The most rewarding part of designing kitchens is customizing the design to fit the individual needs of each client. Interior design is about creating beautiful spaces, certainly. But more importantly, it is about creating spaces that work well and improve the quality of life of the clients. The kitchen is truly the heart of the home, so why not create yours to be as personal as possible? Why not include some special features?
At the start of each project, I spend a good amount of time talking to the clients. I ask them to tell me what works and what doesn’t work; what they like and what they don’t like about their current kitchen.
In my designs, not only do I tackle the most common complaints about not enough storage and not enough counter space, often I am also given wish lists of very personal touches that I need to incorporate. In one kitchen, for example, the client had a beautiful handmade wooden cutting board she wanted to display. So we designed the island specifically so she could have this important wish list item. This client is an avid quilter who often hosts quilting sessions in the large adjacent dining space. Just for her, the island also features bookshelves to house her quilting books, and cabinets for supplies that are easily accessible from the workspace.
Another client wanted to incorporate a prayer corner in her kitchen— she described to me what she wanted to display there, and we designed her cabinets accordingly. She wanted a combination of open shelves and glass cabinets, so she could display and store her religious items. I was happy to oblige.
In another project, the homeowner had a set of beautiful leaded glass panels from her original kitchen that she really wanted to incorporate into her new kitchen. She got her wish with a custom-designed cabinet made to fit these panels.
Many clients ask for serving areas, wine bars, and small work spaces for laptops. Others ask for special cabinets for pet food, designated drawers for phone chargers and bookshelves for favorite cookbooks. One avid baker I worked with asked for an island topped with a marble slab, knowing that is the preferred surface for baking. Knowing yourself and how you use your kitchen helps me design it specially for you.
One project currently under construction is a kitchen designed for a client who loves everything French, and travels to France once a year. She asked me to design a “French-inspired” kitchen just for her. When it is complete, this kitchen will feature Toile wallpaper, a lovely French chandelier, marble-look quartz counters (more practical than real marble), and dark hardwood floors. She’s excited and so am I— I will share the photos when we are done!
Every year, there are countless articles about what’s in and what’s out in interior design. Professional forecasters and trend-spotters steer us into selecting things that they deem are “on trend” for any number of reasons. Please don’t get me wrong— there is such a thing as outdated decor (I’m thinking back to my own first condo in the late 1980s with the blue geese artwork!) But, while I read all of those articles in order to stay current within my industry, I very much take my cues from my clients, not the forecasters, when it comes to designing their interiors.
Most clients don’t care if rose gold is in or out this year; they only know whether or not they like it. If they don’t like the color blue, then it doesn’t matter that all shades of blue are extremely popular right now. If they don’t like it, then I don’t use it for their design. My point is this: Don’t overthink things and don’t drive yourself crazy. Please design your interiors to fit your own personal taste and lifestyle.
In 2018, in the world of kitchen design, for example, we are now being told that stainless steel appliances are “out” and black stainless is “in.” Does that mean you should not get stainless appliances for your kitchen? Not necessarily! Will stainless appliances ever really be “out?” In my opinion, no they won’t. I pick the finish based on all the other colors and finishes in the room. Sometimes it’s best to use black, sometimes white, sometimes paneled, sometimes stainless.
And in bath design, we are told that free-standing tubs are all the rage. Should you get one? Maybe, but maybe not! Do you love them? Do you have space for one? Are you a bath person? If not, then forgo the tub and stick with a wonderful walk-in shower instead.
Is there such a thing as “timeless” design? I’m sorry to say that honestly don’t think so. Everything goes in and out of fashion, but not all of it, and not all at the same time, fortunately. But here are some examples of trends that I think (and hope) will stand the test of time:
- Mixing materials and finishes: I love this trend and I truly hope it is here to stay. Not all wood has to match, and not all finishes have to be the same. For example, even if all of your door hardware is brushed nickel, it’s fine to throw in a little gold somewhere— perhaps a gold light fixture, or a gold and glass table. Take liberties by mixing rustic and modern, matte and polished, angular and curved.
- Unique and artistic light fixtures: Use light fixtures as if they were pieces of jewelry. Look for unique shapes, colors and materials and choose one or two special places in your house to showcase them. Over your dining room table, for example, or even in a powder room for a special touch.
- Global influence: In the world of food, I love “fusion” cuisine, where flavors from different cultures come together to create unique and delicious dishes. I also love this idea for interior design. Blending colors, fabrics and styles from different cultures leads to rich, welcoming and interesting rooms.
