Marshall Erb Design and Chicago’s top kitchen and cabinetry studios talk capability, continuity and customization — and best practices for collaborating with interior designers.
By Elise Hofer Shaw
As any interior designer will attest, the kitchen is truly the center of the home. That said, designing a kitchen is something of an ever-evolving art form, simply because how we use our kitchens is constantly changing. Once reserved for a single member of the household to prepare the day’s meals, kitchens are now gathering spaces used for cooking, of course, but also for entertaining, dining, working from home, and coming together as a family.
“Much like how we choose our favorite fashion labels based on quality, design and wearability, homeowners approach their kitchen style in the same way,” says Marshall Erb, owner and lead designer at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago. “The first step toward an impactful kitchen design that a client will love is ‘trying on’ different looks in order to get a feel for the cabinetry selections and systems they connect with. Presenting informed options and visiting the showrooms in person with our clients is how we choose the right end product. Sandra Bullock had a great quote in The Blind Side: ‘If you don’t love it in the store, you won’t wear it.’ I find the same goes with finish selections for luxury cabinetry.”
While it’s the interior designer’s job to hone in on a client’s overall aesthetic, it’s the responsibility of the kitchen and cabinetry makers and showrooms to meet those demands with cutting-edge product, especially within the luxury, residential sector where quality and customization are high-priority considerations. “We’re seeing a lot of variability within the showrooms to meet the wants and needs of discerning clients,” says Erb. “Because our clients want to invest in designer kitchens — because they see the value add in terms of quality of living via heightened form and function — today’s luxury vendors have a lot of flexibility within each of their lines to meet a wide range of styles and possibilities.”
If diversity of product is a factor for the initial search, 210 Design House’s three-level showroom in River North is a good place to start. Family owned and operated for more than 25 years, 210 offers a curated collection of the highest quality Italian and American cabinetry and furnishings brands that, collectively, run the gamut from sleek and modern to timeless and traditional. “While we are perhaps best known as Chicago’s resource for Snaidero kitchens, we offer world-class, whole-house cabinetry selections and systems from lines that meet myriad style penchants,” says Alexander Adducci, senior designer at 210 Design House. “From kitchens and butler’s pantries to laundry rooms, home offices, dressing rooms and beyond, we marry inspired design with seamless functionality — and can customize upon request.”
With whole-house design, continuity is a factor that comes into play. “Once the overall aesthetic of the project is determined – whether that be traditional or contemporary — the next step is determining what rooms and elements will be fully custom vs. semi-custom,” says Erb. “There’s always a bleed for style continuity. But with large homes and estates, or a client that leans more eclectic, coordinated
variations on the theme can add depth, dimension and interest within a unified look.” Marshall Erb Design has collaborated with Abruzzo Kitchen & Bath — a luxury cabinetry design and finishes firm based in Schaumburg, Illinois — on multiple, large residential projects in Park Ridge, Lake Forest and Winnetka. “We have had a handful of beautiful collabs with Abruzzo and Smart Construction Group,” shares Erb. “For a 12,000-square-foot, shingle home in Winnetka, we incorporated multiple Abruzzo product lines from custom down to more semi-custom cabinetry throughout the whole home, and then merged them with trim carpentry to blend the finishes all around. Abruzzo works very closely with general contractors to integrate all of the trades together.”
For clients with high-value, large footprint homes, it’s not about keeping up with the Joneses. It’s about conceptualizing and materializing each client’s unique vision and taste. “Oftentimes our clients want us to deliver on details that no one else has,” says Erb. “For one client, that could mean walnut interior drawers in the kitchen and decorative metal inlays on an island to highlight the appliance selections. For another client, it could be accommodating specific designs to display their collections, store their multiple sets of dinnerware, or designing for a unique style of entertaining.”
According to Erb, there’s customizing elements on branded systems, and then there’s full-on custom. nuHaus in River North, for example, is an architectural millwork and custom cabinetry firm for 100 percent bespoke, unbranded cabinetry, finishes and furniture. “We simply don’t have the boundaries that other firms that carry third-party profiles have,” says Doug Durbin, co-owner and design director at nuHaus. “We have the ability to grind our own knives and cut our own moldings to design, engineer, install and customize with luxury materials and textures. Whether we’re integrating sophisticated lighting systems or incorporating moments of motorized cabinet doors and walls, engineering support systems for 500-pound kitchen hoods, or collaborating with stonemasons to waterjet and cut flush-mounted outlets into a slab of marble, every fit and finish is tailored to each project.”
Speaking of appliances, nuHaus has a collaborative partnership in place with Wolf, Sub-Zero and Cove where they design and build many of their corporate showrooms around the country. That makes them particularly savvy at designing and executing custom kitchens around these packages. “We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this summer, and we still get excited about the creative process — layering in designer details that delight and surprise our clients,” adds Durbin. Plus, being flexible allows interior designers to think outside the box. “When your interior designer and your cabinetry designer share an excitement for a project and the possibilities — and a willingness to get creative and figure out how we can customize things even further — that’s when the magic happens,” adds Erb. “That’s when we can raise the bar on invention and final polish.”