Design: Thinking Outside the Box

Done well, cabinetry can be an important design element.

By Julie Fustanio Kling


Kristen Carter sits at the drawing table and swivels back and forth between sketches of a shelf across a windowpane for dishware and a sliding barn door that hides a kitchen pantry. “Kitchen designs in Jackson can certainly get tricky because of the large windows that emphasize the view, and the open-concept kitchen and living spaces that result in very little wall space,” she says. It’s a good thing Carter taught high school math before founding Bison Custom Cabinetry ten years ago—she’s now up for solving any problem.

Carter begins the design process by brainstorming with clients. She asks what they want to do in their kitchens. For example, do they entertain? Carter once designed a kitchen island with three different levels: a high counter for serving, a low counter for kneading bread, and a counter at standard height. The client was a serious baker.

Last fall, Carter worked with a skier to design cabinets for a bright red cargo van. The client wanted his to be the ultimate backcountry skiing vehicle, with hooks to hang wet backpacks, shelving for hats and gloves, and custom slats for skis. And, “He specifically wanted a place to set a cold beer while he pulled off his wet gear after a day on the slopes,” Carter says. In a corner next to the ski rack she designed Carter put a ledge that doubles as a drink holder. The client also wanted a couch that converted to a bed. Like a day skiing in the backcountry, “Custom cabinetry provides great satisfaction,” she says.

“Kitchen designs in Jackson can certainly get tricky because of the large windows that emphasize the view, and the open-concept kitchen and living spaces that result in very little wall space.”

[ Kristen Carter, Bison Custom Cabinetry ]

Cabinets for gear storage aren’t always as specific as Carter’s van project, but, since Jackson Hole homes are so ruled by gear, Dave French, the co-owner of Grow Woodworks, says requests for equipment storage and organization are common: “I’ve done some great ski lockers with built-in boot dryers and pans below.”

And, as more people make their homes in the valley their primary residences (rather than vacation homes), kitchens are becoming more important—in size, efficiency, and organization. Today the lion’s share of French’s work is kitchen-related.

According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, 29 percent of the average kitchen-remodeling budget goes toward cabinets. This number is higher for custom cabinetry, but experts say it is worth it. Custom cabinetry allows homeowners to bring design elements from other parts of the house—colors, styles, and textures—into the kitchen.

French does a lot of recycled barnwood and rift-sawn white oak. Finishes include a variety of stains and lacquers. He and Grow Woodworks partner Paul Lauchle work exclusively with wood they cut and sand themselves. A recent project was a set of extra-wide drawers for a client who needed a space to store art.

French considers himself more of a problem solver than an artist. Before he makes his first cut, he can see the finished product in his mind’s eye. “A lot of people can’t see it, so they need to design as they go,” he says.

Carter orders her designs from two custom cabinetmakers, one in Minnesota and the other in Oregon. These makers work with a variety of materials, from stainless steel to ceramic tiles with a faux-wood grain. Carter says gray and other muted colors are a current trend, and white is the most popular. Pastels and bright colors are making a comeback, as are retro appliances. “One project included pulling a unique color from one of the designer’s fabrics to create a custom paint color used on the kitchen island,” she says. “I have done a deep red vanity and green and yellow kitchen cabinets. Finishes—that’s really where cabinet design has personality.”



| Posted in Departments
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