It’s hard to believe we have said goodbye to 2017 already! Why does it seem like it went by in the blink of an eye? With this first column of the new year, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite design projects from 2017, and what I like most about them. They all came out beautifully, capturing the needs and wants of the clients, and each space has its own unique personality. Perhaps they will inspire you for your own projects in 2018.
Brown and White Kitchen
Why I love it:
- The color scheme is neutral, yet has a lot of punch because go the high-contrast chocolate and white color scheme.
- The countertops have some sparkle in them, which is set off beautifully under the LED lights.
- The cabinet hardware is very cool, with a great mix of stainless steel and oil rubbed bronze. Perfect for this kitchen.
Blue and White Kitchen
This kitchen was a big challenge, with the different ceiling heights and step-down family room.
Why I love it:
- Great use of space: we created a large pantry at the awkward, narrow area up the steps, and also expanded into the family room, creating extra storage and serving space for entertaining.
- I’m definitely a “blue person” so I love the color scheme. The cabinets look so crisp and clean against the soft blue walls.
- The backsplash is gorgeous— a mixture of blue and white marble tile, in a herringbone pattern. Kudos to the really talented tile installer we used on this project!
Open Concept Kitchen and Living Room
Why I love it:
- Opening up the wall separating the two rooms made all the difference in the world. The original kitchen was cut off entirely from the living space— now it’s a great space for the whole family to hang out together.
- I love the touches of yellow to brighten up the gray and white color scheme.
- I love the backsplash tile— it’s a really interesting combination of stones, colors, and textures.
Elegant Powder Room
Why I love it:
- I love the custom bow-front cabinet— it was designed especially for that tiny space, adding some much-needed storage, with lovely curves and elegant lines.
- I love the touches of “bling”— note the crystal light fixture, cut glass cabinet knobs, and the slight shimmer present in the wallpaper.
Compact, Contemporary Bathroom
This bath was part of a larger remodel project, where I was tasked with reconfiguring an existing laundry room and powder room to include a full bath and expanded laundry/mudroom.
Why I love it:
- Lots of functionality in a small space, including a walk-in shower.
- Despite its size, the monochromatic color scheme, frameless glass enclosure, and plenty of new lighting makes this bath feels light and airy, and larger than it is.
- The accent tile in the shower is a really striking mixture of glass and marble tiles.
Before (scroll down for after pictures)
This kitchen transformation is striking. What once was a dark and isolated space is now an open, light-filled, beautiful great room. The first item on their wish list was removing the wall separating the kitchen from the living room. This young couple wanted to be able to entertain friends and family, and be part of the festivities, rather than be relegated to the kitchen. Fortunately, we were able to do that for them, and the result is a large, open-concept great room, where everyone can be together.
Second on their wish list was enhanced functionality, in terms of increased storage space and counter space. To achieve this, I recommended changing the locations of the sink and cooktop. The large farmhouse sink is now under the front window (the new window stayed the same width as the old one, but became shorter to accommodate the wall of cabinetry and backsplash). By moving the cooktop to the old sink location we gained several feet of counter space on both sides, and we also gained a second oven, in place of the old one-piece range.
The island provides even more functionality. Notice the microwave drawer in the island— this frees up space on the counters, and still keeps it in a convenient location near the cooking area and the breakfast bar. The new island is great for serving food and drinks when friends come over, and, on a day-to-day basis, provides a lovely spot for drinking coffee and watching the birds out the front window.
Probably the biggest benefit in the new kitchen is the increased amount of storage space. Between the Lazy Susan in the corner, and the pull-out cabinet for utensils near the cooktop, large drawers for pots and pans under the cooktop, the large upper cabinets flanking the sink, the pantry cabinet with adjustable pull-out shelves by the fridge, and the extra space in the island, my clients have ample space for everything. I think my client said it best when she texted me while she was putting away all of her things: “Holy potatoes we have a TON of storage in this kitchen!!!!!”
To unify the living room and new kitchen, we extended the wood flooring throughout the entire space, and used the same paint colors in both rooms. The teal and yellow accent colors add a welcome pop of brightness to the calming white and gray color scheme. I was very happy working on this project, and am thrilled with the results. The new space is very warm, welcoming and fun, just like the clients.
After decades of living in their Fremont home, this couple opted for a full remodel of their kitchen. The old kitchen was dated and dark, lacking in storage and counter space, and definitely in need of a makeover. My clients told me that, at this stage of their life, they were ready for their home to finally reflect their taste and design aesthetic.
(Scroll down to see the after pictures.)
