Island Hopping

A lot goes into a kitchen renovation, but it’s usually hard to tell from a beautiful “after” shot. Our monthly series “Island Hopping” is about getting a behind-the-scenes account of what the process is like through honest conversations—you know, the kind that typically take place around a kitchen island. We’ll chat with designers, homeowners, and architects about their projects, hoping to peel back the curtain on picture-perfect spaces.

Mable Cheung spent hours agonizing over every detail of her custom kitchen.

Building a house from the ground up in Windsor, Ontario opened up endless possibilities for the mom of two and blogger behind With Mable, but it also meant making a thousand decisions, from the color palette to the number of inches between the island and the countertops. “It was definitely the most stressful project in the entire construction.”

Cheung tweaked the layout a million times before landing on the right solution for her family. “So much of our daily life revolves around the kitchen so I wanted everything to be absolutely perfect.” For her, this meant black floor-to-ceiling cabinetry, plenty of Carrara marble, and ample space for entertaining. But it took a few trials and errors to get there: 

 

Break Out the Old-School Grid Paper

Black kitchen cabinets

Cheung began her design process the old fashioned way: with a pencil and piece of grid paper. “I drew every detail, including the aerial and forward-facing views from each direction,” she explains. The permanence of a kitchen wasn’t lost on her. “You can rearrange living room furniture, but once the cabinets and countertops go in, that’s it. I wanted to visualize every angle.” 

Finalizing the layout was hands-down the most tedious part of the entire build. “A lot of times, you see a beautiful kitchen and you think, this layout makes no sense,” adds Cheung. “I had to ask myself, ‘How am I going to use this space every day of my life?’” 

 

Design Around Your Architecture

Black kitchen cabinets

Cheung initially had her heart set on an all-white kitchen. But once she laid out the rest of the 10-foot high, light-filled room, she ultimately went in the complete opposite direction. “With the open floor plan and natural light, I really needed something to anchor the space,” she shares. “I knew I could get away with something a little more dramatic without it feeling overwhelming.” 

Semihandmade’s Supermatte black slab fronts proved to be the grounding element the space needed. “The dark color adds a touch of drama to our otherwise minimal home,” she shares. “I wanted the kitchen to be a standout feature and the black cabinets definitely took it there.” 

 

Double-Up on Important Features

Black kitchen cabinets

Cheung’s love for entertaining really dictated the layout. “I wanted to create multiple workstations,” she explains. “We ended up going with a double dishwasher, a double oven, and an oversized island to accommodate as much cooking and entertaining as possible.” She even added a few extra inches between the cabinets and the island to have room to move around—the standard is 42 inches, but Cheung opted for 52. “We love having people over and the kitchen is the main gathering space,” she says. “After all, it’s where the alcohol and the food is.”

 

Always Set Faux-Boundaries

Black kitchen cabinets

“It’s so important to define each space when working with an open floor plan,” says Cheung, who added a wooden ceiling beam to give the dining room a separate identity, while the black cabinetry did the same for the kitchen. “You don’t want the rooms to get lost in each other.” Adding eye-catching details like rugs, wallpaper, and artwork can help create partitions that an open layout desperately needs. 

 

Ask Yourself, “How Will My Guests Feel?”

Mable Cheung Kitchen

Tedious measurements and perfectionism aside, Cheung ultimately wanted to design a room that made her guests feel at home. “Windsor is a close-knit community,” she shares. “I wanted my friends and family to feel comfortable coming over and opening up the fridge, grabbing a snack, or helping out in the kitchen.”

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