October 2, 2022

HOUSTON, TX — ‘Different.’ That was the guidance Ayca Stiffel received from her clients with regard to the design of their new construction home in Tomball, TX.

“We were involved in the project from the ground up,” says the senior interior designer with By Design Interiors in Houston, TX, who collaborated with home builder Morning Star Builders and architect Scennett Design. 

“Our client knew she wanted something ‘different’…something she hadn’t seen before,” she continues. “Initially, she wasn’t sure what that meant, but after exploring a variety of options for stones, finishes and textures, the true identity of their home began to emerge. By trusting us and giving us the freedom to push the boundaries of design, were able to be innovative and think outside of the ‘ordinary’ to include some unique features. It turned into the perfect project where vision, taste, floor plan…and budget…all came together to create a beautiful home.”

As part of the directive, her clients wanted their home to reflect their love of travel, cooking and entertaining. All came into play in several rooms of the home, such as the kitchen as well as a temperature-controlled wine room and a bar/game room (see sidebar below). 

Weaving common threads throughout all the spaces, Stiffel showcased elements that are edgy and industrial, yet warm and organic. In the kitchen, that is exemplified by the focal- point custom ventilation hood, crafted from waxed Corten steel by local artisan Alberto Bonomi at HandMadeInTexas.

“Corten steel patinas over time, taking on a life of its own,” the designer indicates. “It can’t necessarily be controlled. I could have done a shiny stainless steel vent hood, but l loved the rawness of the steel for this kitchen because it offers an edginess and depth that I wanted. When done right, it can really set a space apart.”

Complementary metal details are echoed throughout the kitchen via silver-toned Curry & Company pendants above the island and Top Knobs hardware – including nature-inspired appliance pulls – that accent the cabinetry. A Black Nickel Waterstone Faucets articulated plumbing fixture enhances the industrial vibe, as does the Banker Wire antiqued brass metal mesh inserts in the wall cabinets that immediately flank the ventilation hood.

“We wanted to ‘amp’ up the cabinetry with some interesting details,” she explains in reference to the mesh. “We also carried that mesh detail into the bar/game room, the mud room and the library. I like to have continuity in my designs so it feels like you’re in the same house as you move from room to room.” 

Stiffel positioned the mesh-accented cabinets and ventilation hood against a backdrop of crackle gray Roca Tile subway tile as the backsplash above the Wolf range. Laid in a stacked pattern, it supports a modern, minimalistic design vibe.

“I love the format of the tile…its size, length and height,” she says. “Good design has so much to do with proportions, and this tile is proportioned perfectly to make the space look beautiful. The tile also has some undulations, but it doesn’t detract from everything else that is happening in the kitchen.”

A columnar Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer, discreetly hidden behind cabinetry panels, complete the focal-point wall.

Ayca Stiffel topped the island with Cielo quartzite, which functionally addresses the need for a durable work surface and aesthetically offers gradations of whites and grays mixed with blue, the client’s favorite color. Leathering the stone’s surface give it added depth and dimension as well as a greater ability to hide imperfections. — Photo: French Blue Photography

Showcasing the beauty of stone

At the kitchen’s center, the island’s deeply stained base contrasts against the brighter perimeter cabinetry and echoes the ceiling detail above. Stiffel topped the island with Cielo quartzite, which functionally addresses the need for a durable work surface and aesthetically offers gradations of whites and grays mixed with blue, the client’s favorite color. 

“Often, my starting point for a whole house includes a visit to the slab yard to pick out stone,” she says, adding that, in addition to the kitchen, natural stone is featured in a variety of places within the home, including as the fireplace façade in the family room, which is visible from the kitchen. “I love it when clients fall in love with the beauty of a stone. I get excited looking at slabs…40, 50 or even 100 of them…until one speaks to us.”

The designer leathered the stone’s surface to give it added depth and dimension as well as a greater ability to hide imperfections.

“I think a leathered finish also makes it easier to appreciate the organic nature of the stone so it isn’t just another surface,” she adds.

Stiffel also gave the island a unique twist by including a waterfall edge on just one side.

“Who does a single-sided waterfall?” she blissfully queries, adding that this design decision was another scenario where her client placed trust in her creative suggestions. “The side of the island with the waterfall opens into the dining room, and I would much rather showcase the beautiful stone than the side of the cabinetry. And, the waterfall leads the eye to the dining area, defining a transition from room to room. The opposite side, without the waterfall, satisfies functional needs and is where I included outlets.”

The addition of a walnut tray, crafted by Jim Farris Cabinets, stretches the depth of the island and ‘hugs’ each edge to ingeniously conceal the seam in the stone countertop.

“We turned it into a design detail that brings another organic element into the space,” she relates. “Our clients can use the tray for serving cheese or fruit, etc. It’s another nice element that plays up the asymmetry of the island.”

As a complement to the quartzite, Stiffel included honed soapstone as the perimeter’s work surface.

“Our client loves soapstone, so we knew we needed to include it somewhere in the kitchen,” she says. “Since it’s a softer stone, we used it for the perimeter along the window wall and next to the range.” ▪


Consistent and Complementary

Since Ayca Stiffel was involved in the design of the entire home, she could weave consistent and complementary elements throughout all the rooms to tie them together.

For example, like the kitchen, the temperature- controlled wine room showcases natural stone…this time a piece of white onyx. Stiffel backlit the striking accent for added interest and drama, as well as illumination for the room, which stores her clients’ extensive wine collection, some of which was acquired from their travels.

Photo: French Blue Photography

“Our client fell in love with the stone, which is actually a remnant from a broken slab,” she says. “It inspired the entire design for the room.

“I’ve seen many wine rooms,” she continues. “Often they’re plain wood or cut stone with a lot of metal. But I wanted the warmth of walnut from the cabinetry [crafted by Jim Farris Cabinets] and natural stone to give it an organic feel.”

Stiffel also carried several kitchen elements into the bar/game room, including the antiqued brass metal mesh from Banker Wire. Here, she used it as accents in the wall cabinets as well as the side panels.

Photo: French Blue Photography

“I wanted the cabinetry to look good from every angle!” she says.

Building on the industrial vibe, Stiffel once again called upon metal artisan Alberto Bonomi. In this room, he crafted the island’s Corten steel skirting, foot bar and bar frame as well as the unique sliding mesh door that glides along a track across the open metal wall shelving.

“My client can roll it over different parts of the shelving, revealing and concealing different areas,” she explains.

Jim Farris Cabinets supplied the live-edge walnut bar top that complements the honed soapstone used as the rest of the countertop surfaces.

Gray subway tile sheaths the wall and picks up on the gray and taupe porcelain parallelogram tiles in the floor, which is laid in an eye-catching geometric pattern.