A mechanical and materials engineer. A chief financial officer. A product prototype manufacturer. A former chef, now kitchen designer. What do they have in common? They went into the woods for their kitchens.
It's audible from Pender to New Hanover and Brunswick counties. The collective sigh accompanies a shift from the traditional all-white kitchen to embrace the warmth shared across the country. We shook the trees to find four fabulous on-trend kitchens to dish about. You'll find streamlined cabinetry fabricated from bamboo, cherry and Douglas fir, and Euro-style melamine that mimics the look and feel of real wood.
A kitchen design insider, Kevin Briggs of Markraft Cabinets minted his own idiom when he and his wife, Susan, moved from Boston to St. James Plantation and into their new house in 2018.
With homebuilder Barker and Canady Custom Homes, Kevin and Susan nuanced many of the design details. The kitchen especially was a match for Kevin's personal culinary style. As a former chef, gourmet fare and fine wine are his passions.
"Everything had to be just right for me," he says.
He was a prep school chef in Boston, worked at the Four Seasons in New York, and managed several hotel restaurants before selling Eurostyle German-made cabinets. He also designed several high-end appliance showroom displays.
In his own home, he set a sleek, contemporary tone without going stark white by following the national trends he's seen showcased at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas. That includes the uber commercial-quality Bianco spray faucet.
All of his UltraCraft wall cabinets are bifold and lift, he explains, allowing less obstruction. When all are opened at once, access to storage from one cabinet to another without restrictions is conducted with grace and ease. The brushed nickel, closed-end bar pulls add another streamlined touch.
"The trend is really for people to have a cleaner, simpler line of cabinet. Everyone finally tired of the Old World scrolled and corbeled elements and realized that style requires a lot of taking care of," he says.
Decor is the driving force, but so is the efficient use of space and the functionality of basic tools.
"Appliances are very important not only for me as a kitchen designer, but for the entire kitchen industry," Kevin says.
Most of his Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances are arranged along an interior wall adjacent to the wet bar and wine cooler. His double ovens -- convection and convection/steam -- are seamlessly integrated into the array and are installed flush with the cabinetry.
The refrigerator and freezer drawers are clad in the same durable, textured melamine as that used for the backsplash behind the sink, under the snack bar, and surrounding the ceiling hood. With the sink at his back, the working side of the hard, waterfall edge island is in full view of the dining room and living area. The island is amply equipped with manufactured quartz counter space for prepping and an induction cooktop that boils a pot of water in about four minutes.
He introduced walnut bar stools to echo the warmth of the walnut-finished oak floors.
"All the furnishings lend themselves to that, with the fireplace and coffered ceilings," he says.
The vibrant rug runner is tied to the overall palette of white with pops of red.
As the workday winds down, Kevin can be found popping a cork and preparing a meal. His favorite dish, saltimbocca, depends upon a supply of fresh food like veal, prosciutto, provolone and fresh sage, not commonly found in his coastal Brunswick County digs. So his cuisine now revolves around locally sourced seafood. He's not complaining.
Does this new tastemaker believe he can move the needle in Wilmington, pushing clients out of their all-white comfort zones and into an interior landscape with a skosh more personality?
There is always room at the design table for all lifestyles, but "hopefully we are going to make the transition to this soon," he says.
A somewhat dated oceanfront home, built in 2003, caught the eye of Anne and Bill Stevens. They hired Surf City builder Paul Dorazio of Maebilt, who originally constructed the Topsail Island home, to gut the interior and begin anew.
"My husband and I are both engineers," says Anne, a materials and mechanical engineer with -- as a female -- the street cred of running typically male-centric automotive and aeronautical corporations. The point being, Anne knows what she wants and how to get it.
"Form, function and materials are very important to me," she says.
The look of her new kitchen would be very contemporary, very industrial, and very large to support the Stevens' entertainment style -- big parties to celebrate Boxing Day, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby; 40 to 50 guests all in one room. The kitchen frames views of the Atlantic Ocean and an 88-inch television screen on the opposite wall.
"I think most kitchens today seem to be the white Shaker look," Anne says. "We chose bamboo. It's very unusual but very contemporary."
