16 Design Tips from 16 Inspiring Kitchens
Modern, traditional and everything in between—these gorgeous rooms will inspire you to create your own great kitchen, one smart tip at a time.
On paper, a kitchen may just be the place to make and store food—but in reality, it’s so much more than that: a gathering place for family and friends to start or end the day, a place where we chop veggies, chip away at homework and share late-night glasses of wine. So it’s only natural that a room with so many different purposes could be interpreted in infinite ways. Which is why each of these 16 inspiring kitchens offers a unique twist that makes the most of the heart of the home.
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1. Bring wood into an all-white kitchen.
Yes, we’ll always love the white kitchen, but sometimes a little warmth goes a long way in a family space. Here, a Scandinavian-influenced design—think black accents along with a clean, neutral colour palette—is made a little more dynamic by pairing a section of whitewashed oak cabinetry along with the white. In a large kitchen such as this one, notes Vancouver designer Andrea Rodman, breaking up a bank of cabinets with the introduction of another material brings a more intimate feel to the space, along with some visual dynamism.
2. Simplify materials to enhance fine details.
For this kitchen in Vancouver’s Dunbar neighbourhood, designer Sophie Burke chose monastically quiet elements to allow subtle variations in the polished Calacatta marble backsplash to shine. The walnut island was stained a darker-than-natural hue to prevent orange undertones from developing over time and to contrast with millwork painted a barely there grey (Para Paint’s Sing Time). “We wanted a colour that isn’t obviously grey but has a natural stonewashed shade to it and picks up on some of the colours in the marble,” says Burke. “It added interest without being too busy.”
3. Mix up materials to make tone-on-tone beautiful.
The rich, warm grey palette of this Calgary kitchen was a natural fit for the homeowner, our 2016 Interior Designer of the Year, Douglas Cridland. “Douglas really loves moody spaces,” says designer Javier Martinez of Cridland Associates. “Any time he does a home of his own, he’s drawn to this colour palette—he loves what he loves.” But monotone doesn’t have to mean boring: here, mid-tone grey millwork is paired with a smooth quartz counter in the same colour range, while a dynamic fabric on the backs of the comfy custom stools adds a little pattern variation. And the upper cabinets above the sink are in another material as well—back-painted glass, in the same shade as the walls. The combination of materials keeps the space interesting, while the unifying colour palette has a calming vibe.
4. Fuse an island with a table.
A cantilevered reclaimed-wood table juts out of the Carrara marble block in this White Rock, B.C., kitchen. It’s a stunning architectural feature—and one that grew out of a compromise. “I wanted a big, beautiful feature block, and the homeowner wanted a breakfast table, so we fought it over and this was the result,” laughs interior designer Adam Becker. The warm and rustic tabletop Becker brought in from Scott Landon Antiques provides space for an intimate breakfast for two, but the clever structure actually accentuates the sleek island’s clean lines in the process. Win-win.
5. Bring sculpture—and a little asymmetry—to the kitchen island.
When designer Stephanie Brown met with her North Vancouver clients, they chatted about that all-important question: Just how many stools does a family of three need? While the answer is obvious (four, since a spare is great), there can sometimes be a temptation to max out seating space on a large island such as this one (the counter is more than 12 feet long). Instead, Brown kept the visual clutter down with a trim number of stools and an asymmetric design that introduces a sculptural niche to the front of the island—great for the display of a few pretty pieces of pottery.
6. Use dark cabinetry to draw in the outdoors.
“The homeowners wanted the inside and the outside of the home to be one room,” says Tina Marogna, principal of Aya Kitchens of Vancouver and the designer of this West Vancouver space. Using flat-panelled wenge cabinets in a rich rye shade, with minimal pull-tab hardware and similarly dark quartz stone for both the countertops and backsplash, allows the kitchen to recede, bringing the landscaping to the fore. Major design elements, including the red-cedar ceiling and the tile flooring, run continuously to the outside, further blurring the lines. A clever indoor-outdoor countertop on the perimeter wall makes playing bartender a breeze.
7. Light the room for both mood and function.
Though this space is finely detailed—gorgeous millwork, Calacatta marble backsplash—this kitchen anchors one end of a fairly informal living space in this family home in Vancouver. Designed by architect David Nicolay of Evoke International Design, it’s also incredibly well lit: the long, linear fixture over the island lights the room with both uplight and downlight (or just one or the other), but there’s mood-setting options here, too. A dimmable strip of lights lines the stone wall, creating a soft glow in the room for someone, say, watching a movie in the nearby lounge space; meanwhile, above the dining table, a Roll and Hill fixture adds a decorative touch.
