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Dimensional Design

Designers showcase different textural elements to create layers of depth, warmth and drama in their kitchen projects.

authors Kim Berndtson | February 7, 2019

There are many reasons why clients might fall in love with a particular material to include in their kitchen project. Maybe it’s the perfect color, the perfect shape or even the perfect size. But it can also be all about its texture: about how it feels, or how it makes the space feel.

Texture – whether physically tactile or visually implied – is a central design element in many successful kitchen plans. For one, it creates contrast.

“An approach in a well-designed project is to have contrast, although it isn’t the only way,” says Brad Cruickshank, designer/builder, Cruickshank Remodeling, in Atlanta, GA. “A project can be all about slick and shiny, or all about texture. But to have some contrast definitely is a design approach that can offer success in many situations.”

Ali Swidler, Ali Swidler Designs, in Austin, TX, adds that contrast, via texture, can be especially valuable in monochromatic projects.

“If I’m designing an all-white kitchen, then creating different levels of texture can be a nice way to make things stand out from one another,” she says.

Cement tile on the island served as the focal point in this kitchen that Ali Swidler designed for a bachelor client. The island also features a rustic bar top juxtaposed against sleek quartz, which complements the walnut cabinetry.
Photos: Sophie Epton Photography

Danielle Wrenn, AKBD, of Marsh Kitchen & Bath, in Burlington, NC, agrees. “A monochromatic space can be quite boring, and even sterile,” she maintains. “I think it’s important to have at least one textural element in a kitchen. If you don’t have some change in texture, or at least the illusion of texture, the kitchen can become stagnant.

“By adding different textures, you create depth and dimension,” she continues. “You can even portray a feeling of temperature, whether warm or cool. In most cases, the texture also becomes a focal point.”

Kitchens need to breathe and feel like life is happening in them, notes Wendy Danziger, Danziger Design, in Bethesda, MD. “When they don’t include any texture, they tend to be very flat, cold and non-reflective,” she says. “They don’t have any personality, so incorporating texture adds drama, highlight and interest.”

Texture is often what draws people into a space, indicates Susan Curtis, owner, Sage Kitchens, in Bozeman, MT.

“Texture is inviting,” she says. “It warms up the space and makes you want to come in to take a closer look…and to touch and feel everything.”

Texture also changes how light affects the space, says Brian David Roberts, interior space planner/functional designer, in Seattle, WA.

“When you have too many hard surfaces that are flat and pretty much void of texture, then light moves differently,” he states. “If you have texture, it gets captured a bit to create shadows. When you create shadows, then you have dimension, so texture makes a space feel more dimensional. Texture also creates a live-in patina that keeps a space from feeling too stark or museum-like.”

An illusion of texture

While there is a lengthy list of materials that are inherently textural and relatively easy to recognize, designers indicate there are also more subtle ways to infer texture that can equally enhance a design.

“Most people think of texture as something that is bumpy,” says Roberts. “But there are a lot of ways to bring in texture without it being bumpy.”

For example, he cites color, sheen and lighting as possibilities. “If a kitchen ceiling has a glossy paint, that creates texture, because it offers glitz and glimmer that makes the space feel alive,” he says.

Curtis agrees, noting that, in addition to color, pattern can also imply texture. “Both would play a part in modern kitchens,” she notes.

Brian David Roberts combined visually implied texture with tactile texture in this kitchen represented, respectively, by a vibrant back-painted glass backsplash and moveable textured acrylic tabletop. Texture is also implied via an open shelf used to store and display wine glasses as well as by a blackened steel ceiling accent over the tabletop.
Photos: Virginia Roberts Photography

Danziger adds that texture can be suggested via highly veined materials such as quartz or granite. Even stainless steel offers brush marks and some decorative glass contains flecks and specks that aren’t necessarily sensed via touch.

“There is also porcelain that looks like slate, which is usually clefted with highs and lows that make it hard to clean and hard to stand on,” she says. “But the porcelain is smooth so it can be more practical. There are definitely ways to portray texture without feeling it.”

