August 15, 2011 | 1:05 am UTC



Washington-State Woodworker Builds Kitchen to Diverse Demands

Larry Rohan combined the use of spalted wood, 19th-century ideas and
Japanese and Frank Lloyd Wright-style simplicity all in the same project.

By Tom Caestecker, Jr.

When Larry Rohan went to work on a kitchen for a home in Clinton, WA, little did he know that his company would have to respond to so many diverse demands. First of all, the homeowners wanted the kitchen to feature wood species that were native to the general vicinity. Secondly, they felt that the use of some spalted alder from the home's building site would give a nice appearance on some of the cabinet doors. In addition, they wanted to maintain a motif that had been established throughout the rest of the house, yet incorporate some totally different styles as well.

"The project was really unique because the clients had strong ideas," Rohan said. "They wanted to synthesize the Japanese elements in their decor with some Frank Lloyd Wright/Craftsman-style furniture, and then combine these styles with a Johnny Grey-type revival of a 19th-century European kitchen, with its armoire-type, free-standing cupboards." While it was a challenge to meld these different factors, the result was a stunning kitchen that was the winner in the Design Portfolio Awards Kitchen Category.

Rohan's company, Larry Rohan Furniture, is also located in Clinton, WA. He employs one other person and builds kitchens, residential and commercial furniture, plus a variety of other projects such as armoires, entertainment centers, church altars and furnishings for recording studios.

"Kitchens account for about 30 percent of our work," Rohan said. "This was a $25,000 kitchen, and that is around a median price in comparison to all of our projects."

The winning kitchen job involved not only the kitchen cabinetry itself, but also a set of stereo and display cabinets in an adjoining living/dining space. The project also included a master bath corner cabinet, two bathroom vanities and crown moulding that capped a partial wall in the main entry area. All of the face frames, drawers and door frames are made of western maple, which came from local woodlots. The panels were spalted alder.

"One of the construction challenges was the job of making the doors and simplifying their lines," Rohan said. "The raised panel doors we used have a 1/8-in. gap between the panel and the door. Usually, paneling on a door is inset 1/4 in. The idea here was to really highlight the figuring in the spalted alder."

The alder that had originally been milled for the project had been left outside in the moist climate of the Pacific Northwest. Once the boards were cut, the homeowner realized that the early stages of the rotting process provided a unique character to the wood.

"The owners' intent was to maintain some basic Frank Lloyd Wright precepts," Rohan said, "which emphasize natural materials and natural colors, not elaborate designs."

The project consisted of both built-in and free-standing cabinetry. For the casework, Rohan used "A"-grade 3/4-in. maple with 1/2-in. maple backs. The cabinets were all assembled with Lamello biscuits, while dowels were also used in some framework. All drawer boxes are 1/2-in. apple-ply from States Industries with 1/2-in. melamine bottoms. The drawer slides were a combination of Blum and Accuride. Lighting for the display cabinets involved recessed low voltage lamps from Seagull Lighting. The door frames were tongue-and-groove construction with the panels held flush to the outside frame. Door hardware was from Blum, and Hafele provided flipper door hardware for the pantry and a Sub-Zero refrigerator enclosure.

A custom panel was made to fit the door of the refrigerator itself. The sink and surrounding counter are DuPont's Corian. All other counters are 3/4-in. Australian green slate. Rohan also built the built-in "desk" with a cutting board and vegetable baskets hanging in maple frames. The drawer below the cutting board has a removable stainless steel liner and is used to catch compost scraps.

"The melding of these different styles was such a challenge, because 19th-century European furniture had many elaborate features. We had to keep many of the crown mouldings and cabinets very restrained and simple, in keeping with the simple lines of the Japanese look," Rohan said.

Another way the company established a consistency with the rest of the house was by staining the exterior of the frames and drawers to match mouldings in other rooms. Rohan said the finish was hand-oiled ProFin from Daley's.

"The project took about four months, which is a bit longer than most of our jobs," Rohan said. "The designing and execution really evolved as we went along, and we worked closely with the clients as the details developed."

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