Photographer Thomas Kuoh has seen a lot of kitchens through his work. So when it was time to renovate his home kitchen, he knew exactly what details make a major impact. Austin Shaw of 3 Lights Designs in Berkeley, CA helped Thomas and his wife, Jill, work through differing visions for the space. The result is a modern Moroccan dream kitchen.

What was your inspiration for the kitchen/dining area?
There were several different sources of inspiration for our kitchen. First is the house we live in. It has a lot of history. It was built in 1930’s as a part of “A lane in Spain” development; a group of 35 Spanish style artisanal bungalows, each with it’s own floor plan and special features. The previous owners took great care in restoring the home to much of its original glory. We felt a great deal of responsibility to do it right. We wanted the design of our kitchen to fit into the rest of the house. There’s a lot of custom hand hammered black ironwork throughout the house, blackened wood beams, white plastered walls, quarter-sawn oak floors and beautiful arches. This gave us the color palette to work from: black and white with brass accents.

We knew we needed some ethnic flair. The obvious choice was Spanish or Mediterranean. But we weren’t really into the colorful talavera or terra cotta tile look. We wanted something cleaner, less in-your-face. That’s when we turned to Morocco for inspiration. We felt that the modern Moroccan design aesthetic was really beautiful. By using rich geometric patterns in a monochromatic way, we can create an ethereal feeling that brings calm to the heart of the home. It was very important to us that the design be “timeless.” With that in mind, we kept things simple, letting function drive form, and letting a simple color palette become the bold statement.

Another source of inspiration is my job. I am an advertising photographer and shoot for many amazing interior designers and architects. My exposure to their style and design approach helped in my own ability to put together a cohesive design that worked.

You see so many kitchens, how did this inform your process when designing your own?
Having photographed and been in so many amazing kitchens, I’ve definitely have developed my own preferences. Our budget was not on par with the multi-million dollar homes I shoot. But I knew I could employ a few simple tricks to have the look without breaking the bank. For example, we went with a simple shaker style cabinet that was pre-fab. But to avoid the pre-fab look, I worked with our contractor to design finishing touches that gave the final cabinet install a custom look.

We also chose to spend money on things that really mattered. We splurged on Ann Sacks Tiles, Ashley Norton handles and pulls, custom walnut island top, extra thick mitered marble edge and quartersawn irregular plank oak floors with walnut plugs (to match the rest of the house). There is a weight to it all – the feel of the solid cast brass pulls, the allure of the 2 inch thick slab of yummy walnut – these choices combined to give the kitchen a substantial feel.

To create this space, you removed several walls. What were the challenges of the space before and how does the kitchen/dining area better function now?
The area was taken up by three little spaces, a breakfast nook, small kitchen and a walk-in pantry. It was like a maze and two people hardly fit in the kitchen any one time. The breakfast nook was our office, and half of it was kitchen overflow stuff. We have two young kids and it was very difficult to be isolated in the kitchen and trying to parent at the same time. There was a lot of yelling just to communicate. We dreamed of having a more open concept and have the kids be more involved.

With the island now and the open floor plan, we can spend time with the kids and still get the food out and dishes done. My wife is a chef and we spend a lot of time cooking and cleaning. And now she doesn’t feel so locked away or claustrophobic.