Cabinets Are The “Little Black Dress” Of Kitchen Design For Multi-family Residential Projects

Cabinets Are The “Little Black Dress” Of Kitchen Design For Multi-family Residential Projects

In a previous blog post I talked about how fashion influences design. In fact, fashion makes a great analogy for many different aspects of kitchen design, and it’s one I use to guide many conversations with our multi-family building clients – especially when it comes to choosing cabinetry.

To continue that analogy in thinking about kitchen design in terms of important “wardrobe staples,” I consider cabinetry to be the kitchen’s “little black dress” – something that is a classic, must-have element that serves as a canvas to reflect our own personal style. And, like the little black dress, cabinetry comes in a variety of styles and price points, and can be dressed up or down with “accessories” like hardware, backsplashes and other kitchen elements. So, it makes sense when designing a kitchen that cabinets are an important selection that sets the tone for the entire space. Here are some key considerations that go into that choice:

The Style Vision

Just like most women choose a little black dress that really reflects their individual style aesthetic, the first decision that guides cabinet selection is the overall design vision for the kitchen. For example, at The Marlowe, a new-construction multifamily building in Chicago’s trendy River North neighborhood, the building’s overall style blends vintage flair with modern sophistication. In our design for unit kitchens, we combined a 1920s-style dark grey shaker cabinet with contemporary white upper cabinets and brass hardware to bring the building’s vintage feel into each residence, yet simultaneously keep the crisp modern edge that makes the building so attractive to residents. We added another modern touch by also incorporating a higher backsplash. The result is an inviting kitchen that marries classic with contemporary.

Stay in Budget

As any woman knows, you can find a little black dress at virtually any price point – from designer label splurges to sale rack finds – so the final decision really depends on your budget. The same is true of any design project, where decisions often boil down to cost. The challenge is keeping the design vision alive while staying within budget.

Working with a cabinetry provider that has many resources makes all the difference in the world when it comes to finding a great kitchen cabinet that fits in the project budget. While you can’t always purchase your “A-List” choice, you can usually find an option that creates a similar look while also meeting your budget criteria. To help ensure you deliver on the vision, know what you want and communicate it to your contractors and vendors. Be sure you have all the details – the right measurements and cabinet configurations. Lastly, know how much you’re really willing and able to spend and then stick to it. It’s no different than shopping for a new outfit.


Think about how, with the right accessories, the same little black dress can look completely different based on individual style – whether it’s because you chose an important, eye-catching statement necklace or subtle, classic jewelry accents that blend in seamlessly with your dress. Either way, your accessories are the finishing touch for the fashion look you desire. The same holds true for cabinetry. Once the cabinets have been selected, think about the design aesthetic. Then, choose your backsplash, flooring and cabinet hardware as the final touches that bring the vision to life.

Like the little black dress, cabinets are an important design piece. Have fun exploring the many different possibilities for “outfitting” your cabinet choice to match your project’s style.  

How does your design vision influence the cabinetry and accessories you choose for your project?

Jane Kelly
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