Sometimes the ceiling can be a challenge in kitchen and bathroom design; beams, soffits, ductwork, angles and height can either be a hindrance or a catalyst. You either go around, through or follow the ceiling – respecting the limitations for a site-specific composition. Without balance, there is no composition, and without composition, there is no art.
This pre-WWII apartment kitchen (above photo) has a structural beam down the center. With the hood duct, little ceiling remained so we blocked it in. The sequence of the detailed cabinets and negative space around the hood elongate the room, and the usable height on the refrigerator side is emphasized by the hanging lamps.
To unite the two halves, the granite counter’s low backsplash aligns with the stove back guard and turns the corner as it rises to full height at the sink up to the glass cabinet. Similar to the black stove anchoring the main wall, the dark slate sink aids in drawing the eye to the transition. The cabinet void in the back corner creates a dynamic focal point contrasting the two heights in a display of movement unexpected in a normally staid, traditional setting.
More height than width is common in NYC kitchens. The crown on the tall cabinet (above) goes through the beam, providing vitality without overwhelming the room. The architecture of this space suggests that the tall cabinet is against the column and the shorter lighter cabinets are at the open end. The deeper, tall cabinet with handles instead of knobs signifies greater importance than the surrounding cabinets.
This variation precludes the use of (everyone’s favorite) mirror symmetry (but me). Instead, balance is created using the tenets of the Golden Proportion. whereby the width to length ratio is 62 percent. The tall cabinet proportion is a golden rectangle, similar to the far-right cabinet, as well as the combination of a right cabinet, middle cabinet and shelf. The whole wall to the ceiling is an 86½-in. by x 55-in. golden rectangle.
All the cabinets are different dimensions, yet they are the same proportion. The diagonal lines from the corners cross in the center of the middle cabinet – precisely where the eye is drawn. Any other dimensions, be they wider, shorter or narrower, would generate crossing in a different spot, rendering the dynamic arrangement less visually appealing. The discrepancy might not be noticeable, but understanding golden proportions illustrates the beauty of the composition.
Height is an Illusion
The magic of kitchen and bath designers is their ability to create the illusion of space, movement and height. Above, space is created by the openness of the glass and display portion of the cabinets. Movement occurs as the dynamic eave runs the length of the wall with a reprise at the soffit panel, and height is achieved by the stepping arrangement of the cabinets. The three steps have differing personalities from the same cherry family:
- One curved open shelf
- Two louvered, angled, sliding doors
- Three glass doors with vertical dividers in the open area that lead to the ceiling
The 1-2-3 progression is the pleasing Fibonacci Sequence where each cabinet increases by 62 percent.
When Mirror Symmetry Isn’t Possible
Because of the beam in the photo above, a more dynamic approach to balance is required. From the tall cabinet, the line of the shelf over the window skirts the beam to touch the glass cabinet that embraces the window. This arrangement maintains an open look as the movement expands and unifies the entire wall. It’s not merely cabinet-window-cabinet that focuses on the window; now the window is one piece of the overall composition. Another detail: the glass cabinet is shallower than the right cabinet to align with the beveled angle of the shelf – adding the variety of depth to the composition.
- A cabinet up to the beam would succumb to being handcuffed by the limitation.
- Solid doors would produce an unsuccessful attempt at symmetry.
- Each object has its own personality; similar to islands differing from the perimeter cabinets.
A bathroom addition of an angled ceiling skylight (above) provided the opportunity to have creative fun. The blue trapezoid follows the roof and floats in the space. Field tile surrounding the design is the golden proportion 62 percent of the width of the blue form. This ratio determines the pleasing size for the space that is neither too large nor small. Connecting the dots confirms the dimensions as diagonals from the corners of the walls align with the corners of the design.
What is Going on Here?
Admittedly, the design in the photo above is not everyone’s taste. The point of discussion is using the space to the hilt. I surmise, in most cases, that cabinets would only be set along the 8-ft. height line with the remainder of the most exciting portion of the roof line left blank – what a shame. I submit this design to illustrate how by connecting the dots similar to constellations, we make familiar patterns as seen in the masterpieces: Taj Mahal and Cathedral of Notre Dame. The angle of the hood points to the apex of the refrigerator cabinet, and the extended right side of the hood and the angle of the refrigerator cabinet touch the ceiling at the same spot. Aloft in that negative space – higher than the cabinets themselves – is the focal point.
– By Mark Rosenhaus, CKD