before & after: wood-filled kitchen redo

I’m thrilled to end the day with another amazing kitchen renovation, one with an entirely different approach than Casey’s all-white interior from earlier, but similarly successful in creating warmth, energy and a super-efficient flow throughout the space. This kitchen was created by Portland-based architect Michael Howells, a man not afraid of a little wood grain. In fact, Michael uses the raw material so well in this kitchen that he may have turned me into an all-wood kind of gal. The color contrast of the stormy blue tiles against the warm cherry cabinetry is unexpected and stunning. I love the overall effect in this room: modern and organic, with the perfect touch of vintage coziness. I wouldn’t say this about too many wood-heavy kitchens, but I think this version will certainly stand the test of time. Amazing job, Michael! — Kate

Have a Before & After you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

After images by Matt Niebuhr

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Time: 3 months

Basic Steps: I assessed and measured the existing space and also looked at the rest of the house for inspiration. I’m not a fan of period-faithful “retro” remodels, but I don’t like the kind of default modern renovation that feels impersonal and disconnected from its context. So we planned this kitchen to have a little 1940s flavor (lighting, cabinet pulls, retro breakfast table), but we didn’t go all the way.

Originally, my clients thought they might need to knock out an existing wall and staircase to expand what was essentially a galley kitchen, but I thought it was wide enough. In fact, the basic layout was fine. We kept things pretty much where they are now, spatially — we just tweaked the plan, refining every detail for optimal flow between the garden and the breakfast nook at one end and the kitchen and dining room at the other. This family homeschools their three children, and they wanted a breakfast area that could work for school projects, too, so we took extra care to create enough space for a generous banquette (also custom cherry) and a nice long table while preserving sufficient access to the back garden. We also took out a chimney (big job!) and widened the casement opening between the kitchen and dining to better connect those spaces. And we dispensed with existing soffits to run some cabinets all the way to the ceiling, creating extra storage space.

Picking cherry for the custom cabinetry was the first big move. This was inspired by a beautiful antique cherry cabinet in the living room, and by the family’s collection of string instruments. I felt a rich wood color with an interesting grain would give this kitchen warmth and texture and make it feel unique and special to its owners. The wood is very visually interesting, so we dialed it down with the rest of the materials. Countertops and backsplash are more subdued.

In spaces that are as highly trafficked as the kitchen or bathroom, every inch matters. It needs to be properly thought out and well documented before you start. Don’t make decisions as you go along. Understanding the existing space is a critical first step to transformation. — Michael Howells

Cabinetry: Cherry
Tile: Blue Fog from Heath’s Modern Basics line
Sink: Shaws
Countertops: IceStone
Cabinetry pulls: reproduction Deco pulls from Rejuvenation; repro ’40s-era lighting also by Rejuvenation
Breakfast nook chairs: Fritz Hansen
Tabletop: Bars & Booths


Oh, WOW! I’m loving the banquette. It’s amazing how someone can come in, look at the existing space and then create the after.


I love this! I am usually not a fan of wood and especially cherry but I couldn’t help but completely fall in love with this redo!

I’ll move in next week ;)


This reno is beautiful! It has a very “family” orientated feel to it, which is perfect! The charcoal blue backsplash with natural wood color looks perfect!


This is so beautiful! Thats the kind of kitchen I stare at and have day dreams about being in. Perfect style for me.

Eva Bauer

Wow what a difference! It looks so much larger, cleaner and bright! The bench withe the table at the end of the room gives it such a cozy feel.


wow!! would i want this in my home? probably not. but i cannot overstate how refreshing it is to see a totally different take on a kitchen. well done!


Love that farm sink. We are going to do a little remodeling in our kitchen this year & I am hoping for a sink like that!


I love this! Way to be different with the wood. Just beautiful.


BEAUTIFULLY done. Wood, counter material, finishes–all well chosen with the perfect blend of style, taste, and function.


These are the really beautifully designed cabinets. I appreciate that they go right to the ceiling, that all the appliances are well incorporated and that the cabinet overhang is not very deep so the counter workspace is still bright.
Reminds a little of Martin’s kitchen in The Bridge…a scandi crime show


Gorgeous custom cabinetry! Would anybody know where one could find cabinetry-quality cherry like this ( in NYC?)

Michael Howells

Thank you so much, Design Sponge, and readers–for your nice words about our project. To answer the q’s: The client didn’t want a microwave so there isn’t one !! (that said there’s ample room to put one if they change their mind). The banquette: I can’t say it was “easy” to do. It’s a custom piece made for this space (somewhat inspired by a church pew). As with all the cabinetry, I designed it and we had it fabricated by our cabinet makers, Wolf & Son. To make room for it we had to do some shifting of door placement to create passage to the garden…so in essence, this kind of custom stuff isn’t quick or cheap.


Wow! I love this! Such a successful balance. It really does reach the designer’s goal of nodding to the era of the home while still feeling fresh and updated.

Lydia Lapwing

lovely – but looks and sounds by the list of suppliers as if it was quite expensive.


I’m not crazy about all-wood kitchen either, but this is absolutely an exception, I really like it! It works beautifully with the light.


What a beautiful kitchen! Most modern kitchens leave me a bit cold in design but the warmth and light of the wood really shine through and all the lines have such a wonderful organic quality, plus the usability is magnificent.


I am very impressed. Tired of white kitchens. Such a practical and beautiful kitchen. Inspiration for me!


I really love white kitchens but I feel like they have become the norm now so it’s always nice to see wood so well done. Seriously beautiful!


I absolutely love this kitchen, but seriously has anyone found a way to keep grease and hair and dust from collecting over time on cookbooks, and glassware, etc. on open shelves, besides not having open shelves? In every kitchen I’ve known, no matter how great your hood vent is and no matter how diligently you clean it’s always an issue. Just sayin…..


This is a fabulous renovation. The way that they have taken that rectangular kitchen and given it depth and life, with the application of that wood grained timer cupboards. Now its has a versatile and timeless appeal to it , with piles of light pouring in. Must be a pleasure to inhabit that space.

Jess Tasker

This kitchen makes me happy. I just smiled for 10 seconds without the aid of coffee first thing in the morning.

blockie steve

Wow , this is a really dramatic transformation . I bet the owners sigh with contententment every time they wander through , I would. Nice to see plenty of lighting over the benches , which is often overlooked .Luv your work.


Not usually a fan of all wood kitchens but absolutely love this. So warm and pleasant to look at.


How refreshing to see a kitchen go from white to wood instead of the other way around. (Not that I have anything against white kitchens). But this is individual and done with conviction. Well done.


The before on this was was a real clunker of a kitchen. They made it as great as any kitchen I’ve ever seen, and the best part is, it isn’t a trophy kitchen. It’s an honest, wonderful space to cook, eat and live.

Beth M. Downs

YES YES YES! *Finally* gorgeous wood done MODERN instead of everything in white! This is breathtaking! WOW!