowner. Even if the client says not to worry about resale, I take it into consideration.”

3. Make accessibility a priority. When cooking, you need to grab things quickly as needed. And a refrigerator should always be near the eating area; this is important, for instance, when someone needs a beverage refill.

4. Never start a renovation without all decisions made and selections ordered and ready for installation. “This keeps downtime as short as possible.”

5. Keep high-traffic spaces such as coffee stations and the liqueur bar away from work areas.


Interior design, lighting and bar stools, Oakleigh Interiors in Morristown; cabinetry, Millwork & More in Bernardsville; marble countertops and backsplash in the kitchen and limestone countertop in the butler’s pantry, Stone Surfaces Inc. in East Rutherford; Wolf range, Sub-Zero refrigerator and Miele dishwashers, Karl’s Appliance in Fairfield; cabinet hardware and plumbing fixtures, Moe Distributors in Morristown; refrigerator hardware, Roseland Icebox Co. in Christiansburg, Virginia.

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