Melissa Koger Watson is thinking. She’s thinking finishes for that cabinetry box, finishes with exotic sounding names: driftwood, pearl, ceruse, moonstone, French blue crackle.

She’s thinking hardware. Hinges. Inset or overlaid doors. Layout, and whether or not to take down a wall.

Flooring and paint. Quartz versus marble versus granite. And especially “finished product,” and how a particular family will interact around particular elements in a welcoming kitchen or bathroom.

Such are the thoughts of the principal designer for Spartina Cabinetry & Design Consultants, a boutique firm whose showroom— a box itself—is in the business district of I’On in Mount Pleasant. There, the conference table is actually a kitchen island with a thick quartz top. A graceful wooden range hood hangs on the wall like artwork. Freestanding displays of jewel-like hardware are the accent pieces, and in every direction there are cabinet doors.

An Expert Eye

Once a designer for both residential and commercial projects, Watson has steadily narrowed her focus to kitchens and bathrooms. She’s stacked up degrees and credentials from Converse College, the American Society of Interior Designers and the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Spartina was founded more than eight years ago, and in 2015 the company gained its general contractor’s license, allowing its specialists to both design and carry out complete kitchen renovations— from pulling permits to tearing out and putting up walls.

The contractor’s license also makes Spartina a key player in new construction. “I’ve been complimented by many builders,” Watson notes with satisfaction. “A builder is looking for a designer to facilitate a project, not hold it up.” For example, Watson’s ability to navigate blueprints and “walk the job” in the various stages of construction means that she can spot potential problems before they become costly to solve.

“On paper, an electrical outlet might be located in the way of the cabinets. Wiring might be pulled in the wrong place for under-cabinet lighting. A gas line or a plumbing pipe might be in the wrong spot for the appliances or fixtures. If trimwork is starting, there has to be room for the casing once the cabinets go in. A builder appreciates a designer who can spot things like that.”

Her stock is rising in other quarters as well. Recently, Bentwood Luxury Kitchens, a Dallas-based cabinetry company with high visibility in the architectural community, approached Watson with an invitation to become one of its 50 North American dealers. She’s excited about it.

“I’ve been a dealer for a number of cabinetry lines over the years,” she says. “I wanted to be able to design a product for every client’s budget and taste. Bentwood is very highend, something to offer the unique buyer who likes unusual wood species and finishes in a range of styles, from traditional to extreme contemporary.” Spartina already carries a variety of samples of Bentwood’s door styles and finishes and is making room for a full-sized display.


What’s Trending

So what else is new at Spartina in the field of kitchen and bath design?

In hardware, such as knobs and drawer pulls, “satin brass is all the rage,” Watson says, delighted with the return of warm tones after so many years of cool-toned brushed nickel. Describing her own style as “classic with a twist,” she says: “I’ve always been a warm-tone person. I have satin brass hardware in my own kitchen, and I just took on a custom line of hardware that’s beautiful!”

Hinges, the workhorses of good cabinetry, likewise offer “so much that’s new,” Watson says. For example, inset cabinet doors, which traditionally required exposed hinges, can now be mounted with more easily adjustable concealed hinges. For those who love period styles, such as Craftsman or farmhouse, exposed hinges are traditional design elements— and Spartina offers a number with decorative finials.

In high-end countertops, Watson says the trend is toward quartz honed to look like marble. “It’s a nonporous material that’s heat-, stain- and scratch-resistant. It captures the look of marble without the maintenance.”

In flooring, the company carries a selection of new wood options, and Watson says, “I have a supplier here in Charleston who’s great at matching old pine floors.” She also confesses to being “passionate about tile, its textures, its patterns” and has numerous tile accounts with large distributors.

Watson enjoys educating her clients on topics such as drawer glides, pointing out that in the best construction, the drawer glides are hidden and under-mounted, while the dovetailed drawers are full-extension, self-closing and soft-closing to minimize wear and noise.

A Holistic Approach

When the time comes to choose kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures or lighting, Watson says she’s available to accompany the client and consult, pointing out how each product can enhance or affect the design. “We’re really turnkey,” she says.

A recent kitchen renovation on Kiawah Island allowed Spartina’s designers to use the full range of their contracting and design services to give a client more than she’d envisioned. The finished product, Watson says, was a showpiece: cream tone-on-tone beaded inset cabinetry, plus an island and hutch done in a beautiful rustic hickory species with a driftwood gray wash over it for the island. “We used some really unique hardware. The appliances were all Sub-Zero and Wolf with integrated paneling. The countertops were Calacatta Latte marble. We kept the existing flooring, an imported stone tile,” Watson says. “The client said we had exceeded her expectations in every way.”

She says: “I find what we do very rewarding. My clients inspire me.” In turn, many of Watson’s clients tell her that she has educated them. It’s when she goes to professional conferences that this designer/ contractor/educator realizes, indisputably, that she’s the somewhat rare woman in a man’s world. She’s delighted to be there. “I love cabinetry,” she says with a smile. “And I love design. I’m passionate about what I do.”

Margaret Locklair, a Lowcountry freelancer, can be reached at locklair@homesc.com.