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Express Yourself: 5 East Bay Kitchens Speak Volumes About Their Owners

oaklandmag-imgIt Takes a Village

Cindy Flinn and Andy Nadler bought their 1904 Piedmont house for its potential, and their small L-shaped kitchen was in dire need of living up to that potential. With some modest upgrades, the family lived with the cumbersome space for a decade. “I wasn’t in any hurry,” explains Flinn. “I was more concerned about getting the job done right.”

It wasn’t until Flinn began renovating rental properties that she had the confidence to tackle her own kitchen improvement. When she was ready, she called in Oakland architect Grier Graff, AIA, to completely reshape the kitchen — into a functional rectangle. As the project began, Flinn asked everyone who walked in her front door for an opinion. She steered away from copying her previous rental designs and set out for a vibrant new look. During this time, Flinn became fast friends with fellow mom and Oakland-based architect Rebecca Schnier, AIA. Flinn and Schnier pored over the drawings as their daughters played in the other room. “Rebecca gave me great ideas,” says Flinn, “as well as the confidence to speak up when things weren’t as I wanted them to be.”

In the end, the kitchen took about a year and a half to complete, but Flinn — who doubled as the contractor, hiring her favorite subcontractors from projects past — encouraged the slow pace so she could consult with her trusted pals, including Walnut Creek–based kitchen designer Pam Sherman over each detail. “I credit Graff Architects for the general picture and my friends for making the kitchen sing.”
Such details include windows on three walls allowing all-day sun, honed Carrera marble counters, custom cabinets by Matt Longden of San Ramon, a fireplace with a slate surround for cool days, a beech dining table from Room & Board matched with celadon chairs from Knoll that play off the lemony green walls chosen by color consultant Lois Wachner-Soloman, and a colorful window bench inspired by yet another friend’s beach house that has become the most sought-after seat in the joint.

Other touches that add up to some of Flinn’s favorite aspects are the frosted glass on the upper cabinets and the limited number of upper cabinets. “Rebecca suggested I allow space for art, and I’m so happy we did,” says Flinn, showing off the paintings created by her now-adult daughter, Molly.

Interior designer Michael Friedes, inspired by the open and airy design of the kitchen, styled it to complement the fresh feeling that pervades the space. “This was definitely a team effort,” says Flinn, “and I couldn’t be happier with the results.”

Architect: Grier Graff, AIA, Graff Architects, Oakland
Consulting: Rebecca Schnier, AIA, Rebecca Schnier Architecture, Oakland
Kitchen Designer: Pam Sherman, Walnut Creek
Color Consulting: Lois Wachner-Soloman, Piedmont
Interior Designer: Michael Friedes, Montclair
Photographer: Deborah Sherman, Oakland

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Adeeni Design Group

And the winner is Michael Friedes!

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The “Maxwellton” collection for Baldwin designed by Michael Friedes (Image: courtesy of Michael Friedes)

I love designing custom pieces for clients.  More often than not it is the small details that really make the difference, and decorative hardware on a piece of furniture can have a very big impact.  Knobs and pulls are the jewelry on casegoods.  Generally we choose from the millions of selections provided to us, generally designed for kitchen and bath cabinets.  But once in a while, when the budget allows, we may also get the opportunity to design special pulls and knobs for a piece and have them cast in a small quantity.

Conceptual sketches for “Maxwellton” collection (Drawings: by Michael Friedes)

But how exciting is it to know that the hardware you designed will also be on hundreds of thousands of dressers, armoires and side boards, as well as kitchen and bath cabinets?  One such lucky interior designer is  my friend and colleague Michael Friedes who beat out  countless talented designers and took home the grand prize at Baldwin’s national hardware design competition.  Designers from around the country were asked to create an original line of luxury kitchen and bath hardware to win their very own Baldwin collection.  Michael was one of the two finalists and was chosen as the winner at the International Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas last week.  Designs by both Michael and the other finalist, New York designer Kathryn Scott, were on display at the show, and attendees voted on their favorite design.