With zero wasted space, a bank of Wood-Mode cabinets lines the interior wall and surrounds the island front and back. The Thermador refrigerator supplied by Atlantic Appliance is actually two separate, side-by-side units assembled as one, featuring two freezers and two icemakers. There are two dishwashers, double ovens that open left to right, and an under-the-counter microwave. Anne became acquainted with the merits of induction cooking while living in London, and she imported an AGA stove for her coastal Carolina home.
When it's party time, the oversized island is covered in platters of food. Guests bring covered dishes, and Anne cooks with her son, Jon Stevens, of Creative Carpentry in Hampstead. Jon fabricated the 10-by-5-foot, live-edge, red oak, double-slab dining table. The river of resin that runs through it mimics the ocean. It's teeming with shark teeth, shells and sea glass Anne collected from the beach.
The epoxy was layered in three stages, Jon says. On the bottom is a layer of blue resin on which he laid an array of LED lights and sprinkled the souvenirs. The top layer -- agitated with oxygen to create bubbles -- produces the effect of a living ocean, he says, with sunlight streaming through water. The 800-pound tabletop is secured by a welded metal frame that anchors a sea blue-green rug.
Subtle toe kick lighting beneath the lower cabinets and lighting behind glazed cupboards at ceiling height add luster to the predominantly neutral palette -- soft beige, high-gloss taupe and gray leather -- creating layers of depth.
Cynde Orr, Kitchen Blueprints designer, introduced her client to the durably resilient Dekton countertops composed of natural quartz stone, porcelain and glass.
"It's the first time I've used the product," Cynde says, "but it's just about impervious to anything."
Metallic flashes of steel and copper pop from the shimmering tile backsplash, supplied by Southeastern Tile Connection and installed by Sellers Tile.
Embracing classic styles led to an eclectic array of vintage and antique Stickley, Mission style and Art Deco furnishings throughout the home. But Anne's favorite kitchen gadget just might be the wire and LED Quoizel chandelier she found at Coastal Lighting that's suspended above the island. It reminds her of the Erector sets she tinkered with when she was a kid.
"It has a very industrial look," she says.
It takes a smart man to invite an interior designer to shop for his new home. That's what Pramod Raju, at the time a chief executive for PPD, did when he purchased his 3,600-square-foot Charlestonesque Landfall home. Though he fell in love with the style of the house, it was not a match made in heaven for this worldly bachelor.
Jo Howell of Big Sky Design says the original layout was very confined and very dated. It just wasn't functional; it was choppy and didn't open up for entertaining or even conversation.
She and Pramod worked with Mark Schmidt of Schmidt Custom Builders to repattern the space.
"When you walk into the foyer, you've got the formal living room, the formal dining room, then the kitchen. We blew out the wall between the dining room and the existing kitchen," Jo says.
She designed a ginormous island that now opens into the dining room. The kitchen became the focal point beyond which an enclosed porch, now a sunroom, frames views of the golf course.
While the kitchen itself is now the focal point of the ground floor living areas, Jo grounded with the cherrywood island finished in dark java that brings out the rich chocolate tones echoed in Brazilian cherry floors.
Because the island is so substantial, creating the four corner details supported with table-style legs welcomes everyone to sit around the central conversation piece. A Visconti white granite was leathered -- a trend that forgoes the traditional high-gloss polish. The result adds gorgeous depth and texture to the stone, Jo says. The details are more evident under the gaze of Visual Comfort's hand-rubbed antique brass Turenne Dynamic chandelier from Big Sky Design.
Surrounding the centerpiece, she arranged high-contrast vignettes. The custom hood was faux finished with silver leaf to resemble Venetian plaster banded with bronze accent crowns, another focal point above the Thermador induction cooktop, paired with the black herringbone tiled backsplash. The presentation achieves an eclectic mix of modern with traditionally classic patterns that is entirely intentional.
"The reflective quality of the backsplash adds more depth, more drama, more impact," Jo explains. "It complements the island."