8. Pare down and show off.
In this modern-country kitchen designer Bruce Wilkin created for (and in collaboration with) Western Living’s own Victoria city editor, Rosemary Poole, marble slabs were mounted on cast iron brackets above the sink to provide open-concept storage for the handful of dishes Poole and her family actually use. “The best thing about open shelves is that you always know where things are,” says Wilkin. “There’s no digging around—the space feels intuitive, with everything exactly where it should be.”
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9. Use navy as the new neutral.
“For so long, people were using dark brown or grey,” says Aly Velji, principal of Alykhan Velji Designs. “Now it’s blue—the darker blues, the navies—that is coming on trend.” The Shaker-style cabinets in this 10-year-old kitchen in Calgary’s Altadore neighbourhood (right) were in good shape but stained a stale, light-absorbing brown. Velji painted the perimeter cabinets a crisp white and used Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy on both the island and a built-in sideboard in the dining area. Three kinds of unlacquered brass hardware and marble subway tile with a bevelled edge keep the space from looking too casual.
10. Embrace some texture.
To get a contemporary, casual-chic vibe in this Calgary kitchen, designer Rochelle Cote eschewed a matchy-matchy look and went for a mix of finishes and textures. Up top, some cabinet doors are white while others are frosted; below, walnut cabinetry grounds the space. But it’s the details that really make this space one of a kind, says Cote. “There were so many intricate elements here,” she notes—like the custom cabinets that flank the range, designed specifically to store knives and bottles of oil.
11. Put an indoor-outdoor kitchen in a corner.
When you’re a landscape architect living on a 13,000-square-foot lot, an indoor-outdoor kitchen is pretty well essential. Jeffrey Riedl of Robert Pashuk Architecture says the pinwheel plan of his Calgary home places the kitchen at the crux of the design: NanaWall systems meet on a corner and pull back completely, allowing indoor-outdoor access from multiple rooms. Features of a modern farmhouse—wire glass in the upper cabinets, a white octagonal tile backsplash and traditional milk-glass pendants—balance out the modern architecture. An outdoor fireplace clad in cut-face rundle rock keeps the family of four outdoors late into the season.
12. Take inspiration from structural details.
The steel I-beam that crossed the kitchen of this 1960s home in Calgary’s Lake Bonavista neighbourhood couldn’t be moved or flush-mounted, so Shannon Lenstra of Kon-strux Homebuilding and Renovations used it as the central design feature, incorporating rusted-then-clear-coated steel channelling into the cabinetry, range hood and island. Collaborating designer Nichola Clare continued the look with factory pendants from Restoration Hardware and faux-reclaimed cherry-red stools sourced from Xibit. The resulting industrial aesthetic gives the homeowners (plus their two young children and a rotating cast of rescue dogs) a bold, clean-lined space that can withstand serious daily use.
13. Keep the flight path clear.
Though the hexagon marble backsplash and coffered ceiling give this Vancouver kitchen an elegant vibe, this kitchen designed by Negar Reihani of Space Harmony was actually created with family in mind. “The kitchen is the centre of all the action,” says Reihani. “So, yes, it’s got some glamour, but it’s also very kid-friendly.” The homeowners have two high-energy kids running around and a gaggle of their friends creating a constant flow of visitors, so keeping the area around the oversized island clear and open was a priority. Reihani designed a special nook with built-in banquette seating for the kids to do their homework while the homeowners are busy in the kitchen.
Boutique condo developments are always a great predictor of incoming design trends. For the kitchens in the forthcoming Bellevue building in West Vancouver, Linda Gallo, a senior designer with Insight Design, avoided cabinet hardware to enhance the lines of the unique double-raised shaker profile on the white oak cabinetry. Instead of pulls, the internal mechanical system by Tip-On allows lower drawers and doors to spring open with a slight nudge. The white-gold marble backsplash and quartz countertops are similarly uninterrupted. “We wanted to create something with a traditional feeling but executed in a very contemporary way,” says Gallo.
The swing door, just to the left in this Calgary kitchen inevitably creates a traffic hub—and a crunch point in traditional kitchen nooks, since a nearby table and chairs inevitably get in the way. Designer Lauren Plomske of Renova Luxury Renovations worked with the homeowners to create a more workable space—ditching the table and chairs for a second island, with bar stools. The island also features a drinks fridge and a sink, making it the domain of the kids while mom or dad get the meal prepped. “The rest of the kitchen is theirs,” says Plomske.
16. Layer in traditional details to make a modern update work.
“When working with heritage homes, it’s important to lay down a solid base layer of strong architectural features—like cased openings, trim around the windows, archways—so that the renovated areas feel like they were always part of the home,” says designer Francesca Albertazzi, who worked with Jillian Harris to renovate this home for Love It or List It Vancouver. After opening up this formerly cramped kitchen on Vancouver’s west side, Harris and her LIOLIV crew layered in a fresh palette of whites and soft greys (complete with a gorgeous marble mosaic backsplash) for a modern kitchen that cherishes its character.