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Kitchens That Work

Aside from just aesthetics, what makes a kitchen successful? Here are kitchens that last a lifetime.

    Contemporary, art deco, European, retro, traditional or country–all of these styles are easily available to the kitchen remodeler. Textures, color and surface materials add endless variables, and the kitchen is the most expensive room in the house to remodel.
    Two new books offer ideas and photos to inspire and lend some expertise. Great Kitchens by Jack D. Neith and Oleta Neith has good examples of diverse styles. Some of the photos look like they came out of a showroom, but the book can be a primer for safe and reliable design.
   Lyn Peterson’s Real Life Kitchens breaks down all of the elements of the kitchen in easy, practical ways, offering a step-by-step approach to figuring out the best design for you. It allows for personal taste and personality to mix with function and even offers a timeline for defining what you need and setting a budget, all the way to breaking out the champagne in your new kitchen.
   Like many others, Peterson believes in starting out by keeping a sort of style file of your likes and dislikes. Tear out pictures from magazines that appeal to your aesthetic. These preferences tend not to change, even with geographic relocations. Urban sophisticates keep the same look even when they move. Homey types stick with the cozy.
   Armed with your picture file, start looking in kitchen showrooms and appliance stores for samples of stone, ceramics and paint. Mix and match them for harmonious interplay between colors, textures and style.
   Before getting too adventurous, keep in mind that someday you will want to sell your place and kitchens are a huge selling point. A new kitchen can make other areas look shabby.
   While looking at your dream kitchen pictures, the flaws of your current one may become apparent. Become conscious of the things that bother you or that you may have put up with for years, like not having enough cabinet space for dishes and glassware or not having space for large bulk items. Many high-end homes now plan for a “Costco closet” to store economy-sized goods.
   Does the refrigerator stick out in the room? Is the dishwasher too far from storage? What about poor lighting and lack of counter space?

The Wish List
    Peterson offers a starting list of contemporary options:
   • Computer station or message center
   • File storage
   • Homework area
   • Double sink or second sink
   • Entertaining space
   • Larger mudroom
   • Play area for little kids
   • Family-centered cooking space
   • Secondary appliances: compactor,
       cappuccino maker, food processor, rice
       cooker, water purifier, warming drawers,
       a second wall oven
   • Beverage centers
   • Wine chillers
   • Double dishwashers

   Peterson notes the new finishes in kitchen cabinets have evolved into tighter-grained, darker woods or whites that are softer, warmer and often glazed, set against a cleaner look in shape and detail.
   While the aesthetics are important, it's the innards of your kitchen that are going to make day-to-day living easier. Subdivide your drawers and cabinets, but don’t overdo. If you can’t have drawers, pull-out shelves are another option. For the upper cabinets, order extra shelves. For cups and short glasses, you can cut down on the height of the shelf space and earn yourself more storage.
Tips for Choosing Cabinets
   The book offers some tips that prevent obvious mistakes:
   •Don’t add too much decorative trim like triple-crown moldings, grapevines and full-height columns that pull out as pantries. A kitchen has a lot going on; it doesn’t need a lot of extra business.
   •Choose top quality cabinets over spending money on extras you don’t need.
   •Oversize whenever possible. One bigger cabinet is better than two smaller ones.
Remember to factor in your height and the height of your countertop appliances when measuring where to mount upper cabinets.

Flooring Alternatives
   These days, wood, laminates, stone, concrete and quartz are available in a mind-boggling array of possibilities.
   •If you are looking for something a little more eco-friendly or offbeat, try bamboo, which is actually harder than maple or oak.  Bamboo is a renewable resource because the stalks are trimmed rather than cut down and it grows very quickly.
   •Cork tiles offer many advantages. Cork trees are never cut down, making them another eco-friendly choice. In addition, cork tiles are easy to maintain, do not require grout, are cushiony underfoot and actually deaden sound.  In the early days, recording studios were cork-lined.
   •Linoleum is back. First patented in 1863, this retro flooring is comprised of powdered cork or wood, resins, ground limestone and linseed oil and backed with jute fiber, making it 100 percent natural. Marmoleum is also a popular choice, incorporating antimicrobial protection into its product.

   Nothing sets the mood more than lighting, and the kitchen is no different. Peterson says, “The space should have three sources of illumination: task lighting, ambient lighting and accent lighting. The combination of the three types provides the right amount of light for each activity and time of day, from slicing a tomato to setting the mood for dinner.”
   Accent lighting is what sets a mood. It’s found in lamps, sconces and suspended lighting. A dimmer lets you adjusts the light at any time “from efficiently bright to romantically subdued,” says Peterson.

Lighting Redefined
   Fluorescent Peterson pulls no punches when describing the effect of overhead fluorescent lighting. “Too much of this bland, flat light has an unflattering effect, turning your kitchen into a K-Mart,” she says. Of course, these lights are environmentally friendly, so use them under the counter for tasks like chopping veggies.
  Incandescent  It’s warm and flattering, but inefficient. Use sparingly where it counts.
   Hi-Hats These are the recessed fixtures sunk into the ceiling.
  Halogen These small lights give off a lot of heat, so don't set them up too close to cabinets. They are ideal for under-cabinet lighting and recessed lighting.
  Track Lighting  Mounted on a tract, these lights can be swiveled in any direction and offer flexible lighting options.
  Hanging Fixtures/Surface Mounts  Chandeliers, pendants, lanterns—all manner of decorative light fixtures fall into this category. They are interchangeable with the same electrical box if you want to change your look.

Auxiliary Spaces
    Having more than enough storage space is what dreams are made of, and pantries, wine cellars, mudrooms and office spaces add to the greatness of a kitchen.
   “A pantry is all about shelving,” says Peterson. She advises varying the height of
the shelves for a range of foods or appliances and not to extend shelving to the floor. Rather, leave that space for heavy goods like charcoal and bottled water.
   Pantries can help the style of the kitchen by eliminating the need for excess cabinets and allowing for a more open floor plan. Look for some extra “dead” space that can be converted. In lieu of that, you can retrofit a hutch as part of your kitchen décor to act as a pantry.
   Mudrooms are those great spaces that catch all of the dirt and clutter before it gets into the house. Shoes, jackets and gear of all sorts can be left in this in-between buffer space.  Peterson advises a minimum space of 8 x 10 feet, allowing room for a 2-foot deep closet and 18-inch deep storage unit. Coats, shoes, kitty litter boxes, benches and recycling bins are just some of the detritus you can keep out of the kitchen by having a mudroom.
   Forget about wood floors. A sturdy stone product will hold up and wainscoting or wallpaper is a good choice for the walls since they can be easily wiped down. A large bulletin board installed here can eliminate one more piece of clutter from the kitchen.
   A kitchen office can act as the center of family or personal organization. It is a place to set up schedules, check e-mails, make appointments, plan meals and shopping, pay bills and surf the internet. Wiring is the key here. Peterson recommends a combination telephone/Ethernet port to prevent overloading.
    If you have the space, a separate laundry room is a real luxury compared to the stackable units so common in urban dwellings. It can serve as a multi-task room for gardening, crafts, ironing and even watching TV while you work.
   For the wine aficionado, the ultimate in luxury is having a real wine cellar, but unless you want to carve out an actual basement room that is temperature controlled, a free-standing wine cabinet may be the best option.

Go Green
    Excess is out. Environmentally friendly is critical to our planet's survival. Every great kitchen should be outfitted with energy saving appliances, room to recycle, trash compactors and garbage disposals, whenever possible.  A convection oven cooks a third faster than conventional and uses less electricity.

Published: August 09, 2008
Issue: Fall 2008 Politics Issue