The term ‘New Traditional’ may seem like an oxymoron, but the style, which basically merges classic and contemporary elements, has become a strong movement. This is especially true in kitchen design, for a number of reasons, according to kitchen and bath industry professionals.
For one thing, this hybrid style creates the kind of livable, welcoming spaces preferred by homeowners, who often find the typically severe European kitchen a bit cold. It also leaves a lot of room for personal expression as well as regional design influences. In fact, New Traditional has become so prevalent that some designers refer to it as an American style phenomenon.
Middleton, WI designer Paul Dybdahl of Dybdahl Design Group isn’t exactly a newcomer to the idea of mixing styles. “We specialize in remodeling and our region tends to be fairly conservative,” he explains. “Therefore, melding new and old and keeping a home’s character as well as clients’ lifestyles in mind comes naturally to us, and we’ve been doing it for years. But, obviously, there are lots of people all over the country who appreciate traditional architecture, interiors and furnishings, while also admiring clean lines and modern technology. Let’s face it, even new homes look to the past, so, yes, I certainly see New Traditional as a relevant trend.”
Designing for a sophisticated luxury market, Steven Cooper of Cooper Pacific Kitchens in West Hollywood, CA agrees that New Traditional is a trend with staying power. “We are such believers that we just installed a New Traditional kitchen in our showroom,” he says. “The extreme high-end market, too, appreciates the warmth of traditional kitchens while also borrowing a restrained sensibility from contemporary design. Our designs include lots of layering and textures and combinations of finishes and colors. And the great thing about New Traditional is that it leaves room for us to also pay homage to our region with Regency and Art Deco elements.”
Interpreting a trend
What makes New Traditional such a well-loved style is its versatility. Says Peter Salerno, a kitchen industry guru with numerous awards to his name and an idea-filled showroom in Wyckoff, NJ: “Are we talking about traditional with a modern twist, modern with a traditional twist, transitional or something in between? Well, I think transitional probably comes closest to current tastes, but personally I find that term rather weak and nondescript. New Traditional is a better term. It intrigues clients, and that’s something we welcome. We love it when they come to our showroom and are inspired to think creatively.”
Currently, the Salerno showroom is displaying a number of new cabinet door styles, and he notes, “In our market, the Shaker door is pretty much out. Our clients are definitely looking for something a bit more ornate and unusual. We give them that with more details and unique features. One of our doors, for example, features a stainless steel frame. Another stands out with triple beads. The point here is to give the clients ideas and have them open themselves to new concepts.”
On the other hand, massive crown moldings are giving way to less elaborate treatments, he says, and however much he loves creative solutions, he discourages outrageous design themes.
“People are looking for tranquility,” he explains, “which is why New Traditional is such a good style. An all-black kitchen, for example, with all-black cabinetry and appliances, may seem sexy right now, but for how long is it sexy? And who wants to pay $200,000 for a kitchen you are sick and tired of within a few years?”
A recent Salerno project fits the mold for New Traditional to perfection. The home kitchen of a professional pastry chef, it blends traditional and contemporary elements, with two-toned cabinetry, stainless steel appliances, black stone countertops, a custom metal hood and traditional lighting. A ceiling detail featuring art deco tin tiles echoes the traditional architecture. But the big challenge here was fitting in four ovens.
One was a steam oven, an item that Salerno calls “the hottest appliance today.” He raves about his own steam oven and his success cooking exotic dishes in it. He and son Anthony, plus the rest of the design staff, take Culinary Institute of America cooking courses every year. “That’s one of the reasons we’re leaders in kitchen design,” he believes. “We know how a kitchen is supposed to work.”
It’s hardly surprising that Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Designs of Wilmette and Chicago, IL welcomes the New Traditional trend. Creating the perfect blend of classic and contemporary elements has been a cornerstone of his work for many years, so he sees the emergence of New Traditional as a great time for creativity.
“I expect that we’ll see a lot more style crossovers now,” he notes. “But let us remember that we don’t live in Disney World. Yes, we want the warmth of traditional, but let us keep it real and functional.”
De Giulio’s kitchens for clients from around the world, as well as his product innovations for major manufacturers like SieMatic, Kallista and Sub-Zero/Wolf, offer plenty of proof that this designer heeds his own words. Beauty and function are designed into every space, and have resulted in numerous awards and two lavishly illustrated books dedicated to his work.
