Plan your perfect kitchen with insights from the experts.
We asked a panel of designers and architects to help us identify the qualities of great kitchens. What materials are best for counters and floors? What about paint colors and finishes? What are the little luxuries that can make a space functional and distinctive? And, what are the most common design mistakes? Read on to get the scoop.
Design and Layout
The kitchen should feel integrated with the rest of the house. Aim for a mix of natural and overhead light, plus ample storage and workspace. And remember, the kitchen is the heart of the home -- think of it as a two-function space, regardless of its shape or size. "Front stage accommodates the 'theater' -- cooking, conversation, cocktails, and serving. The back stage should accommodate the necessities -- storage and cleanup," says architect Ken Pursley.
Counters and Cabinets
As with the overall design, synergy is key when it comes to cabinetry and work surfaces. "Cabinets should be informed by the architecture of the house," says Pursley. With counters, it's often desirable to blend different surfaces. "I like to mix countertop materials, for example, marble on an island and stainless steel or copper on the side cabinets," says Pursley. Just don't go overboard -- stick with two or three surfaces. Here are our best bets for counterops:
• Calcutta Gold marble: It's elegant and has a warm cast.
• Honed granite: It's virtually indestructible but not shiny.
• Poured concrete: It's versatile in color and size, and can be shaped seamlessly.
• Quartz: It's durable, low maintenance, and consistent in color.
• Soapstone: Its lack of gloss gives the surface a softer feel.
Choose a low-maintenance surface that combines style and durability, such as terra cotta (shown at left), limestone, or wide-plank wood. Once again, take cues from the kitchen's relationship to the house and landscape. "I sometimes use an exterior flooring material in the kitchen, particularly if it lies directly off a terrace. Random bluestone in brown/green tones works well," says Pursley. "The kitchen begins to feel more akin to the garden than the house." Here are our favorite flooring materials:
• Porcelain tile: It looks great in spare, modern kitchens.
• Stone: We recommend limestone or granite.
• Terra-cotta: It feels old-world.
• Wide-plank wood floors: The clear winner among our experts -- it's timeless, marries well with other types of flooring, and adds the look of age.
Stainless steel is a classic choice. "I'm seeing more color and retro-inspired appliances out there, but stainless is versatile and beautiful," says designer Rozanne Jackson. Commercial-grade stoves, convection ovens, and super-size fridges received high marks from our panel, but you should try to avoid gimmicky machines. "I find many 'special appliances' to be an architect's worst nightmare. Over time they tend to fall victim to the next trend, and their integration into the kitchen design can upset an otherwise beautiful plan," says Pursley.
Frequently overdone, kitchen colors are best kept fresh, simple, and timeless. When considering your palette options, begin with the known elements in the design. "An old beam or a stone countertop can be a great starting point for color selections. This approach helps create a cohesive aesthetic," says Pursley. Here are our picks in kitchen color:
• Chinese lacquer red: It's prized for its drama and ability to dress a room.
• Slate blue: This hue is beloved for its coolness and neutrality in a room filled with stainless steel and stone.
• Any creamy white: We love its timelessness, openness, serenity, and cleanliness.
• Ocher yellow: It's natural and inviting in a room outfitted with high technology.
Indulgences are appropriate in the kitchen, especially features that expand utility and convenience. Here are the top items on our panel's kitchen wish list:
• Pot-filler faucets: They're undeniably handy when mounted near the stove, as shown at left.
• Appliance garages: They keep countertop clutter to a minimum.
• Second refrigerators: They're invaluable for cold drinks and extra storage, especially when you're entertaining.
• Flat-screen televisions: Their trim profiles make them easy to integrate into the overall design.
• Refrigerated drawers: They can be built into cabinets or islands for a seamless look.
• Counter-height seating: This addition is an ergonomic boon -- it lets you sit to work.
• Crushed-ice machines: They are much more convenient than ice trays or dispensers.
Form and function go hand in hand -- no matter how good it looks, clumsy workspaces and poor storage will ruin a kitchen. Our panelists noted three common mistakes that you should avoid:
1. Don't mix too many materials. "My limit is three," says architect and designer Alison Spear.
2. Don't bank on a single feature. "Granite on top of mediocre cabinets with a bad layout makes for an unattractive kitchen," says kitchen designer Tobin Mansfield.
3. Don't skimp on storage. "The biggest mistake that I see is not maximizing cabinet space," says designer Susan Massey. Note the efficient pull-out pantry in the example at left.