Wednesday, December 2, 2015



We are back to kitchen land!  If you missed the post about kitchen design, you can read it HERE.

Once we got the basic design down, it was time to make the next big decision…cabinetry.  I know that some of you might be surprised that we didn’t shoot straight to appliances, but actually, cabinets are the second most important decision you make once you have a layout design.  The cabinets dictate the style and feel of the space aesthetically AND they are the most important functionality decision as well.  So while, yes, I cannot wait to tell you about all the shiny toys, I'm trying to keep this linear, and for us, we started with function.

As I mentioned, as a short person destined to get shorter, I wanted to try to do a kitchen with no upper cabinets.  Poor Charming Suitor is already in charge of being tall all over the house with light bulbs and high shelves,  I wanted to see if we could manage the kitchen with just lowers.  Also, from a design perspective, we knew there would be a lot going on in this space.  We have twice the usual number of appliances of a home kitchen going in there, so leaving uppers out of the equation would help give some visual breath to the room, and keep it feeling open.

While I’m sure many of you will be surprised that we did not immediately begin sourcing antique cabinetry to salvage and install, we actually began looking in the completely opposite direction.  

Our commitment to this home has been to restore where possible, salvage and repurpose original items, and renovate where necessary.  This has meant some decisions that eliminate original materials to ensure the future of the house. (yeah, goodbye ancient steam radiator system and scary boiler and hello central forced air system!)

A perfect example was the flooring.  Most of the house retains the original hardwood floors.  They were originally kept light, with just a varnish coat, which has yellowed a lot over the years, but they are in pretty good shape and we are refinishing them almost everywhere.  We had intended to do this in the kitchen as well, but when our contractors went to look at them, bad news.  Half of the space was oak, and half was maple.  Not so good for staining and making cohesive.  And the floor had sagged slightly between the joists.  Not enough to really tell just from walking on it, but enough that it would have made installing cabinets a nightmare.  You really want to start with level floors whenever possible, it is an infrastructure thing that is really worth investing in, because even though cabinets usually have some sort of leveling mechanism, it is never really perfect, and over the years, if the floor isn’t level, cabinet drawers can stick, doors can stop closing flush, and it can weaken them structurally.  So while we would be able to simply refinish the floors in 75% of the second level, including the kitchen library and pantry space, which just get shelving, the kitchen itself would need a new floor.   We salvaged the good pieces of oak when we did the demo to use for patching other floors throughout the house.  The flooring went really well…

my office!

large bedroom

the hallway

hallway in process, so you can see the original floor and stain side by side


kitchen library, this is the original maple, they did a great job matching the color

With level floors in a lovely mid-tone walnut finish, cabinets would now be able to live a long happy life.  But which cabinets?

We did some research into cabinets that are known specifically for function.  We knew that there were enough antique and vintage details planned for the space that we did not have to be concerned about companies who had antique looking door and finish options.  In fact, the more we discussed it, the more we wanted to move away from that look.  It may seem incongruous to our usual design impulse, but the reasons are purely practical.  Antique looking design has a lot of details, which are beautiful, but notorious for trapping grease and dust and sticky stuff.  We wanted a kitchen that was very easy to keep clean, because it will get a tremendous amount of use, and because, let’s be honest here, I am both a klutz and a messy cook.  I drop whisks covered with batter, and send clouds of flour up out of my kitchenaid mixer, and make spattery sauces.  Keeping the faces of our current cabinets clean is a constant battle, and not one I want to fight for the next 40 years. 

Once we knew that clean and contemporary lines would be okay, we could focus on the function.  We are mostly desperate to clear the decks a bit, our current kitchen requires that a lot of our stuff is out taking up countertop space, all our knives have to be on magnet strips on the wall, which considering our collection, isn’t so much a design feature as a creepy ‘why do you guys have so many knives’ situation.  We have horrible lower cabinets that even with some slide-out drawers, essentially require that we empty them all onto the floor to find the one thing we need.  We did a bunch of looking around, talked to some friends, including a couple of chef pals, checked with the architects, read a bunch of reviews and one name kept coming up.

A German company that has been around since the late 1800s, they are known for clean visual lines, and the highest level of precision, as well as amazing organization and function details.  Everything everyone said to us let us know that they might be a good fit for us.  All the stuff we saw on their website looked really cool, but we worried it might be too modern.  We also knew that we would have to see them in person.  So I made an appointment to meet with one of the designers at the Chicago showroom.

This is where Marcy entered our life.  

We met her at the showroom, and before we even opened one cabinet door, she sat down with us to chat about our needs.  She really listened to what we were trying to do, how we intended to use the space, the way we want to live our lives in our kitchen.  She looked at the floor plans, she looked at my Pinterest board.  And then she took us on a tour of the showroom.

And that?  Right there?  Was when we fell in love with Marcy AND Poggenpohl.

I mean, CS and I are pretty sophisticated folks; you aren’t going to woo us with a soft-close drawer and snazzy handle.  But when you show us not one, not two, but THREE options for the dreaded notoriously unfunctional annoying corner cabinet situation that all WORK?  And work well?  That starts a sparkle.  CS must have opened and closed the corner cabinets a dozen times, I think waiting for a shoe to drop.  It didn’t.

Door opens with baskets attached, and this mechanism pulls the other baskets
out of the hidden corner and into the front of the cabinet!

Charming Suitor's fave, these full extension shelves that slip back into the corner!  

The lazy susan spins completely around and is still soft-close!

You have a drawer that is designed to go AROUND the kitchen sink with ample space to put all your sponges and little sink accessories and get them off the counter making it all cluttery?  

