KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Roberta Kravette

Roberta Kravette

Roberta Kravette, LEED AP ID+C, AKBD, is principal of Nieuw Amsterdam Kitchens in New York City and a sustainable kitchen consultant for the design trade, as well as eco-minded homeowners. She began her design career in Moscow, where she founded a project management firm specializing in interior renovation, design and fit out of both residential and commercial spaces. This year, she presented at SICI, a kitchen and bath trade show in Madrid, Spain, where she spoke on "Building Kitchens in American Cities." Kravette will soon be providing tips and answering questions on her blog, Green Kitchens by Design.

Aug 31 2011

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Why aren’t my cabinets solid wood?

Ahh at last—after months of work, this kitchen project is almost completed! The design and decision hurdles are over, electrical and plumbing roughs are approved, floor is in, and the walls are painted. My favorite installer is setting the cabinet bases.

The final payment is earmarked for a well-deserved long weekend away and I can already feel the cool ocean breeze… My client (a successful Wall Street broker) has been calm and focused through out the process. Smiling, he has just walked into the kitchen with a Friend. Within seconds Friend looks at the uninstalled base cabinets and asks, “Hey, why aren’t these cabinets made of ‘solid wood’”?

The happiness on my client’s face is replaced by stark terror. He has flashed back to his college apartment on a Saturday night with four roommates and 56 close friends. There’s been a spectacular collision between a tub of melted ice and beer and his assemble-it-yourself bookcase, which is now lying prone on the floor, drowning in a sea of liquid and foam. Books, binders and beer are floating out into the hall… He watches in horror as its water-logged construction explodes out of its “veneer.”

My initial response of “Are you kidding? WAKE UP—it’s not 1980” will neither calm him nor get me to the beach. So when this happened last week, I gave my client a lesson in “Cabinet Construction Materials in 2011.”

“Hi Tom (names have been changed to protect the slightly hysterical), let’s sit down.”

And I gently began:

Life has changed since 1980 and so has cabinet construction. Today the best cabinets are made from high-grade composite woods of which many can be specified as moisture resistant. Good cabinet makers don’t use sold wood construction for many reasons.

Plywood, which is one type of composite wood product is often used to make cabinet boxes—although for humid areas, industrial-grade particleboard can be a more stable choice. Combination-core and high-grade MDF are also good composite wood choices for some applications.

comparison MDF + Particle Board
Veneer Core Plywood

Let’s compare composite wood to solid wood construction.

1. Raw Materials Cost: Slicing a tree to produce lumber for solid wood construction generates a lot of waste. More trees are needed for the same result and the overall material cost is higher—if the species is even available in solid wood. Species such as wenge (your cabinets) and anigre are not.

2. The Environment: Every sliver of wood from a harvested tree can be used to produce composite wood products. This has a positive impact on the local, national and global ecology. And less waste means cost savings for the consumer.

3. Warping: Solid wood boards warp easily. Look at an antique armoire. The doors usually don’t close properly. Its solid wood construction has warped so the “box” is no longer square. Solid doors warp as well.

The best substraight for slab doors is  MDF  for smoothness and stability

The best substrate for slab doors is MDF for smoothness and stability

4. Replacement Costs: The soft-close mechanisms on today’s hinges and drawer slides need square cabinet boxes (un-warped and level) to work properly or they will stick, pull out or break.

5. Beauty & Choice: Veneer such as your wenge looks most beautiful when laid up on the smooth surface that certain types of composite wood products, such as combination core, can offer.

6. Your Healthy Home: Today’s composite wood products can all be specified as NAUF (Non-Added Urea Formaldehyde) to cut down on harmful VOC emissions in your home.

So by using composite wood products, your cabinets can cost less, last longer and are more environmentally friendly to your home and the earth.

Are you feeling better now?  Tom smiled.

Roberta Kravette, LEED AP

Aug 01 2011

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“What goes around—comes around”

Isn’t that what they say?

“What you sow is what you reap.” “As your deed is, so is your destiny.” “Chickens always come home to roost.”

