By Peter Ricci
A few years into the new millennium, when the housing market was performing swimmingly and terms such as “subprime credit crisis” and “credit default swap” were found more in economic journals than evening newscasts, Christine Ingraham began playing around with a new, transformative idea for modern kitchen assembly. She had been running her own design firm, Fletcher Cameron Design, since 1990, crafting modern luxury kitchens for the high-end market, but Ingraham began to notice a pattern. Despite building preeminent kitchens that people loved, her products were inaccessible to a large number of people.
“Through the course of doing all this work, a lot of people would come into our offices and our showroom and love what we do, love what we did, but they just couldn’t afford it,” Ingraham said.
That realization led Ingraham to a pivotal question – why do modern kitchens not exist at an accessible price point? Ingraham spent the next few years considering the reality of such a proposal, and then finally, in the summer of 2011, Box Kitchen was born, a modern, elegant approach to custom kitchen design that is as much focused on simplicity and competitive pricing as it is on craftsmanship and materials. And after a sensational response on the East Coast, the company has a new showroom at Haute Living, located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood.
Ingraham said she wanted to maintain the integrity and versatility of Fletcher Cameron with Box Kitchen while streamlining the design and build process (she ultimately wants to offer products at half the cost of a custom kitchen), and to accomplish that, the company offers a wide array of design possibilities with an incredibly straightforward ordering mechanism. A small kitchen’s price range is from $6k to $12k, a medium kitchen is from $12k to $18k, and a large kitchen, $18k and up.
She presented a hypothetical: “Somebody could call us up and say, ‘I need three boxes, 36 inches wide, all doors; I need two boxes, 24 inches wide, three doors each; I want it made out of laminate.’” After that, Box Kitchen designs and builds the units to the client’s specifications and sends them to the client fully constructed.
The big goal of Box Kitchen, Ingraham said, was to simplify the luxury kitchen process, to make kitchens smart and simple; in a sense, she’s taking the convenience of IKEA and applying it to a modern, high-quality system; aside from custom designs, IKEA is the only major supplier offering full kitchen ensembles, and though Ingraham did not have the Swedish corporation in mind when she first thought of Box Kitchen, she now undoubtedly strives to better the company’s notoriously low-quality product line, and she’s doing them one better in the design process – by the end of the year, she’s hoping to launch a fully interactive online platform for Box Kitchen that will allow users to customize and visualize their dream kitchen.
But Ingraham also has substantial aesthetical and philosophical interests with Box Kitchen. Too often, she said, kitchens are designed hastily, with little regard for the design and functionality of the space; as a result, the kitchens are over designed and contain far too many cabinets and spaces than necessary, and homeowners use them more for long-term storage than as the practical, organic center of a home that Ingraham strives to create. With those excesses in mind, Ingraham emphasizes minimalism in her designs, creating kitchens with open atmospheres where every storage unit and counter is used to its maximum effect. She hopes, ultimately, that in pursuing such a vision that she will alter the public’s perception of kitchens.
“I want to change the way that people think about kitchens,” Ingraham said. “It’s daunting; the kitchen industry is enormous. Before the crash, it was a $60 billion industry … (and) it’s (still) an enormous industry, and it’s highly competitive.”
Ingraham, though, is in a uniquely fortuitous disposition to take on such challenges, as the child of two architects who met under perhaps the most auspicious of architectural environments. Her parents met at Taliesin, the Wisconsin studio of Frank Lloyd Wright. Her father was studying under the man, and her mother was the famed architect’s granddaughter. So if any designer has the competitive design spirit woven into their DNA, it’s Ingraham.