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The Art of Customization

Solving Design Challenges with a Design-Build Approach

When Calvin and I sat down to design the kitchen renovation in our current home, I

opened the conversation with a demand:, “No upper cabinets.”

He surveyed the constraints of the house’s footprint. He produced tiny spoons, an antique milk glass berry bowl, and throngs of seasonal platters as evidence of our need for considerable culinary storage. He reminded me that I was the one who suggested a floor-to-ceiling cabinet wall in our Downtown Greenville renovation, bragging to our guests about the genius use of space.

I considered his argument briefly and doubled down, “No upper cabinets.”

I was reflecting on the first major back injury of my 30s, sustained on a tour of California

Wine Country. My trip home was humiliating, to say the least - bent at a 90 degree angle

shuffling through the crowd of tanned and toned Californians and past the occasional

actual movie star at the Sonoma airport. That, however, was nothing compared to the

mockery made of me in our kitchen during my convalescence back home. Getting a

coffee mug, a water glass, or the garlic powder required Calvin’s assistance. I quickly realized the absurdity of a kitchen with half of its storage out of my reach and vowed to delete the step stool from my list of top five kitchen tools.

On a Pre-Injury Vineyard Tour

Calvin agreed with my decree and made his own request. If my height challenges were a

consideration, his should also be accommodated with a set of lofty skylights that would

bring sunlight and visual relief to the otherwise low ceilings and cozy den-like spaces of our mid-century home.

With these design challenges in mind, we got to work finding alternative opportunities for

culinary storage: a working kitchen, or scullery; accessible wall-mounted solutions like racks and rails; and expanded dining space storage. We traded the typical kitchen island chandelier or pendant fixture for a large continuous skylight shaft. We crafted a truly

custom kitchen that complemented our home and responded creatively to our family’s


What is customization in home design?

Design and construction codes and standards exist to ensure that every home is built to a certain level of quality and safety. However, design and construction conventions are often

informed by precedent rather than a specific response to the unique convergence of client

and site in a specific season of life.

Home is a backdrop for childhood, a springboard for travel, and a refuge for healing. Your home should uniquely support your life and encourage the lifestyle to which you aspire. This won’t look the same for your neighbor as it does for you.

True customization isn’t the selection of a counter and cabinet style from a limited list of

options. It might mean describing the way it felt to prepare meals in a centuries-old Villa during a semester abroad and working with an expert to bring the richest aspects of that feeling to your own home. It may involve incorporating hobby spaces in “front-of-house” locations so cherished pursuits can be enjoyed in fellowship rather than isolation. It may require that a kitchen window doubles as a birding blind, so mundane dishwashing doesn’t mean missing out on the magical Cedar Waxwings of Late Winter and the vibrant Indigo Buntings of Spring.

Customization engages the homeowner in a reflective exploratory process. It establishes

the elements of function and beauty that will make a house feel like home and considers

how those elements will shape life.

The Role of a Design-Build Firm in Customization

The Design-Build model is uniquely suited to customization. Great Design-Build teams

welcome the challenge of intriguing sites and unorthodox client requests while shirking the

constraint of unnecessary convention. The entire home construction and renovation

process is guided by thoughtful, creative problem solvers with a genuine commitment to

realizing the client’s concept of home. That commitment ensures that inevitable budget or

supply chain related construction roadblocks don’t derail the project.

We’ve always enjoyed the benefit of an in-house Design-Build team. I got my kitchen

without upper cabinets and retired my step-stool to a closet across the house. Calvin got his skylights, which wash the kitchen island in sunlight. The space is uniquely suited to our family in this season of life, accommodating catered events as well as it accommodates

homework hour.

We completed the renovation in 2021, when construction supply chain

issues were widespread. It seemed an insurmountable task to expediently source the

window at our kitchen sink, the largest operable piece of uninterrupted glass that would fit

in the available space. I feared we wouldn’t meet all of our goals. Suppliers suggested

lesser alternatives but we were faithful to the design intent, so we creatively rearranged

sequencing and schedule as we awaited the window’s arrival.

In late March, after we completed the renovation, I was washing dishes at that window when a flock of Cedar Waxwings made their annual visit to our garden. I dried my hands and stepped onto the terrace to greet them, feeling gratitude that I hadn’t missed this lovely symbol of the end of Winter and the coming of Spring. Then I got back to work at my birding blind window in our kitchen that is authentically and uniquely a representation of us.

CW Design Works: A Carolinas Design-Build Firm

The CW Design Works team loves providing clients with the same exceptional design and top-tier construction services we've used to customize our own home. We enjoy helping our clients craft thoughtfully designed and constructed homes that encourage a rich engagement with life. Get in touch with us to design and build your unique space.

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