Ask kitchen designers about what’s trending right now and they’ll tell you that green is the new black; everyone wants spaces that offer elements inspired by nature, whether warm woods, natural light, earthy color palettes or natural materials.
Texture remains on trend, and designers continue to seek ways to bring the outdoors in, creating spaces that feel earthy, warm and comfortable.
This month, Kitchen & Bath Design News spoke with four designers about how nature is inspiring the spaces they create.
Birdie Miller, designer-craftsman
Fine Furniture-Cabinets and Woodworking
Birdie Miller is passionate about beautiful wood. Having worked with natural wood for five decades, combining and contrasting color and grain, he loves introducing his clients to the beauty of natural wood, which he says “has a variety of unique colors and grain patterns along with the subtle color variations that are lost when a wood is stained.” He believes that once his clients see and understand the beauty in wood, “a new world of possibilities opens up in design.”
Currently, he sees American Black Walnut trending, but he also likes to show clients combinations they may never have known existed: Curly Maple, Rift and Quartered Oak, Quilted Maple and Sapele Pomele, among others.
He notes, “Today, with our high tech society and people working so much, there is a wonderful desire to return to the natural ‘nature’ materials. This becomes a learning experience for my customers to see what is actually available to them in the world of custom cabinets.”
Miller further explains, “Because all of my kitchens are in the center, or heart, of the home, there is usually a lot of open space around the kitchen with plenty of natural light and space for plants and artwork.” Miller usually recommends natural stone for countertops, both because it is easy to maintain, and because it has variated natural colors and grain.
Mixing natural materials with unique properties appeals to his (and his clients’) design sensibilities, and he says, “I may introduce a natural slab of wood with the natural edges of the tree for a service counter as a counterpoint to the hard stone. A wood counter would be used as a buffet, and it is certainly a focal point as the counter is usually one piece of wood that’s 2″-3″ thick, 25″-36″ wide and up to 16″ long.” He cites this as a “beautiful example of nature and the majesty of wood – people don’t even know wood like this exists!”
In the kitchen project seen at left, the house architecture was a barn-type ‘post and beam’ with lots of natural light and outdoor views. He notes that the dark wood door frames and top drawer fronts are made of solid Figured American Black Walnut, with the top drawers and all of the door frame stiles and rails grain matched.
All of the door and drawer panels are Figured Maple (Fiddle Back or Tiger Maple Grain pattern), which is the type of grain used in violin making. He explains, “To achieve wide stable panels, we use veneers. That way each panel has the same beautiful grain pattern. Sometimes it’s important to have uniformity, rather than every piece of wood or panel a different color, which could get distracting.” As he sees it, “Sometimes, less is more.”
A natural walnut slab was used for the service counter, and Miller says, “I also saved (selected) natural defects in the wood to retain the beauty of its natural state,” citing the Eastern philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, which appreciates the variations of nature as a virtue.
The kitchen’s Electrolux refrigerator was chosen for its flat front shape, while the space also includes a GE Profile dishwasher, range top and oven. The German Antique glass door panels feature waves and seeds, adding textural interest, while granite countertops continue the nature-inspired theme.
Miller concludes, “There is a peace and calm that migrates to the people who are around natural wood and take time to appreciate it.”
Jill Warren, owner
Jill Warren Design
Jill Warren is seeing a growing demand for projects that showcase natural materials and elements. This includes both environmentally friendly products as well as those that reflect a nature-inspired vibe, though she sees ‘green’ products as less of a hot topic of conversation these days. She explains, “It’s not about green products anymore – green [properties] are being naturally filtered into products across the board, so I think people are sort of asking for that less but wanting it more.”
However, the lure of nature remains strong, as she sees consumers drawn to the good feelings that are associated with natural light, warm materials, earthy color palettes and plenty of texture.
“I’m in a bit of a niche market,” Warren notes. “It’s a very historic community; most of the homes were built 100 years ago. There are a lot of craftsman homes, so I do find myself kind of geared more toward that kind of historic design, and when I’m doing a craftsman home, those are the clients who want to bring the outside in, make it feel warm and natural. But in general, I always try to bring some of the outdoors in.”
