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Photography by Lexi Ribar with Studio Lithe

When Elise Birnbaum, the Pittsburgh-based owner and ceramist behind Oatmeal Shop, accidentally knocks one of her delicate vessels off her kitchen counter, she doesn’t panic. Odds are, it won’t shatter into a million little pieces—the floors are cork. When her interior designers, Lexi Ribar and Morgan Stewart of local firm Studio Lithe, initially pitched the Duro Design tiles to Elise, it was mainly because the material’s natural springiness is a lot more pleasant to stand on for long periods of time than stone or wood. Elise and her husband, Harrison, were the first clients to ever get excited about it. “I love them,” says Elise. “They are firm but soft.” 

The kitchen, before.

The speckled panels also brought much-needed warmth to the kitchen, which was “tragically a product of the 1980s and ‘90s,” recalls Ribar. “There were bulkheads for no reason and cabinets crammed into the space.” The designers and contractor, Evan Varrato, worked to open up the 150-square-foot area by removing the wall closest to the dining area and replacing it with a peninsula with seating. In the end, it’s the little luxuries that really transformed the way the couple and their new baby live in the space, like the pop-up outlets that Elise attests “satisfy my desire for both minimalism and modern convenience.” 

Defying the Decades

Photography by Lexi Ribar with Studio Lithe

Kicking things off on a budget-friendly note: IKEA cabinet frames. Stewart and Ribar felt confident in going the semi-custom route because they knew they had a strong partner in local fabrication studio Bones and All, which they’d worked with on a past project).  


The duo took the fronts and trim work in an unexpected direction with cherrywood, a less expensive alternative to walnut. “I think cherry is underutilized because people imagine a 1990s kitchen with weird door panel trim, scalloped edges, and superhigh lacquer,” says Ribar. The secret to pulling it off in 2023? Flat slabs treated with a low-sheen, clear coat. The designers complemented it with another notoriously “dated” material, black granite, made modern with a leathered finish, which gives it a slightly matte appearance similar to soapstone.

Open Wide

Photography by Lexi Ribar with Studio Lithe

Once they had a newfound view into the living and dining rooms, the designers were challenged with creating a pantry cabinet worth having out in the open. Going with live-edge cherry doors,with the uneven edges facing each other, gave the cupboard an artful touch while simultaneously making handles. The doors can also be tucked back via a pocket slide, so the pathway is never blocked.

Dining In

Photography by Lexi Ribar with Studio Lithe
Photography by Lexi Ribar with Studio Lithe

Positioning the open shelving higher over the peninsula offered a bonus display place for Elise’s prized possessions and creations, as well as an opportunity for task lighting. Underneath the unit are three square flush mounts, so no one ever has to enjoy their midnight snack in the dark. Not pictured: the dog’s food station. On the other side of the peninsula, the designers worked in a low pull-out drawer that houses the pet’s bowls. “You would never know it, because it looks the same as the cabinets,” says Ribar.