kitchen cabinets: the benefits of going custom in interior design

Here’s a close up of one of my often used wood artisans, based here in Western Montana and shot by Steven Begleiter, for a project we’re doing called Project People Made.

Kitchen cabinets are the heart of a well-designed and beautiful kitchen.  Sure, they are viewed as a necessity in interior design, but when designing your future kitchen, it’s extremely important to consider how every detail will lay out to maximize your efficiency in the space and to maximize usage of the space architecturally.  I am a firm believer in having kitchen cabinets made specifically for you and your needs in your space.  A common misconception is that custom cabinetry is leaps and bounds more expensive that purchasing cabinets from an off-site manufacturing facility.  That simply is not true in most cases and the extra minimal percentage of cost pales in comparison to the increased quality of the overall product.

Here are some of the benefits of choosing to have cabinets built locally:

1. Cheaper and Less Expensive are very different things.  As Joe Jensen of Confluence Construction puts it, “Stock cabinets may be less expensive, but they are always cheaper”.  Manufactured cabinets have nice looking door faces, can be glazed, weathered, you name it.  But the reality is that the construction is not going to be great and they are not built to last.   Here is a quick overview of the differences that make custom cabinetry a different animal:

Custom CabinetryStock Cabinetry
ComponentsPlywoodParticle Board
JointsDovetail, Dowel, or Mortise-and-TenonGlued, Nailed, or Screwed
Corner BracesWood Glue BlocksStapled Plastic Corners
Drawer SlidesHidden UndermountSide Slide Brackets

Stock cabinet manufacturers do whatever they can to cut cost and keep production up, and quality suffers because of it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a kitchen full of new stock cabinets, opened the doors and snooped around the workings of a drawer, only to find myself disappointed.  To me, the granddaughter of a wood worker, the difference is glaring:  I see big disappointments to the end user down the road, especially given the amount of money spent on cabinets.  THEY CAN AND SHOULD BE SO MUCH BETTER.

2. Everything You Need; Nothing You Don’t.  With custom cabinets, you (and your designer ūüôā ) choose what you need and where.  You can customize every detail at no extra cost because it’s all a part of the process.  I’m nearly 6′ and would design my kitchen accordingly, with taller cabinets and taller work surfaces, making life not only more enjoyable but healthier in terms of ergonomic stresses.  You can also select a unique cabinet and drawer layout, specific depths of drawers, widths and heights of shelves, details tailored specifically to your cooking, baking, and entertaining style.

3. You have the Ability to Locally Source Materials and Labor.  Western Montana is home to some gorgeous wood species. Using local varieties is environmentally conscious and adds a unique local character to your project.  Harvesting beetle kill timbers or using reclaimed lumber will also add an incredible look with a story to tell for generations.  We are fortunate to have access to some AMAZING talent, as well.  Employing local craftspeople gives a sense of pride.  Plus, it’s important to know that you can pick up the phone to have service and answers before, during, and long after the completion of the project.

4. You Pick EXACTLY What You Want.  Beginning a project that has no ceiling, design-wise, can be intimidating but incredibly liberating.  With custom cabinetry, if you see something you like online or in a magazine, you can re-create that look.  Hiring a designer during this phase will help in guiding you along the direction you would like to go, as well as help you in communicating your ideas and wishes to fabricators.  Stock cabinet companies often claim hundreds of options, but my experience is that those options narrow down extremely fast, with only a couple suitable choices.  Custom cabinetry will give you exactly the style and feel you’re after.

5. I Have Never Experience a Stock Building.  Stock cabinets will always have hiccups when it comes to fitting cabinets built offsite into the actual site.  Custom cabinets are built to fit, maximizing every single inch.  Stock cabinet companies use fillers to accommodate discrepancies between the sizes they offer and the lengths of the spans available for cabinets.  I’ve worked for a stock cabinet company for a short stint and was disheartened by the lack of flexibility when it came to layout.  Fillers ran rampant!  A custom woodworker will measure to the 1/32″ after the drywall is hung so that the products fit perfectly.  This is especially crucial if you have a unique layout, an unconventional floor plan, or an older home with imperfections (Character!).

When embarking on a kitchen, bathroom, or master closet build or remodel, I encourage you to consider the above.  If you’d like guidance in finding a talented craftsperson and / or designing your space, give a call and we’d be happy to make starting your project a lot easier.

interiors at our Parade of Homes home earlier this month

I’m finally getting around to sharing images of the house on Fourth Street that we did for the Parade of Homes in Missoula.  Contractor and friend, Joe Jensen, owner of Confluence Construction, and I have teamed up on quite a few projects, with outstanding outcomes.  This was no exception.  The homeowner has a great eye for color and wasn’t afraid to go for it.  We took traditional and looked at it through a modern and whimsical lens.  The personality of the home is pleasant, fun, functional, all while encouraging inhabitants and visitors to relax, have a deep conversation, have fun.


