Good Designer/Client Relationship Yields Winning Kitchen

ESCONDIDO, CA — Mary and Malcolm Matheson bought this 15-year-old Massachusetts deck house in 2002 not because of its kitchen, but in spite of it. While the home featured a host of rich wood details and mountain-top vistas, the dated kitchen was a blanket of white: white melamine cabinets, white furniture and white ceramic tile countertops.

The cold, sterile space was a painful homage to design gone by. And after living with the kitchen for several years, Mary Matheson had accumulated some specific ideas about the style and function she wanted to incorporate into the new kitchen.

Matheson brought them to Charles Scott Craigmiles and Robert Kelich of Palomar Woodworks in Pauma Valley, CA. Craigmiles, a designer with Palomar, and Kelich, Palomar’s owner and an engineer, worked with her to create a kitchen that was not only stylistically in step with the rest of the home, but one that also garnered a design award.

Indeed, the warm, yet dramatic transformation this kitchen underwent captured the “Best Homeowner-Designed Kitchen” award in the 14th annual Kitchens of the Year design competition held by San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine.

The award was a direct result of Mary Matheson’s vision combined with Craigmiles’ ability to visually interpret it and Kelich’s ability to bring it to life. Together, along with Palomar installers Michael Tine Tiah and Brett Hatch, ripped away all remnants of the original kitchen. They added a host of elements that provided better functionality. They also took special care to properly frame the spectacular mountain-top views of the 13-acre avocado grove the couple owned, the valley below and the 45 miles of California coastline in the distance.

Their combined efforts and the kitchen’s dramatic metamorphosis made the kitchen the “hands-down” choice in this category, according to the judging panel of professional designers and architects.

As one judge describes: “The transformation of this kitchen’s character is similar to that of a fiberglass dinghy to a hand-crafted yacht.”

A second judge adds that this kitchen demonstrates “an excellent transformation from cold, sterile and white to warm and calming.”

Indeed, agrees Craigmiles, this kitchen now fits with the home’s wood floors and stone surfaces, and also sports a more functional layout.

“The placement of some of the appliances was wrong – especially the microwave, which was almost in the garage. Often, I’d have to warn my husband not to open the garage door when he came home,” recalls Matheson.

“So we realigned all of the appliances into a more functional work triangle,” notes Craigmiles, who characterizes Mary as a client well-versed in design with definitive ideas about what she wanted. This, he says, made the whole design process much easier.

Here, Kitchen & Bath Design News spotlights this stunning kitchen transformation borne of a very good, and interactive, designer/client relationship.


The impetus behind Matheson, Craigmiles and Kelich’s redesign was clearly to capture the warmth and richness seen elsewhere in the home and to improve on the original layout.

“We took the kitchen down to the frame and reconfigured the layout so that the cook is no longer segregated when we entertain family and guests,” says Matheson. In doing so, the trio ripped out the series of hanging glass cabinets that originally obscured the home’s stunning vistas.

According to Craigmiles, the next task was a bit of a challenge: selecting cabinetry that was similar in tone, style and finish to the rest of the woodwork in the home.

Ultimately, the trio chose to use frameless cabinetry from Canyon Creek Cabinet Co.’s Millennia line with the firm’s Falmouth mitered door style in cherry with a pecan stain and chocolate glaze.

The cabinetry choice fulfilled Matheson’s desire for a contemporary style with a traditional twist, says Craigmiles.

“The home features various levels and depths. For instance, there are 11"-high beams that cross the width of the house. There’s also a sunken living room. Therefore, we staggered the cabinets to recreate the feel of the various depths and heights in the home,” adds Craigmiles. Plus, the cabinets’ staggered, yet strategic placement not only adds more function and storage to the kitchen, but also doesn’t obscure any views.

Task-specific storage – which includes a plethora of roll-outs and deep drawers that house everything from dishes to spices and pantry items – completes the cabinetry design.

Function Junction

In terms of function, the trio incorporated a host of professional-style appliances, reworking their placement in the kitchen to increase efficiency, maximize space and free up a wall for art in one section of the kitchen.

For starters, Matheson, Craigmiles and Kelich specified a Jenn-Air cooktop, as well as KitchenAid oven that offers both conventional and convection cooking options. They also went with a 48" KitchenAid refigerator/freezer with matching cabinetry panels.

For added function, and luxury, a U-Line Corp. wine cooler was installed, as was a Miele coffeemaker. According to Craigmiles, Matheson wasn’t initially sold on the idea of a built-in, on-demand coffeemaker. However, after installing it and using it, she and her husband fell in love with it. “We really enjoy good coffee, so it was a great little extra,” she reports.

A Blanco double stainless steel sink and KWC faucet completes the function.

Next, Matheson, Craigmiles and Kelich turned their attention to the countertops. However, “topping off” the design was not as easy as it looked.

In an initial attempt to change the look of the old kitchen, Matheson and her husband changed out the original island and wet bar tops. They used a granite that “had a lot of dramatic movement with sienna, black and onyx hues,” says Matheson.

When it came time to choose the new kitchen’s countertops, Matheson wanted to reuse this granite. So, Craigmiles and Kelich and their team had to take great care in removing the granite, storing it for three months and then adding it back into the layout.

The trio decided the best solution was to apply it to the lower level of the new island. To do so, Kelich had an aluminum base custom made at a local metalworking shop to provide proper support. The solution also maintained the island’s clean lines by cleverly avoiding the use of such ornamentation as corbels for support.

The countertop selection for the rest of the kitchen went much more smoothly. Matheson chose the Absolute Black granite that Kelich and his team installed. It provides a nice contrast to the island’s granite top, she says. A backsplash cut into matching 5"x5" Absolute Black granite tiles interspersed with pewter tiles completes the look.