To mark our 25th Anniversary, I have selected the following two projects for examples of our early work, because they both presented issues that challenged me, as a designer, to think ‘outside the box’ … in a way that I had not previously explored. This resulted in personal growth as a designer as well as exceptionally functional, timeless & aesthetically pleasing spaces for our clients!
Both projects presented the same issue … the ‘before’ kitchens were dark & dreary with little natural light and even less artificial light, posing serious issues for the homeowners. Lighting is such an important element in the design of a kitchen … and in these two projects, the lighting was not an ‘after design’ but rather an important early element in finding the solution. In both of these projects, significant structural changes were made, opening the kitchens up to adjacent spaces, to improve the natural lighting & expanded windows were designed as well. Lastly … the actual design of the lighting impacted the visual and functional character of these spaces.
These two projects were also significant in that they helped us to realize that kitchens really are not ‘isolated spaces’, but are impacted by the design of the adjacent spaces. It is not apparent in these photos, but our design work expanded outside the kitchen spaces to include the re-design of new entry/mudrooms leading into the kitchen spaces, as well as addressing the design of the adjacent ‘formal’ dining rooms.
Read further to learn what is unique about each of these two projects!
Coming to a Coffered Conclusion
This project stands out in my mind, in particular because it was the first project I ever did in the Grand Rapids area and it was the first project where my primary design focus was ‘up’ and not ‘down’! Kitchen designs are usually solved by working out the floor plan; however, in this project, the need to solve the lighting issue was primary & critical to the success of the entire project.
Because of the post and beam construction of this home and fully insulated ceiling joist space … there was no way to run new wiring for ceiling lights. And to simply frame down the ceiling to incorporate the beams in a dropped ceiling would have resulted in a ‘too low’ ceiling. I was really challenged to think ‘outside the box’ … and after much pondering, it occurred that I could capture the 1st lowest ceiling beam as part of a coffered ceiling design, creating the wire chase & space needed for the recessed ceiling lights while preserving a finished 8’0” ceiling height. Only the 1st beam, along the exterior window wall, is actually structural and lower than the finished ceiling. The remaining beams of the coffered ceiling are ‘fake’ (non-structural) and the actual structural beams are buried above the coffered ceiling. It was a bit of a mathematical challenge to get this to all layout symmetrically. Today we would use CAD to figure it out. Back then … it was all done using geometry & a calculator!
One of my favorite memories from this project is meeting the amazing carpenters who we subsequently retained to do the work on this project, as well as many subsequent projects in the Grand Rapids area. They have recently retired, but remain good friends! This was also a ‘gateway’ project for us, as it resulted in many referrals from this client, generating numerous projects. This referral base continues to bring us work in the Grand Rapids market.
A Contemporary Perspective with a Superior View
This projects stands out in my mind because it was the first project where I used lighting design to not simply illuminate the space… but to create a strong aesthetic. The continuous, illuminated cove lighting provides ambient lighting that does not obscure the view through the large plate glass windows, which showcase beautiful Lake Superior. Today we would use low voltage rope or LED strip lighting to accomplish this. Back in 1989, this could only be accomplished with fluorescent strip lights. We evenly spaced the 24” fluorescent fixtures to create a uniform ‘scallop’ of lighting on the ceiling.
One of my favorite memories from this project is visiting the jobsite during the construction phase, to check rough framing measurements. At the time, I was quite pregnant with our daughter Katharine. Typically on a jobsite, one steps through the opening between studs to move between spaces … but I had to walk around to the framed doorways, as I did not fit through the 14-1/2” space between the studs!