Collections by Michael Friedes and Kathryn Scott (Image: courtesy of Michael Friedes)

The happy winner with his collection at the KBIS (Photo: courtesy of Michael Friedes)

Michael’s inspiration came from jewelry of the 1930s, especially chain link necklaces and bracelets, the kinds of pieces that combine both modern and traditional designs and also have masculine as well as feminine qualities.  This does not come as a surprise to me considering that Michael’s father Harry Friedes was a prominent menswear textile designer who was known for his elegance and display of sartorial splendor.  I have first-hand knowledge that the apple has not fallen far from the tree, and I am certain that the “Maxwellton” collection will be not only a stunning but also very popular addition to Baldwin’s cabinet hardware collection.

Bracelets the were the inspiration for the hardware collection (Photo: courtesy of Michael Friedes)

The collection will soon be available around the country. The pieces are so fab, who knows, there may be a even a waiting list. Congratulations to the multi-talented Michael Friedes!



Michael Friedes’ Love of Design Becomes Career

sfgate-imgDespite a childhood that included devising his own window treatments, creating vignettes in his room and even going so far as to persuade his parents to move just so they could redecorate, Michael Friedes’ first chosen profession was not interior design. “I always thought of design as a love,” he said, “not a career.”

After graduating from New York University, Friedes worked in the film industry and then at Giorgio Armani in sales and merchandising. In 1991, he bought an apartment in his native New York. His friends were so impressed with his decor, they solicited his opinion for their homes. He soon had a side business that turned into his own design practice.

In 2002, Friedes moved to San Francisco to take a job with Pottery Barn. After less than a year, he returned to his love: interior design. These days, in addition to client projects, he’s enjoying product design and developing an art catalog.

According to Friedes, design is 50 percent creativity and envisioning. The other 50 percent? “It’s psychology – trying to read people,” he said. “At the core, people know what they like. You just have to pull it out of them.”

The Friedes cheat sheet

The big picture: “I once had a client who got really nervous after her living room was painted. I explained to her that it was just the first step of the process. There was still the window treatments, rug, furniture, artwork and accessories. I equated it to dressing for a big event; it is not just about the dress, but also your hair, shoes and jewelry. After the room was complete, she called to tell me how much she loved the room – especially the paint color!”

Eco-chic: “A big new look is what I call ‘eco-chic.’ Eco-chic is furniture that is mostly made of reclaimed woods with burnished metal accents. The pieces are designed with such clean lines. Some have industrial wheels or hardware, as well as cerused finishes on the woods, that make them so unique and interesting. It offers a whole new twist on modernism, and the end result is a warm and textural look that can slip into most interiors effortlessly.”

Dining-room double duty: “Dining rooms are no longer just for eating. I like to put this under-utilized room to work. Place a computer armoire in there and use it as your home office. I love the Cyril from Ikea for only $199. I do all kinds of projects on my dining table – from art projects with the kids to photo sorting. I have a friend who transforms his dining table into a pingpong table with a kit available at Perpetual Kid. How fun!” (,

Color my world: “As a colorist, I look at the nuances of a color and how it will play into an overall design scheme and feel of a space. Some of my favorites are what I call ‘color without color’ – such as subtle variations of sea foam, khaki, honey and gray. A few that I love to work with are Benjamin Moore’s Mellowed Ivory, Sag Harbor Gray, Prescott Green, Mushroom Cap and Desert Tan.”

The layered look: “I am always talking with my clients about layering their rooms. I love to mix in different woods, finishes and materials. It immediately gives a design character and adds a texture to a room that makes it interesting. Mix in dark and light woods, stone, glass and metal, as they all play off each other when executed with a fine hand.”


Adeeni Design Group

Visit SFLuxe for a chance to win additional tickets for Dining by Design

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“Talk of the Town” by Michael Friedes Design in 2010 (Photo: ES Creation)

For all my local readers and those planning to visit San Francisco mid November here is a chance to win additional tickets for San Francisco’s most over-the-top and not to be missed design event DIFFA’s Dining by Design on November 16th.   SFLuxe is raffling off two additional tickets for attendees of the Table Hop & Taste event.  Check out my preview of the event, and follow instructions on the bottom to sign up for the raffle.

Good luck, and I hope to see you all there!


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