In this kitchen project, she reports, “This client wanted to use some reclaimed materials. She didn’t want it to look like your typical modern farmhouse reclaimed modern kitchen, she wanted it to be more refined.” The kitchen includes a reclaimed walnut island top that was from a local tree that had been cut down, and open shelves and the countertop are both made of reclaimed walnut.
Warren selected Greenfield cabinets in a custom green color, along with a custom copper hood and leather bar stools, incorporating plenty of texture to add warmth and richness to the space. A Wolf range and Liebherr refrigerator were selected, as well.
Lighting is essential when looking to create a bright, nature-inspired space, and this kitchen was no exception. The kitchen opens up to a family room that’s an addition, so Warren added a window on the kitchen side. A whole bay of windows on the other side brings light in. However, she also incorporated a layered lighting plan that included not only plenty of natural light but also ceiling lights and island pendants to keep the vibe light and bright.
Catherine Schager, owner
Catherine Schager Designs
Natural elements like wood, stone and plenty of light are all hot right now, according to Catherine Schager, who sees more and more clients looking for designs that bring a bit of the outdoors in. She says, “I’m seeing people return to wood for their cabinets because they want to bring in the natural look, though they’re not necessarily natural wood colors; they may have a grey stain, but they do want that natural look of wood coming into the kitchen.”
Similarly, she points out, “They’re doing a lot more flooring in wood and nature-derived [materials and looks], and bringing in a lot of light and views to the outside, so there’s more of an indoor/outdoor connection.”
Texture, too, is a big thing, she notes, adding, “[My clients are] still using a lot of countertops that have natural looks to them. I’m still using a lot of granite with a lot of movement and the natural look of that. And when they’re selecting quartz, again, they want something with more movement that looks more natural than just a solid or something that looks like concrete.”
Working with architect Bonnie Rosenberg of Michael Menn Ltd. on this kitchen, she was challenged by space limitations, as the clients wanted to keep the costs down. As such, she needed to find a way to make the kitchen more conducive to cooking and entertaining without expanding the footprint. This was addressed by creating more visual space through a more efficient layout and increased storage, as well as taking advantage of natural light to make the kitchen feel brighter and more spacious.
She explains, “Where the cooktop is now, there was a range. It was an awkward spot for it – there wasn’t a lot of space around it and it was kind of hemmed in – so I put the cooktop there and then a GE wall oven perpendicular to it. Above that, there’s a convection oven/microwave so, in essence, she’s got a double oven with more cooking space.”
Two windows bring in plenty of natural light, and a little banquette was created to take advantage of that light. Schager notes, “The client says that she loves that corner because her daughter will come over and curl up in there,” she offers. “You get such lovely light from outside, plus there’s a pretty tree you can look at. It’s quite bright and light.”
To continue the natural feel, Quartzite Perla Venata 3cm polished countertops with a lot of movement were chosen, along with porcelain tile flooring with a wood look that works well with the Asphalt cabinets by Greenfield Cabinetry. Undercabinet lighting added even more light to the space, giving the small kitchen a larger, airier feel.
owner and lead designer
J Harper Design, LLC
Rick Kinyon-VanDerSnick sees neutral color palettes and a greater interest in lighting as key trends in kitchen design right now. He states, “Trend-wise, I’m seeing a lot of people trying to go with more subtle wood tones. Either they want something dramatic in a more modern way or more traditional wood tones in a neutral palette of gray, some lighter brown tones, maybe veneers.
In addition, lighting is always a priority, he says, and he believes people are willing to spend more because “they don’t just want something that’s utilitarian.”
In designing this space, he remarks, “This is my own personal kitchen, and we have a mid century modern home. We wanted that mid-century modern feel with a crisper edge, but we wanted to keep it earthy with a neutral finish.” He enjoys the warmth of wood, and notes that the black with a smooth finish base cabinet gives the space power and drama.
The kitchen now occupies what was previously the formal dining room, as he wanted more space for entertaining. He also brings clients to the space, and lets them open the drawers.
“Because we have such great views to the outdoors, we also wanted to take advantage of the natural light,” he comments. The light from the giant wall of windows is complemented by pendants from Lamps Plus, while GE appliances, backsplash tile from The Tile Shop, countertops from Stone Masters and cabinetry from Greenfield Cabinetry complete the space. ▪