Wow Appeal

by Ashley Lapin Olian

Inspired use of color and texture, superior attention to detail, abundant, well-organized storage, custom elements, a tie in to the great outdoors, the ability to infuse the space with “feel good” vibes and a sense of connection to the client – these are the elements that create kitchens with ‘wow’ power.

While a great focal point is where it all starts, there’s a lot more to it than just one eye-catching design element. Rather, the best kitchens combine looks, personality and the ability to get the job done, with everything from great lighting and abundant storage to the little custom details contributing to the overall impact.

This month, Kitchen & Bath Design News asked designers to share their favorite kitchen designs that score high marks for the ‘wow’ factor.


When asked what gives a kitchen true ‘wow’ power, Richard Landon, CMKBD, of the Bellevue, WA-Based Richard Landon Design believes the answer is multi-dimensional. From a warm, ‘living’ presence to abundant details, a connection with the outdoors and other spaces in the home, plentiful and creative storage, custom elements and an ability to transcend the actual space, kitchens that wow blend both tangible and intangible elements to become uplifting, evocative and inspirational.

However, he’s convinced that the “w” in “wow” has to start with “welcoming.” An instructor for the National Kitchen & Bath Association and past president of the Northwest Society of Interior Designers, he has spoken at length about what transforms a kitchen from merely appealing to truly exceptional.

He explains, “To me, a ‘wow’ kitchen welcomes visitors, rising above simply being a visually arresting space.”

Photo: Gregg Krogstad

Photo: Gregg Krogstad


In this kitchen, he particularly likes how “the shape of the eating bar curves around to ‘hug’ guests as they enter.” This type of welcoming element has an immediate emotional impact on those who enter the space.

But the welcoming feeling is only the start of what gives this kitchen such strong visceral appeal. As Landon explains, “This kitchen also has a ‘living’ aspect to it. Its mood can change, as it floats on a bronzed-mirror base with color-shifting LED light. This mood is complemented by the nearby wine room with its color-shifting Plexiglas floor. Lighting from the floor up to the ceiling wraps the room with a warmth that balances the drama of the Carbone facing of the cabinets.”

Indeed, the wine cube is a dramatic element that not only boasts strong visual appeal, but also showcases wining and dining in a whole new light.

Tactile appeal is another element that impacts how a space is experienced, and Landon states, “In this kitchen, as they approach and touch the bar, they experience the tactile silkiness of Fenix, a nanotech material, evoking memories of other times they felt this texture.”

Added drama is found in the Giallo Storm countertop, which pairs with the nanotech material on the eating bar.

Landon also believes that great kitchens “inspire new ways to relate to one another and enjoy the home and its views, both internal and external.” In this case, the original kitchen had no real views, and was isolated from the rest of the home. Taking the walls down and adding a giant picture window dramatically altered the feeling of the space, tying the outdoors in while creating a more family-centric space.

Of course custom details play a big role in creating that eye-catching design that makes a kitchen stand out. Here, the dramatic curves of the EVO grill paired with an induction Wolf cooktop and custom hood provide dramatic visual impact along with powerful cooking chops, while the fireplace opposite adds a vibrancy and warmth that makes the space inviting and livable.

Finally, he notes, “A ‘wow’ kitchen amazes us with how much storage it holds by moving past the legacy standards commonly used for sizing cabinetry, locked in from the post-WWII era.” He cites super-deep drawers that provide plenty of well-organized and accessible storage as giving this space added functional ‘wow’ power.


Strong structure, clean, simple lines and powerful use of color are key elements to creating a kitchen with ‘wow’ power, according to Scott Purswell, CKD, of the Portsmouth, NH-based Dovetailed Kitchens.

Photo: Rob Karosis

Photo: Rob Karosis


He cites a kitchen created for an architect’s home as an example of this, noting, “A strong reliance on the power of sight lines, providing strong structure while employing open space and an aggressive use of color make for a kitchen that fits the sophisticated decor of home while serving as a ‘chef’s kitchen.’”

“Being an architect’s kitchen, the design was guided by her own architectural sensibilities from years of experiencing both residential and commercial projects,” he explains, citing horizontal lines that “repeated with both the wider cabinets and the tile, accentuating the windows overlooking the Piscataqua River. The wide, open shelves give easy opportunity to decorate and bring in other elements and themes. This gives the kitchen tremendous flexibility in providing ‘moods’ for the different seasons and holidays.”