Kitchen:  Unexpected, clean.  Custom cabinets made locally.

Fourth Ave 19       Fourth Ave17       Fourth Ave18


Traditional Formal Sitting Room: Leaded glass from the original house (1907).

Fourth Ave7      Fourth Ave8


Formal Dining Room: Side Board and Floating Shelves made locally and co-designed by Becky Broeder.

Fourth Ave9     Fourth Ave10


Entryway:  Unique, Show-stopper Chair Made Locally.

Fourth Ave13      Fourth Ave16


Master Bedroom:  Original Bubble Glass looks out over interior staircase.  Custom Draperies designed by Becky Broeder and fabricated locally.

Fourth Ave6

Master Bath:

Fourth Ave5       Fourth Ave4


Second Story Addition: Casual Hang Out Zone. Cabinetry made locally.

Fourth Ave3


Bedroom / Office #2:

Fourth Ave2       Fourth Ave1


How cool is this?  Bedroom #3 has a hidden door and built ins to die for!

Fourth Ave11      Fourth Ave12


Main Level Bathroom:

Fourth Ave14      Fourth Ave15


Exterior: Plaster.  Beautiful!

Fourth Ave 20

Incredible Back Yard and Alley House with an Air-Conditioned Office and Large Garage:

fourth Ave 21




i love constuction


Nearly Complete.

On a recent visit to measure for roman shades, I took a few pictures of this kitchen remodel.   Take a look at the amazingly well done custom kitchen cabinetry we had made locally, this incredibly stunning range which we selected this custom show stopping color, and this generously scaled vintage light found in an antique shop in Spokane.  To see the full transformation, see the before and during pictures also in this post.


Here are some pictures of the kitchen before and during its renovation.  Surprise! The homeowners thought the house was built in the 1930s, but discovered a drawing of a little stout man in a cowboy hat, the name, Merrill, and the date: December 1906 on the innards of the wall in pencil.  A time capsule.

Before:  Metal Seamed Paneling, Large Soffits, Post-War Era Metal Cabinets

Before RS
Before RS3
Before RS2

During: A Hidden Door, LOTS of Knob and Tube Wiring, and A Cool Chimney that will become the focal point-

During RS2
During RS

Stay posted for more During and After shots.


equine home project

I hadn’t posted in awhile and was searching to find an interior design topic that was rolling around in my brain that has to do with something other than my current projects.  Then, it hit me: what’s on my mind are my projects!

I’m embarking on a large remodel of a beautiful horse property, just west of Missoula.  The home was custom built over 20 years ago and it houses some incredible finishes.  The owner is hoping to ultimately list the property for sale, so my challenge is to make this home stand out among other high-end residential listings in Western Montana while also making it appeal to a broad range of people searching for a place of this caliber.

I began by bringing one of my trusted General Contractors on: Jeremy Moran, of JM Construction.  I carefully chose our team through a process of analyzing their level of expertise, but just as important, creating a team that will suit my client’s personality as well as the others’ on the design / build team.  We’re in the beginning stages and have started the process of scheduling and assigning costs.  Our plan is to move in two phases, doing a complete remodel of all that I have determined to be either too personal or specific to the homeowner, or considered outdated for today’s residential market.  I’m designing a full chef’s kitchen, a feature co-designed by a local artist / cabinet maker I’ve had the pleasure to bring in the mix on a previous job.  We’re off to a great start. I’m putting together the concept for the overall feel and aesthetic of the house based primarily on a couple of things: the mountain environment that surrounds the home and the elegance and formal nature of the home’s personality as it is now, but brought current and timeless.

Here’s a picture of the grandeur of the foyer. The structure of the entrance is spectacular:

photo 2

It’s easy to see that the wood doors, trim, and beams will be my muse.

I will keep you posted with progress reports.  Thanks for reading.


details, details, details

High-end residential design isn’t about mass, gaudiness, or punch, it’s about details.  It’s that feeling you get, ‘wow, they really thought about this’.  This project has been so carefully contemplated by my clients, the contractor, myself, and all of the extraordinarily talented craftspeople we’ve put together.  It shows.  Take a look at what can happen when you approach a house like it’s a canvas, not a hurry-up and build-it-on-the-cheap environment:

Bruce, the Mason, places every single rock with thought and care.  I love the custom stone cornice framing the beautifully stunning front door:

Berens Bruce

The built ins were created off of my basic hand sketch and hand elevations.  Shane has added the tricky details that can only be created by a true sculptural artist.   The lightness and sophistication of this built-in media and art showplace is exactly what we were after.

