Kitchen design is certainly a collaborative venture where industry professionals, i.e., kitchen and bath designers, interior designers, architects, design/build firms, etc., often team up to bring a project to fruition. However, the most important collaborator in any project is the homeowner, who frequently – and often to the delight and enjoyment of the experts – brings requests to the table.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I like, or what my aesthetic is,” says Carmit Oron, Carmit Oron Interior Design in Sunnyvale, CA. “It’s my clients’ home, and they need to feel comfortable and happy with the end result. Everyone has their own wants and needs, and it’s my job to make their requests work.”
Donna McMahon finds that, when clients bring at least a request or two to the table, subsequent decisions are easier to make.
“It makes the starting point easier when homeowners have a sense of what they want,” stresses the designer/AKBD, KE Interior Solutions in Montrose, CO. “There’s a lot more processing in terms of decision making that needs to take place when there’s a blank slate. However, even when they don’t know where to begin, it’s important to start somewhere, and for every person that starting point could be different. Maybe someone wants an island or someone has a favorite tile and everything else has to work around it. It’s important to have a sense of what someone wants. It helps us as designers understand what is important and how to respect the desire and wish for something, then to build it into a new space.”
Janice Teague, CMKBD/CGB, Drury Design in Glen Ellyn, IL, also appreciates it when homeowners bring ideas that help build the design.
“Before we even start designing, we have clients fill out a questionnaire,” she reports. “It helps us identify what they want and need, then we can find solutions. Sometimes they’ll have challenges for us. But for me, that’s when it’s the most fun, and rewarding…seeing our clients’ reactions when we’ve given them something they didn’t think was possible.”
Dana Bender’s clients often bring ideas from Pinterest or Instagram and share requests with the designer. Others want to start from scratch. Regardless, she indicates that every project is collaborative with the homeowner.
“Every project is different,” states the interior designer for Pine Street Carpenters/The Kitchen Studio in West Chester, PA, “but we want each one to reflect the client and have it work practically for their needs and lifestyle.”
Renovations, and even new-construction projects, are great catalysts for cleaning out the kitchen of any unneeded and unused items, indicates Teague. However, even with extensive purges, homeowners still want plenty of organized and easily accessible storage for the items they intend to keep.
“It’s so much more pleasurable to work in the kitchen when you can access all your tools, even those in the back, so storage is a huge request for us,” she says.
As such, she indicates that drawers are more useful than doors with stationary shelves.
“Pots and pans are stacked up and all the homeowner can easily access is what’s in the front,” she indicates in reference to the latter configuration. “We like to use drawers instead of doors because you gain so much more functionality and accessibility in the same amount of space.”
Another storage option that is particularly popular is narrow 12″-wide pantry pullouts equipped with cylindrical stainless steel canisters for storing utensils on the top level and stainless steel ‘floors’ for storing oils and vinegars beneath.
“They are perfect for placing next to a cooktop or range because they keep everything handy,” she explains. “And since the bottom is stainless steel, it’s easy to clean and maintain.”
While some of Teague’s clients request materials and design elements that are specific to themselves, the vast majority prefer a kitchen that is a bit more ‘neutral’ and will remain in style for many years.
“People don’t want to have a kitchen that 10 years after a renovation looks trendy and outdated,” she says.
In that regard, timeless materials such as subway tiles are frequent requests. To give them an updated look, some choose a more contemporary size, such as 3″x12″, rather than the more traditional 3″x6″.
“Switching up the sizing can take timeless subway tile to a different level, without being too crazy,” she says.
Teague’s clients also look toward simplicity in cabinetry. While not necessarily full-on shaker, they don’t want anything with heavy mouldings or ornate details.
“People seem to want a little bit of detail,” she explains, “more along the lines of a modified shaker with a little trim detail.”
More simplified cabinetry also dovetails into a desire for materials and design elements that are easy to maintain.
For countertops, that can mean quartz, but the designer also indicates that natural stones can be suitable as well.
“There isn’t any one material that is the be-all, end-all,” she remarks. “There are a lot of presumptions, so it’s a matter of educating our clients.”
McMahon typically works in smaller homes, i.e., modest ranches from the ’60s and ’70s and petite bungalows from the early 1900s. Configured with a lot of little rooms, she is often asked to tear down walls to bring in more light and to give homeowners the ability to experience the whole of the home rather than just one room.
The open-concept design also gives her clients the ability to include a kitchen island, which for many is a first-ever design element given the homes’ original space constraints.
“Incorporating an island is the most common ‘ask’ that I receive from homeowners who are considering a kitchen renovation,” she observes. “Everyone ends up in the kitchen, regardless of its size, so including an island makes the space more convivial by allowing people to be near the cook and close to the activity.”
