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Contemporary cooking
Homeowners seeking best of everything 
in today’s kitchens


Contemporary meets traditional in this condo renovation. The warmth of the maple wood cabinets tempers the eye-catching red Silestone countertops. The glass block tile backsplash keeps the counter area bright and the 13-by-13 floor tiles don’t compete with the decorating scheme. Tove Kenyon, kitchen designer with B&E General Contractors, says if you’re going to pick a color that stands out, you have to like it. In this case, she says, the empty-nester couple loves red, which is reflected in whimsical accents throughout the kitchen.

A decade ago homeowners started cutting the shackles off their kitchens, freeing them from isolated and solitary corners. Today, they’re taking the next giant step forward — taking kitchens from a simple open concept to center stage.

No longer just a place for cooking and casual dinners, kitchens are a place for entertaining, eating, checking the Internet and cocktailing.

A place where a professional chef would feel at home and a novice cook would find convenience. And it’s quickly becoming a place where homeowners — especially baby boomers — are seeking to make a statement.

"The baby boomers, they had that first kitchen when they got married," says Russ Waters, a kitchen designer at Wisconsin Kitchen Mart, Milwaukee. "They’re maybe on their fourth kitchen — and each time they are going to want to add.

"They want their kitchens to say something," he says. "Something about who they are and the lives they lead."

For the past decade, the walls that once kept kitchens the necessary, yet tucked-away element in the home have come down. Kitchens with canned lighting, bar seating and an open view into other living areas are no longer emerging trends, but the basic and assumed starting point.

Today’s homeowners have simply taken the concept of a large and open kitchen and raised the stakes. "Fifteen years ago we didn’t have kitchens with a lot of embellishments," Waters says. "But today … we’re putting in carvings, corbels, fluting, decorative inlays, decorative finishes on the cabinetry. I thought I would see this trend drop off, but it hasn’t."

Paul Greenspan, owner of Milwaukee Kitchen & Bath Studio, Mequon, says dark wood has re-emerged since its last period of popularity in the ’70s. Today, homeowners are purposely aging their walls or cabinets to create a patina effect.

Appliance fever

As kitchens have grown in size and amenities so have their budgets. "Actually the biggest change is there are no limits on the kitchen budget anymore," Waters says. "Specifically because of the appliances. I mean you can pay $20,000 for a range hood. And if you’re going to pay that much for a range hood, the rest of the kitchen is going to have to stand up to that."

Waters says he can complete a basic kitchen replacement in a galley or L-shaped kitchen for $30,000. But it can be difficult holding homeowners back. He says the average kitchen renovation that Wisconsin Kitchen Mart completes is between $45,000 and $55,000.

Scott Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing at Guyer’s Builder Supply, which has 11 locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including Waukesha and Menomonee Falls, says homeowners are spending more on appliances than ever before. "There’s no shock and awe anymore with the kitchen budget," Johnson says. "Now it’s not unusual to spend $50,000 to $100,000 on a kitchen remodel. You can spend $18,000 to $20,000 alone on appliances."

Johnson says homeowners are spending more on appliances, in part, to ensure all the conveniences they’ve invested in don’t become outdated too quickly.

The desire of homeowners to have technologically advanced and easy-to-use appliances also has driven up costs, Greenspan says. And he expects the trend to continue. "Manufacturers right now are focusing on baby boomers because they will have an influx of money," Greenspan says.

Electronics also are increasingly showing up in kitchens.

Greenspan says flat screen TVs are becoming more common in kitchens as well as Internet access. "We are living in a world where the Internet is king," he says. "So finding a spot for computers and Internet access in the kitchen is important.

Space-saving monitors are being built right into refrigerator doors.

Other advanced appliances include dual fuel ranges, which include a gas stovetop, electric oven with convection capabilities and advanced self-cleaning features, Johnson says.

"The speed cook ovens and ‘combi’ oven-microwaves where you could cook a turkey in an hour and a half type concept," Johnson says. "They want convenience and ease of use. People are getting a lot more and are asking for a lot more (in their appliances)."

Serious cooks, serious design

Greenspan, Johnson and Waters all say one of the most important and popular appliances in today’s kitchens is the range hood. "The biggest mistake homeowners make is that they don’t have the proper ventilation," Greenspan says. "I’m always amazed by how many don’t even use their fans."

What makes range hoods expensive, Waters says, is new ductwork typically must be installed at the same time.

"A serious cook is going to want powerful burners, something with 15,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units) plus," Waters says. "They cook everything at very high heat, all at the same time.

"With powerful burners, venting becomes an immediate issue. Steam burns are very common in professional kitchens, and serious cooks know they need the right ventilation."

Waters, whose wife is a professional chef, says cooks want a larder or pantry located near the stovetop. A larder is a tall pantry that holds all of the items a cook may need, including spices and oils.

"I spend a lot of time talking to my clients about how they cook," he says, describing how each design is scrutinized to meet each customer’s needs.

He said a second sink is critical for cooks as well as adequate and extra refrigeration.

Pot fillers, essentially a faucet that comes right out of the countertop near the stovetop, and used to fill large stockpots, also are a common request, Greenspan says.

Entertain me

For both the cook and entertainer, beverage and wine coolers and refrigeration are increasingly important and mainstream. "We’re back to entertaining, we’re back to serving cocktails," Waters says. "Not so much for people with young kids, but the aging customers, it’s all about the wine and beverage coolers."

Greenspan says wine coolers are among the most requested items in the kitchens he completes.

He says refrigerators today are taller and not as deep, but still have the same cubic feet in terms of space. His clients oftentimes want both a full-size refrigerator and a full-size freezer. The doors of the refrigerator also feature overlays with cabinet fronts to give them a more decorative touch and fit in with the rest of the kitchen.

He says another new item that isn’t mainstream yet is an oven that acts like a refrigerator until a timer goes off and the food inside begins cooking.