We had a few goals for the new kitchen:
- Increase the lighting. One important way to get more light into the kitchen was to remove part of the wall separating the kitchen and living room. In place of the wall, we maintained separation by creating a high counter. At the end of the counter, we installed a three-light pendant fixture both for extra light, balance, and to create an interesting focal point. In place of the old ceiling-mounted fixtures, we installed dimmable LED recessed can lights, and LED under-cabinet lights. As a result, the new kitchen is much lighter and brighter.
- Make the kitchen feel more spacious and open. We could not increase the size of the kitchen, but we make it feel larger and more open by changing the layout of the cabinets. We moved the refrigerator to the back of the kitchen, removing a large visual block in the front. The removal of the wall was also key in opening up the space. Replacing the old hood vent and cabinet with a new chimney hood also opened up the space. One other trick to make a space feel larger is to use the same flooring throughout the space. In this case, they already had hardwood floors in the living room and dining space, so we extended the same wood floor into the new kitchen.
- Add storage. You may have noticed that we extended the cabinets as close to the garage door as possible; this added several inches of cabinet space to the lower and upper cabinets. By moving the refrigerator, we were able to extend the cabinets to the edge of the wall, and also add a peninsula for additional counter space and storage space.
- Add functionality. The flow through the kitchen was improved by relocating the major appliances. Moving the refrigerator was the biggest change. That opened up the space tremendously. Putting the microwave in an upper cabinet created more counter space. And, of course, the new custom cabinetry is outfitted with full-extension drawer glides and pullout shelves. One thing you don’t see in the photos is inside one of the cabinets: we added outlets inside the upper cabinet next to the garage door. This gives them dedicated space to charge their phones and tablets without everything sitting on the counters.
- Add beauty and style. The gorgeous granite, with its dramatic colors and patterns adds a real wow factor to this kitchen. And we chose horizontal grain cherry wood cabinets for a sleek, contemporary look. Everything is streamlined, clean and crisp, with a mix of textures, patterns and colors. My clients are thrilled with their new space— it finally is an accurate reflection of their style.
If you’re embarking on a kitchen or bath remodel, one of your most important decisions is the countertop. Which materials are available and what are the pros and cons of each? Let me give you an overview of your choices, and my take on each.
I get asked frequently if granite is still “in.” It’s true that many of my clients are preferring Quartz over granite, but many still prefer the natural beauty and uniqueness of granite. I don’t think granite will be going “out” anytime soon, although I think many people will be looking at more unique colors and patterns going forward. There are some granite patterns that are more ubiquitous out there— those are the ones that may end up looking dated in several years.
Pros: With granite, you can get an enormous “wow” factor— brilliant color, amazing pattern, and a true one-of-a kind kitchen or bath. Granite is extremely durable, and is a great choice for busy kitchens, as it stands up to knife nicks and high heat quite well.
Cons: Because it is a natural stone, it is porous, and can possibly stain, especially the lighter colors. Take care to wipe up spills right away, and plan to seal your granite every few years to protect it. If you’re planning on putting new granite on top of your existing kitchen cabinets, make sure they are sturdy enough to support the weight of the granite slab— your contractor should look at your cabinets and determine whether extra support is needed.
Marble is stunningly beautiful and elegant, and is especially lovely in traditional kitchens.
Pros: It is the preferred material for pastry and baking because it stays cool. If you are an avid baker, you might want to create a baking station in your kitchen and use marble for that countertop.
Cons: It is much softer than granite, and can very easily stain, even if you seal it regularly. It is a bit harder to maintain, which is why most people tend not to use it in their whole kitchen. You might see marble used on an island, or a bar, or on the backsplash as an accent.
There are many brands of man-made quartz materials that you may have heard of. Silestone, Caesarstone and Cambria are among the most well-known. Quartz is surging in popularity, due to it’s durability and it’s vast array of colors, and now patterns too. If you tend to prefer solid colors over patterns, or want a very modern look, then quartz is a great choice. Quartz is also now available in patterns that resemble granite and marble, so if you like the look of natural stone, but prefer a lower-maintenance product, definitely look at those options.
Pros: It’s available in myriad colors, including the ever-popular neutrals, but also vibrant colors like orange, fire engine red, cobalt blue and lime green. Quartz is non-porous, making it very stain resistant. It is durable, and holds up well in busy kitchens.
Cons: Because of the resins used in the manufacture of quartz, it can possibly scorch if very hot pans are placed directly on it. Make sure to always use trivets to protect the surface.
