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Work zone
Efficiency counts in smart kitchen design



If 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 efficiently designed.

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."

Elizabeth 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."

Gunn 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."

Gunn 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 room."

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."

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 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 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 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 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 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 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."