One notable example of De Giulio’s aesthetic is a kitchen designed for an antique hilltop palazzo in Southern Italy. There, he turned a dark, 120-year-old kitchen, unused for 30 years, into a light-filled, joyous and functional space. While he kept the original terrazzo floors, he removed two walls, replacing one of them with French doors to bathe the space with light and provide easy access to al fresco dining on the adjoining terrace. Glass-fronted stainless steel storage and polished lacquer cabinetry provide lots of function and a modern vibe while antique cast iron doors retained from the original kitchen are charming bridges to the past.
In a Minnesota vacation home, De Giulio was inspired by awesome lake views and Frank Lloyd Wright to create a kitchen that soars 24 feet. To draw the eye downward, he designed a datum of lowered and lighted architectural planes around the perimeter. A mix of materials, including dark woods, quartzite and metals, create warmth, while large, hanging pendants provide a sense of intimacy. Those pendants, by the way, were inspired by Dutch tractor lights – a nod to the client’s businesses.
What are the distinguishing elements of New Traditional? Sarah Robertson of Studio Dearborn in Mamaroneck, NY finds warmer colors effective, especially pale grays and blues, and she loves tile because of its myriad patterns and colors.
“It can be modern or old, quiet or dramatic,” she says. “Tile an entire wall and perhaps the range hood, as well. That creates a sleek, airy look, which I think is especially important when you want to update an older home. Floating open shelves work, too. In one project, we departed from the side-by-side refrigerator idea, placing the freezer in the island instead. That provided a less bulky profile. Plus, I think that technology should be as invisible as possible.”
Cabinetry with furniture details is another strategy employed by many designers, but don’t overdo it, warns Dybdahl. It can get clunky, he says, and that’s not what people want from New Traditional.
Bryan Reiss, of Distinctive Designs of Mount Pleasant Beach, SC agrees. “Traditional elements are cherished in our area. After all, Charleston is an iconic, historic town. But the tradition has to be balanced with modern features, and we also need to incorporate artful design and beautiful materials to create an environment that’s distinctive and personal.”
He calls New Traditional a very American concept and, like Steven Cooper, he loves the way the style makes room for regional influences.
“We aren’t just the Old South,” he notes. “We are also coastal, and that means a lot of unique design interpretations. For example, recently a client wanted her new kitchen to be both modern and coastal. She loved shiplap. So she got a kitchen that blends sleek lines, white countertops, white marble, ultra-contemporary lighting and a wall entirely lined with shiplap cabinetry. The shiplap also covers the range hood. The pale shiplap adds warmth and texture to those white surfaces, but the vibe of the room is distinctly contemporary.”
As Peter Deane, a third-generation Connecticut designer, sees it, the kitchen is the heart of the home, and the blend of tradition and modernity offered by New Traditional suits it to a T.
“A warm, welcoming place with lots of space for friends and family to hang out in is what so many of our clients ask for,” tells Deane, head of Deane Design of Stamford and New Canaan, CT. “Often, this means that we travel way beyond our basic market area to design kitchens in vacation homes all along the Eastern seaboard.”
In a waterfront home in the Hamptons, Deane designed the space to take advantage of stunning water views and provide a full working kitchen as well as ample seating for relaxed entertaining. Deane kept the original window walls, but reconfigured the space to feature a galley kitchen with a long island and a gray custom banquette with two tables. Durable mitered honed quartz countertops contrast with dark walnut tabletops.
With its relaxed attitude and thoughtful mix of textures and colors, it typifies New Traditional, notes Deane.
Rebekah Zaveloff, director of design for Kitchen Lab Interiors in Chicago, IL, says that New Traditional is defining a look that a lot of people don’t even realize that they fall into. “All they know is that they want a warm, lived-in feel to their kitchen without it being old-fashioned or stuffy.”
“We’re seeing a lot of traditional cabinetry, furniture-style cabinetry and stained cabinetry mixed with painted white,” continues Zaveloff, who is part of the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Insider program. “But we’re mixing it with more modern lighting, stools, faucets and sinks. Tile and hardware are sort of the bridge that connects classic and modern features,” she maintains.
However, she feels that it’s wrong to assume that new and old are mixed evenly. “I really think that we’re putting a more modern twist on traditional rather than the other way around,” she says. “But perhaps that’s because our firm’s specialty is working in older homes. That said, we’re taking the same approach with a new-construction project we’re working on right now.”
Zaveloff’s perception that modern surpasses classic in the mix termed New Traditional isn’t wrong. Most designers do lean more toward new elements, a natural reaction since kitchens do need to be functional and incorporate technology, plus it’s important to convert dark, older rooms into light, airy spaces. The long and the short of it is that a little traditional goes a long way. Remember Mick De Giulio’s antique palazzo? Its new kitchen is 90 percent modern, 10 percent antique, but it works perfectly for a palazzo built hundreds of years ago. ▪