Contemporary Kitchen Cabinets Resonate with History

A 200-year-old look prevails in the kitchen/bath cabinets category.

By Lisa Whitcomb

Kitchen/Bath Cabinets

Name: Dutka Design Studio Inc.
Chicago, IL
Year Established: 1995
No. of Employees: 3
Shop Size: 4,800 sq ft
Specialty: Custom architectural millwork, restoration and replacement, cabinetry, built-in historic furniture.

Phil Rodriguez of Heirloom Refinishing used custom mixed stains and glazes throughout the kitchen, as well as M.L. Campbell’s “Durvar� in dull finish. The cabinets were waxed by hand using a darkening liquid wax.
Ana Marchan, the shop’s second-year apprentice, hand-carved all of the corner medallions. She was trained by Jamie Topper, a local carver.

Creating a kitchen with flair that also would blend a client’s antique French furniture with modern cabinetry was a challenge faced by Michael Dutka, owner and president of Dutka Design Studio Inc. The result was a kitchen worthy of winning first-prize in this year’s Design Portfolio Awards kitchen/bath cabinets category.

When the project began, “We [had to] match the style, detailing, age and finish of a 200-year-old piece of French furniture the client wanted to use as a center island. [But] the design [soon] grew from merely matching details to expanding and projecting them into a kitchen that far exceeded the client’s expectations,� Dutka says.

The new cabinetry was constructed from orchard stock black cherry, which was used for all solid wood applications, and A-1PS cherry plywood on MDF core. Dovetailed drawer boxes were constructed from soft maple. Dutka says the new cabinetry was a combination of traditional joinery and modern frameless techniques.

The cabinet style is a cherry veneered box with a traditional face frame and frame-and-panel exterior in order to accommodate the client’s desire for a traditional look on the outside of the casework.

“The face frames were actually hand-fluted cherry posts with inset cherry rails attached with splines to the plywood interior boxes,� Dutka says. “The exposed side panels were traditional frame-and-panel, solid cherry, mortised and tenoned together and then splined to the fluted corner posts. All of the cabinets in this project had ‘dead’ sides where we left the plywood box interior exposed to maximize interior space.�

A seamless interior was achieved by using adjustable rollout shelves on undermount drawer slides, Dutka adds.

Paul Damkoehler of Altamira Art Glass Studio crafted the antique leaded glass panels for the kitchen.

Some of the antiqued features of the kitchen were outsourced, such as the leaded glass panels on the plate cabinets, and the range hood, which was created by Alec Bloyd-Peshkin of Alec Construction. He used plywood and plaster for the hood and solid cherry mouldings that were designed and created in Dutka’s shop. Additionally, “All of the cabinets had some degree of hand carving on them, most of which was done by Jamie Topper, a local carver who trained with a master carver in Bali,� says Dutka.

Dutka claims that the most fun he had during the project “was to take the pristine cabinets just prior to going to the finishing room and ‘age’ them 200 years. Being that the cabinets were a French country look, they needed to show much wear,� he says. “I inflicted [the ‘wear’] using sanding blocks, as well as various blunt and pointed instruments and a 1940’s cheese grater.�

Dutka says he did not use any chains on the wood for the aging process. However, “I am afraid that I cannot say that no wood was harmed in the making of this project; there probably was much sorrow in the orchards after the distressing procedure,� he jokes.

To finish the aging, “a masterful pallet of warm tones and several shades of stains were laid onto the wood. Then a mix of dark glaze and cherry sawdust was applied to add 200 years of warmth and ‘dirt’ to some of the details,� Dutka adds. “A hand-rubbed waxing gave our clients the luscious patina that they were after.�

Dutka credits the transcending beauty of the finished kitchen to the collaboration of masterful craftsmen involved on the project. “They expanded upon the vision our shop provided,� he says.

Success also can be attributed to the homeowners themselves, because they gave the shop “carte-blanche freedom to run with the design and a generous budget, which was based on the knowledge that this was to be a showcase kitchen,� Dutka adds. “That kind of freedom fosters creativity and allows for spectacular results.�

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