Last week the annual New York Home Furnishings & Design Coalition Summer Social 2011 was held at Manhattan’s Tribeca Loft. More than 350 professionals from all facets of the interior design industry, including our own kitchen and bath segment, enjoyed an evening of champagne and friends, connections and reconnections, laughter, conversation and oh yes…we raised some money for charity.

This year’s charity beneficiary was Young Adult Institute (YAI). YAI works with adults with Autism. You don’t hear about adults with Autism much. Most special schools and programs available for Autistic folks end when they reach 21 years old. Then these autistic child/adults just seem to disappear… Where do they go?

No, you don’t hear very much about adults with Autism, but then again that doesn’t seem so unusual if you think about it. Folks with Autism don’t make much noise.

It’s been proven that art gives many Autistic folks a means to communicate. The YAI organization helps Autistic adults connect and thrive through visual arts programs. Art replaces silence and frustration with a voice and hope. But art costs money.

Malvin Collage Abstract 2011

Abstract Collage by YAI client artist Malvin Palmer

It’s been a challenging couple of years for our industry. Our clients haven’t been running in droves to renovate or redecorate. They haven’t been racing to build dream a home or recreate a celebrity chef’s kitchen.

Still, the interior design industry came out last week and gave what they could and more to help YAI break the silence.

Everyone was generous and supportive, but our own Kitchen & Bath industry represented fully 50 percent of the sponsorships.

Brizo’s beautiful Siderna faucet set with glass inserts

Brizo’s beautiful Siderna faucet set with glass inserts

Brizo and their NY representative Altherm, Dornbracht America, Electrolux, Jenn-Air, Pennville Custom Cabinetry, Rohl and Sub Zero/Wolf through its representative Westye, were all there. For many this is an annual event.


Jenn-Air’s Side by Side built in earned the top spot in consumer ranking two years in a row

They say that the kitchen is the heart of the home. Truly heart starts beating with you.

Thanks also to Benjamin Moore, Lutron Electronics, Hunter Douglas, Robert Allen, The Ruffled Window and Earth Gallery. They always make our project shine but their sponsorships help to bring light to an Autistic adult’s eyes.

We are grateful to White Glove Transportation who also contributed their backs to save those of the committee members, mine included. They safely and efficiently transported the donated auction items from the consolidation point to the venue and then helped the winners transport their treasures home.

We ask our vendors for a lot. Their goods and services can make or break our businesses. Last week they gave even more. They helped replace silence with “voice,” frustration with hope.

These vendor/friends and the many who donated wonderful goods for auction will stay in the hearts and minds of everyone they touched.

Roberta Kravette AKBD, LEED AP ID+C

Jun 16 2011

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Project collaboration between design professionals: Does it work?

Collaboration, what does it mean between design professionals? Can it comfortably exist? The question is always in the background when folks from different design disciplines get together. And recently an old post by a young architect surfaced again to stir the sometimes bitter soup.

Designers have egos. It is part of our DNA. Although we can agonize over the smallest detail at the end of the day, we love what we do. We are proud of our work. Can we also be good collaborators on the same project? Does the collaboration diminish us as professionals or enhance our work?

I think the answer depends on the individual him or herself. I am a professional kitchen designer. Years ago, I made the decision to gear my practice toward collaboration with other architects and interior designers, AIA members, ASID members, IIDA and IFDA, etc. Why? Because very early on, I realized that the 2 critical things you can do for your career are:

# 1. Find your niche and become the expert in that field.
# 2. Understand where you are not an expert and seek out those that are.

No one can be the expert for every aspect of a design project. If you are, it usually means that you have not stretched your imagination further than your own nose. The project may be “good” but it will never be great.

During my career I have worked with some fabulous architects and interior designers. With them I have helped to create projects far different from any solo endeavor I would have accomplished (and I am a good designer). And I have learned so much along the way.

Working with architect, Matt Bremer, AIA, taught me to suspend belief and concentrate on bringing the (im)possible to life. The Fractal Pad (below) won Best of Year for Kitchen design.

11 kitchen foyer 1

Architect Michael Lewis, AIA, (my ZEN architect!) has taught me that going quietly, listening carefully and creating a peaceful island during design meetings results in clients who are calmer and happier during the process. The best “last word” is a finished project that reflects serenity.

