Meet Designer Karen Williams of St. Charles of New York

A principal at St. Charles of New York, Karen Williams has been designing award-winning kitchens for more than 37 years, and now is also a contributing kitchen-design blogger for the Huffington Post. Here, she shares some of her insights on the heart of the home.

Designer Karen Williams of St. Charles of New York has been designing award-winning kitchens for more than 37 years.Do you enjoy cooking?
I grew up in a house where we cooked a lot—big Sunday meals, lasagna, lots of sauces and roasts in the winter—comfort food that you’d cook for a long time. I was never formally trained, I’m just an avid cook. 

What surprised you when you started in kitchen design?
It’s very architectural. You have stoves and dishwashers and appliances with fixed dimensions. Things don’t almost work; they either do or they don’t. So I found it very challenging. You really need someone who has architectural design knowledge, technology, even a little bit of science.

How have kitchens changed over the years?
People are using exotic materials, fabulous chandeliers. It’s not just the most-used room, it’s a glamorous, significant room.

What’s the starting point of your designs?
The flow. What’s important is how the activity is going to revolve around the kitchen—how we are going to enter and exit. You don’t want to obstruct traffic flow. Once there’s a good layout, we discuss the architecture of the house, the right style that works with it. We use that as the basic ingredient and embellish it with finishes, flooring, cabinetry and hardware. 

A marble-lined kitchen boasts a custom hood and a teak-topped island.What’s the biggest kitchen mistake?
Specifying the wrong material for the wrong client—marble for someone who doesn’t understand its maintenance, painted cabinets for an active family. There aren’t any bad choices, only poor applications. 

White and mint julep powder-coated steel cabinets complement the backsplash.How do you avoid sacrificing cabinet space for windows?
You’re lucky if you have a lot of windows—you’ll have a nice, bright space. I like to have one tall wall of floor-to-ceiling cabinetry. New looks in cabinets allow you to store more dishes and glasses in low cabinets, which was typically unheard of.

What trends are you seeing?
The breakfast room is becoming an informal dining room. And people are more adventurous with appliances—induction, the Flamberge rotisserie, the Teppanyaki grill. 

You like the kitchen in the movie Something’s Gotta Give. Why?
It was such a wonderful open space, very much my style. It represented the gathering place. Everything took place in that kitchen, both serious and fun.

A version of this article appeared in the January 2016 issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Meet the Designer: Karen Williams.