When considering kitchen storage, there are two main types available: built-in cabinetry or freestanding storage furniture. Sometimes cabinetry is an extension of a home’s architectural themes and millwork; in other cases, cabinetry may be eclectic. Similarly, freestanding pieces can either be similar to or in sharp contrast with the settings in which they are used. To give a better sense of how each of these options might be used, here are a set of case studies which lay out two possible design plans for the same room: one consisting of built-in cabinetry only, the other, combining cabinetry with a freestanding piece.
The space in question was a fairly blank slate, consisting of a boxy space that opened onto a large and ill-defined living and dining area. There was little overall design interest in the house, which overall held minimal stylistic clues. Through this renovation, the homeowners hoped to infuse some architectural character and detail into the kitchen, modulating between modernist and traditional styles.
In the first proposed plan, the cabinetry lining the walls is treated almost like a system of paneling, with repetitive sizes and a run of glass fronts to lend the sense of layering and depth that the room lacked for want of windows. That rhythm carries through to the ribs on the custom copper-clad hood, giving the room a sense of unity that comes from well-designed built-ins. The island, a hybrid piece that is built-in yet appears to be freestanding, is made out of a horizontal-grain reconstituted veneer to imply that it grows organically out of the narrow-wood strip floor. The large top of the island is broken up into a marble food prep surface with a thicker end-grain bamboo snack counter butting up against it, with its exposed edge falling on the same vertical plane as the walls opening onto the living and dining space. This edge helps define the room, implying an intermediate visually permeable wall. A semicircular upholstered banquette slices into the island’s large rectangular volume, visually sweeping the sliding glass patio doors in and engaging them to complete a circle.
The second project features a Scandinavian arts and crafts-inspired multipurpose freestanding piece, designed to mimic the style and white-painted finish of the proposed built-ins. A shallow segment of wall separates it from the large stainless steel refrigerator tower. The microwave and espresso machine are concealed out of sight in the island, which is otherwise the same as in the first scheme. The wall behind the freestanding piece is painted in an accent color, and the cabinet’s interior is clad in rich, shimmering veneer, both of which help the piece to command the nook without completely filling it. The room feels more relaxed and intimate than the first plan, even as the ceiling height has increased by a foot, because the presence of the freestanding cabinet complements the banquette, table, and patio doors, creating a breakfast room furnished with individual pieces without breaking the room into separate spaces. Glass-fronted built ins respond to the configuration of the freestanding piece without replicating it. The two rooms, while functionally and stylistically similar, feel entirely different from each other—mainly based on whether or not the freestanding piece is part of the room. (The clients chose the second scheme.)
Built in, freestanding, or a combination? The best answer, as with all good design, will depend on how well the elements work together to create a whole room. And, of course, on your creative vision.