When it comes to interior design, many people find it easier to tell you what they don’t like rather than what they do like. Can you describe your own design style? Are you traditional? Modern? Contemporary? Classic? One reason it’s so difficult for us to pin down one particular style is that most of us, at least here in California, tend to gravitate toward a mix of styles. Seldom do I see (or design, for that matter) a room that’s 100% one way or another. Have a look at these kitchens and you’ll see what I mean. In each example, there is a blend of elements, materials and finishes, all fitting the personalities and lifestyles of the clients who own them.
“Traditional” and “Classic” elements– In some traditional and classic kitchens, you’ll find natural wood cabinets, and in others you’ll see painted cabinetry. Both types can fit into traditional décor. Painted cabinetry is often glazed or antiqued to give it more character, and wood finishes tend toward the dark, formal and dramatic. Color schemes tend toward neutrals like earth tones and black and white. Traditional kitchens often feature beautiful millwork, such as crown molding and embellished cabinets. Decorative corbels supporting breakfast bar countertops, and furniture-style toe kicks are definitely elements of a traditional kitchen. So are custom wood hood vent surrounds. You might see farmhouse (also called apron-front) sinks, and elegant plumbing fixtures. You’ll often see luxurious materials like marble tile backsplashes and natural stone counters.
“Contemporary” and “Modern” elements– Contemporary kitchens might also feature natural wood or painted cabinetry, but the door style is much simpler, less ornate, with cleaner lines. Very modern cabinets might have a high-gloss lacquered finish in white or black or a bold color like orange. Shaker style or flat-front (also called slab) cabinetry is very popular for contemporary and modern kitchens, and in some kitchens, you’ll even see wood grain running horizontally rather than vertically. Mixing natural and man-made materials is also common. For example, you’ll see sleek quartz countertops paired with marble tile backsplashes, or granite counters combined with glass tile. Decorative light fixtures and pops of color are also characteristic of a contemporary kitchen. Faucets and sinks will be simple and unadorned, often stainless steel.
Distressed wood floors and heavily textured stone backsplashes are two popular features you might see in today’s contemporary kitchens. A strategically selected rustic element can soften the look of a very modern kitchen and make it more casual and livable. For example, combining hand-scraped, distressed wood floors with sleek, crisp cabinetry creates an interesting juxtaposition, and also provides a practical walking surface for busy families with kids and pets. Unless the entire kitchen is designed intentionally as a rustic mountain cabin, the addition of one or two rustic elements does not make the kitchen any less contemporary.
All of this brings me to “transitional” design—a very popular term used today to describe a design style that I think most of us can relate to very well. I define transitional design as a successful blend of both traditional and contemporary elements. I think that all of these kitchens shown can be described as transitional kitchens. Some may lean a bit more traditional or more contemporary, but none is a pure example of any one style. These days, unless you really know undoubtedly which style you prefer, chances are you’ll feel right at home in a transitional kitchen, blending elements of traditional, classic and contemporary styling.
Looking back on the design projects I completed in 2015 gives me some insight into what clients will be asking for in 2016. Here are some of the most common requests from last year that I see continuing this year as well. As you plan your own remodeling and redecorating projects, keep these in mind.
Improved lighting throughout the house
This is an extremely common request, no matter what the project entails. All over the house we are improving the lighting by adding LED recessed can lights—in baths, bedrooms, kitchens, living spaces—as well as decorative pendants, chandeliers, wall sconces, and accent lighting. It’s hard to believe how many older homes came with almost no lighting at all! There are a lot of bedrooms and living rooms out there with no hard-wired lighting, just one sad small lamp on a table, or a rickety torchiere lamp in the corner. As we all age, this issue will even become more important.
Accessible bathrooms for different ages and abilities
And speaking of aging, several of the baths I worked on last year included grab bars, ADA-height toilets, and walk-in showers. With many people hoping to live in their homes forever, thinking ahead to later years is extremely important. The good news is that accessible baths cannot only be functional, but can also be very beautiful. The variety of products available is amazing.
Removal of traditional medicine cabinets
In so many bathroom projects, we are removing the existing medicine cabinets to make space for more interesting storage options, such as tower cabinets on the vanity or recessed wall cabinets. Removing the medicine cabinets allows us to also add more interesting lighting as well, such as wall sconces on each side of the mirror. In cases where we do keep a medicine cabinet, we are installing more functional cabinets with pull-out magnifying mirrors, mirrors on the backs of doors, and even electrical outlets built in. I bet you didn’t even know there were so many options.
