In 2020, our firm's Creative Director, Keith Fortner, sold a larger new-construction home with a pool and right-sized to a condo conveniently-located in the middle of Palm Springs. Having spent 15 years in New York City performing, I guess Midtown is just his jam.
Undergoing a major renovation during the worst months of the pandemic was not without its challenges, but needless to say, I was blown away by the results! I sat down with Keith at his chic new home, for happy hour, to discuss all the details of his kitchen transformation.
Hello, gorgeous! Read on as I ask Keith to spill all the tea...
CK: So, we shared your living room and dining room last week, and everyone loved it. The feedback has been amazing! You must be super proud.
KF: I really am. It's nice to show my own perspective. Of course, I love what I do as Creative Director for Christopher Kennedy, Inc. I give 110% of myself to all our client projects, and I love what we create. But we create those spaces specifically for our clients who commission us to do so. Here, I treated myself as the client, and created something that was totally ME.
CK: What were your goals with this kitchen renovation?
KF: Initially it was just going to be new countertops and appliances.
During Quarantine, Todd and I decided we would try to do a 'soft' renovation of the kitchen by re-staining all of the cabinets.
I wanted them to be cerused black, and dramatic. He started with the pantry and it turned out gorgeous! I was so excited and impressed with how meticulous he was. We were off to a great start and then.....not so great. The other cabinet doors and drawers, as well as the box facings, were not made of the same quality wood and were not taking the stain and wax like the pantry. He stuck with it and did the entire kitchen.
When we finally got it all put back together he said, to my relief, "Tear it out."
CK: In our business, admitting when something just isn't working can be so hard to do -- but so crucial, right?
KF: Totally! I know we have, at times, been asked to do something similar for our clients -- say, tried to work with something existing that a client owned, in the interest of "saving money." But if it just isn't right and is bringing down the rest of the design...it's best to turn course. You can spend a lot more money trying to compensate for one element that just isn't what it should be. It's always best to get the foundation right, as we did here. Todd and I knew that investing a little extra in the kitchen would pay off, both in terms of our enjoyment (which is most important) and the property value.
Kitchen: Before + After
CK: Hello, 1980s! I am pretty sure that my family's time share in Breckinridge had these cabinets and counters.
KF: That oak finish was everywhere, to be sure.
CK: I am really trying to picture you and Todd, during those first few months of Quarantine, refinishing these cabinets yourselves. Let's be honest, with your theatre background, I am pretty sure you were the director. Was there drama?
KF: Not at all. All those hours were a great way to pass the many days of Quarantine, and I look back on it fondly. In the end, we just both realized it was never going to work, and we moved on. Sunk costs, as you like to say sometimes.
CK: That's two years of business school talking.
KF: And I am sure that's all you remember. (sips vodka soda)
CK: Well, like you, this kitchen certainly packs a punch. What exactly did you do here?
KF: Everything!! It turned out to be a full gut remodel.
It's a fairly small kitchen so the layout had to pretty much remain the same. I had seen other units where the pantry was eliminated and the refrigerator was moved over to allow for more counter space, and I considered it. Ultimately, I decided that for me, a pantry was important.
I decided to keep a larger refrigerator and pantry and chose to sacrifice the extra counter space. But, I removed upper cabinets on the other side (on the range wall) to create more "head space."
CK: You, needed more head space? All 5'8" of you?
KF: Very Funny. Todd is taller, remember.
I wanted the kitchen to feel bigger so I eliminated the uppers and microwave/hood from over the range and replaced it with an open shelf. It immediately felt larger and more open. I used a Kitchen Aid range with a downdraft and placed the microwave in the rebuilt pantry. As you well know, I don't cook, so counter space was not an issue for me.
CK: That Backsplash makes quite the statement! It also looks very ....familiar.
KF: Why yes it does!
I was trying to be budget-savvy so I improvised. This Bedrosians Allora hexagon tile was used in our 2019 Turlock Showhouse! It was the floor and shower walls of our Teen Ensuite designed by Kelli Ellis.
above: The Christopher Kennedy Show House in Turlock, California, 2019. Design by Kelli Ellis.
We had quite a bit left over, so I put it in the van and brought it back to Palm Springs. I only had to supplement with one box! It was a bolder gesture than I would normally do for myself but I'm so glad I used it. It looks amazing with my new Caesarstone Frozen Terra Countertops.
CK: I love it! Reduce, reuse, recycle. I am sure, at the time, it would have been easier to throw that tile into the garbage, which would have been added to the landfill. You hauled it home and made it amazing, again.
KF: And I think of my time in Turlock every time I see it. (sips vodka soda)
CK: Ok, so I teased you, but yes taking out the upper cabinets on one wall was a stoke of genius, creating a much "airier" look. But you added even more "headroom" by also removing the dropped fluorescent lighting. I know the popular thing would have been to lower this ceiling with drywall and add can lights. You bucked the trend here.
KF: It's no secret that neither of us is a fan of can lights.
The ceiling had one of those typical 80's Fluorescent light boxes, which had to go. The entire ceiling is only 7' high and I contemplated raising it, but the ductwork and sprinklers made that cost prohibitive. Others in my complex have just removed the lens and placed can lights in the recess but I decided I might as well make it a moment. I used what was left of the Living/Dining Room Phillip Jeffries grasscloth to connect it to the other space and found this cool light fixture on Etsy.
CK: And the world is all the better for two less can lights in it. Plus, wallpapering the tray ceiling was a masterstroke.
KF: Our dear friend Kelli Ellis says it best:
Make the problem pretty.
Tricks of the Trade
CK: These cabinets -- lovely! Beige, beige, and more beige. Groundbreaking.
KF: Hey now, mister, that's enough vodka for you.
Notice that the lowers are actually black.
CK: I love that!
KF: Nice of you to not notice.
above: The upper kitchen cabinets are "Desert Oak" by Shinokki. The hardware is by Emtek, available through Christopher Kennedy showroom.
The 'Desert Oak' color upper cabinets gave some freshness to it all but I knew I wanted the lowers to be black. Even in the daylight they recede and seem to pull the kitchen back with them. This optical illusion makes it feel so much more spacious.
CK: (sotto voce) I never would have thought to do that. (sips vodka soda)
Form + Function
CK: This vodka soda is once again really tasty, and I just want to sing along to the Broadway tunes in the background. But I suppose we should talk more about function.
KF: Well, I found an affordable Krauss kitchen sink online.
I love that my sink has an integrated lip which can hold a drying rack and cutting board. But the best part is the off center drain which allows for more space underneath. Usually a center drain leaves the sink cabinet largely unusable, but I have 2 recycle bins under there. I hadn't realized how important that would be when I ordered it.
All About the Details
CK: Well, my friend, you have done it again. Now, all this kitchen talk has made me hungry. What's for dinner? KF: Let's go out. I am sure as hell not cooking in this kitchen and messing it up.
Design: Keith Fortner
Photography: Public 311 Design
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