The Two-Tone Wood Cabinets in This San Diego Kitchen Reno Were a Happy Accident
The subtle checkered floors were not.
Published Feb 10, 2023 1:20 AM
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For homeowners Ashley and Paul, expanding their family was the motivation needed to make another life-altering change: gut renovating their kitchen. While their 1,200-square-foot 1950s bungalow, located in San Diego’s Talmadge neighborhood, was charming, the kitchen’s dated, unlevel flooring, boring white cabinetry, and tiled countertops didn’t convey the fun, cheerful aesthetic they were after. So the couple reached out to designer Abbie Naber in February 2021, and with just seven months until the arrival of their first child, “they were ready to go and jump right in,” says Naber.
Poppy, colorful, and bright were just some of the words the pair used to reference their style—Naber translated those wants into soothing green tile, wood storage cubbies, and a sleek white faucet. But once construction got under way, the inevitable setbacks began to arise. “Ideally I wanted them to be able to move in before they welcomed the baby, but it ended up being afterward,” says the designer. Over the course of a 10-month span (the couple’s daughter, Flora, arrived in October, just after the kitchen flooring was installed), Naber transformed the U-shaped room into a space fit for the whole family.
Naber didn’t plan on the lower cabinetry’s white oak veneer faces and solid wood framing appearing to be two-tone, but she loves how it turned out. “Even if you use the same clear coat or finish, there will be variation, and that’s what happened here,” she says. ”We liked the lightness of white oak in this kitchen. We wanted to brighten and open up the space to the best of our ability, as it’s a small footprint.”
Tiling Outside the Box
In lieu of going for a traditional stainless steel hood or mirroring the adjacent cabinetry with wood trim, Naber made a plan with the contractor early on to tile the vent’s perimeter. “We wanted to keep it light but still have detail,” she says. By planning ahead, they carved out an indentation so that when the tile was laid, they could grout it and make the whole thing appear inset.
The tile, which Naber also used for the kitchen’s backsplash, is a mix of Concrete Collaborative’s Quietude in Laguna (a polished concrete) and Solana (a honed concrete). The subtle differences can only be seen up close, but the mix of shiny and matte rectangles results in a dynamic backdrop.
Basic But Never Boring
Aged brass, matte black, and silver are all great options for knobs and plumbing fixtures, yet Naber knew white would provide the perfect pop. “I thought back to the words they used on their submission form: fun, sunny, bright. I felt that Linear Standard’s matte white hardware and a Brizo faucet fit better than a metal tone,” says the designer. And instead of sticking with just one material, she chose two, using raw oak knobs from Etsy for the upper cupboard doors.
The Modern Checkerboard
Layering was key in this kitchen, and like the backsplash tile and hardware, Naber opted for more than one floor tile. “I have a love-hate relationship with checkerboard. It’s very trendy, but I thought about how I could do it differently,” she says. So she went a not-so-in-your-face route by placing large-format, 24-inch-square tiles, a blend of Concrete Collaborative’s Alabaster Solid, a plain concrete, and Sea Pebble, a terrazzo tile, in a diamond pattern with the corners facing the faucet. Ultimately the flooring turned out beautifully, but getting it there gave her quite the headache. “The kitchen was already higher than the home’s wood floors and had a step-down transition,” she says. The contractors had to painstakingly shave the joists throughout the entire kitchen.
Cubbies Aren’t Just for Kids
Once again looking for ways to elevate the design, Naber chose custom-built cubbies over traditional floating shelves in the main cooking zone, scouring Instagram (and Domino!) for inspiration. The key image, a unique plywood shelving system that designers Jess and Jonathan Taylor built for an L.A. home, led her in this direction. “We had corners to work with, so we wanted to create more of an enclosed look,” she says. Still, these nooks—and the space overall—are as breezy as ever.