Color wise, the design is both peaceful and strong. He explains, “I wanted to use a softer, warmer wood to offset the strong blue tiles and anchor it to the rich stained floors. Alder with a pleasant, medium-toned stain on a clean and updated door did just the trick. The stainless steel pulls are another echo of those horizontal lines. The use of an earth tone quartz counter helps with a more peaceful feel where all of the wood tones tie in but are not identical.”

Of course functionality is a key factor in creating a kitchen that wows in more than just the looks department. In this case, both owners were accomplished cooks, so the designer made sure to include plenty of counter work space so each could perform their separate tasks without getting in each other’s way.

He explains, “The lift-up upper cabinet storage keeps all of the frequently used items close at hand. The refrigerator wall is complete with a pull-out pantry, a stack of specialized drawers, platter storage and slide-out trays.”


Sometimes, an existing element can be re-imagined to inspire a ‘wow’ transformation. In the case of this kitchen, designed by Cathy Sage, owner of Sage Kitchen Design in Troy, IL, the wood beams that existed in the clients’ home provided inspiration for the new kitchen, designed with entertaining in mind.

Photo: Jim Diaz;

Photo: Jim Diaz;


According to Sage, “We wanted to have the feel of a clean, straight line contemporary [space] while

having the feel of the warmth of stained wood. We achieved that by introducing the rustic alder stained wood with the contemporary door with painted white wood. The barn door is also a rustic alder wood that conceals a large walk-in pantry.”

She continues, “Countertops were a concern when it came to adding the warm feel of wood while still having a work counter that would be easy to prepare food on where cleaning would be low maintenance.  We achieved that by using a thick, black walnut wood upper top for the breakfast counter, and having the lower counters be quartz to allow for low-maintenance food prep.”

Sage believes that the ‘wow’ factor should be evident at first glance, and in this case, the beverage center is the first area to be visible when someone enters the kitchen. She notes, “A combination of white and grey/black cabinets were the ‘wow’ factor on this wall, along with the full wine cabinet. The upper doors are hinged up for easy access and a straight line look.”

The lighting fixtures also add significant ‘wow’ appeal to the space.

However, as important as it is for a kitchen to showcase aesthetic appeal, it also has to serve its purpose effectively. In this case, well-designed, accessible storage adds to the kitchen’s appeal, while the large, spacious design facilitates entertaining, making it perfect for the clients’ needs.


Beautiful and functional are the buzzwords when it comes to what give a kitchen ‘wow’ appeal, according to Dennis D. Gehman, MCR, MSA, CLC, CKBR, CAPS, president of Gehman Design Remodeling in Harleysvile, PA. Gehman believes it’s not the size of a kitchen that makes it special, but rather that it contains all of the items the clients need to make the space work for them. He also believes connecting to nature can give a kitchen powerful aesthetic appeal.

Photo: Mike Irby Photography

Photo: Mike Irby Photography


In this kitchen, nature played an important role in adding the ‘wow’ factor, with many large windows and a skylight helping to bring the outdoors in.

Part of a whole-house remodel, the kitchen features minimalist styling throughout, with a custom stainless steel range hood and wallsplash providing a dramatic focal point that adds sparkle, while connecting the stainless steel appliances.

He notes, “Alaska White granite counters naturally become a beautiful point of interest.

Clear glass was chosen for the raised bar of the island to “continue the open feeling and allow the Alaska White granite to be enjoyed no matter where you are in the kitchen.”

Balance, too, is an element that helps to transform a kitchen from nice to truly spectacular. He points out that this kitchen offers visual balance in the way the island is centered under the cathedral ceiling. “And the view into the living space when cooking behind the island is very attractive,” he concludes.


At the Medina, OH-based Architectural Justice, owner James Justice believes, “‘Wow’ kitchens should have a great focal point, whether it be an impressive kitchen island or a custom design element, like a range hood.”

“Function is another important element of a ‘wow’ kitchen,” he continues. “Most all of our designs include custom storage solutions that elevate the kitchen beyond just the aesthetic.”