Elher_Kitchen left 1

Interior designer Robin Baron, ASID, IFDA, IDS, etc. is teaching me now how to keep my enthusiasm and sense of humor when a project changes its vision AND its address multiple times—“and please hurry we need this now!”

With all of these collaborations and many others, I have been respected as a professional and a member of the project design Team. I love my architects and designers. My expertise and experience would be smaller, my practice less interesting, without these alliances.

Even when it comes to “my own” work, Barbara Roth, AKBD, CAPS and I team up to help, check and generally cheer each other on through indecisive clients, complicated specifications, late deliveries and “hopeless” installations situations that result in pure art.

Critical Item # 3: Two sets of eyes are always better than one!

Collaboration with other design professionals: You may find that your ego is very happy with the results.

Come have a glass of wine and meet some of your colleagues from the ASID, IIDA, and NKBA, etc., at this year’s Summer Social 2011.

Roberta Kravette

May 11 2011

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New (inclusive design) tricks from an old friend

Last week in Las Vegas I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some quality time with old friends. KBIS was far smaller than in years past. It was possible to “walk the show” in one day with time for lunch and a couple of coffee breaks! In my quest to find product “inspiration” I found myself in the company of folks I have been doing business with for a long time.

Long-term relationships tend to get relaxed and blurry. You stop noticing the details. Who hasn’t experienced waiting three days for a significant person to notice a new haircut? (Are those new glasses?) Vendor relationships are the same.

Rev-A-Shelf is an old friend. I haven’t done a kitchen, bathroom or laundry area in years without specifying their inserts and pullouts. And that was the problem. I had gotten laid-back. I “knew” them.

Life is what you make of it. With my comfortable significant other (who only takes 1.5 days to notice a haircut) and a desk full of deadlines awaiting me at home, I could choose to either be annoyed at this less-than-scintillating trade show—or I can choose find inspiration by looking with new eyes.

Part of Environmentally Responsible Design (my passion) is Inclusive or Universal Design. It is truly Green Design. I challenged my old friends at Rev-A-Shelf to show me what products they felt should be incorporated in an inclusive and responsible design approach. These are some of the things they showed me:

Photo 1 electricassistrev
Electric Assist Trash Unit. Blum’s new Servo Drive technology allows the door to open and close with a touch of a finger, toe or knee. This trash unit comes ready to install from Rev-A-Shelf with Blum’s tandem heavy-duty slides and a dovetailed box to hold the trash receptacle. The cabinet can be opened manually in case of a power outage. The soft close never lets it slam.

• Servo-Drive technology is available from Blum and others separately for use in any door or drawer cabinets. A light touch anywhere on the door or drawer will open or close it. Think of the possibilities not only for “goopy fingers” but arthritic ones as well. It can be programmed to touch to eliminate “dog-tail” openings.

Photo 2 tambouttablerev
Tambour Table extends from the drawer slot of a 24-in. base. It locks to extend and contract, and is Carb 2-compliant for California (and indoor-air-quality-concerned) projects! We know this as convenient extra counter space but it creates the perfect prep area for folks in wheelchairs!

Photo 3 prepared pot drawerrev
New Chrome Accessories for organized and secure drawer storage of pots and lids, dinnerware, canisters, bowels, etc. Drawer inserts have been available for years. These offer a more modern approach without having to buy an entire European kitchen. In general, drawers are more easily reachable by folks in wheelchairs, children and anyone who prefers or needs a more ergonomically friendly storage solution than typical base or wall shelves. These inserts make drawers a flexible, easy and logical storage choice.

All these items are convenient and fun for the fit and fabulous, but they are indispensable for multigenerational and multimobility level households. While I have been in a comfortable haze not seeing them, Rev-A-Shelf (and others) have been busy working on things that are important and inspiring to me! Hmmm, maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at some other relationships…….is that a new haircut?

Thank you Rev-A-Shelf for reminding me that “golden” old friendships can provide the most welcome surprises.

Just a side note: Rev-A-Shelf chose to be one of the sponsors for the kick-off event at KBIS this year. It was a wonderful evening made even more so by spending it with old friends.

Roberta Kravette, AKBD, LEED AP ID+C