I didn’t intend for the Carnival kitchen to get national attention, but that’s what happened.
Let me explain.
I worked for a local custom cabinet maker and home remodeler as a sales-designer while finishing my design schooling. The owner expected me to schedule appointments with everyone who visited the business. One afternoon in early March, a couple came to the showroom, and we talked about their goals for remodeling an outdated kitchen. It didn’t register that they could afford a luxurious, custom kitchen with unique features because they had just started thinking about remodeling. They resisted when I asked to schedule a second meeting in their home, saying that they needed to do more looking. My boss was furious. Although he taught me a lot about cabinetry, I didn’t particularly appreciate how my boss treated his “customers” and staff. I resigned three weeks later after he yelled at me for not meeting his sales expectations. That’s when I formed D. P. Design in April 1984.
When the couple returned to the showroom, they were told that I’d left. After seeing an article in the San Jose Mercury News about me winning the Henry Adams Award during graduation, they called me and invited me to their home to talk about what they wanted. Our meeting lasted over three hours! They had a long — and exclusive — wish list.
What features did they have to have?
Homeowners’ Wish List
- Magnetic-induction cooktop (standard equipment today, but there was only one manufacturer at that time)
- Gas cooktop
- Wok (only available as commercial equipment)
- Double ovens and a microwave oven
- Serving cart built into the cabinets
- Triple sink
- Small desk
- Walk-in pantry with dutch doors
- Display area for their collection of Red Skelton clown figurines and plates
- Sub-Zero built-in refrigerator
- Sub-Zero built-in freezer
- Countertop with two seating areas
- A rainbow of bright accent colors — primary and pastel
- Better lighting
- Garden windows for daylight, display, and plants
A Dreary Kitchen Dungeon Needed Help — Lots of Help!
Although it was large, the original kitchen felt like a dungeon. It had dark-stained cabinets, laminate countertops, and olive-green carpeting! Yes, carpeting! The lighting was awful. Fluorescent fixtures inside the skylight provided most of the light that glared in comparison to everything around them. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the adjacent eating area provided light during the day, but cabinets over the peninsula prevented light from getting into the kitchen. It was hard to imagine anyone working in the kitchen successfully while maintaining a good mood.
Delightful Carnival Kitchen Details
The Red Skelton clown figurines and plates collected by the homeowners and fabric with a wreath of colorful flowers and butterflies inspired the “Carnival” kitchen theme. Hank Corriea and his employees used the material to create custom window treatments. Peggy Spaulding transferred the wreath motif to 12″ tiles that Fasar required with their magnetic induction cooktops.
The cabinet maker and I designed an enormous six-foot-wide custom wood hood with two exhaust fans hung above the Thermador gas cooktop and the Yick wok with a single burner rated at 36,000 BTU’s. We incorporated a unique lit display cabinet in front of the two fan ducts for the figurines and plates. Oak cabinets were still trendy, but we decided to use natural straight-grain rift oak to avoid visual overload.
Yippee! We achieved all of the homeowners’ needs and wants. My creative spirit was soaring, and we defined other “carnival” kitchen details that included:
- Custom stained-glass inserts in the dish pantry and all wall cabinets created by Dave Benoit, backlit with automobile dome lights, made the stained glass sparkle. Remember, this was 30+ years before LED strip lighting.
- Peggy Spaulding painted a fanciful flower-and-butterfly mural for the backsplash behind the gas cooktop and wok with the same colors as the induction cooktop tiles.
- The contractor installed “Tivoli” rope lighting around the perimeter of the skylight.
- Jan Moyer painted an imaginative portrait of the wife on the water heater door: she’s barefoot and pregnant, dressed as a clown, sitting on a stool with a frying pan in one hand and a golf club in the other hand. The bottom of her apron reads, “I’d rather be golfing.”
It Pays To Work With The Best . . .
This Carnival kitchen remodeling was a magnificent opportunity to start my career! My clients and I had great brainstorming sessions, and they adopted all of my recommendations! To achieve my clients’ goals, I worked with the best people in the industry:
- Rob, the open-minded cabinet maker
- Peggy, the experienced tile artist
- Dave, the detailed stained-glass master
- Gary, the friendly appliance dealer
- Hank, the masterful window treatment manufacturer
- Jan, the creative trompe l’oeil painter
- Bruce, the helpful lighting expert
. . . But There Are Always Challenges!
There were problems with this Carnival kitchen project: Because the roof over the kitchen was flat, there wasn’t enough space to install recessed light fixtures. We had to use track lighting. If we were remodeling this kitchen today, there wouldn’t be a lighting problem. About three years ago, flush-mount dimmable LED ceiling fixtures became available. There were problems with the floor installation and the tile. I proved to the homeowners that I was their advocate, and all of the issues were resolved successfully.