Photo: Hal Stata

Photo: Hal Stata


Design elements carefully chosen to pair well together can also add ‘wow’ appeal, while beautiful lighting fixtures can help add visual drama as well.

He cites a kitchen design of his that illustrates these ideas. A modern industrial kitchen in gray, it features custom metal, glass and wood integrated appliance panels that are complemented by Foundry Grey painted cabinetry. Tying into his belief that superior storage is essential to a great kitchen, the space features custom drawer organizers designed to seamlessly hold utensils, dishes and cookware.

He points out, however, “The handcrafted, reclaimed wood island is a true statement piece. The wood pairs beautifully with Calacatta White Quartzite countertops displaying a waterfall edge.”

He notes that the island also has a pop-up mechanism featuring Wolf countertop appliances. “The industrial look is complete with factory-inspired columns, beams and windows.”


The great outdoors also played a key role in a kitchen and bar area designed by Laura A. Suglia-Isgro, ASID, of the Bay Village, OH-based KAS Interior Design. The clients wanted a “cool kitchen,” and she added plenty of ‘wow’ power by maximizing views of the lake (from the kitchen) and pool area (from the sunroom-turned-bar).

Photo: William H. Webb

Photo: William H. Webb


She explains, “This custom kitchen was designed for a newly renovated home on the often dramatic shores of Lake Erie. This is the retirement home of a couple who have a large family and entertain a great deal.” She notes that the coastal cities along the lake discourage home demolition, so the design task was to “take the original style of the house, which was traditional, and transform it into a very contemporary home.”

As a retirement home, the design needed to be not only visually appealing, but also needed to feature smart home ideals and easy-care materials.

She says, “The design process of this kitchen began with the idea to bring the outside in. The views of Lake Erie brought forth the idea of water, which transitioned into the curved front peninsula to emulate a wave. The counter of the peninsula and island is a granite that we used to develop the color palate of the house. There are gray hues that we pulled the cabinet and wall colors from and a raspberry speckle that helped determine the pop of color on the south cooking wall.”

She notes that the north (lake) facing peninsula provides seating or works as a serving area, “and has layered light bands faced by white plexiglass panels along the front side that incorporate LED lighting. The east wall of the peninsula is made up of a glass door lit display cabinet to show off the couple’s collection of decorative glassware.” Since entertaining was a high priority, the appliances are an essential part of this kitchen’s ‘wow’ power.  The designer states, “A full-height refrigerator and freezer sit side by side, centrally located in the space for ease of access. The refrigerator and freezer are flanked by double ovens on one side and a Miele coffee system and microwave on the other.”

She continues, “The cooking area is located on the South wall and houses a six-burner cooktop and wall hood. We used a full-height painted plate glass backsplash in that location that can be easily cleaned. The cooktop is flanked by large utensil storage and pots and pans storage.

To allow the wife to enjoy the lake view while preparing meals, the sink was situated on the island, along with the dishwasher and a wine refrigerator. Additionally, decorative lighting is carried over from the face of the peninsula.

To continue the entertaining theme, the wet bar/party room, formerly a sunroom-turned-game-room, was opened up to the outside pool and living area. The design included two large, custom-made 4′-wide doors that create an 8′-wide opening when fully opened. Suglia-Isgro notes, “Because of the high winds off the lake, these doors and the windows that flank them are supported by a custom I-beam structure from above and along the sides.”

The east wall of the space houses a huge ‘wow’ element in the form of a custom cabinet that houses a large fish tank. The designer continues, “There is a frameless glass door that opens into the space and leads down the lighted stairs. The west wall is the location for the juke box and wall-hung television.”

She notes, “The bar layout itself is made of a front and back bar. The front bar is designed to house the glassware for the space. A 42″-high bar-height counter sits atop brackets to give the illusion that it’s floating above the 36″-high countertop beneath. The front of the bar is designed with layered wood panels, cut in a wave pattern, that house LED lights to enhance the look of the wavy layers for a very dramatic effect at night.”

The back bar is also a highly functional work station, with a bar sink, dishwasher drawer, ice maker, beer tap and two beverage coolers. “Additionally, flanking the sink are two lighted risers for bottle display,” she adds.

The finished design is both fun and functional – a perfect ‘wow’ complement to the rest of the home. ▪

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