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Finishing touches
Pay extra attention to hardware, counters and backsplashes to make your kitchen stand out


The kitchen can be a great place to let your creativity pop. The trick is to not let your personal style overwhelm the space. Choose focal points and let the other finishes enhance, not compete, with your choices.

"We are seeing a lot of custom hoods made of different materials that can be a really great way to create a focal point," says Elizabeth Tranberg, designer with CabinetWerks in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. "I’ve seen people do plaster work on a hood and finish with carving. That is a great accent, but don’t choose cabinetry that would compete. Choose something more classic and simple to set it off."

Tranberg says decorative hardware of today offers more room for creativity than the limited choices of the past. To make your mark on the hardware, choose spots to highlight and pull back on the cabinetry. "There are literally millions of choices for hardware, but you want the kitchen to flow and not overwhelm the space," she says. "If you have an island that is made to look like furniture, you can make decorative hardware choices to really make it a focal point, but the rest of the hardware should probably be more classic to really let it stand out."

Paul Greenspan, president of Milwaukee Kitchen and Bath in Mequon, agrees that the island provides opportunity for creative expression. "You can choose a countertop that is different than the rest of the space or a different wood for the island to really make it a focal point," Greenspan says. "If you know what you are doing, you can mix your granite tops but you have to be careful not to clash. Hardware is a great spot to create elements of drama — think of it as jewelry — don’t overdo it."

Designers are noting more intricate work on backsplashes as a focal point as well. Tile, glass, custom murals are all ways to let your creative side flourish. "We’ve done some great glass work on backsplashes, metal and stone," Greenspan says. "You can really make a one-of-a-kind work of art on the backsplash, but the rest of the walls should coordinate and not overwhelm the piece."

Tranberg suggests choosing just one wall to make a color statement rather than overwhelm the whole room. Decorative pendant lighting can be a great way to accent and provide ambience, but make sure you don’t block a window or another design element.

Wood trim, flooring and cabinets should blend with the style of the rest of the house, Greenspan says. Trim can be different from the cabinet woods. Greenspan says wood flooring is a great way to add color and warmth to a space. Exotic woods like zebra, tiger, bird’s-eye maple and teak are a great way to express yourself. Some finishes work better with contemporary design. "We’ve seen a lot of concrete, which can work well for a contemporary, urban feel," Greenspan says. "You can accent a bar or an island with concrete and choose something else for the rest of the counters. Cable lighting tends to work better with contemporary architecture as well."

Tranberg says a general guideline is that lighter counters and darker wood on the cabinets work better for a contemporary home while classic cabinetry might flow better with a more traditional home. "You want variety, but nothing too busy," Tranberg says. "You want to balance out your accent pieces and not clutter the space."

"Basically, you should design what you want and really enjoy what you have because you are living in the space," Greenspan says. "Designers can stop you from making a mistake, but you really should design for your own needs."