29 Kitchen Design Tips from the Pros
5 gorgeous kitchens spark over two dozen design lessons.
1. Spark a conversation with art.
Though it’s white-on-white, this piece by Vancouver artist Ray Marasigan—which features tiny plastic army figurines, painted, mounted and framed—still stands out. “It’s quiet, so if you have flowers, it’s not distracting,” says designer Denise Ashmore, “but it still acts as a great conversation starter.”
2. Stash your everyday dishes in drawers, not cabinets.
Spices and seldom-used platters are stored in the overhead cabinets, and a pantry beside the fridge houses groceries, while everyday dishes and glasses find their home in easy-to- access drawers. Ashmore included some open storage, too (built into the island and above the countertop), to showcase pretty servingware and well-loved cookbooks.
3. Forget matchy-matchy countertops.
Though the surrounding Caesarstone countertop is done in dark grey, the island is decked out in
a honed white Statuarietto marble. It’s not as durable, but that’s part of the charm, says Ashmore. “Marks and etchings are inevitable, and we want to embrace that. We’re comfortable with the idea of spots and scratches and the stories that come with them.”
4. Skip the pendant lights.
Ashmore used surface-mounted Artemide lights to avoid competing with the fixture that hangs above the dining table nearby. But with a trio of skylights and a row of clerestory windows above the cabinetry, they’re barely needed: natural light is king in this sunny space.
5. Separate the coffee station.
In the butler’s pantry, Ashmore set up a small area specifically for brewing coffee and whip- ping up smoothies. “It keeps clutter off the main counter this way,” the designer explains.
6. Match the backsplash to the wall.
The stairwell, located right next to the kitchen, is painted dark grey, so Ashmore chose a matching charcoal engineered-quartz Caesarstone tile to act as both the backsplash and countertop material. “When you turn the under-cabinet lights off, the backsplash becomes an extension of the stairwell wall colour and disappears,” she says.
7. Screen off the entryway.
“We didn’t want to wall it in,” says Ashmore of the back-door mud room area, which acts as a landing pad for the family. A custom walnut screen separates their rack of coats and backpacks from the dining area while still allowing light to flood in. “It’s our way of continuing the connection between indoors and outdoors.”
8. Max out the size of the island.
This room is almost a square, so designer Juli Hodgson built the oversized island—over 11 feet long and four feet wide—to proportionally fill the space. Because homeowner Sally Douglas (seen here) and her husband, Mark Reid, have seven children between them (four of whom are still at home), a big island was important. “It’s where we spend all our time,” she says, “gathered around this counter in the kitchen, drinking wine and having a laugh.”
9. Embrace the imperfections.
“I’m a graphic designer, so I love things to be perfect and neat,” says Douglas. “And the thing this kitchen is teaching me is that the wooden counters I adore will stain and get marked and have chips in them. And I love that about the counter—it’s a living thing.”
10. Light for the task at hand.
You can have pendants over the island, or over the dining table—but never both. Hodgson and Douglas decided to keep the sightlines clear in the kitchen itself, away from the island, instead focusing on task-oriented pot lights around the room.
11. Tuck the small appliances away.
Hodgson was able to convert an existing bathroom on the main floor (which, oddly, contained a full bathtub) into a butler’s pantry just off the main room, where the homeowner can store small appliances (and dry goods) out of sight.
12. Keep a few shelves open for display.
In the area she calls the larder—a past homeowner might have stored her preserves here for the win- ter—Hodgson designed an open-storage section for Douglas, who collects ceramics by Vancouver artist Russell Hackney, as well as vintage pieces like a turn-of-the-century mortar and pestle.
13. Go for drawers—and make them wide.
“We like to make drawers as wide as possible,” says Hodgson. “They’re less likely to get cluttered when you can see everything by opening just one drawer—especially when you have seven kids who put stuff away in all different places.”
14. Warm up a modern space with texture.
While you’d never doubt this is a truly modern design, there are elements of the handmade throughout that add a little softness to the lines: hand-scraped hardwood floors, tumbled tiles on the backsplash, and, elsewhere in the home, leather pulls on the millwork crafted by Scott and Scott Architects. “The client was looking for a modernism that was crossed with a little bit of something rustic, something handmade,” explains designer Matt McLeod.
