Monday, December 13, 2010

Midcentury Kitchen from KERF - No Car Content

Note, KERF has discontinued DIY option.

My wife Nicolette and I are fortunate enough to live in Arapahoe Acres in Englewood, CO, one of the most complete mid-century modern neighborhoods in America. The exterior of almost every one of the homes remains close to original. Unfortunately, previous owners had removed almost all of the original fittings inside our home. Only the concrete block walls and exposed beam ceiling were spared the renovators’ removal. Every bit of custom cabinetry, every piece that might have showed the craftsman’s hand had been ditched in the 1970s.

We try to put back as much handcrafted, custom fitted pieces as possible. I’ve recreated pockmarked mahogany walls and rebuilt grass cloth closet doors. But the kitchen, one of the largest opportunities to reinstall custom era-appropriate work was presenting a conundrum.

Pure custom cabinetry was out of our budget. That is if the builders even understood the non-Farmhouse style we were after. And the semi-custom cabinets from IKEA and other manufactures were too limited in their palette and customization. They also have too much of the machine about them. They are too slick. All the mechanics of how they are built are hidden. We wanted a cabinet that was proud of its construction and humble of material. Like an Eames lounge with exposed shock cushions. Or an aluminum Emeco chair with hand-finished welds. Or even the original cabinets that the house came with, simply built of mahogany. We also wanted to be part of a design team. Not just customers picking off a prĂȘt-a-porter rack.

As an advertising professional, I know that a small talented team usually creates stronger work than one talented individual. It is the sharing and multiplying, and ultimately reducing, of ideas that forges strong, vetted ideas. The key is a small, focused team. Too large and the ideas just get watered down and meander towards the middle of the road. I was sure the same philosophy could be applied to furniture and cabinetry if I could find a willing partner to work with our budget of $6,000.

We found this partner in Kerf design. Kerf produces custom plywood cabinets with exposed, get it, kerfs. Their designs also exclude hardware and allow the cabinets to function without a shiny bauble hanging off the front. Pure. Rational. Solid. From the moment you call Kerf, you are speaking with people who will be intimately involved in the design and building of your cabinets. You toss out ideas. They bat them back with some of their own. They push you to think about your space in new ways. Not to be forgotten is the sample kit that Kerf sends customers so you can pick laminate and wood colors, it is a work of art itself.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the process is the rendering that Kerf creates of your project, 3-D pictures that can help you imagine walking around your new cabinets. Able to make tweaks to the design at this stage was key in working to craft a cohesive look. For example, we had a large rounded edge on the bookshelf portion of our island replaced with a right angle to better match the hard edges in the rest of our home.

Once your design is set, you can choose to have the cabinets fully assembled and shipped to your home. Or, sent out as a knocked-down kit. We opted for the latter as it saves money on shipping and raw costs. It also allows you to be a larger part of the project because as anyone knows, installing cabinets takes a lot of time and effort to set straight and true.

Over the course of four weekends I was able to assemble and install our cabinets. The soapstone countertops and Heath tiles took another six weeks. There is no doubt with this process, you are not just ‘hanging boxes’, you are an integral part of building your cabinetry. You shave a bit here, wedge a bit there. Glue. Screw. Set. It is really rewarding to watch it all come together. And even more rewarding to be installing work that is built in the mid-century ethos.

I didn’t have the opportunity sixty years ago to work with Edward Hawkins, the original designer of our home, but I was able to work with equally talented designers. Equally committed modern designers to put something in my home that I, and I am sure, subsequent owners would be proud of. Affordable, custom companies for cabinets, furniture, landscaping and more are out there. For your next project, find one. You and your house will benefit from the process.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this experience. We are about to renovate our mid-century modern house and the cabinets in our price range don't thrill me at all.

And I hate door knobs. Kerf is so clever in the design. I'm glad you mentioned the price. I would have thought Kerf out of our reach had you not.

Ashly said...

Thank you so much for this entry! I have just begun the process of reviewing cabinetmakers for my upcoming kitchen remodel. I'm leaning towards KERF, or something similar, and am so impressed with your kitchen! Thank you again!

Gary said...

Hello Kevin.
My wife and I are very interested in Kerf cabinets for our kitchen. You mentioned having a cabinet budget of $6500 for this project. By having the unassembled cabinets shipped to you, were you able to stay within your budget? About how much did you save over having the cabinets shipped assembled? Thanks, Gary (former owner of 1978 Talbot Yellow Porsche 911SC)

Ty Kelley said...

I am also interested in Kerf cabinets and wondering if your were able to stay within the $6500 budget? Thanks for your story. Ty