Into the Woods

Custom oak cabinetry and a knock-your-socks off backsplash come together for a fresh (and trend-proof!) Montgomery kitchen.

Photos by Holland Williams

When Birmingham-based interior designer Marianne Strong and one of her loyal clients decided to collaborate on a third (yes, third!) kitchen renovation, they were ready to shake things up a bit. “She was adamant that she didn’t want a white kitchen this time, and I was completely on board, ” Marianne says. Rather than choosing cabinetry painted a bold color, they decided to buck trends and go with wood. After reviewing dozens of samples, the client landed on a white oak with a slightly-weathered finish. With the cabinetry checked off the list, other design elements easily fell into place. Chief among them, lightly veined Calacatta Vagli countertops and a graphic marble backsplash. The gleaming materials not only contrast the textured quality of the cabinets, they also set the stage for a chic assortment of finishes, including a brass faucet and cabinet pulls. “This kitchen was a down-to-the-studs reno, but the mix of materials helps it feel as though it evolved over time, ” says Marianne.


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Montgomery craftsman Guy Goulet built the cabinetry and gave it a whitewashed look using a process called cerusing. It involves a lime paste that is hand-applied with a wire brush to open up the wood grain. And these cabinets offer more than just a pretty face—they feature savvy storage, including a floor-to-ceiling pantry, under-the-window drawers, and a handsome appliance garage.

Marianne was confined to the kitchen’s existing window orientation. (The kitchen is located at the front of the historic house, which meant windows were subject to preservation regulations.) That limitation forced her to place the sink directly beside the range. The upside of that somewhat unusual placement? An in-front-of-the-window orientation that makes the apron-front sink, from Kohler, a scenic spot to tend to chores.

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Marianne delivered on the client’s wish for an island, complete with a secondary sink, in the space-restricted kitchen with one that abuts the wall opposite the range rather than floats in the center of the room. It functions as a food-prep space as well as an eating area, thanks to a quartet of Serena & Lily barstools. The island also packs in ample storage below with shelves for the homeowner’s collection of cookbooks. Pottery Barn photo ledges on the wall create a streamlined spot to display collectibles.

Marianne originally envisioned panel-front appliances but ultimately opted for stainless steel items from Wolf and GE. The look helped to cast eye-pleasing relief on the expanse of wood grain that envelops the kitchen. To prevent the appliances from taking the space in a utilitarian direction, she incorporated brass cabinet pulls and faucets for a collected finish.

It was easy to fall for the mod, tessellating marble backsplash (Rubicon by Diana Royal for Marble Systems from Triton Stone Group). Marianne placed it only above the range to ensure the design is a true focal point.

The earthy cabinetry called for lush accents, such as the billowing floral fabric (Bermuda Blossoms by Mary McDonald for Schumacher) on the window valances. The scrolling blooms provide a sense of movement among the kitchen’s many hard edges, while the slate background keeps the look from feeling too precious for its surroundings.

Marianne Strong’s Must-Have Kitchen Essentials

Can’t-beat item? Seating—people will inevitably gather where the food is.

Must-have accent? A beautiful backsplash—there’s more than white subway tile out there!

Favorite gadget? A coffee maker of any sort, preferably with a freshly brewed pot ready to go.

Best advice? Every family uses a kitchen differently. Spend time thinking about how much cooking will take place, how many people will typically be in it, and how this may change at certain times of the year or in the future.

Approved splurge? Clients who love to cook should definitely spring for a top-of-the-line range.

Go-to cost saver? Final accents, while important, can wait. The perfect rug, the fancy espresso machine—these things can add up quickly. Use the initial budget for the big items.

Interior designer: Marianne Strong Interiors, [email protected], 205.222.8876,, IG: mariannestronginteriors

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