Berens builtin

I love a good book match!!  It makes my heart sing.  Not many put this amount of detail into woodwork.

built in book

Notice the copper toekick detail we’ve worked in.  You’ll see this throughout the home, in unexpected places.

built in corner   I’m loving how this angled TV housing is not feeling too bulky.  Gorgeous, and not an easy task to execute.  Thankfully, Shane put the geometry I snoozed through in high school to use.

Jim, the Tile Guru, put the seals on the stone work today.  Wow, does it pop.

Berens master bath

berens wall 2    Meticulously polishing the travertine hallway wall.  Perfection. I’m proud to be part of a team that puts so much care, thought, and talent into what they produce. More to come!


project progress

Today was a busy one on site.  Cabinets are being set and countertops were being templated today.  Fine finish work is being installed by Shane around the fireplace, which will have a stone face similar to the travertine accent wall in the kitchen, but a bit ligher in tone.

berens counter
berens counter 2
berens wall

This has been such a fun and remarkable project.  The finished home will be so lovely and inviting. The homeowners allowed my input on everything from driveway design and exterior paint colors to all the stone and wood interior finishes.  Dave Schmid is the contractor and has been so accomodating and talented throughout my experience working with him.  It’s really been a fun process for all.


12 reasons why you should hire an educated, professional interior designer

I spend a lot of time and energy demystifying the profession of interior design because there are many misconceptions about us:

1. “Interior designers are only for wealthy people.”

2. “What skills do they have that I don’t have or can find from various retail sales staff?”

3. “I’m afraid they’re going to make my home in their taste / vision, not mine.”

4.  “I’m afraid they won’t listen to my needs and won’t adhere to my budget.”

5. “I think I can find all the items I want and can do it all myself.”


NO!… Interior design doesn’t have to be mysterious, expensive, or intimidating.  Interior designers are curators who deliver an experience and an outcome that can only be offered to you and your project because of our education and expertise.

Here’s what we really do:

1. Save your hard-earned money.  

  • Selecting the wrong product for your interior renovation or remodel can cost you money and unnecessary anxiety.
  • Some fabrics and products are much more durable than others.  Selecting the best ones for your needs will save you money in the long run.
  • Some finishes, treatments, and design elements are more energy efficient, causing a huge potential for cost savings in your energy bill.
  • We’ve done heaps of research on products and sources and know where to look for more information.  We know and stay up to date on the products on the market.  Save your time by using our knowledge.  Your time is money.
  • Many subcontractors cut corners and this can cost you.  I only work with reputable subcontractors I trust and know.  And if you’ve already hired a contractor I’m not familiar with, I will discuss with them their approach and techniques.  Having decades of experience in construction, I know talent and expertise in the field.

2. Save your valuable time.

  • Coordinating and managing the logistics of multiple products and installations require a considerable amount of skill and patience, a process that can be a frustrating experience for people.
  • As a value added service, designers recommend contractors and vendors that come highly recommend and with which we’ve nurtured relationships with.
  • Often in new construction and remodeling projects, one encounters unanticipated or unrecognized problems.  We broker solutions to those issues, making sure the project is done correctly and you’re always in the communication loop regarding the problem solving process, possible solutions and their costs.
  • Together, we will save you time and eliminate any mental anguish for you.

3. Some are members of professional organizations: I’m a member of ASID and LEED.

  • Organizations such as AIA, ASID, NKBA, and LEED require standards that are stringent for continued membership.  Continuing education requirements must be acheived and reported every two years, keeping designers up to date on the latest trends, products, and techniques.
  • LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) accreditation requires a substantial amount of specific training and education, as well as having to pass a LEED AP (Accredited Professional) exam.  LEED offers various specialties, mine being in Building Design and Construction (BD+C).

4. Recommend only trusted professionals.

  • Countless unscrupulous contractors and installers go in and out of business every year, changing business names, and delivering a warranty that may only be as long as your driveway.  By selecting professional design services, you will not have to wonder if you’re giving your hard-earned money to a dishonest contractor.

5.  Provide professional design expertise through a Comprehensive Needs Assessment Analysis.

  • We begin every project by asking lots of questions and listening closely to your answers, revealing your design wishes, likes, dislikes, uncovering and defining your individual design goals.
  • Careful analysis provides a better understanding of the needs and wants of the project by taking the entire family’s view of the project into consideration.

6. Trade-Only Access.

  • Hiring a professional designer allows you access to countless showrooms available only to design professionals.
  • Retail ‘free design services’ aren’t free.  They are sales people trying to sell you their product, even if it’s not the product or vendor that’s right for you and your needs.
  • Professional designers receive discounts on the whole gamut of vendors and I pass discounts on to you.


