Design competition winners turn to their own homes

Irvine, CA — While designers are known for bringing passion and a personal touch to their creations, it doesn’t get much more personal than how they envision their own private kitchens. That was evident in the grand prize winners of Thermador’s annual Kitchen Design Challenge – which happened to be the personal kitchens of the winning designers.

The contest was conducted with the help of interior designer and HGTV personality Candice Olson, and all eight regional contest finalists were on hand when the luxury appliance brand made the announcement of the winners at its showroom in Irvine, CA in late September.

Tamie Glass and husband Ulrich Dangel, of Glass & Dangel, in Austin, TX, were awarded the grand prize in the contemporary/modern category. Their Ledge Mountain residence features full overlay cabinetry that provides a natural fit for the Thermador Masterpiece Series appliances while supporting the goal of incorporating a sleek and integrated appearance without sacrificing function and innovation.

Morgan Keister, of Morgan Kofron, in Paradise Valley, AZ, was awarded the grand prize in the traditional/transitional category. Her design achieved the goal of creating an energetic center of the home.

“These are some of the brightest kitchen design professionals in the business, and seeing the amazing results from utilizing Thermador luxury appliances is incredibly inspiring,” says Zach Elkin, director, brand marketing of Thermador. “These designers know what culinary enthusiasts need and have created stunning, yet functional hubs of the home that beautifully showcase Thermador’s capabilities in the American kitchen.”

Runner-up winners included Jennifer Rowe, Kitchens, Etc., Santa Rose Beach, FL, in the traditional/transitional category; and Derek Byler, Heart of the Home Kitchens, Hershey, PA, in the contemporary/modern category.

Other regional winners included: Jeff Brown, J.S. Brown & Co., Columbus, OH; Aimee Nemeckay, Susan Fredman Design Group, Chicago, IL; Jamie Nicholas, Jamie Florence Designs, Reading, MA, and Justin Parker, Prestige Mouldings & Construction, Inc., San Juan Capistrano, CA (distributor).

Function + Aesthetics

For grand prize winners Tamie Glass, Ulrich Dangel and Morgan Keister, design took on a unique twist when the competition turned to their own kitchens.

For Glass and Dangel, the modern/contemporary kitchen is part of their circa 1979 home in Austin. For the interior designer and architect, function and aesthetics were at the heart of the space’s transformation.

To enhance function, the duo focused on creating a space that could easily accommodate two cooks working side-by-side without bumping into each other in the compact footprint. To accomplish that goal, they created two distinct zones: one with a prep sink and a built-in Thermador bottom-freezer refrigerator and induction cooktop; the second with another sink and adequate countertop space for prep and/or cleanup at the sidebar. “We paid a lot of attention to the flow and process of cooking a meal and how two people could do that together,” says Glass.

They also wanted to capture the breakfast nook area, which in the previous layout was distinctly separate from the kitchen. “We realized before we did the renovation that we spent all of our time in the breakfast area, so we wanted to join it with the kitchen, together in one space,” she says.

Efficient storage played a role in functionality as well, so the couple carved out a niche area behind the refrigerator and oven, accessed on each side of the appliance “block.” The symmetrical spaces include a small countertop with drawer storage below and a tambour door above to conceal small appliances, drinks and other miscellaneous items.

The duo also included a vertical slide-out pantry between the refrigerator and ovens for dry goods and cooking supplies. “We were concerned initially that storage might be too restrictive,” she says. “But we only keep items we need. With the pullout, we can access everything and it feels pretty functional.”

Aesthetically, Glass and Dangel wanted a kitchen that could be a backdrop to the living room, while being simple in form. “Basically, the upstairs is open,” Glass says, adding that the previous layout included multiple levels and a half wall that separated the breakfast/kitchen area from the living room. “We removed that wall so the kitchen became more prominent and more important.”

Tearing out the wall also gave them the ability to lower the entire kitchen floor, which gained some much-needed height from the previous 7' ceiling. “There’s still a step up into the kitchen, but we were able to lower the floor enough so the kitchen is now about 8 feet high,” she says.

They also wanted to make the space feel larger and taller aesthetically. “We wanted to make simple gestures that would have a strong aesthetic impact,” she says.

As such, the couple eliminated the upper cabinets, replacing them with commercial slatwall, which gives them a place to hang artwork and cooking accessories. Removing the upper cabinets gave them the ability to focus on “blocks” – which include the island, the sidebar and the appliances – within the space.

They also used color to create contrast. Black lower cabinets ground the island and sidebar while distinguishing them from the Thermador Masterpiece Series appliances – which include convection and steam ovens and a dishwasher as well as the refrigerator and cooktop – and light-colored Caesarstone countertops, which are turned down in an apron fashion on the island. A white oak table attached to the island provides a place for eating, sketching and socializing. Its addition helps make the island a focal point. “We spend all of our time here,” says Glass. “It’s like a magnet. When people come over, we can’t get them to sit in the living room. Everyone is at the island.”

Enticing guests

For Morgan Keister, designing the traditional/transitional kitchen in her Paradise Valley new-construction home was about creating a space that would entice guests.

“It’s an absolute truism that guests gravitate to the kitchen,” she wrote in the design statement she submitted for the competition. “As a designer, I believe that’s because the kitchen is the energetic center – the soul – of the home. That’s a lot to ask of a room, but I love a challenge.”

Keister answered her own challenge by imagining a space where she could host family and friends who could enjoy each other’s company as she created fabulous meals. “I love to cook, and we entertain a lot,” she says, adding that even though she’s the host, she likes to be part of the action. “The party is always in the kitchen. Everyone ends up there, whether it’s helping prepare meals or just drinking a glass of wine. I love that about the space.”

Yet, she was intent on making sure guests didn’t feel obligated to help. “Guests can get very close and feel part of the preparation action,” she says. “But there is a division of space that allows them to not feel in the way, or overly compelled to offer a helping hand just to be polite.”

Part of that division is created by the 18-foot island, designed to be a kitchen credenza of sorts with furniture appeal, notes Keister. In addition to the Thermador Star Sapphire dishwasher, the kitchen features mahogany cabinetry and silver moon marble with display cabinets, a sink and seating for three. Yet its most prominent feature is the waterfall edge that flows down each end. “I like the contrast of contemporary and traditional,” notes Keister. “To warm up the contemporary space I used more traditional materials, such as the mahogany cabinets with their transitional/traditional door style and large crown. But I combined that with a thick, 2.25" marble slab – also a traditional element – used in a contemporary way with the waterfall edge.”

The home’s open floor plan also helped guide the kitchen’s design. The combination Great Room/kitchen is viewable from the lofted living area above. “The kitchen is on display all of the time,” says Keister. “When I walk out of my bedroom I look down into the kitchen, so I wanted something that was easy on the eye.”

As such, she purposely created a symmetrical space to accommodate a natural traffic flow that provides for ample food prep and clean-up space as well as storage.

“Just as importantly, I wanted to create a visual/atmospheric balance free of useless nooks or isolated dead space,” she says. “Keeping the space symmetrical brings the eye to elements I intend, such as the island, the countertop and the simplicity and scale of the space.”

Symmetry is also evident with the built-in Thermador fresh food and freezer columns in stainless steel, which are balanced by the pantry, and several Thermador appliances – including a built-in coffee maker and microwave as well as a Professional Series warming drawer – on the opposite end.

“Every appliance I need is within reach, but they’re behind the working bar,” she concludes, “visible, yes, but not encroaching on the dining and mingling areas where most of my guests gather.”

The true test of her design came when she hosted Thanksgiving for 45 people. “Not only did we make a turkey on the rotisserie that everyone raved about,” she says, “we made memories that will last forever!”