Painted kitchen and bathroom cabinets
Wood cabinets will never go out of style, but painted cabinets are definitely “in” right now. Most popular colors for painted cabinets right now: white and gray, although I’ve done several projects where we used black and other colors as well. Whole kitchens can be painted the same color, or you can use two colors. For example, painting upper cabinets white, with dark gray lower cabinets, or combining wood perimeter cabinets with a painted island. I don’t see this trend going away any time soon. Varying the finishes and colors really does add a lot of personality to the space.
Well-designed living spaces
What I mean by this is that more and more people are tired of feeling like their rooms are a random hodgepodge of hand-me-down furnishings or rooms filled with purchasing mistakes. An increasing number of people are asking for living rooms, family rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms that are professionally designed, with fabrics and furnishings that go together and are color-coordinated. I can’t tell you how many times people ask me to design “grown-up” living rooms – no matter what age they are! I’ve worked with young folks in their 20s and 30s, all the way to retirement age, and it’s a common request. Maybe it’s a result of too much HGTV, but whatever the cause, people really do want to feel comfortable and happy in their homes.
A few weeks ago I wrote about planning a bathroom remodel. This week I thought I’d tackle kitchens. Whether you do the bulk of the work yourself or hire a general contractor, I’ve provided a sample timeline so you understand what to expect. A typical kitchen project takes 6-8 weeks, and it can be longer if walls are being moved or if adjacent rooms are involved. For example, in one recent project, my clients not only remodeled their kitchen, but also made substantial changes to the adjacent family room. Those changes included raising the floor in their step-down family room so it would be level with the kitchen, installing new wood flooring, new built-in cabinetry, and a new sliding door and window.
As you are planning your kitchen project, keep these steps in mind.
- Design the kitchen layout and select all materials. Spend a good amount of time on this step. The more detailed you are with your design plan, the more accurate the contractor can be with his price quote. Will you be keeping your appliances in the same location? Or is there a better way to plan the space? Perhaps you need more counter space—can you move the double ovens away from the cook top and open up more space for prepping? Is there enough room for an island? Do you need more cabinet space? If so, can you build some in the adjacent dining area? Or make your existing island a little longer or wider? Take time to investigate your options for materials. At this stage, a professional designer can really help you narrow down your options and put together a space plan and design that fits your taste and lifestyle.
- Obtain permits. After you have your design created, take your drawings to the city to obtain any necessary building permits. The homeowner or the contractor can take care of this step. The city will want to know the type of plumbing and lighting you are using—there are strict building codes regarding water flow and energy efficiency, as well as requirements regarding the number and type of electrical outlets needed. There will be periodic inspections during the remodel process.
- Select appliances, sinks and faucets. The cabinets are built around the appliances, so it’s important to select these first and make sure the cabinet-maker receives all the dimensions and specifications.
- Order the cabinetry. This is typically the item with the longest lead-time, so order these before starting any demolition. Your contractor will typically start construction approximately two weeks before the cabinets are due to be finished.
- Start construction. Demolition, framing, rough plumbing and rough electrical work will be the first steps. Are you changing your electric cook top to gas? Do you need to add more outlets? Are you adding more lighting? All the wiring and plumbing will be done at this stage. The cabinet drawings are needed so the contractor knows where the plumbing and electrical wiring need to go.
- Install, tape and texture the sheetrock. After the old kitchen has been torn out and new plumbing and wiring has been installed, there will be wall repair. After the new sheetrock has been installed, textured and prepped, then painters will come to put on a fresh coat of your chosen wall color.
- Install the cabinetry. Contractors will generally leave off the cabinet doors until the end, to avoid potential damage when the floors, counters and appliances are installed.
- Create a template for the new countertop. After the cabinets are in, the installers for the new countertop will come and take final measurements and create the template for your new counters. After about a week or so, they will return with your beautiful new counters and install them. You’re in the home stretch now.
- Install the backsplash. This can be tile, stone, glass—any of a wide variety of options.
- Install the new flooring. This can be done anytime after the cabinets are installed, but often contractors wait till after the counters and backsplash are in, again just to avoid any potential damage to the floors.
- Install appliances, sinks, faucets, and light fixtures. Now the kitchen is almost finished!
- Install cabinet doors and cabinet hardware.
- Finishing touches: paint touches, final trim moldings, caulk baseboards, install window treatments, and anything else that may be left to do.
- Final cleaning: the new kitchen will be dusty—some contractors include a final cleaning as part of their work, but some don’t. You might want to ask about it this at the beginning. You’ll want to do a final cleaning before you move in.
- Kitchen complete! Although it always seems like it takes forever, a few weeks of inconvenience will result in years of enjoyment.