Radiused Corners and Clean Lines Result in Top Honors for a Kitchen

A residential kitchen produced by W.T. Black Builders was the judges' favorite Design Portfolio Awards entry for its attractive use of materials and outstanding design.


W.T. Black Builders Inc.

Williamsport, PA

No. of employees: 3

Established: 1990

Annual sales: $350,000-$450,000

By Helen Kuhl

Although W.T. Black Builders Inc. is accustomed to building kitchens ranging from $25,000 to $60,000 for the woodwork alone, a custom kitchen and interior remodeling project done for a local residence was "a little more intense" than usual, said president Fred Black Jr. The company spent 10 months on the entire project, four months of it on the kitchen, with spectacular results. The project was chosen as winner in the Design Portfolio Awards "kitchen cabinets" category and was the high scorer among all category winners, making it the overall winner.

The homeowner was quite precise in what she wanted for the kitchen's design, Black said. She wanted the kitchen to look more like furniture than cabinetry, with every corner radiused and all-wood pullouts, with no visible hardware.

The entire house was very open, and the openness of the kitchen was a challenge in that it only allowed for limited wall space to support the top cabinets. To accommodate this design feature, the company removed two existing partitions and replaced them with a new stud wall with 1Ú2-inch plywood, glued and screwed to the kitchen side. It was supported at the top with a piece of 1Ú2-inch by 31Ú2-inch plate steel secured to an adjacent wall.

The balance of the top cabinets was suspended between four custom-made marbleized columns which run from the countertop to the cathedral ceiling. A marbleized arch with a cherry keystone was used to tie the two center columns together at the top of the display cabinets. "This made a unique and very effective way to achieve the open design of the kitchen, while still maintaining the proper support necessary for European cabinetry," Black said.

The cabinet boxes were constructed of "A" grade 3Ú4-inch birch plywood with 1Ú2-inch birch backs. The drawer boxes and pullouts are 5Ú8-inch Baltic birch plywood with 1Ú2-inch bottoms. The interiors were stained and finished to match the exterior, which is a select, narrow cathedral, domestic cherry veneer, supplied by Keystone Veneers. The veneer was book-, center- and sequence-matched and numbered. Layup was contracted out to Seiling & Jones Plywood. Doors and drawer fronts have a 3Ú4-inch particleboard core with cherry core bands, a crossbanding structural veneer and a finish cherry veneer on both sides.

Seiling & Jones supplied paper-backed cherry veneer to the company for all radiused doors and panels. W.T. Black manufactured the curved components using 3Ú4-inch plywood radius panels. The doors were then core banded with 3Ú4-inch cherry, crossbanded, and veneered with the paper-backed veneer. Bottom edges of the top cabinets were also core banded for added durability, Black said.

The shop applied walnut core bands to display cabinet doors and back panels to accent the beveled glass. Fred Black designed the continuous pulls to accommodate the client's Sub-Zero refrigerator/

freezer. Base cabinet pulls were made of 1Ú8-inch aluminum bar stock wrapped with a paper-backed walnut veneer. A finger-pull recess was routed into the cherry core band on doors and drawer fronts at the desired location and the walnut-wrapped aluminum was secured to the back to accent the cabinet lines.

The tops of the wall cabinets feature a 2-inch walnut bullnose trim separated from a 1-inch walnut bullnose by a 3/4 cherry flat. All joints were biscuit-joined for strength, Black said. The trim continues around the back side of the kitchen wall.

The cherry was stained with a very light cherry stain. The walnut trim was stained with a dark ebony stain. A sealer and two coats of semi-gloss conversion varnish were applied to everything.

Granite tile was used for the full back splash, toe kicks, the knee area at the bar and in the floor as a border around the cabinets. W.T. Black also produced the floor, which is African sapele hardwood with a 1-inch wenge accent strip. The company also built all the two-panel interior doors in the house, using a narrow cathedral cherry veneer to match the kitchen cabinets.

The marbleized finish work done on the kitchen's columns and arches was outsourced to Marguerite Bierman, a local decorative artist. "Bierman was also helpful with some key design decisions" and other interior painting work, Black said.

W.T. Black's other work on the project included a powder room vanity, laundry closet organizer, entertainment center and two dining room corner cabinets, which were designed to complement the woodwork in the kitchen.

Black said he and his wife Melissa restructured the business in 1990. Prior to that, he did a lot of custom woodworking in conjunction with his father, who is a custom home builder. For the past five years, the company has focused on high-end specialty work. With just three employees, Black said he prefers to "stay small."

"It's easier for us to handle jobs and give them our full attention at our current size," he said. "We find that it works out best for us."

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