Asheville Interior Designer Proves That A Great Kitchen Focuses As Much On How It Feels As How It Looks

Posted on | March 1, 2016 | No Comments

A really exceptional living space goes beyond good design principles, and beyond beautiful selections. It has an intrinsic, intangible and unique quality – a kind of energy you can sense from the moment you enter. Asheville interior designer Shawn Merkel of Align Design, LLC is adept at creating this quality in each space she designs – even when the space she designs is her own. Shawn talked with North Carolina Design about how she achieved this in her own dream kitchen. Along the way, we learned more about her design philosophy and how her eclectic and storied background made her the designer she is today.

Images Courtesy of Align Design, LLC ©

“I think sometimes in life you take a winding path and while you’re on it you don’t see how things will eventually come full circle,” reflects Shawn. “I wanted to go into interior design right out of high school. But at the time it wasn’t seen as a serious career, so I pursued a fine arts degree instead. Then I started a family and to help support them, I worked as a personal chef for several years.”

“Once my kids were grown, I decided to pursue an interior design degree. To support myself through school I became a Reiki massage therapist. I think all of my different pursuits have given me skills and insights as a designer that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. Studying art gave me an appreciation of form. Practicing Reiki massage and learning Feng Shui helped me tune in to the energy different people and different spaces possess. Even the psychology classes I took have helped me understand what motivates my clients.”

Shawn takes an intuitive approach to design, and focuses as much on how a space feels as how it looks. “There’s a quality – an energy – that goes beyond appearance,” she says. “You can always sense when something is off, even if nothing is obviously wrong. A space should feel right. You should inhabit and move through it comfortably. Your eye should know what it’s supposed to look at – it should stop, rest a little, move on, then stop again.”

Shawn applied these principles to her own kitchen, which was desperately in need of renovation. “The house was built in the 1920′s,” Shawn notes. “It spent decades as a rental property, and it really needed some TLC. The kitchen, specifically, was very small and had no counter space. The layout was chopped up – the chimney bisected one wall, and there was no cupboard space and no space around the cooktop.”

“After working as a chef in so many bad kitchens, I know what it takes to create a really functional space. I still love to cook, and to entertain. So we created one big space that flows out into the back deck. The island has wheels and no fixed cabinetry, so I can pull it out and put it back when necessary. The table opens up to seat 12. It’s a really versatile kitchen – it’s all open, but it feels like individual zones, so everyone always feels comfortable.”

The kitchen’s style is serene and inviting, yet eclectic and intriguing. “I like to mix and match,” notes Shawn. “I feel that it makes a design unique and gives it more longevity. Here, I wanted to go with an industrial style, but with a lighter touch. I balanced the stronger, harder lines with warm woods and organic edges. The chandelier is one of my favorite elements. I think it adds such elegance and artistry. And when the morning sun hits it, it looks as though it’s illuminated.”

One of Shawn’s favorite elements of the kitchen is the beautiful open shelving. “I was a little afraid to put open cupboards in my house,” she concedes. “I’ve found that they force you be more intentional. You don’t keep anything on the shelf that you don’t need and use all the time. I actually think that’s a really good reflection of my design philosophy – living intentionally in each space, so that it fits who you are and feels comfortable and right.”

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