Home & Garden

Lessons learned from Joe Kwon’s dream kitchen

During parties, everyone congregates around the 10-foot island in Kwon’s kitchen.
During parties, everyone congregates around the 10-foot island in Kwon’s kitchen. jleonard@newsobserver.com

Joe Kwon, the rock star cellist of The Avett Brothers, got to do what every obsessive home cook dreams about: design his own kitchen.

Kwon and his wife, Emily Meineke, moved into their new home earlier this year: a modernist house within walking distance of downtown Raleigh.

The couple bought the lot in February 2014, broke ground last summer and moved into the 2,000-square-foot house in January. Craig Kerins and Robby Johnston of The Raleigh Architecture Co. took the couple’s wish list and vision and turned it into reality by designing and building the home. (Kwon and Meineke are having a big year; they also got married in March.)

Kwon is well known as a food lover and avid home cook. For years, he maintained a photo-heavy food blog, Taste on Tour, that chronicled his food adventures at home and on the road with the Concord-based band. He became the band’s designated meal planner, searching out interesting, cheap restaurants on tour.

After six months in his new kitchen, Kwon agreed to share his advice for those pondering kitchen renovations or dreaming about designing their own ultimate culinary space.

“I learned that nothing ever stays in budget,” joked Kwon, standing on a recent Tuesday morning in the gleaming, open kitchen. He added: “That’s not true. What you want at the beginning of a project isn’t what you want at the end of a project.”

No doubt about it, Kwon is happy with the result: “It’s exactly like I envisioned it.”

Kitchen Loves

Open shelving. “It forces us to be neat,” Kwon said. Plus, he added: “A lot of our college dishware got thrown out.”

Extra space between island and counters. Kwon wanted extra room between the counters and the island so several people could cook and prep food at the same time. It worked. The couple recently had a dinner party, and three couples cooked together in the kitchen.

Oven away from the stovetop. That way, Kwon said, you don’t have to ask someone who is cooking at the stovetop to move so you can put something in the oven.

Beer refrigerator. “We have lots of parties,” explained Kwon, who wanted guests to have a place to put their beer without having to crowd the refrigerator. They bought a Kenmore 4.6-cubic-foot beverage center.

Easy-to-clean surfaces. Kwon loves how easy it is to clean the kitchen during and after cooking with Ikea high-gloss drawers and kitchen cabinets and a subway tile backsplash behind the dishwashing area.

A 10-foot island. During parties, everyone congregates in the kitchen. “Everyone wants to talk to you while you are cooking,” Kwon said. There’s room for everyone to gather around Kwon’s Korean-made Tiffany Grey HanStone quartz-topped 10-foot island.

Lessons Learned

Forget the griddle. Kwon wishes he had chosen the six-burner stovetop, instead of four burners and a griddle. “I don’t like cleaning the griddle top,” he said.

Go with dimmer lights. The kitchen lighting is so bright that Kwon wishes they had installed dimmer lights to tone down the lighting during dinner parties.

Beware of a big exhaust fan and a fireplace. Kwon said they learned the hard way that the exhaust fan over their stovetop is so strong that it will pull smoke from the fireplace into the living room when both are in use at the same time. “I don’t think there’s a remedy other than don’t have a fireplace,” he said.

Think twice about stainless. If he had to do it over, Kwon said he would likely not choose stainless steel appliances. He hates having to constantly clean them. “It’s such a pain,” he said.