We’re listening.  Everything we opened had a treasure inside.  Beautiful wood and metal in-drawer holders for foil and plastic wrap, so that you never again get the open cardboard lid caught in the drawer.   In-drawer knife holders with magnets built into one side so that they don’t rattle around getting dull every time you open the drawer.  All sorts of bins and dividers for anything you can imagine.  

That 5 inch wide space between the range and the corner cabinet that you figure will just get a filler strip?  How about a pull out section instead with two metal trenches perfect for bottles of oil and vinegar or canisters of utensils.  The toe-kicks all attach with magnets so that you can remove them to vacuum underneath! They even have a step stool that can hide in the toe kick.  Amazing. Seriously, either go to the Poggenpohl Website or get their really cool free App to see all of the various organizational tools and accessories, it is mind-boggling.  

Marcy recommended we go with almost all drawers for the space, which would eliminate the need to ever get down on all fours to reach into the back of a cabinet.  Since we didn’t want uppers, she suggested their rack system for plates and bowls, which store in the deeper drawers with handles that mean you can pull the whole stack of plates out and walk it over to the table for easy setting. 

these come in three different sizes, and each one is slightly expandable so that you can find one to fit your dishes.

Marcy said she had some good ideas for us, and that she would do a couple of designs based on our plans.  We gave her our budget and she promised to stay within it.  This, by the way?  Is KEY.  Get this promise ahead of time, whoever you choose to work with.  There is nothing that feels worse than someone showing you something you fall in love with and then telling you it is extra-budgetary.  Awful.

Then we looked at some of their finishes, since with a cabinet this modern in a house this old, the choice of finish is key.  Marcy had a few suggestions, but the one she liked best and the one we fell in love with was lava teak.  A striated slightly textured matte wood finish in a muted palette of gray and brown, the colors would work well in the space, the flat panels would be easy to keep clean, but the wood grain would be good friends with the existing woodwork in the home.  While it is a contemporary look, it is also sort of timeless, and we all believe that in ten years no one will look at the kitchen and think “Hello, 2015, how you doin’?” 

lava teak

Here is the finish in a kitchen design!

Within two days, Marcy had sent us a few sample plans of how the cabinets would lay out.   With some minimal tweaking, we felt like we had a good plan in place.  Marcy came to the house to do some serious measuring…a process that would repeat FIVE TIMES.  Poggenpohl is all done custom, there is no such thing as a standard box, and did I mention German precision?  Marcy measured once before demo, once after demo, once before the new flooring went in, once after, and then a final time once both flooring and drywall were completed.  That old adage, measure twice, cut once?  That, as Mike Holmes might say, is a start.  And to be sure, since they are building these things over in Germany, you really do want to get it all just right!

Marcy made the whole process, for lack of a better word, safe for us.  She kept to her promise, and never showed us anything that wasn’t in our budget, so we were able to just embrace the design process without worry.  There were things we thought we really wanted that she talked us out of, based on her experience of how people have used their kitchens, and always had at least two alternate options ready for us to think about instead.  She sent plans in both layout floor plan version and full 3D elevations so that we could really get a sense of how the space might feel.

She was the one who informed me that the perfect table we had purchased for the eat-in part of the kitchen was lovely, as long as I didn’t want my dishwasher door to be able to open.  Oops.

Your Polymath is good at many things, but ironically, MATH is not one of them.  Don’t let the moniker fool you.  I am not in charge of measuring things anymore.  On the upside, the table looks really good at my family’s weekend place, and my folks really love it as much as we do, so win/win.

Here are the elevations we ended up with:

Here is the whole layout.  And yes, we did do one of each of those three corner cabinet options!

Here is a whole view of the U shaped section with island

Looking from the back of the U at the other side of the kitchen.

the L shaped baking section of the kitchen

Your takeaways from this portion of our process?

1.     Start first and foremost with the function you need, and not the look you want.  Unless your kitchen is 100% for show and you eat takeout 3 meals a day, you are going to use it in some way, figure out what that looks like for you, and make a list of what you need your cabinet system to do for you.

2.     Research both online and by talking to a combination of professionals and personal contacts about how they like their cabinets, what works, what doesn’t, what they are glad they chose, what do they regret not doing.

3.     Go to a showroom.  Do not ever make a decision purely based on something you see online.  I know the discount cabinet places feel like such a good idea, especially on a budget, but kitchen reno is one of the hardest things to live through, you do not want to choose something and regret it later because it looked so much better online than it does in person.

4.     Look at construction before you look at the aesthetics.  A pretty cabinet that feels flimsy, shelves that bow or drawers that slide off their tracks is just a waste of money.

5.     Start your conversation with any designer with a firm handle on your budget and insist that they only show you options within that budget, ALL-IN, including accessories, tax, shipping, installation, etc.  Whether that means they are offering you a discount to use their products, or just keeping you solidly within the product lines you can afford.  And if they agree to do that and then show you something more expensive or try to nickel and dime you to death with extra fees?  Walk away.  There are many many companies who would like your business, any designer who doesn’t respect your budget is getting off on the wrong foot, and this process is stressful enough.

6.     Once you have a designer you feel comfortable with, be prepared to listen to their advice.  There are at least four different choices we made that we thought originally we would be wedded to that we changed our minds because of Marcy’s sage advice.  They know their business, so take heed when they make suggestions.

7.     Don’t be afraid to tweak and work on the design a few different times to make sure you get it right.

 Falling in love with Poggenpohl yourself?  Follow them on Facebook and Pinterest and Twitter!  I do :)

Next time…cabinet install!

Yours in Good Taste,

The Polymath


  1. I love the modern design and all the drawer options. I just checked and they have a location down the block from my office... I can't believe we are getting ready to do another kitchen renovation so soon after our last project. Life is crazy sometimes...

    1. Seriously, go check them out. Game changing cabinet solutions, and insanely well made. Just be sure to plan on their installers, because they are really tricky!