Friday, January 14th, 2011
Sliding Kitchen was the first project for Robert Highsmithand Stefanie Brechbuehler, the pair behind Brooklyn architecture and design firm Workstead. They took on the job for graphic designer, friend and fellow Brooklynite, Melissa Jun. “We were excited to work with another creative mind,” Highsmith says. “From the outset, it was a true collaboration between the three of us.”
The project’s name comes from the series of sliding cupboard doors, which double as storage or display space. “The design is loosely based on a grid, but you can change the way the composition reads, like text on a page,” Highsmith says. “Melissa appreciated the straightforward nature of the construction, and we designed it as a composition that would appeal to her as a designer.”
The design is loosely based on a grid, but you can change the way the composition reads, like text on a page.
Because the kitchen is adjacent to the living room, it needed to blend function with form. The designers created hideaways and special spaces for many of the appliances: the refrigerator is tucked into a cabinet; the freezer is located in a pantry, out of sight; and the television is hidden inside a different cabinet. Highstead drilled finger-holes into the wood to open and close the cabinet doors, further fostering the minimalist style. “We used a limited vocabulary and very little hardware [in the design].” A series of sliding doors keep half of the contents displayed and half covered, but many different combinations are possible. “Part of the idea is that if someone uses this kitchen, they could use it all for cooking, or combine it with books and displaying objects,” Robert says. “It has that flexibility to it that’s hard to accomplish while making something aesthetically appealing.”
Parquet flooring was used for most of the kitchen in place of the existing tile, but one patch in front of the oven (the key workspace for cooking) was deliberately left as-is. “We left it as a rediscovered piece of the floor that outlines the kitchen proper,” Highsmith explains of the once damaged area. “Stefanie and I love things that are old enough have a story to them.”
And if there is one signature to the Sliding Kitchen besides its sliding ability, it is the stunning gray—almost silvery—birch veneer that was used for the cabinet surfaces. “It’s what everyone responds to,” Highsmith says. “It just seemed perfect: this really fine combination of something very elegant, but very casual, too. It’s almost like a silk; it really has a sheen to it.” The choice was no accident. Brechbuehler researched the look, feel and performance of countless different wood grains. “I think there’s a lot of poetry in the subtle nature of materials,” Highsmith adds. The result is a highly functional kitchen with a subtle, stylish finish.
The creative forces behind the young firm came to design from other creative backgrounds. Brechbuehler, a Switzerland native, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before turning to interior design, while Highsmith, who is a classically-trained violinist, comes from three generations of architects. The two met while studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and ventured into a business partnership in 2009. They are now engaged and planning a wedding in the summer.
Text by Brian Libby
Photos by Robert Highsmith