A window to the right was added for balance and to allow more daylight into the space. Markraft's glazed cabinets inset with frosted glass add another dimension, as do open shelves with integrated LED lighting.
Pramod had a chance to christen his swanky new kitchen, but soon after he took a new position with American Trailer and moved to Dallas. When new homeowner Trish Boyd entered the scene, she was immediately taken by the opennesses of the extensive renovation. Having redone a kitchen a decade ago, she says, "There were definitely some things I wasn't ready to do then that are in this kitchen."
One was the commitment to open shelving she now enjoys.
"When you have open shelves, your storage has to go somewhere," she says.
In her case those somewheres are deep drawer spaces.
With an induction cooktop paces away from the island sink and a separate area for serving beverages from an under-the-counter cooler, she adds "It's a great working kitchen."
Her young grandsons, still in their single digits, love snacking and mealtimes at the island when they visit. With their grandmother, they rolled out dough and cut heart-shaped cookies and baked them for Valentine's Day.
Jo Howell says Trish's style of entertaining is quite the opposite of her 30-something bachelor dude -- more subdued, very sophisticated. Yet she loves the new modern lifestyle that transformed this Charleston-style home.
"Truly what I tried to do," Jo says, "Southern charm with modern elements."
Starting from scratch, product prototype manufacturer Peter Lamporte cultured a clean, cohesive, monolithic aesthetic for his family's Shinn Creek home, a peaceful sanctuary for their high vibe, surf's up lifestyle.
Peter says his business takes him all over the country, primarily out west. There he meets with product designers at Tesla, Apple, Google and other Silicon Valley types, to develop what he labels, "the onesies, twosies" that bigwigs flash before launching a new line.
"The product design firms, similar to architectural firms, border on stark yet peaceful," he says. "Their decor, their office space is very different than here on the East Coast. Using real materials, using industrial materials, the clean aesthetic, metals, clean, vibrant lighting ... to me it's like art. That really was the impetus. It was in my mind but I didn't know how it would flow."
Kind of ironic coming from the dude who, when he's not jetting coast-to-coast, is 100 percent in flow, in the water on a board. The horizon line of the surf on a gray day was the linear through line he manifested in his new house. He hired a draftsman to draw the plans and interviewed interior designers until he met Daryl Rosenbaum of Design Results.
"He was so creative," Daryl says. "Some creative people have to consider all of the variables and then go back to the beginning."
Peter curated 8,000 images on his phone alone and boxloads of magazines.
"What was good about Daryl, she didn't dictate anything," Peter says. "She kinda talked me off the ledge, off the cliff."
His zeal was also tempered by Alli, his wife, whose tastes lean in more traditional directions.
Daryl brought balance to the process by meeting separately with both husband and wife. Embracing the fluid nature of her clients -- even going so far as to shop with Peter during the High Point Market, where he found adjustable height counter stools -- she ultimately helped narrow many of the choices by developing prototypes for the prototype guy.
"I would cut out of cardboard the size of something and hold it up in the space where it would go so he could see the scale," Daryl says.
Other times she might gently tap the brakes. Case in point: Peter loves tigerwood and wanted to use it on the floors in his kitchen. "It was too much," Daryl says.
The Douglas fir cabinets drove the design of the 12-by-14-foot space. Fabricated by VanDamme Customs, the wood-clad lower cabinets and Richelieu stainless steel pneumatic cabinets are equipped with one-touch-to-open features that require no additional hardware, stretching the minimalist idiom.
She sold him on Sonneman's Corona LED ring by climbing a ladder and holding a hula hoop above her head. Installed, the suspended pendant's halo effect emits 3,000 degrees Kelvin clear bright white light echoed by clerestory windows that welcome natural daylight. The circular shape is mirrored in the porthole window inset into the swinging stainless steel door that leads to the walk-in pantry/laundry room.
Neolith floors and countertops complement the unique soft gray and white Strata marble island top, all supplied by Bluewater Surfaces. The central island doubles as an informal dining area, elevated to accommodate the family's tall genes and lowered to waist height for dishwashing plumbed with water from a reverse osmosis system, another one of Daryl's suggestions.
"Every decision was fun for him," she says.