any room in the house inspires design dreams it is the kitchen. People
dream of bigger and better kitchens complete with high-end appliances
and all the latest bells and whistles. But as the professionals know,
the best kitchens can be simple or even small as long as they are
Paul Greenspan, president of Milwaukee Kitchen and Bath in Mequon,
says the top kitchen improvement request is quite basic ó more
counter space. "For a high-functioning kitchen, you need a lot of
counter space," Greenspan says. "For an average kitchen, the
L-shape counter with an island works best for most people. It is
efficient in regard to traffic flow. People can come in and out
without disturbing the cook."
Tranberg of CabinetWerks in Milwaukee agrees that traffic flow is a
basic element of smart design. "Layout of appliances is crucial
to good traffic flow," Tranberg says. "A good working
triangle has the major appliances in reach but traffic can still move
around them. You donít want an open refrigerator door blocking
traffic. The newer refrigerators are countertop depth of 24 inches so
they arenít sticking out into the room. The interiors have pullout
shelves and roll-out guides for when you need the extra space."
Jeremy Gunn, partner with RobertSon Cabinetry and Design Studio in
Brookfield, says kitchen design starts with five basic work zones.
"We do a lot of larger kitchens and usually the husband and
wife each want their own space," Gunn says. "We have
identified five zones: consumables, nonconsumables, cleaning, prep and
cooking. We have our clients fill out an elaborate questionnaire to
determine their tastes and styles. We take into account how tall they
are, if they are right-handed or left-handed, and we use that
information in making the best design for the owners."
sites the influence of European design in making kitchens more
efficient in terms of storage and usability. "For a contemporary
design, we look at how the European design works," Gunn says.
"Cabinets are not as high on the wall as in traditional design.
There is open shelving and different doors ó vertical lift doors or
sliding doors. The doors allow easier accessibility to what is in the
cabinets. In traditional design, the top half of cabinets is not
usually accessible without a footstool. We use more drawer storage for
basically everything you need. The interior of the drawer can be
configured for whatever you want to store. Lower cabinets use the
magic corner pullout, which increases the storage space and allows
access to the whole cabinet."
Pullouts are crucial to making the most of your storage whether it
is refrigerator space or cabinet space. Even a smaller kitchen can
have accessible storage with the smart cabinet space. "Efficient
kitchens utilize all the available space,í" Greenspan says.
"Weíve even created usable space out of toe kicks."
says the use of the island in the kitchen has altered how most
kitchens are designed. "Islands are used for prep work or
entertaining. They have become essential to todayís kitchen,"
he says. "Often we will have the main sink or a major appliance
like a secondary oven in the island in addition to seating and storage
capabilities. Some of the larger kitchens we do have multiple islands
with a sink in them. It used to be that kitchen sinks were under a
window looking outside. Now people have dishwashers and donít spend
a lot of time standing over the sink. They want to face the living
Another spot to add storage and enhance design is the
furniture-style island cabinetry. "The detail of the furniture
leg on appliances or islands is a great space to add a pullout spice
rack," Tranberg says. "We tell clients that if you have
kitchen pieces that you have to store in another room, you will never
use them. We can maximize the storage in any size room. Corner Lazy
Susans that pull out give twice the space in the cabinets."
Gunn says the trend of including a desk in the kitchen has passed
as more homeowners are choosing to use mudrooms for that spot where
the mail, keys and bags are dropped. However, kitchens still can
include a charging spot for phones and a place for keys, but the trend
is to hide anything that used to take up counter space.
"We do a lot of built-in microwaves, built-in coffee makers,
basically anything that used to sit on the counter, we can build it in
or hide it behind cabinet doors," Gunn says. "The desks that
people used to include just became an area for clutter, but a charging
spot can be added to a drawer or cabinet while keeping bags and mail
in another room out of sight."
Gunn says higher end kitchens will take efficient storage even
further than what is traditionally available. "We are designing a
high-tech kitchen for our showroom that has a flip-down computer
screen where you get everything from the Internet to recipe storage.
We have a flip-down TV and a backsplash where the storage is recessed
into the wall over the counter behind sliding doors. You donít see a
lot of that in Milwaukee yet, but it is coming."
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 Milwaukeeís Third Ward. "Iíve
seen people do plaster work on a hood and finish with carving.
That is a great accent, but donít choose cabinetry that would
compete. Choose something more classic and simple to set it
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 ó think of it as jewelry ó donít 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. "Weíve 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
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 donít 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, birdís-eye maple and
teak are a great way to express yourself. Some finishes work
better with contemporary design. "Weíve 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
"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."