From Smart to Finish


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Studio Becker adorned this master bedroom with gorgeous engineered wood veneer wall paneling, and created a sleek coordinating dresser with plentiful organized interior storage.

Anyone who’s visited the showrooms of new luxury properties in kaka‘ako cannot help but notice a new sleekness and integration in kitchens and baths. Cabinetry and appliances are no longer clunky and utilitarian, meant to be hidden away behind walls and sliding doors.

More than likely, those state-of-the-art rooms were designed by Studio Becker, long a force in luxury cabinetry and millwork.

“We are working with all the major developers,” says Sanford Hasegawa, the man behind Studio Becker in the Hawaiian Islands. Hasegawa, who is himself tastefully elegant, is a trained architect whose discreet work already can be seen in many of the city’s luxury retail stores.

Hasegawa sees a recent surge from interior designers to interpret what is luxury for Hawai‘i today. “What we do at Studio Becker is give designers new options. Everyone is pushing the envelope today.”

What he sees is a trend to a contemporary, organic look. But don’t be mistaken. This is not your parents’ organic—circa 1970. “Organic” today is clean-lined and often constructed of man-made materials. The new look consists of a lot of metallic and aluminum finishes paired with reflective surfaces, such as glass.

While people still like the look of marble, that “marble” is more than likely man-made. Before you object, Hasegawa will point to its real advantages: easy care and design consistency. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to match and care for real marble?” He sees this switch most often in countertops.

The same thing is occurring with wood finishes. He challenges anyone to tell the difference. What faux wood gives you is an ability to get a wider range of hues and next to no maintenance. On the walls of the Studio Becker showroom are both glossy and matte, hand-rubbed samples of wood and other materials that will make any grown man drool. (They are so shamelessly tactile.) A strong trend is toward lacquered, white finishes on countertops, combined with wood and glass cabinetry.

What clients are looking for are ideas, says Hasegawa, who tries to work with a client’s lifestyle as much as design. What may first look like pure gadgetry is all done in seriousness. “We try to determine how a client really lives. Is his morning coffee the most important part of his day? How does he entertain? Does he need a place to store his wine? Is there a place for her shoes? The first thing we do is gather information.”

LED lighting definitely has taken hold because of its long life, low power usage and the fact that it doesn’t provide added heat. At Studio Becker, the trend is toward in-case lighting in drawers and pantries. When a door opens, the lights go on to make finding what you need that much easier.

“We want to enhance people’s lifestyle, not just have something that looks pretty. It needs to make perfect sense,” Hasegawa says.

This particularly is true in new appliances, where he sees a real push to such processes as induction cooking: a magnetic process requiring an entirely new set of pots and pans. When the metal pot touches the stove’s surface, the area immediately heats. Take the pot away, and the area almost instantly cools.

Appliance trends are being driven today by European companies such as Miele, whose engineers have developed new steam and convection ovens. In a recent breadmaking challenge, chefs made loaves of bread in a steam oven and then asked in a taste test to guess whether the bread was made by steam or regular commercial methods. If you guessed they couldn’t tell the difference, you are right.

Europeans are extremely sensitive to the environment and have more of a consciousness when it comes to producing products that are not harmful to it, he adds.

In Hawai‘i, Hasegawa says, it’s always about storage, storage, storage. He tries to convince clients that ergonomics and the proper cabinetry are equally important. For example, you can use less cabinetry if you engineer cabinets to function better by adding mechanisms within the cabinetry to use space to utmost efficiency. Drawers stack dishes and glasses. Cabinets have shelves that are layered and pull out. It not only looks pretty, he says, but it makes perfect sense.

He also is seeing more space allotted to refrigeration. This means refrigerated drawers integrated on the exterior to the rest of the cabinetry, not merely a second free-standing refrigerator.

People cook less today, Hasegawa says. The kitchen is more of a convenience used for warming up food. However, he does recognize that’s not true for everyone. Either way, making life easier is utmost in his mind.

One of the things Studio Becker leads the pack in is introducing new materials and techniques gleaned from the luxury retail market. For many years, Hasegawa, wearing his architect hat and working under the radar, created every detail for high-end retail stores. What he learned, in terms of integration of detail, new materials and lighting, has served him well at Studio Becker.

If you are choosing to upgrade, expect to budget $50,000-$100,000 for a modest condominium kitchen. A state of the art one will more likely fall into the $100,000-plus range.

More is not necessarily better, Hasegawa cautions. Using new techniques, and the judicious blending of exotic materials with lower-priced ones, can give great visual impact while controlling cost. Studio Becker works with the client and their designer to showcase what’s possible—and then lets them choose. In some cases, they work with a client from the beginning, helping with a new layout and budget. Installation is then done by recommended contractors they trust to handle the products properly.

Whether you’re looking for a total kitchen and bath remodel, or just a few new tricks to bring your home or apartment into the 21st century, it pays to explore options offered by a leader in the field.

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