December 2021


When James Veal and Christine Stucker, the married cofounders behind design firm Stewart-Schäfer, first stepped foot in a young couple’s Nyack, New York, kitchen, the pair started eyeing each other across the room. “I could tell both our brains were spinning about what it could be,” recalls Stucker. As Veal describes it, the 450-square-foot space was stuck in the 1980s—think: faux marble floor tiles, a (sort of) octagonal island, and plasticky white cabinets. “There’s good vintage, and this was not that,” adds Stucker.

Coming up with a new vision for the dated space was the easy part. The challenge: They had three months to do it. The homeowners, former Manhattanites who moved upstate in search of more space and peace and quiet, were expecting their first child. “We felt the pressure,” says Veal. “There were a few sleepless nights.” Fortunately, the couple started out their careers designing retail stores, so they know how to stick to a hard deadline. With no spare days for second-guessing, they took the space in a modern, ’60s California–meets–Japandi direction.

Even though the kitchen was open-concept and offered views of the adjacent living area, the layout felt disjointed thanks to the fact that the floors were mismatched (everywhere else but the kitchen was red oak). “It was a separate entity,” recalls Veal. So after refinishing the hardwood floors elsewhere to get rid of their orangey, glossy polyurethane coating, the designers matched it in the kitchen, buying fresh planks and coating everything in a white-tinted seal. Similar to salvaging some of the home’s flooring on the main level, keeping the arched window and half-wall by the back door (which ultimately creates a cozy dining nook) turned out to be budget saves.

Wanting to give everything a refined look, the designers gutted the old cabinets and built custom ones out of water-based white rift oak. The wood doesn’t have a lot of movement in the grain, notes Veal, which is just what they needed to achieve that cleaned-up appearance (plus their fabricator matched up the grain on all the doors so it reads as cohesive). To ensure the doors can withstand heavy usage, the designers finish the fronts in their go-to (top-secret) finish, sourced from Germany, that promises nothing will fade over time.