Monogram Dream Kitchen Design Contest Winner: Brian Johnson

The Monogram Dream Kitchen Design Contest was created to celebrate the imagination and creative vision inherent in beautiful kitchen design. All designs were required to integrate Monogram appliances and were judged across several award categories. We announced the winners last year and will be profiling each of them on Save Room for Design over the next few months.

The Grand Prize Winner is Brian Johnson from Collaborative Design Architects in Billings, Montana.

Brian Johnson, grand prize winner of the Monogram Dream Kitchen Design Contest

Brian Johnson, grand prize winner of the Monogram Dream Kitchen Design Contest

SRFD: How did you become interested in design?

Brian: I was always interested in art and more specifically, sculpture and drawing. In high school I often discussed my love for the arts with my parents who were always very supportive and nurturing with my passion for music and drawing. They encouraged me to explore how I could make money as an artist. Although they understood the term “starving artist,” my parents were careful not to immediately squash my dreams.  As I evaluated the success of many painters and sculptors whom I admired, I found that most of them didn’t make a lot of money or get “discovered” until long after they were dead. I found myself frustrated and confused about how I could make a living from doing something that I truly loved. In the spring of 1990, my high school art teacher (Tom Spencer) scheduled a field trip to the College of Arts & Architecture at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. He knew what I was going thru and he wanted to expose his students to opportunities in the creative professions of art, graphics design, print making, interior design and architecture. As we walked through the doors into the School of Architecture, I remember the smell of gouache paint and glue. There were multiple studio spaces littered with paper, drafting supplies and X-Acto blades. It looked like an art shop had exploded. Students were walking around in pajamas and most of them looked as though they hadn’t slept in days. The galleries were peppered with different displays of abstract art. We were able to sit in on student critiques and listen to professors speak intelligently about the projects and offer constructive criticism on how to make them better. At that moment, my professional life had a solid direction.

SRFD: Tell us about a recent project you really enjoyed.

Brian: I am currently designing and general contracting my own spec home for a local 2016 Parade of Homes here in Billings, MT. It is refreshing to have complete control over both the project design and construction decisions.

SRFD: A trend you’re over?

Brian: I am over granite. With so many solid surface and composite products on the market, I feel like using granite for counters and backsplashes seems a little cliché.

SRFD: A trend you’re excited about?

Brian: There are a couple of trends that I am really excited about. The first is the use of open shelving as opposed to closed cabinetry. Open shelving offers options to make a kitchen feel more commercial or more elegant simply by giving the client control of what they want to expose.  Flatware and dishes make the kitchen feel a bit more functional and commercial, while displaying antiques or artwork make the kitchen feel a little more designed and personalized to the owner’s needs.

I also really enjoy the trend of modular refrigeration. Being able to spread refrigeration out in the kitchen really helps to make the area more functional. Separating the refrigerator and freezer and using refrigerator drawers really can give designers some freedom from the massive appliance wall installations.

SRFD: Tell us about your winning project.

Brian: Situated at the base of an ominous 200-foot ridge of sandstone, this mid-1960’s contemporary cedar home provides the canvas for this year’s Monogram Dream Kitchen Design Contest entry, “The Sandstone Niche.” The home is situated on a site that takes full advantage of the property’s 270-degree views of the prominent cityscape and distant mountain panoramas. The significance of the views to the home’s original concept was realized by the incorporation of glass throughout the project.  Walls of glass terminating at butt-jointed transparent corners are not only unique, but also evidence of the importance of the project’s placement on the site and the surrounding views.


When the client contacted me, we spent time walking through the home. She wanted an idea that would capture the spirit that her original architect had created for their family nearly 50 years ago. The home was designed as two 900 square-foot boxes connected by a 15’x15’ square circulation tower. Due to the site’s steep nature, the home’s users enter the dwelling on the lower level (private spaces) and circulate up to the public spaces (views). On the upper level, the architect celebrated the use of cedar, glass, Saltillo tile, and stone. The ceilings were vaulted and the wood-beam structure was exposed, creating a more massive volume to make the square footage seem immensely larger than it really was.  From a plan standpoint, the public spaces were open to one another; however, the kitchen was completely closed-in with 8’ tall walls and a double-hinged door into the dining room. These walls became barriers that created awkward and unnecessary transitions between the kitchen, family room, breakfast nook, and dining room.

My concept for the project was to “resurrect” the architect’s original vision by creating a kitchen area that opened itself to the entire home. The walls around the kitchen were torn out as well as the flooring, wood-burning stove, counters, cabinets, and appliances to expose a raw open (cedar) room. Integrated back into the open space was a 42”-high buffet that defined the kitchen area. This buffet housed a new gas range, but left the site lines open between the spaces and to the exterior views. Above the buffet is where we added the design’s most unique and exciting feature – a floating soffit. The soffit element allowed 44” tall pendant lights to penetrate its mass. This element, with its repetition of light, created a dramatic contrast within the cedar volume. In addition to the pendants, the 14” soffit is also intersected by a 4-foot square, custom, aluminum shaft containing an integral hood insert and additional lighting for the work surfaces below.

Around the kitchen’s perimeter, quartz counters and European-style cabinets delicately defined the edge of the space.  I designed the cabinetry with wood faces as well as aluminum hardware and detailing that tie into the kitchen’s Monogram stainless steel appliances and Kohler plumbing fixtures. A new pantry was relocated in place of the old buffet to satisfy the need for the displaced food storage which was formerly located in the walls that were torn down. The buffet also provides continued privacy between the family room and formal living room in the adjacent “box.”

The new kitchen has been completely transformed to capture the beauty of the site and the delicate lines of the home’s architecture. The client’s only wish is that the idea would’ve been integrated 50 years earlier.

Find more of Brian’s designs on Houzz.

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