  • Budgeting is always a major challenge in home building and renovation.  Projects can far exceed budget if not properly managed.  Design professionals manage scope creep, and eliminates or minimize the unknown costs.

As a professional interior designers, it’s our goal to provide you with a thoroughly satisfying experience through our design and project management skills, and the contractors and installers we recommend.  If you have a project you’re considering, it’s never too soon to bring an interior designer into the project.  As a critical member of the design team, we ensure that consideration is placed on design from the inside out, making a beautiful space that works for you!


another bathroom remodel story

A friend and I were talking yesterday about a bathroom remodel I did. ¬†She couldn’t remember the ‘before’ look and I knew I had pictures somewhere. This remodel was completed about a year and a half ago, and I’m still proud of the amazing aesthetic transformation and improvement of ¬†quality of life for the end users.

When the homeowner bought the 1940s house from its original owner, the bathroom wasn’t even wired, meaning there was not a lot of ‘getting ready’ for dinner after dark! ¬†He immediately had lighting put in, but other than that, few changes were made initially. ¬†Here are the BEFORE images:

DSCN0357 DSCN0355

Notice the cabinet and window IN the shower.

DSCN0353 DSCN0354

The homeowner was undergoing back surgery just after the completion of the remodel, so he wanted to change the single hand-held shower (there wasn’t an overhead shower), to a multi-functional jetted tub / shower for therapy. ¬†I omitted the tall linen closet and moved linen storage into an adjacent hall closet, making enough room for a large jetted tub for the tall users’ comfort. ¬†Structurally, very little else was changed. ¬†All fixtures were upgraded, and new finishes were installed on the floor and walls. ¬†I closed up the window, which faced an alley, for privacy and water-tightedness and added a huge skylight. ¬†I put a lot of thought into the light plan, adding several layers of artificial and natural light for relaxation or stimulation.

Take a look at the outcome:

IMG_1119 IMG_1125 IMG_1124 IMG_1131 IMG_1123 IMG_1132 IMG_1126

The toilet I specified was on backorder, so this isn’t the final toilet. Since all of the plumbing fixtures were upgraded to high-end Kohler pieces, the toilet was upgraded to a comfort height, more aesthetically appropriate fixture. ¬†This ‘mediocre but perfectly fine’ toilet was donated to a very grateful person.

Bathroom remodels aren’t cheap, but the changes can be life enhancing and can hugely increase home value.


finished bathroom remodel

I embarked on this bathroom remodel earlier this summer in a cute, 1930’s bungalow here in Missoula. ¬†The homeowner was new to the process of renovation construction and it was one of those experiences where it seemed the world was against us. ¬†The end result is BEAUTIFUL and I was so pleased to deliver the homeowners the bathroom of their dreams. ¬†Here are the beginning photos, the beginning square footage was about 40 SqFt:

claudia before 2 (Before)

Claudia before (Before)

There were several ‘must-haves’ in this project, which originally started as a Universal Design project. ¬†I re-worked the space so that we stole the closet from the adjacent bedroom (exterior wall corner behind the shower above), made that space a two-person shower, swiveled the toilet 90 degrees, and moved the sink from the middle of the room to the immediate left of the entrance, on the same wall as the shower. ¬†The musts were natural stone, in-floor radiant heat, towel warmers, and a complete aesthetic overhaul.

Here’s a look at my initial brainstorming sketches, working out the space plan. ¬†I was so happy to take over that closet. ¬†That opened things up immensely and got us to 49 square feet total.


There was no good way to get the drain slope right for a universal, barrier-free shower and line drain. ¬†The space was too small and we were faced with cutting 4″ into the floor joists. ¬†It was a consideration because a shop teacher built the house and there were huge joists and about five times more of them than needed. ¬†However, it wasn’t a sound solution, so we put a low curb at the entrance of the shower with a frameless, Euro door. ¬†Take a look at the finished outcome:






Claudia bath1

No details were overlooked.  Careful consideration went into my light plan and all finishes are in oil rubbed bronze. I loved the warmth but crispness of this marble against the rich natural walnut vanity.  The homeowners love blue, so I integrated some sparkle into the glass accent tile and blue pearl granite countertop, curb cap, and shelf on the half wall.  We had some fun with custom glass on the shower door, vanity light, and we obscured the bottom half of the window for privacy.  It all came together for an organic, fresh, luxurious and WARM (literally, via the floor and towel warmers) environment.

A project like this requires precise coordination, especially due to the size of the work space. ¬†Construction always has a few hiccups which can be frustrating at the time, but it’s all in the delicate balance of patience and pushing forward. ¬†I’m glad to have been able to design, advocate and assist in this spectacular remodel!