The designer also indicates that adding an island makes the space feel more contemporary and well-appointed.
“When people look through Houzz or watch HGTV, they see rooms that are spacious and look high end,” she says, noting that many of them also include the adored island. “For people who have never had an island, incorporating one makes their home seem more luxurious and up to date. While it’s not necessarily a status symbol, having an island in the kitchen is a sign that you’re in the current style and state of what’s being done in kitchens today.”
Another frequent ‘ask’ from McMahon’s clients focuses around an increased interest in oversized sinks, including traditional farmhouse-style versions and workstation sinks.
“They are a departure from the standard double sink with a high divider,” she explains.
In the case of the workstation sink, accompanying accessories enhance the vessel’s cleanup functionality by turning the cavernous basin into an entertaining center. As she describes, her clients now have a place to set up a taco bar or keep beverages cold, with the added ability to easily drain away any melted ice.
“Guests won’t be opening the refrigerator every couple of minutes,” she says. “Clients also love the cutting boards and colanders while grates protect the sink floor.
“Workstation sinks are deep, easy to use and come with a lot of accoutrements that create different levels,” she continues. “Instead of just having a hole in the counter for a traditional sink, you can upgrade to a workstation sink that not only works to clean dishes, but also allows you to entertain. While you do lose countertop space because of its size, you gain so much functionality. It’s such a different experience using a workstation sink.”
When Oron’s clients bring their kitchen requests to the design table, they are often based on an underlying foundation of farmhouse design style. As such, they ask for materials that will age well while giving the space a classic, timeless feel.
For example, shiplap, or some type of paneling, is a popular choice when its vibe fits the home. Oron also gets requests for handmade tiles and marble mosaics. While natural materials are popular, her clients also appreciate quartz’s qualities. Those that resemble natural materials check multiple boxes.
“Many of my clients here in the Bay area like to use quartz because of its durability,” she explains. “A lot of times they will ask for patterns that look like marble.”
Oron’s clients are also looking for colorful cabinetry mixed with white or gray. Shades of green, especially sage, are common. Wood, all tones from light to dark, is also making its way back into the kitchen.
“I’ve been getting more requests for white oak cabinetry,” she says, adding that wood islands, especially those that are designed to function and feel like a vintage furniture piece, are becoming more popular, as well. “I also do a lot of wood floating shelves, open shelves or interiors to cupboards. It adds a lot of warmth to the kitchen.”
For floating shelves, she often gets requests to accent them with sconces that pair well with pendants above the island or peninsula. Lacquered brass is a popular finish. When combined with stainless steel plumbing fixtures, it offers a mixed metal vibe.
“My clients don’t seem to be as daring with plumbing fixtures,” she relates. “They want something more timeless for their faucets. However, they do like to use brass light fixtures or hardware, which are easier to replace.”
Clear the Counters
Pantries – both walk-in and butler’s styles – have become a bit passé for some of Bender’s clients. Rather, they ask that storage be moved back into the kitchen via highly organized cabinetry and design elements like beverage centers/bars. The latter’s appeal stems from their ability to corral the coffeemaker and associated accessories as well as other small appliances.
“They are a great way to clear the countertops,” she observes. “We often get requests to remove separate walk-in and butler’s pantries and replace them with beverage centers that allow for storage within the kitchen, rather than as an individual entity.”
While expected amenities include outlets, shelves and countertops, Bender also indicates that clients like to use the niches to express their personalities with unexpected material choices. For some, it could be a fun backsplash tile or bold wallpaper. For others, it might be a statement-making wood countertop or shelves.
“It’s a great place for people to have fun with materials!” she says.
The designer also receives varied requests for door options, with some clients choosing solid pocket doors while others opt for glass-front doors that offer a glimpse as to what’s inside. Although the former completely conceals contents when the doors are closed, Bender indicates that clients often still spruce up the interior so it shines when the doors are open.
“It’s pretty when the doors are open, but items are tucked away when they aren’t being used,” Bender relates.
Replacing wall cabinets with windows and/or floating shelves is another request often fielded by the designer.
“Natural light is definitely something we are designing into more of our kitchens,” she reports, noting a popular location for windows is to either side of the range. Bender has also seen increased requests for colored ranges – along with other appliances – that are accented with a uniquely shaped ventilation hood.
Floating shelves offer clients the opportunity to step into the realm of mixing metals, with brass being a recent introduction.
“Early on, rustic wood was a strong request,” she states. “But now brass is becoming more popular. People were a little hesitant to use it with other metals, but they are seeing it more now…and they are seeing it done well so they are definitely more comfortable with it. Currently we’re working on a project where the floating shelves have a brass bistro rail. In another project, glass shelves appear to be suspended by brass. It’s very European, like a high-end brasserie.” ▪