Wrenn also draws attention to tile, as well as cabinet materials.

“There are some great new choices with tile that replicate natural stone, wood and even woven fabrics so there is an illusion of texture,” she states. “There are also cabinets available in high-pressure laminate that have a slight raised pattern to imitate rough-sawn woods, without the disadvantage of splinters and challenges in cleaning, which is an important consideration because surfaces with a great deal of texture can become grease and dirt traps. Leathered and honed finishes for countertops also don’t compromise the ability to clean the surface.

“Using these products is a little different than designing with the real thing and real textures,” she continues. “But in the kitchen, the practicality and use of space usually trumps the use of an effect associated with products that have a great deal of texture or dimension.”

Brian David Roberts often uses floating shelves as a way to add texture to spaces, such as in this kitchen where he designed shelving in two different materials for two different parts of the room, each set in front of two different backsplash materials. A partial wood island top and stainless steel island legs also add texture to the space.
Photos: Virginia Roberts Photography

Putting it into practice

Roberts often looks to natural products such as wood and stone as a way to incorporate texture, although he likes to include acrylic, frequently adding custom texture, when projects warrant. Oftentimes he’ll also utilize different finishes, such as stainless steel feet or legs for islands, or create floating shelves, crafted in anything from stone and wood to stainless or blackened steel and even leather, in place of upper cabinets.

“Shelves are great to use in a coffee station,” he says. “People can put their mugs on the shelves…all in a line, which creates texture.”

In one recent kitchen project, Roberts used floating shelves in two different materials for two different parts of the room, each set in front of two different backsplash materials. Dark wood shelves in the main area contrast against light tile set in a herringbone pattern, “which, although slight, is very dramatic,” he says. Stainless steel shelves in the breakfast nook float in front of mosaic tile.

“Using a different material in the breakfast nook is a way to make that space its own,” he says. “If all the shelves were the same, the room would be ‘blah.’ You’d have no reason to enjoy being there.”

Roberts also used stainless steel legs on the island, which is partially topped with wood.

“This kitchen offers textural elements in a lot of different ways,” he says, “such as different colors, different sheens, different materials and different backsplashes. There is a lot going on, but it all works.”

Focal-point texture

Swidler’s clients often gravitate toward contemporary designs, so she likes to focus on backsplashes as a way to add texture.

“I like a funky backsplash,” she says, “something that’s a little different.”

Porcelain tiles, especially those that are handmade, are currently a popular material choice, as are cement tiles. The latter serves as a distinctive focal point on the island in a recent project created with masculine overtones for a bachelor client.

“There isn’t a traditional backsplash [behind a range] because of the floating island,” she says, noting the appliance’s central location. “So we used cement tile on the back of the wall of the island. It creates another dimension, especially with the lighting we added.”

The island also features a rustic bar top, which is another way that Swidler likes to bring texture into a space. In this kitchen, she juxtaposed the slightly raised walnut top against sleek, lighter-colored quartz, which serves as the kitchen’s main work surface. The dark wood complements the rest of the kitchen, which showcases rich walnut cabinetry throughout, and contrasts against the maple floors that were stained in a lighter tone.

Cement tile on the island served as the focal point in this kitchen that Ali Swidler designed for a bachelor client. The island also features a rustic bar top juxtaposed against sleek quartz, which complements the walnut cabinetry.
Photos: Sophie Epton Photography

Textural imperfections

Cruickshank also used wood as a textural element, as well as the focal point, in a recent kitchen where the primary design element is the unique cabinetry featuring fluted faces crafted from white oak and finished in a white-washed stain that celebrates the wood’s character and imperfections.

“They set up a pattern, rhythm and shadow lines,” he says, noting that they also offer a sense of material, which is an important consideration when he makes selections for a project. “The doors do have texture, which can be a good way to accentuate the sense of a particular material…for instance, the knots in the white oak. These cabinets could have been done in a clearer grade of wood, or finished in a color rather than a white-washed stain, but you wouldn’t have a sense of the material. Because you can ‘read’ the knot and can touch the knot, you can feel its texture. Psychologically, the knot conveys a knowledge we have of wood. We know what to expect and I think it creates more of a connection with the cabinets.”