The Whimsical Carnival Kitchen Sparkles Like The North Star
With all of the difficulties resolved, the wife said she was as happy as a child on a carousel. She admitted that they had doubts about how I would “pull off” mixing Red Skelton’s clowns into a sophisticated kitchen. An avid golfer and a lady with a great sense of humor, she was delighted with her portrait on the water heater door. She said that her husband liked all the stained-glass details, how we’d made the cabinet doors sparkle. I was delighted with their reaction and asked if I could photograph the kitchen. “Of course!” was her reply.
Two weeks later, I hired Russell Abraham, a renowned architectural photographer, to take pictures of the kitchen. His fee was three times what I charged for my design services, but it proved to be a blessing in disguise. In May 1985, two months after finishing the kitchen, I was at a national trade show. Leslie Hart, the editor of Kitchen & Bath Business magazine, approached me. We had attended the first bathroom seminar offered by Ellen Cheever, a kitchen and bath design leader who had been one of my teachers in design school.
Ms. Hart told me that I had made a good impression on her with a project I did during Ellen’s seminar and asked if I had any projects that she could publish in her magazine. I barely squeaked out the words, “yes, I do.”
“Good,” she said. “Send me a complete description of the project with all of the products you used. Don’t forget to send photos.” It took me two days to create a story about the project, entitled “Springtime Carnival.” I covered the article and the 8 x 10 photos with cardboard, then slid them lovingly into the manila envelope. Standing in line at the post office, I held the envelope over my heart and said a prayer for good things to happen.
For several weeks, I couldn’t concentrate on daily tasks because I was so excited about the possibility of being included in one of the kitchen-bath industry’s premier magazines. One month passed. Then two. Then three. I’d given up about “Springtime Carnival” ever appearing in K&BB magazine. It was early September when I got a call from Michelle Tomasik, one of the magazine’s staff writers. She wanted to verify details of the “Springtime Carnival” project for an article they might publish. She didn’t give any specific dates when the article might appear.
Be Patient. Then Follow The North Star To Success!
Again, several months passed, and I forgot about the phone call. I also forgot that the K&BB magazine’s new issues arrived in the last week of the month for the following month. In late November 1986, my husband and I decided to drive to Long Beach, California, for the first West Coast Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in early December, co-hosted by the National Kitchen & Bath Association and the K&BB magazine. They shared a sizable centrally-located booth. I wanted to see if Leslie Hart was there so that I could ask her about the article. I didn’t need to, because . . .
As we approached the booth, I saw the December issue fanned out on the countertop. The “Springtime Carnival” kitchen was on the cover! And there was a four-page article inside! Whoosh! My career was off to a great start!
Remembering this one-of-a-kind Carnival kitchen still gives me goosebumps. I can’t believe that I’ve been a designer for 36 years! It’s been an incredible journey of personal and professional growth while helping others achieve their dreams. I’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful clients and fabulous projects. There have been hurdles in my business, like the recession in 2006-2009 and the recession during the pandemic. Remembering successes like this keep me inspired and motivated to help you and others. There’s still a lot of untapped creativity inside me! Every kitchen is one-of-a-kind because your needs, lifestyle, and budget are different from everyone else in the world!
It’s an honor to share stories about real people, most who’ve overcome remodeling fears and lived through the transformation of their home and life. The articles are (and will be) about how my clients coped and what we did to achieve the best results. There will always be hints, how-tos, and tips. All of the articles will be in a particular category called “Case Studies.” I invite you to read them, leave comments, and share them with family and friends. Here’s a list of case studies:
Here’s the article that’s 34 years old:
Professional Tip To Achieve Remodeling Success
What I learned during this project will help you achieve what you want during the first meeting with your designer: Share everything you want to include in your project, no matter how expensive it is or how whimsical and unrealistic it seems! Of course, you can always add details during the design. But it could affect the priorities on your “wish list,” and it may require you to make tradeoffs. Remember that your designer is your facilitator, helping you to achieve your remodeling goals.
The Carnival kitchen was the North Star that led me in the right direction to a successful career. I’ve had hundreds of opportunities to help homeowners achieve their dreams and goals over the past 36 years. The wonderful thing is that I still have a “creative bucket” that’s full and ready to help you with your remodeling project. Contact me for a phone call or virtual meeting to discuss your needs and intentions and what may be holding you back from achieving them. I’m here to help you — always, in all ways.