August 2, 2021

Kitchen Remodeling with Karen Swanson


Wolf range in Karen Swanson’s 2013 award-winning kitchen.

 Karen Swanson has come a long way since she entered her first kitchen remodeling project in Clarke’s Sub-Zero & Wolf Kitchen Design Contest in 2013, just two years after opening her business. Her stunning transformation of a 1950s kitchen that lived inside a home built in the 1800s brought her to the attention of a panel of international design judges. In a sea of 1600 designers from around the world, Karen Swanson was the second place winner for New England and represented the region in Sub-Zero and Wolf’s national awards.

In less than 10 years, she has quietly and methodically built a loyal following of homeowners and a list of design honors that have solidly catapulted her into national prominence. In 2020 alone, her work was featured as “Kitchen of the Month” in House Beautiful, her projects won both 1st and 3rd place in the NKBA Design Competition, she was named “Best Kitchen Designer of 2020” by Boston Magazine and she garnered the prestigious Kitchen & Bath Design News “Top Innovator” distinction, an accolade that Clarke President Sean Clarke received in the inaugural “Innovators” list in 2017.

What’s Karen’s Kitchen Remodeling Secret?Karen Swanson’s recent bar design incorporates Sub-Zero refrigeration.

While she browses Instagram, Pinterest and all of her clients’ favorite Internet sites to see what both homeowners and her fellow designers are talking about, Karen Swanson’s approach to kitchen remodeling is unique, “I try to stay away from doing things that skew toward trendy. I don’t want the work I do to have a time stamp on it. Each client is so different in terms of how much color, pattern or texture they will tolerate, so I try to tailor my approach based on the unique needs of each client. I also love to honor the architectural details of a home and prefer a light touch with regard to the design.”

For instance, she “doesn’t like to blanket the walls with kitchen cabinets.” You can appreciate this objective when you look through her portfolio. She loves cabinet hardware that feels curated and she strives for the perfect lighting choices, rather than fixtures you might see all over the Internet. In addition, Karen likes to introduce artwork and unique bold strokes when her clients agree that it is valuable to their vision of the space.

Karen Swanson’s Take on Appliances

In a recent kitchen remodeling project, Karen Swanson incorporates Sub-Zero column refrigeration and freezer drawers. “I specify Sub-Zero and Wolf all the time and love all of the products,” she shared. “If I had to pick one appliance as my favorite, I would say Sub-Zero Column Refrigeration. I love all the options and the various sizes allow me to solve design challenges while not giving up on cubic capacity.”

Karen has also been including the Wolf Convection Steam Oven in a lot of projects. “My clients love having a second oven and this one allows a totally different style of cooking that serves them so well.”

After living 19 years in Manchester, Massachusetts, Karen recently moved to a new home in East Gloucester with the harbor in her backyard. “I went very neutral on the interior design,” she explains, so that she could allow the light and views to be the main feature. “The tones are soft and serene as well as matte and natural. I have quite a bit of original art and I have plants EVERYWHERE!” She chose to outfit her own kitchen with a 30” Sub-Zero Column Refrigerator with separate freezer drawers, a Wolf Contemporary Gas Cooktop, Wolf M Series Oven and Cove Dishwasher. She calls the M Series Oven “an amazing machine” and says she “loves her cooktop so much!” As for the newest addition to the Sub-Zero and Wolf family of brands, she says her Cove Dishwasher “honestly cleans the dishes better than any other dishwasher I’ve ever had.”

While there was no testimonial expected for this post, Karen offered that, “Having all of these wonderful appliances myself and knowing how easy it is to function in my kitchen, it’s easy for me to specify these appliances for my clients.”

Karen Swanson’s kitchen remodeling wraps Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances in pure art.

What’s on the Horizon?

According to Karen Swanson, it seems the kitchen remodeling fascination with all white kitchens is starting to wane. She says her clients are showing a propensity for other colors and more individual choices. “One of my favorite things to do is to give the architecture of the home it’s moment – for instance, I like to expand window openings for natural light. This can mean that upper cabinet storage is sacrificed, but I’m finding that clients are willing to forego the upper cabinets in favor of interesting architectural choices.”

Karen is looking forward to opening her new studio/showroom space on Broadway in Somerville this fall. Surely this is one more way she is letting more homeowners know about the secret to her success: a kitchen that is super functional and that is also really beautiful in a unique way and reflective of the client’s goals. “In my opinion,” she says, “that’s best achieved when the form/function equation finds that perfect delicate balance. Sometimes that takes a bit of pushing back that, in the end, the clients appreciate.”

Her most recent project photography wasn’t available at this time, so we’ll share that project – and details of her new showroom – as soon as they are available.

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New England Design Works
Principal: Karen Swanson