Brooklyn-based Workstead’s latest project is what they call “a case study in addition and subtraction.” The house in question, which belongs to a young Boerum Hill family, had undergone a contractor-led renovation that gave it solid walls and new floors but no personality. “The home definitely lacked soul,” said design lead and project architect Ryan Mahoney. It also (bizarrely) lacked a kitchen.
Luckily for Workstead, their client is a lover of the creative process and was game for experimentation (he was looking for “warm, comfortable spaces with a playful quality”). Workstead chose a utilitarian layout for the kitchen, dining room, and library, and added a sense of whimsy with the finer details of craftsmanship in custom cabinetry, creating some of the most characterful kitchen cabinetry we’ve seen as well as a finely detailed shelving system in the living areas. “We set out to do something modern and crafted,” says Mahoney.
The architects capitalized on the bountiful light streaming into the uncommonly wide brownstone and sought a cabinet design that would add visual interest to the room. “The carved handles look extremely subtle or very dramatic depending on the time of day,” Mahoney says.
“Once we knew we wanted to carve the handles out of the wood, we had practical constraints,” Mahoney says. The doors needed to be thin enough to function with the hinges, “but we needed enough thickness to allow us to create a comfortable finger catch.” This resulted in wedge-shaped cabinet facings.
After careful deliberation, the designers settled on beechwood for the cabinetry. Their client wasn’t fond of dark wood, and the lighter species of beech complemented the existing oak floor. It also had the right amount of graining and character to avoid overwhelming the geometric cabinet design, and is a wood that will hold up over time. The carved handles are half an inch deep; allowing enough gripping room to make doors and drawers easy to open.
The architects chose Pietra Cardosa—a type of schist—for the countertops because it complements the tone of the beech and features a “subtle, directional movement in the stone.” On the back wall, note the shelf made of Pietra Cardosa, mounted via integrated brackets underneath.
The success of any custom woodwork project relies in large part on the woodworker. Workstead has collaborated with Brooklyn-based Markus Bartenschlager since their very first project. He was instrumental in not only making the finished product but also prototyping the millwork during the design phase.
Workstead chose a high-end Lacanche range from France because “its beautiful cast-brass knobs are a nice counterpoint to the more geometric modern cabinetry.” They also appreciate the range’s mechanical operation, and the double oven in smaller proportions fit their dimensional requirements perfectly.
The dining room opens off the kitchen. The Toben Table and the Ceramic Page Pendants are by BDDW, and the glass-front hutch at right is vintage Borge Mogensen, purchased by the client.
The parquet flooring was installed during the prepurchase renovation and features a decorative border inlay. The fireplace surround is carved out of the same Pietra Cardosa used for the kitchen countertops, and the overhead light fixture was purchased by the client.
“If the kitchen was about the subtraction of material,” Mahoney says, “then the bookshelf was about the addition.” The client requested “something thin and delicate” to house his extensive collection of books, so Workstead echoed the kitchen’s wedge design for the vertical bookshelf pieces, allowing for a slender profile at the front of the cabinet but a stronger, thicker base at the back.