The Insider: Workstead Designers Create Ultra-Custom Cabinetwork in Boerum Hill


No one in the world has a kitchen like this, except the owners of the wide, five-story brownstone holding these stunning faceted beechwood cabinets. They’re the handiwork of Workstead, a design studio with offices at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus.

Functional considerations came first — how to create cabinet handles without hardware? — but aesthetics were never far behind. “We got to thinking about carving out material in order to create utility,” said Ryan Mahoney, one of three Rhode Island School of Design architecture school alumni, along with Robert Highsmith and Stefanie Brechbuehler, who comprise the small firm.

“We had the idea that instead of adding something, we would subtract wood to create handles for the cabinetry. Once we had this rule of thumb to go by and began to work with the material, we came up with this wedge-shaped profile for the cabinet faces and started getting interesting forms and patterns,” he said.

The designers lined up the sink countertop against the existing bank of windows at the rear of the house, eliminating the typical backsplash, to maximize the experience of looking out into the garden. The generous light that pours in through those windows makes the carved faces of the cabinets appear ever-changing, Mahoney said. “They can be subtle or dramatic, depending on time of day.”

The team worked closely with Brooklyn-based cabinetmaker Markus Bartenschlager, who used a combination of tools and processes to carve the solid wood. The cabinets were not stained; instead, the pale beech was given a coat of hard wax for a protective finish.

The Workstead team designed the entire parlor floor, including the kitchen at the rear, a living room/library in front, and a dining room in between, as well as built-in storage elsewhere in the house. Their clients — one of whom is a well-known author — had bought the building from someone who had renovated it for resale, but without a kitchen.

Workstead has begun producing a line of case goods with a similar design, sold through their website and soon to be found at Future Perfect on Great Jones Street in Manhattan.

More photos and details below.


Taking the existing oak floors into consideration, the designers and their clients chose beech for the cabinets. The stone countertops and wall are Pietra Cardosa, a veined gray schist quarried in Italy.


A dishwasher and refrigerator are camouflaged behind carved wood panels.


The range, from the French company Lacanche, has unlacquered brass details which coordinate with the gooseneck sink faucet from Waterworks. The customized stove hood is from Rangecraft.


The dining room’s unique chandelier is from BDDW.


An extensive wall of bookshelves around a newly created hearth, with a mantel made of the same wood and stone used in the kitchen, make the front parlor as much a library as a living room.


The artfully crafted details of the bookshelves include beveled edges along the bottom tier and a row of angled shelves for displaying book covers and catalogs.

“Our client was really interested in a thin quality to the vertical members of the shelf, so we created a wedge shape where the leading edge of each bookshelf is thin,” Mahoney said. “As it moves back toward the wall, it becomes thicker to support the weight of the shelves.”

The leather sling chair and ottoman are also Workstead designs.

Photos by Matthew Williams

The Insider is Brownstoner’s in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project, by design journalist Cara Greenberg. The stories are original to Brownstoner. The photos may have been published before.


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