As we try to fathom the fact that it’s already November, we’re revisiting our most popular post of last month, architect Jess Thomas and director-producer Hagan Hinshaw’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, townhouse redo—see The Sentimental Minimalist. Today’s focus: the kitchen, which Thomas, the co-principal at Shapeless Studio, slotted into what had been a long, narrow bath on the first floor. To make the space work, she opened it up to the adjacent dining room and positioned her grandfather’s worktable as an island that artfully bridges the two territories.
With the view from the dining table in mind, Thomas designed cabinetry that is the kitchen equivalent of the perfect everyday bespoke suit. Its simple look belies deep thinking and a lot of back and forth between Thomas and her esteemed millworker, James Harmon of Workshop Brooklyn. “Working with James is a very collaborative and rewarding process,” she tells us. “As he translates my drawings into mockups, he really thinks about how things function and how they could be made better.” “I try to put myself in everyone’s shoes to make sure all the elements are usable,” explains Harmon. Here’s what they both had to say about the making of the kitchen.
In response to a reader’s query about what where everything in the compact setup is kept, Thomas explained, “Above the fridge (Bosch’s custom-panel Benchmark), we store our blender, slow cooker, Soda Stream, and vases. We only use a French press and don’t have a microwave. The drawers hold a mixture of mixing bowls, silverware, and cooking pans: To be honest, we don’t have many pots and pans.”
For durability and to allow the grain to show through, Harmon stained the cupboards using Arborcoat, a matte finish available in the full range of Benjamin Moore colors and made for exterior use. The workbench, which Thomas’s artist grandfather used to make frames, is by Lachappelle; sadly the German company discontinued the line in 2000, but similar designs can be found, including on eBay (search “hardwood workbenches“).
Note the floating wood shelf that stretches from the fridge enclosure to the “hood shroud.” Harmon counts it as one of the most challenging details in the townhouse: “To incorporate halogen puck lights on the underside, I had to create pathways for wires and transformers into the thin wood, and they had to be accessible for repair and replacement. The shelf is supported by custom steel brackets. The whole thing was no small feat.”
Thomas wanted to preserve the chalky, matte finish of the Arborcoat but wondered if a wax finish was necessary for durability. Harmon went with an unobtrusive waterborne flat clear coat applied with a brush: “It’s a tricky process because it dries quickly, so reworking strokes can cause problems—but the results are what we were after.”
The flooring is the pine subfloor that had been hidden under battered tiles. It’s sealed with water-based Bona Naturale.
The Evolution of the Cutout Handle Design
“When I initially scanned the drawings,” Harmon tells us, “I figured it would be easy enough to create the pull. However, things often occur to me when the material is in hand. My concern for the pull was how tactile the response would be. Working with a three-quarter-inch-thick drawer front would mean one’s fingertip would have to reach quite far to pull the drawer or door open.” Photograph by James Harmon.
Explore the rest of the townhouse and see Before photos here.
Take a look at three more of our favorite kitchens with dark cabinetry: