The Easiest Path to (dis)Function

For the past sixteen years, I have had the pleasure of doing what is, for me, a dream job – designing and implementing beautiful and functional kitchens and baths. You might think I have seen it all but I can still say that each project brings something new.

Transitional KitchenOn a recent photo shoot of a kitchen remodel completed earlier this year, I had the opportunity to look inside the cabinets to see how the homeowners were using the many convenience options that we designed into their new space. Now usually when I peak inside, it becomes very obvious why we put on doors and drawer heads…to hide the clutter! I avoid photographing any of these function-improving features because, well, even though they work well, they just don’t make for great photos. But in this case, every drawer was lined with shelf paper that coordinated beautifully with the materials we chose for the kitchen and every kitchen gadget was neatly arranged.

This isn’t a ‘show’ kitchen by any means; these people are gourmets and they love to cook – they just do it in a beautifully organized manner. It didn’t take long before I had asked permission to photograph inside the cabinets so you could see some of the key convenience options in use that make a well-designed kitchen function flawlessly.


Roll-Outs – In my opinion, this is probably the single-most important feature to put into a kitchen design.Roll Outs For any cabinet that isn’t all drawers, there should be adjustable roll-outs behind the doors. This provides access to every inch of storage in the cabinet. No more lost items that work their way to the back only to be found when you go to move. And, by being fully adjustable, they often work even better than drawers because you can position them to fit the size of your stuff. See how even the big stock pots can work well on a roll-out?

Dog Food StorageDouble Waste – Ninety-five percent of all kitchens I design contain a double waste and ninety-nine percent of all homeowners put the trash in one and the recycling in the other. Occasionally though there is good reason to break that rule. Those other five percent use a single waste, or a trash compactor, or have a ktichen so close to another area where they put the recycling that the double waste isn’t necessary.

This kitchen has a single waste and a built-in compost receptacle by the main sink. Another double waste is in use by the prep sink for recycling and the dog food – a neat and easy way to handle the kibble and the bits.

In-Counter Compost ReceptacleBlanco Solon Compost ReceptacleWhile this may not be as in demand everywhere as it is here in northern California, I suspect it may just be a matter of time. The ease of being able to dump the kitchen scraps, the coffee grounds, the melted ice from a finished beverage glass, paper scraps and anything else that eventually goes out to the garden is tremendous. With a flush-mounted lid in the counter top, there is no more ugly or smelly compost bin to sit on counter or under the sink. In my own home, Keystone and I agree that, after the roll-outs,  this may be the smartest feature we built-into our kitchen. It works great!

Knife BlockKnife Block – The big block that sat on-counter was quite the style years back but now it gets looked upon as just another bit of kitchen clutter we would rather hide from view. This is where the knife block in the drawer comes into play. All the blades are stored safely, are easily accessible and it doesn’t matter if your tools are a mélange of different makes, models and handle styles. With the counter top block, you had a large, one-time expenditure in a matching set. With a knife block in a drawer, you can acquire better tools by making your individual cutlery investments over time. Or doing like one friend does who receives one additional piece each year as a gift from Mom.

Spice Storage – Here we used a spice drawer where all the bottles sit angled in the drawer for easy access. Spice StorageThis approach works well although it does require the use of a particular-sized spice bottle to properly fit in the drawer. Often I prefer to put spices on the back of a door so they are at eye level and the bottle size isn’t critical to making things fit. But, in this kitchen, you may have noticed the aluminum-edged glass doors that are flanking the hood. This precluded me from putting the spices on the doors so the drawer become the next best choice. Good spice storage is key because, with those little bottles, out of sight can quickly become out of mind.


Whether it is one of the five options highlighted here, a special mechanism that allows access to a blind corner or a shallow drawer that allows the use of drawer space under a cook top, there is usually a ‘convenience option’ available that makes good use of every inch of storage space in a well-designed kitchen. While it may seem like eliminating these options is an easy way to cut costs when faced with the sticker shock of your dream remodel, that is the last thing I would recommend. It is these very options that will determine how well your dream kitchen will function (or not) for years to come. Invest wisely, my friends. ;-)

Shallow Drawer Beneath Cooktop


Materials Used in this Kitchen: Brookhaven cabinetry by Wood-Mode, Vista Veneer (perimeter), Matte Java on maple (perimeter). Edgemont Recessed (island), Matte Harbor Mist with Pewter Glaze on maple (island); Franke sinks; KWC faucets; GE Monogram cooktop, refrigerator, dishwasher, double ovens, warming drawer, wine cooler and trash compactor; Zephyr hood; JennAir microwave drawer; Blanco Solon compost basket; Caesarstone ‘Organic White’ counter (perimeter); Super White Quartzite counter (island); Artistic Tile ‘Green Crackled’ backsplash; Lumber Liquidators hardwood flooring; Top Knobs hardware

Ring, Ring

I saw an amusing Facebook post over the July 4th holiday. It went something like this:

“Why are there no Knock, Knock jokes about America?”

“Because Freedom Rings.” ;-)


General Vallejo Home in Sonoma, CA

General Vallejo Home in Sonoma, CA

Recently I was on a day trip in Sonoma, California and stopped in at the historic home of General Vallejo. Mariano Vallejo was the land owner of much of Sonoma county before the area was taken by the United States in the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. Life was good for the Vallejo’s as can be seen by the quality of their lovely home. Built beside a natural spring and pool, the carpenter’s-gothic Victorian style home is exquisite for being in the middle of the wild lands of what would later become northern California wine country. Bedecked with crystal chandeliers, stone mantles, intricate wallpapers and other fine, European details, it is clear that the Vallejo’s were living high on life at the time.

One detail that particularly stood out for me though was one I don’t believe I have ever seen before – an interesting variation on a hand crank door bell. On the outside of the door was a simple, porcelain and brass hand crank. On the inside were two bells that would clap back and forth into each other when the hand crank was turned making quite the clatter when someone was at the front door. Seems no one knocked at the Vallejo residence either!

Vallejo's Interior Door Bell Mechanism

Vallejo’s Interior Door Bell Mechanism

Vallejo's Door Bell Hand Crank

Vallejo’s Door Bell Hand Crank


“Why are there no Knock, Knock jokes about General Vallejo?”

“Because when you have a fancy door bell, rebels ring.”


The Kombucha Report

Several months ago, I started a series on ‘An Edible Quest’ called the Fermentation Bandwagon. At the time, it seemed like a perfect fit to talk about things I made in my own kitchen but, in hind sight, it was probably a little off topic for a travel blog focused on good food and drink. As a result, I am redirecting those posts to ‘Partners in the Kitchen’ going forward. I explained my rationale in the last post so if you really need to know, check it out. If not, just enjoy the broader content on this blog going forward as we talk not only about good kitchen design but also good things that come from a well-designed kitchen!


About a month ago, I wrote about our attempt to establish our very own kombucha scoby. My expectation at the time was that we would wait about four weeks for the scoby to develop and right about now it would be ready to make the first batch of kombucha. Well, reality has turned out to be significantly different from expectations….and in a good way. I am now on batch four and all have been consistent and good! This could not have been simpler.

Kombucha Scoby is Doing Well

Kombucha Scoby is Doing Well

According to directions I followed on-line (and provided in the original post), I was supposed to pour out the first batch because it would be flat (no carbonation) but it had a bit of effervescence. Not being a big fan of carbonation anyway, on day 12, I decided to drink the first batch rather than waste it. It yielded six bottles of nice tasting kombucha…tasted as good as the store-bought variety, just not as bubbly. At this point, the scoby was thin (between 1/16″ and 1/8″) but it was formed into a circle and held together as I poured off batch one and added the cooled sweet tea for batch two.

The only difference between making the initial batch and the second batch was that rather than adding a bottle of store-bought kombucha as starter, I merely had to retain two cups of my first batch as starter for batch two. No problem. Within eight or nine days, the scoby was getting thicker and batch two was ready to bottle.

This same cycle repeated for batch three.

The fourth batch is now sitting on the kitchen counter and the scoby looks perfect. It is 1/4″ thick or so and looks like the gel pancake that it is supposed to resemble. In a few more days, I will bottle this latest batch and then start on the next experiment – making flavors.

For this next phase, I will turn to the advice offered by Emma Christensen in her book, “True Brews”. I plan to dial back the black tea and incorporate some green tea to see what happens. Supposedly, the black tea has more nutrients to feed the scoby than the green tea so balance is key. If that goes well, I’ll start playing with flavors from the garden.

Emma provides a recipe for  blackberry sage kombucha in her book and I have both growing in the garden at the moment so that seems like a logical next try. Stay tuned. In another month, I’ll report back with more progress. So far, so good. The scoby looks shaggy but the results taste great!

Avoiding the Biggest Mistake

What is the single biggest mistake made in kitchen design? From my point of view, it isn’t going too trendy with the choice of materials or color. It isn’t using too big or too small of an island or mis-calculating the storage space or the countertop area required. It isn’t spending all of your budget on appliances such that there is nothing left to do the other important components of the design. While all of these can be poor decisions that I prefer to avoid, in my book, the single biggest faux pas is not designing the kitchen to be in keeping with the rest of the home.

You know it when you see it. You walk into a beautiful traditional home; possibly brick on the outside, shuttered windows, six-panel doors, hardwood floors, and crown in each room. It all flows wonderfully as you move from room to room and then you enter the kitchen. There before your eyes is an ultra-modern kitchen inspired by the latest in commercial, restaurant spaces. They spent a small fortune on the stainless appliances and the euro-cabinets and the glass tiles and the streamlined fixtures, but something is just not like the other rooms and not in a good way. It just doesn’t feel like it belongs with the rest of the home.

Now, I am not saying you can’t put modern elements in the kitchen of a traditional home nor am I saying that traditional elements can’t go in a contemporary dwelling. Absolutely it can be done but there needs to be some degree of transition to make it all work as a cohesive whole.

Kitchen Before M1_Project Partners DesignSeveral years ago, I worked with a client who understood this completely. I entered her home and she gave me a tour…ending with the kitchen. At which point she turned to me and said, “Which room here is not like the others?”. The obvious answer was the kitchen. She had remodeled and decorated every other room in the house with a comfortable, transitional vibe but the kitchen was still “builder traditional” – the arched-door cabinets with no trim details, no eye candy in the form of a nice backsplash, no attractive focal point (the white microwave is not my definition of pleasing to the eye), and the island achieved on the cheap by the builder simply installing an over-sized piece of stone atop a cabinet to yield an overhang and a knee space. It functions but that’s about all it has going for it.

M1 KitchenBy stealing about two feet of space from an office behind the kitchen, I rearranged this kitchen to function, make a statement and be consistent with the decor of the other rooms in the home. Now when you enter the room from the front of the house, the custom hood stands out and in a pleasing way! The touches of frosted glass lighten the look of the dark wood and add visual interest as your eye moves around the room. The wet bar hides beautifully behind the big doors with the circular handles yet seems to belong next to the large, circular wall art of the family room off to the right. And, while the kitchen certainly has a contemporary flavor, the use of crown and other traditional details allows it to work in a traditional home.McGrory Kitchen

The result is that the kitchen now looks to be part of the design of the rest of the home rather than the odd man out. Quite a change from where we started!





If you are interested in the selections and the names of the other trade partners on this job, refer to the project on my portfolio. Any of the details that I have on record are recorded there.





The Overhaul

Almost two years ago I started this blog for my design business – Project Partners Design. As I wrote at the time, I had no clue what blogging was, what it entailed, how to go about it or what to expect. Since then, I have learned a lot!

I have had posts that didn’t get a single reader and I have had posts that hit a chord on the other side of the globe with lots of hits in places like Australia, Dubai, Indonesia, England and others. I have learned that there is a lot more interest for the things that I and my clients make in our kitchens rather than how we went about creating the well-designed spaces….although it is nice to get that insight from time to time.

Also in this two year span, I set up a second blog (unrelated to my design business) called An Edible Quest. This second blog was created with a couple of foodie friends to focus on travel – local or long-distance; on-the-cheap or luxurious – that leads to something good to eat or drink. As I looked at it at the time, I included posts about kitchens (because a well-designed kitchen that turns out a great meal is an edible quest of sorts), about gardens (because all that good food has to grow somewhere),  about recipes (because who doesn’t like a little insight into something good they can make themselves), about restaurants, trips, destinations and more. It was easy to rationalize that almost everything in life can lead to something good to eat or drink because most of the time I find that it does. However, the down-side of this approach is that it can be confusing to the reader and make it difficult for me to decide if my post belongs on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’ or ‘An Edible Quest’.

As a result of all of this learning, I spent the last couple of days doing a bit of housekeeping. I cleaned up some graphics. I added a policy statement so those looking to garner an endorsement or use my photos would know where I stood on those subjects. I also made a fundamental decision on how to differentiate where things will get posted going forward. Here is the inside scoop….

  • If it relates to kitchen design (good, bad or indifferent), it goes on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’.
  • If it is a recipe or a story about something I made in my kitchen, it goes on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’.
  • If it is an anecdote from a design client, it goes on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’.
  • If it speaks about kitchen products, appliances or other supplier-related topics, it goes on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’.
  • If it relates to culinary travel (of any type or distance), it goes on ‘An Edible Quest’.

In keeping with this new approach, I will be moving some of the content that I previously posted on ‘An Edible Quest’ over to ‘Partners in the Kitchen’ so that I can continue adding content going forward. For some of you who read both blogs, pardon the housekeeping. For those of you who don’t, I hope you enjoy the change in format going forward. What this should do for you (the reader) and me (the blogger) is create a more focused and enjoyable experience for both of us.

I welcome feedback so please let me know what is (or isn’t) working! It takes a lot of time and energy to maintain a good blog so please help me to make the best of what I have to offer.

Thanks to all my readers, clients, suppliers and contractors. I couldn’t do this without you!


~ Theresa




A Pleasant Surprise

Generally, I am not a big fan of surprises. I am just too much of an organized planner to go with the flow unless it is part of my PLAN to go with the flow! ;-)

Summer, 2014 Issue

Summer, 2014 Issue

Recently, though, a pleasant surprise showed up in the form of the latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publication, “Beautiful Kitchens & Baths”, summer 2014. The magazine arrived inside a white envelope from Meredith Publishing rather than just a loose issue in my mail box. I wasn’t at all sure why I was receiving this special issue but I am a sucker for a good kitchen and bath magazine so I started flipping through. When I got to page 92, it all became clear! There was a beautiful full-page photo of a master bathroom I designed for a Chicago-based client a few years back. Over the next six pages was a nice article complete with quotes and designer insights I had given the field editor shortly after we completed the job.

How nice of the publisher to send me a copy. Otherwise, I never would have known.

As my thank you to them, go pick up a copy for yourself. The issue is on newsstands through July 21st and is filled with great insights from many good designers. Or, here is a link to purchase a digital copy.

The article about 20 design trends that will stand the test of time is spot on in  my opinion!


Finding Inspiration in the Strangest Places

A couple of weekends ago, I excitedly looked forward to attending an Edible Art exhibit in Oakland, California. Before you make the same assumption that Keystone did, this show was not about art you can eat but rather art about things that are edible.

I read a local magazine entitled ‘Edible East Bay‘ and it always includes such beautiful drawings to accompany their food-related stories – stylized mushrooms in intricate watercolor detail, linoleum block prints of vegetables, pencil sketches of seeds and sprouts and the like. This show was promoted as an opportunity to meet the artists and see some of their work. In my mind’s eye, I expected a large show with lots of art to look at and perhaps even a chance to spot the perfect piece or two for a client’s kitchen.

When we pulled up in front of the venue and it was a small, one story office building, I began to suspect this event wasn’t going to be as I had anticipated. Unfortunately, the show was a lot smaller than I was envisioning and the art itself was on the small side too (postcards and 8 x 10’s) so I came away with nothing except dashed hopes.

Metalwork Sparrow by Gunter Reimnitz

Metalwork Sparrow by Gunter Reimnitz

This past weekend, at the last minute, we decided to pay a visit to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. I went with a mission of figuring out a few native plant options for our front garden and figured that anything else we learned would be gravy. You can probably already guess that I came away unsuccessful on my original mission however at this show I was pleasantly surprised to find wonderful, high-quality art from watercolorists, tile artists, fabric designers and more.

The iron works by Gunter Reimnitz’s Abraxas Crow Company were superb in every detail.

The garden chairs re-purposed from propane tanks in landscape architect Logan Sowers’ vignette were amazingly comfortable. They would make a quirky addition to any contemporary garden.Propane Tank Furniture by PPD

An interesting art piece in one of the urban garden vignettes was made from garden hose set in a pattern and lit from inside. What a clever idea!

A bonsai exhibit that displayed miniaturized coastal redwoods and live oaks also included a section sponsored by the California Suiseki Society displaying a small section of stones from their collection that will be on display in Oakland this June. I learned that Suiseki is the Japanese art of stone appreciation. I always appreciate a beautiful graining pattern, color or sparkle in a stone countertop or backsplash, but this art form looks at stones that have been shaped by water, weather and wind to evoke thoughts of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, animals and more. Fascinating!

Art from a Garden Hose

Art from a Garden Hose

You just never know where you are going to find that next bit of inspiration. Even though I didn’t find that for which  I went looking, this year’s San Francisco Flower and Garden Show was a gold mine of design inspiration for me. I can’t wait until next year’s show!


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