The kitchen is a room so rife with ideas and innovations, it’s a world unto itself. In the past, the conversation has centered on the room’s functional demands, but the baseline of performance is higher today than even 10 years ago—most of us have kitchens that suit our basic needs. What we seek today isn’t just optimized utility but blithe beauty, too. Dream kitchens don’t just make room for cooking and entertaining (and homework and bill-paying, too), they lift the spirits. As we blast toward a beguiling new way of kitchen thinking, we checked in with the pros to ask what’s exciting them for the busiest room in the house.
With so much talk of color, lacquer, and hardware, it’s a breath of fresh air to see natural wood re-enter the cabinetry conversation. This is, of course, where it all started: freestanding cupboards, like the sizable Hoosier cabinet, were the predecessor to the mounted and fitted styles so common today. Wood speaks to the “kitchen feelings” which many of us retain from kitchens of our youths—warm and homey places, centered around a hearth. Tapping into that sensibility was one reason Charleston designer Angie Hranowsky chose a warm mid-tone stained oak for a recent kitchen remodel on Sullivan’s Island.
The space opens to a living area and initially she offered her clients the option of refreshing the space with tile only (she already had one in mind). Eventually, the couple talked themselves into a larger refresh—new appliances and layout included—but she didn’t veer from the first decision she’d made—to use tile from the Modern line of the Ann Sacks MADE collection. Instead, she chose a wood stain to partner with that tile. “There’s a clay color that comes through the pale celadon-blue glaze so you get the warm tones complimenting the stained wood cabinetry and the drama of a dimensional tile wall.”
Hranowsky taps into a few other trends too…. “This is one of my all-time favorite tiles,” says Hranowsky of the MADE Modern line, “and I’m the type of person who would tile my whole house if I could because I just love it so much. The good stuff, of course—the sort of tiles that feel like art!”
In the Sullivan’s Island kitchen there’s a combination of the right and left Split tiles (in Blue Mist in matte), but it’s the 3-D silhouette that perks up the whole space. Crafted with a stoneware body, the glazes drift off the higher elevations, leaving swaths of the neutral-hued body and a “pooling” effect of colored glaze. It’s this variation of light and color on a 3-D product that draws folks to dimensional tile. “It feels artisan and custom and handmade,” says Hranowsky. The designer even created a pantry for storage to alleviate the need for upper cabinets. Fewer uppers means more room for beauty.
It’s a concept that’s proliferating: omitting upper cabinets all together. This idea goes hand in hand with another movement coming on strong—the rise of double kitchens. Call it what you may: a back kitchen, a second kitchen, a dirty kitchen, these are kitchen-adjacent utility spaces that add functional or storage to the conventional kitchen floor plan. Some people do this to keep their primary kitchen pristine and picture-ready for hosting and enjoying—the mess has to accumulate somewhere, why not tuck it behind a door, is the thinking.
Relieving the kitchen of some of its many duties allows for greater creative freedom—when you don’t have to fit in X number of drawers or cabinets, you can play with space without limitation and a wall of statement tile or stone is a favorite move. Sometimes a short backsplash just isn’t enough, you might consider a breathtaking focal point and that’s a job that artful tile or stone can easily achieve.
The inclination toward artisan beauty driving interest in handmade-feeling elements in the kitchen is being expressed in various other places, such as hardware. Designers have been espousing the glory of living finishes and hardware with patina for years, but it’s been slow to make its way through the kitchen further than an unlacquered brass faucet here and there. This is a room where clean and simple elements thrive (stainless steel-finish appliances, still an industry standard), but it’s also a room where a lot of living takes place, which makes it ripe for a less austere approach. That’s an idea that Nashville designer Richard Anuszkiewicz takes to heart. He has a longtime kitchen specialty for no holds barred luxury kitchens and a creative director role at Monogram where he employs his refined taste with a host of innovative, customer-ready products such as oversized panel fronts, hoods, and handles and hardware for Monogram appliances.
“We’re talking a lot about authentic customization—beautiful products that take your space to the next level in a way that’s unique to each homeowner,” he explains. The type of personalized product he’s creating is typically the domain of custom projects only. He sought to change that. “Why couldn’t we make a killer hood—oversized in the way designers love because it creates a focal point?” On top of that there are leather-wrapped handles in either brass or titanium, a deep metal finish.
“Let’s challenge the expectation and help people expand their thinking,” he says. “Shoes, handbags, even steering wheels are leather—it’s a hard-wearing luxury material— why not use it in the kitchen; it only gets better with age.” These and some dramatically oversized panel fronts in copper and titanium finishes will be shown at KBIS, the annual kitchen and bath show in Las Vegas early next year.
Innovating how and where we place beautiful product is an ongoing story in the kitchen. Designers that are eager to really layer on the beauty—that’s the big idea, after all, are testing one or both of these concepts: tiling the front or side of the island and creating a custom tile hood.
The latter is favored by designers as both novel and a no-brainer. Kitchens can accumulate many surfaces, materials and finishes quickly; visually, that can be jarring. Repeating the backsplash tile on the hood provides both consistency and visual pow. This approach is especially useful in a smaller kitchen and easy to execute by running the tiles directly over an insert hood. This move maximizes beauty by offering continuity of the chosen aesthetic. Larger kitchens can create a dramatic feature with this idea—think about the hand-painted scenics and tile murals seen in Mexican and Mediterranean kitchens. Even applying a single artful field tile opens up a world of options beyond metallic finishes.
Over at the island, one way to reduce maintenance is to tile the underside—this is where feet kick and stools scuff; painted wood is common but easily dinged up. Swapping that with tile necessitates fewer scrubs and wipe-downs and it’s an aesthetic triumph—a focal point in a dazzling finish on a swath of kitchen previously overlooked—gold mine!
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The kitchen reno conundrum: It’s hard to decide where to splurge, easy to carelessly overspend; and the choices you commit to are lasting. Here, some industry pros talk honestly about where the money’s worth it, where not—and why. There’s one thing they all agree on: The easiest choices are guided by love.