The textural tour continues with the deep, rich, hand-scraped oak floor, which highlights irregular tool marks. “Hand scraping emphasizes the character of the material and defines each floor board, creating a greater appreciation of it,” he says.

Cruickshank contrasted the textured woods with cool, white marble countertops, which are honed.

“No gloss allows [for] a better appreciation of the material…there is no shininess to reflect light or serve as a distraction,” he adds. “I guess it’s my approach to not necessarily design with the intent to create a textural experience, but rather to design and select materials and finishes that take advantage of their inherent textural qualities.”

Textural abundance

When a space is large enough, texture can shine in a number of places, without overloading it, as illustrated in a recent kitchen project completed by Curtis, where a stone wall is just the beginning of the textural experience.

Additional highly visible textural elements include the massive ceiling beams. They initially draw the eye up, notes Curtis, but they come back into play and are grounded into the space with the inclusion of the dark island, which is crafted from rift-cut white oak and accented with a live-edge wood top.

The custom perimeter cabinets, which are sheathed in a blue hue finished with a glaze to highlight the details, also spotlight glimpses of texture via the addition of mesh panel doors that partially conceal the TV.

Curtis also likes to mix metals, finishes and materials, as demonstrated with the silver cabinet hardware combined with the oil-rubbed bronze fixtures, and the copper island sink that blends with the porcelain perimeter sink.

“Mixing metals, materials and finishes really brings everything to life and allows everything to stand on its own,” she says.

Another favorite textural element that Curtis likes to use is a ‘dressed up’ backsplash, which she often takes to the ceiling. In this case, natural stone is set in a chevron pattern and its honed finish contrasts against the polished granite countertops.

Wendy Danziger highlighted Mother Nature’s texture in this kitchen, which is on display via the walls of windows. She further glorified texture via the wood ceiling, wood island top and wood dining table, which features a live edge.

Natural texture

Danziger also followed the notion that ‘more is more’ in a kitchen addition completed in a 300-year-old house where texture is glorified via interior as well as exterior elements.

For example, the walls of windows provide virtually unobstructed views of her client’s yard, showcasing the ultimate in Mother Nature’s texture.

The designer also brought some of the outdoors in by covering much of the ceiling with wood. The portion that isn’t encased in wood is glass, which extends visual access to the outdoors.

“The wood is very grainy…and very dramatic,” she notes.

Wood makes additional appearances as the island top, where Peruvian walnut is featured, and as the dining table top, which has been repurposed and given a live edge.

Texture is further highlighted in the driftwood finish for the perimeter cabinets, which are topped with concrete, as well as in accessories such as the open wine rack, the fabric-covered chairs and even the stainless ventilation hood.

However, texture needn’t always be overt. In some instances, it is much more subtle, such as in a white kitchen Danziger recently designed. Texture speaks more quietly via the tone-on-tone backsplash tiles where horizontal rows of smooth glass are complemented with rows of dimensional glass that resembles a flowing river.

Other more understated textural elements include cabinet hardware that mimics a carved tree branch. “Textural elements can sometimes be something quite small,” she says, adding that the pineapple-shaped mugs made visible by the glass door panels also add texture to the room, as does the painted floor cloth.

Textural countertops

Wrenn often likes to incorporate texture via countertops. Such was the case in a recent kitchen remodel where stainless steel serves as the main countertop material, which is accented with granite for a raised bar and additional work surfaces.

“The two materials offer a nice contrast in different surfaces and how much they reflect light,” she says, adding that the highly patterned, stained checkerboard floor also emphasizes contrast.

“Countertops, in general, are a great way to add texture without compromising the user’s ability to clean the surface,” she continues, adding that availability of leathered or honed finishes makes it easier to accomplish that goal. “Unfortunately, texture in a kitchen can be a challenge because everything needs to be fairly smooth for cleaning, which means texture can sometimes get overlooked.” ▪

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