The Deep Dive: Creating a USM Kitchen

A thoughtful restoration increases the shelf life of a Philip Johnson–designed home.
Text by
Photos by
Avocado Green Mattress
Avocado’s mission is to be the world’s most sustainable brand—the pinnacle of GOTS-certified organic mattresses, luxury pillows and bedding, and quality American-made bed frames and furniture. Avocado is a Certified B-Corporation, balancing purpose and profit by donating one percent of all revenues to environmental nonprofits through their membership with 1% For The Planet.
Shop Mattresses

As any issue of Dwell proves, the choice of material or joinery method can transform a good project into a design for the ages. The Deep Dive is a forum where design and building pros can obsess over those details. Here we ask expert colleagues to share the inspiration behind house elements that delight clients—as well as the nitty-gritty information about how they were built.

In our November/December cover story, "A Forgotten Philip Johnson Home Gets a New Lease on Life," graphic designer Jiminie Ha and artist Jeremy Parker tell writer Joanna Rothkopf that they discovered the Newburgh, New York, residence designed by the controversial powerhouse architect and curator in a forgotten state. "The home no longer resembled Johnson’s initial design of two stacked boxes—a smaller brick box with a larger cypress-clad box perched atop it," Rothkopf writes, because former owners had stretched the wood paneling "to reach the ground and obscure the brickwork on the first floor, and a porch had been added to the second-floor dining room."

The interior had undergone similarly insensitive alterations. A 1990s-era kitchen renovation included an unprecedented closet system, "clunky laminate countertops, and a cabinet configuration that introduced 45-degree angles to the space," Jeremy says. "It just didn’t make sense."

Making sense of the house meant largely restoring it to its inaugural state for longtime friends Jeremy and Jiminie. "We were very selective and methodical with how we would return all the details as closely as possible to the original plans," Jeremy adds. Yet the kitchen was excepted from that strategy: "If we were going to interject creative liberties, the kitchen was the best place to do it. Kitchens in midcentury homes are very utilitarian or tucked away in a rear space."

The Deep Dive: Creating a USM Kitchen - Photo 1 of 3 -

Instead of recreating a room that had been treated incidentally in 1949, the homeowners decided to propel the kitchen to 2023—integrating it more thoroughly into the domestic sphere, even making it a centerpiece of social life and personal expression. "We are avid cooks and we have friends over," Jiminie says. "The kitchen is where you find most of the foot traffic, and we really wanted it to be a welcoming space with a unique perspective."

Jiminie, who explains that a preservation-first approach appealed to her as a contribution to the local arts community and as a sustainability practice, also notes that taking the kitchen in a new creative direction had to be done with respect for the past. "We wanted to continue the materiality story of a midcentury kitchen," she adds, identifying steel and wood as two key ingredients of the historical record. After considering options that ranged from gathering commercial-kitchen products into a whole to sourcing a kitchen from a contemporary manufacturer such as Reform or Vipp, the duo wondered whether they could create the room using the iconic USM Haller system of modular shelving units.

The Deep Dive: Creating a USM Kitchen - Photo 2 of 3 -

An enthusiastic showroom discussion between Jeremy and USM marketing executive Ana Bilski brought the prospect a step closer to reality. Reflecting on that meeting in Jiminie’s studio afterward, Jeremy spotted a volume of White Zinfandel—a limited-edition journal conceived by Jiminie—that had been made entirely on papers left over from the printer’s previous jobs. "I was flipping through that and asked Jiminie, ‘Why don’t we approach USM about this idea?’" Jeremy recalls. He adds that USM Haller had long resonated as a sustainability solution: "The modules can become a changing table, a kitchen island, whatever you need it to be." Repurposing unused components would "build upon this narrative of true modularity." 

Bilski pivoted to the vision of pre-used and upcycled pieces with equal excitement, and her company listed those parts in its Long Island warehouse for Jiminie and Jeremy’s consideration. With the help of Tim Miller, an in-house USM designer who specializes in visualization, Jeremy employed every available element to configure the Newburgh kitchen. He also says the kitchen scheme took ease of assembly into account, by keeping within the galley footprint of Philip Johnson’s drawings and avoiding USM-paneled appliances. (Casegoods are mounted four inches from the wall, so they may align to those appliances’ faces.) The USM inventory, which was in near-perfect condition, largely came from trade shows and other events.

The Deep Dive: Creating a USM Kitchen - Photo 3 of 3 -

Installation was relatively effortless thanks to the forethought, and the satisfactions of the final product are still revealing themselves. While the USM Haller panels’ harmony with the home interior’s color palette and its ventilation panels were immediately apparent, more recently Jeremy learned that modularity makes it convenient to pop panels in and out so he could tighten the sink faucet.

He also says the philosophical pleasure of weaving together modularity, reuse, and sustainability is as fresh today as it was when he and Jiminie first landed upon USM as a collaborator. "We’re so ingrained to believe the kitchen is a system, and that it can be disposed of every 10 or 15 years," Jeremy observes, "We should be supporting companies that have an ethos of longevity like USM, which was such an amazing partner here; this wouldn’t have been able to happen without them." That message should get out further as the residence is regularly opened to the public as an education tool and cultural venue. You can watch for those opportunities at

We welcome your thoughts and illustrative projects. Reach out to


Get the Pro Newsletter

What’s new in the design world? Stay up to date with our essential dispatches for design professionals.