15. Let smoked glass work for you.
The dark inset cabinets are covered in mirrored, smoked glass, which offers beautiful contrast but is also very functional. The centre portion disguises the hood fan for the induction stovetop below, though you wouldn’t know it. “The nice thing about it is you can have a solid fixed panel behind one and dishware behind another,” says McLeod. “Once they’re all closed, it all reads the same because reflectivity is so strong.
16. Don’t be afraid to use hardwood floors in the kitchen.
Yes, wood is technically softer than tile, but new factory finishes are incredibly durable, says designer Lisa Bovell. Using one material throughout the main floor unifies the look—and the hand-scraped surface also covers any dings or wear that might occur over time.
17. Light with purpose.
The Spinning BH1 pendant lights by And Tradition that hang over the island are a beautiful exercise in symmetry, but they also balance the height of the ceiling, says Bovell. “They act to effectively focus your eye in that kitchen,” she explains. “Otherwise, your eyes will be roaming too high—the lights make that area feel a little more intimate as a result.”
18. Hide the ovens.
It’s no accident that you can’t see the wall ovens in these photos—they’re also hidden from any- one in the nearby living space, which contributes to this kitchen feeling white and bright. (They’re fitted into a side wall off the main counter.) “Ovens are the one item you can move out of the classic work triangle,” says Bovell. “You put something in the oven and then leave it—it’s not like working between the cooktop and the fridge.”
19. Go big with the island.
“It’s like a magnet; everybody goes to the kitchen island,” laughs designer Nam Dang-Mitchell. Because of the room’s open layout, there was lots of room for an extra-large design—this one seats four, thanks to an inset on either side, and still provides plenty of built-in storage and a wet sink.
20. Mix and match bar stools.
Bob and Michele Michaleski (seen here) were hoping for some- thing comfortable they could sit in on a daily basis, but four chunky seats would have “looked like a sofa,” says Dang-Mitchell. The compromise: two relaxed seats with slipcovers, with two industrial-style wood-and-steel stools to balance out the look.
21. Make dishware part of the design.
Dang-Mitchell installed the rift-cut oak cabinets slightly higher than normal to allow space for shelving below. “It can get too monochromatic in a kitchen if everything is closed,” says Dang-Mitchell. “Showcasing these white Bakelite dishes against the grey tile is an important part of the culinary visual language.”
22. Go bold with two back- splashes.
While mosaic tile covers most of the kitchen wall, a gorgeous marble—which also sticks to a grey-and-white palette—breaks up the pattern to create an inset accent wall over the stovetop area.
23. Bring in industrial elements.
Black and steel touches throughout the space—the bar stools built with exposed hardware, a criss-cross of cables in the base of the island, cast-bronze cabinet handles—infuse the European-inspired design with some edge.
24. Warm up a modern space with natural materials.
This space would look so different without the walnut wood to warm it up. Natural, textured materials ensure a more minimal space feels “comfortable and warm,” says designer Connie Young.
25. Stick to light floors when there’s southern exposure.
Harsh sunlight will bleach out floors around the furniture in anything mid to dark, says Young, which is why she went with bleached white oak flooring from Divine Flooring in Calgary.
26. Avoid a one-sided kitchen bar.
If you want your kitchen island to function as a seating area, create seating on both sides to avoid the “soldiers in a row” factor, says Young; otherwise, it’s hard to talk to one another and you won’t use the space regularly.
27. Go with glass.
“People have the perception that glass tables are very, very fragile,” says Young. “Glass is actually the most durable material you could possible use on a kitchen table. We chose the back-painted glass so it’s durable, but it gives that touch of glam to the space, too.”
28. Choose countertops with visual texture.
Instead of all-white quartz, opt for a speckle or veining, or a material with texture so guests won’t easily notice stray crumbs, spots or water marks.
29. Walnut is a wise choice.
“Walnut is probably one of the most timeless wood species—it spans all eras, from modern to very traditional,” explains the designer—which is why she chose to anchor the kitchen in the rich, mid-toned wood.