Kitchens, Baths, Closets & More
The story of how John Gestrich’s spaces came to be featured across Oahu begins in snowy Chicago
John Gestrich always wanted to be a carpenter. He grew up in Chicago near a house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed. Taking inspiration from its simple, striking lines and stained glass patterns, Gestrich made building functional, beautiful things his lifelong goal.
He started at age 7, learning about hard work and responsibility when he tended boilers under Chicago buildings on nights his dad took off to go bowling. When he got to Scherz High School, he found that Ford Motor Co. ran its incredibly advanced motor program. “We had shops that could melt steel and pour molds. You could actually build cars and furniture,” Gestrich recalls. “My classes were mechanical, carpentry, plastics. You learned a lot about a lot of different things.”
Gestrich focused on mechanical and architectural drawing. It was a good choice: at 19, when he got his first job in construction, his supervisors were amazed at how he could read plans. Even today, he says, “when I look at a product, I can understand how it was put together from a foundry or mechanical point of view, and say what’s good or bad about it for my project.”
He was equally clear about where he wanted to end up. In Chicago’s subzero winters he gazed at pictures of palm trees on the beach and vowed he would get to Hawaii. He signed up for the Air Force, but instead of granting his dream assignment, they stationed him first in California and then in South Korea, where winter was not unlike Chicago’s. There, finally, he got his shot at Hawaii.
“On December 8, 1969, they came to my tent and said, ‘The plane’s coming tomorrow, be on the runway,’” Gestrich recalls. “I stood there with snow on the ground and snow on the tent, and when they asked, ‘You sure you want to go?’ all I said was, ‘Aloha!’”
On Oahu, Gestrich was military during the week and civilian the rest of the time. On weekends and days off he worked for a construction company, and when that hitch ended seven years later, he decided to go full-time into construction.
In those early years in the 1970s and ‘80s he built high-end homes. As business grew, he came to appreciate his choices. Recovering from some tough falls and weathering days and weeks of rainouts gradually steered him to specialize in building and remodeling kitchens, then kitchens and baths, then kitchens, baths and closets. “It’s clean, it’s finish work and I don’t get rained out,” Gestrich explains.
That was how he launched The Kitchen, Bath & Closet Showroom, now in Honolulu’s Kilohana Square. Gestrich keeps it a family affair: stepdaughter Rose works with him, as does son-in-law Clinton. Gestrich’s two stepsons, Ronnie and Joel, own and operate a shop that makes all the counter tops. Another employee, Rich, rounds out the crew, and on larger projects Gestrich subcontracts out glass, tile and paint work, largely to the same people he’s worked with for more than 20 years. During slow periods, Gestrich himself still sets tile and paints.
Today, his company’s work stretches all across Oahu, from Kona Brewing Co. restaurant in Hawaii Kai to businesses and homes from Ewa Beach to Diamond Head.
And he’ll still draw on those early designing and building skills, too. “If the client has something unusual enough that we can’t find it, we will build it,” he says. “Even on a premade cabinet, if I want to design a certain thing in the kitchen that that system doesn’t have, I’ll make a custom design from scratch and duplicate the premade style, only the way I want it.”
After 39 years in the business, Gestrich always takes the time to mull every question over for his clients.
“I think one of the lessons I’ve learned is that even if you know the answer, don’t solve it on the spot. Tell the client you’ll think about it and get back to them,” he says. “If you sleep on it overnight, sometimes you think of something else to add, or at least you’ve worked it out a lot better in your head. Listening is one of the best things you can do with your clients to know where they’re coming from!”