Designer’s Notebook: Compact Considerations

by Kacey Larsen

New owners of this fabulous Chicago condo wanted an interior that was as inspiring as the view. A clean and masculine design with clearly defined angles reflecting the architecture of the building was a must. The challenge was the physical size of this galley kitchen. We wanted to make the room feel bigger and be accepting of several people being in the space together.  However, moving walls was not an option.

Some designers like working with large rooms because of the countless options it provides them. I delight in working with smaller kitchens. Limitations and challenges force me to be creative when creating a beautiful and functional space.

Photos: Mike Kaskel

Photos: Mike Kaskel


White always makes a room feel larger and brighter. While it is traditionally a popular color for kitchens, it’s so easy for a white room to look stark and cold. So while I specified white gloss wall cabinets, gray gloss backsplash tiles and a white-gray counter to brighten and visually enlarge the galley kitchen, I also recommended we intermix it with the natural element of the bamboo cabinets. The warm matte honey tones with the horizontal grain of the bamboo reflect off the cooler shiny surfaces in the room, muting their dominance but keeping the defining, high contrast my clients desired.

In any kitchen, the refrigerator is the proverbial elephant in the room. Integrated refrigerators are the least assuming giants yet have their own inherent problems concerning size, and in this small kitchen, one would not fit comfortably. Here, I opted for a counter-depth stainless refrigerator and encased it in bamboo. Only 30 inches wide and 84 inches tall, it still has all the features of a large unit yet provides the kitchen with an additional 6 inches of precious counter.

The owners of the condo frequently entertain so, subsequently, a necessary feature of the design was accessible wine storage. At the far end of the kitchen, straddling the entry to the dining and living room, I designed a large 48-inch base cabinet of wine cubbies. This area turns the corner from the kitchen and is the perfect place for their collection—in full view of guests and still integrated with the kitchen yet away from the food prep area.

Photos: Mike Kaskel

Photos: Mike Kaskel


On her visits, the mother of one of the clients loves to “people watch” out the kitchen window into Maggie Daley Park. The floor space at the window alcove was too small for a table to sit at, so she would stand there with her morning coffee, warming her feet by the radiator. We custom-built a bench seat specifically for her morning ritual by trimming a bamboo cabinet door to fit the space and still allow airflow around the heater. Then we designed the adjacent counter to extend beyond the cabinet run, creating a small serving area perfect for a solo breakfast.

The importance of “scene lighting” cannot be overemphasized for a truly upscale look. We use LED lighting in warm white for all our task lighting, which also serves here to add an illusion of depth when bouncing off the gloss backsplash tiles. Smaller quartz bulbs give a wonderful crispness to edges, so we used a track of MR-16s for general lighting. When bringing cabinets full-height, I like to add back-lit glass doors at the top to make a room feel lighter. 

My concept with this room was to replicate what we find in nature. A darker floor, like the ground, with structure and movement extending toward the dining area  forms the foundation, followed by an interesting mid-ground that opens to an airy space above. This natural progression is just a reflection of the fantastic world seen through the windows throughout this dynamic Chicago condo. |QR


Out of college, Larry Rych was a high school physics teacher. During his summers, he had a side business—Rych Handcrafted Interiors—of painting, wallpapering, building cabinetry and remodeling. In 1980, he left teaching, and Rych Handcrafted Interiors became a full-time remodeling business out of the home Rych shared with his wife and two children. Clients came through word-of-mouth, but it wasn’t long before he realized that he didn’t want to be setting bathtubs at 50 and needed to prepare for the future. He started looking for an existing business that needed a new CEO. The founding business partner of a remodeling company, Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. (incorporated in 1966), was looking to retire, and Rych stepped into his position. The company also designed and built vanities, kitchen cabinets and countertops. Under his leadership, the company continues the tradition of being a full-service, design and remodeling company that offers full customization services.

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