Home & Garden

9 Great Ways to Enhance Your Kitchen

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Don’t settle for an ordinary kitchen makeover. Our experts suggest nine new methods for sprucing up a tired old kitchen and adding some long-lasting, elegant design.

Using wood panel fronts to hide appliances is a hot trend, as shown in this Barrington kitchen that was recently updated by designer Linda Goad Larisch of Insignia in Barrington.

Looking for a few ideas to update the look and feel of your kitchen? There are plenty of ways to improve the form, function and style of your space for years to come. Northwest Quarterly Magazine recently sat down with three of the area’s top designers to get their take on local trends.

“Homeowners are pretty savvy,” says Mike Holtz, president of Holtzmacher, 1649 Afton Road, Sycamore. “They understand what they want, they’ve seen trends that they like and they’ve done their homework. Everyone wants something different. That’s really the biggest trend I see.”

In many cases, today’s kitchen reflects a much cleaner and neater look than in the past. Appliances like drawer-style refrigerators, ovens, microwaves and dishwashers that are fronted to match cabinetry are what homeowners desire the most. Other trends include using LED lighting, installing soft-close drawer systems and updating the classic all-white kitchen to make it, well, less white.

Great kitchens don’t come cheap. A high-end renovation can cost from $30,000 to six figures.

“When it comes to design trends, folks care a great deal about their investment,” says Alan Zielinski, CKD, president of Better Kitchens, 7640 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles. Zielinski is also president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association. “The primary focus is on trends that will make the feel of their space timeless,” he says.

“To me, a timeless kitchen reflects and blends with the architecture of the home, reflects the family values and lifestyle, and functions efficiently,” says Linda Goad Larisch, CMKBD, certified master kitchen and bath designer at Insignia, 1435 S. Barrington Road, Barrington. “A seasoned designer is trained to understand the various architectural styles and select products which pull the look together.”

Here are a few ideas to consider when tackling your next kitchen project.

Trend: Going Green

Experts agree the kitchen is the room that should be the most green, both for efficiency and the well-being of your household.

“When selecting products for your new kitchen – stoves, refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers – consider low-voltage lighting and Energy Star-rated appliances,” says Larisch. “Choose countertops and backsplashes that are produced with recycled material.”

Larisch suggests searching for cabinetry that is green certified, or that is manufactured within 500 miles of your home. Some cabinet companies use unfinished lumber byproducts as a fuel source for heating homes, or they take part in a green demolition program, which dismantles buildings so that elements including cabinets, appliances and countertops can be recycled or reused, rather than tossed into landfills.

A green way to dispose of your old kitchen is to donate it to Habitat for Humanity or another organization. “Our clients are becoming more environmentally conscious,” says Larisch. “If they don’t ask, it’s our job to educate them on the different ways they can repurpose their kitchens.”

Trend: Adding Color to White Kitchens

You remember the all-white kitchen of the 1990s: white cabinets, floors, countertops and backsplash to match. The idea was that white would make the kitchen seem larger.

Well, white kitchens have never really gone away. “It continues to be well represented,” says Zielinski. “White is the perfect complement for almost any other color. It’s also easier to keep clean because dirt is more visible than with any other colors.”

The difference, now, is the use of color. Wood and tile accents break up the monotony. Bursts of color in backsplashes or chandeliers serve the same purpose.

“When we accessorize and add tile, we can get bolder for punctuation, rather than change the main focal point, which is the cabinetry,” Zielinski says. “For example, when we do an island in a white-perimeter room, we go with a cherry wood or other wood species to create that spark. That’s one of the fun things about white. As we go from the morning to afternoon and evening light, even if we have the same basic color, the room has a variety of looks all day long,” Zielinski says. “That’s why people like it.”

Trend: Exposed Beams

A popular trend these days is to open up the kitchen by adding or exposing ceiling beams.

Many different styles incorporate beams into the design. Depending on your preference, beams can give your space a barnyard feel, tropical look or something more modern. “By adding beams to any existing space, it doesn’t look like a typical kitchen,” says Holtz. “Beams help open up the kitchen to the family room or other rooms in the house. We no longer define that kitchen by its boundaries because it flows into other rooms.”

Depending on the ceiling height, beams can create a beautiful and fresh look.

“By incorporating beams, you create volume for the entire kitchen,” Holtz says. “Volume helps you relax more in that space. We’re talking about kitchen ceilings that are 8, 9 and 10 feet high. It looks so much bigger, and gives a warmer feeling. Don’t forget about lighting. We can light the kitchen through the beams, which creates better task lighting. Not every design, however, can accommodate that open feeling, but for spaces that can, exposed beams can give kitchens a natural or rustic feel.”

Who says industrial-style kitchens can’t be warm and inviting? This one, designed by Holtzmacher, certainly is. (Rebecca O’Malley photo)

Trend: Heated Flooring

Who likes standing on a cold kitchen floor during fall and winter months? That’s where radiant heated flooring comes in.
These heating systems can fit under almost any surface, from hardwood, carpet or laminate to stone, tile or concrete.

“Heated floors are gaining in popularity,” says Larisch. “Comfort and efficiency are two main reasons why homeowners choose to install radiant heating. Instead of standing on a cold tile, you’re standing on a warm tile, while also providing a heat source for the home.”

The best time to install radiant floor heating is during the remodeling of your new kitchen. The digital thermostat allows you to set times for the floor heat to go on and off, so you can wake up to a preheated floor.

The radiant heating system’s electronic floor mat is installed between the subfloor and the finished floor. The heat radiates off the floor, working as an efficient heat source for any room. Larisch says the dollars you save on your gas bill and the comfort on bare feet more than justify adding this project into your next remodel.

Trend: More Lighting

For years, lighting was often poor in many kitchens. “It started with one fixture in the ceiling that evolved into canned lighting in the 1970s and 80s,” says Zielinski. “When you walked into a room, you flipped on a switch and one light went on in the middle of the room. It changed when we started removing kitchen walls, so the kitchen blended in with the family room. That one light wasn’t cutting it anymore, so we had to change the kitchen from a space with a utilitarian look and feel to a space that needed good lighting.”

Lighting is no longer a problem in most kitchens. LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, are energy-saving light sources that can last up to 20 years and be used for task lighting, general room lighting and accent lighting. LEDs are best suited for under-cabinet lighting, and showcasing collectibles or dishes. Pendant lights also are popular in kitchens, especially over islands and peninsulas. Suspended lighting over islands creates a visual break and a focal point on countertops and dining surfaces. Eyeball lights can be mounted along the edge of the ceiling over the work areas, to shed light toward the cooking and cleanup areas.

“As we age, people need more light,” Zielinski says. “We take that into consideration when discussing lighting issues with our clients.”

Trend: Industrial-Looking Kitchens

Industrial-style kitchens are often found in city lofts and other living spaces once used in industries. These spaces incorporate exposed beams, brick and pipes, even metal accents on chairs, that create a unique backdrop.
The industrial look can be used anywhere, depending on how you pull it together.

“I was surprised when we first started doing industrial kitchens,” Holtz says. “You think of it in a loft situation, but it does work in a single-family setting. It really works well in a home. It’s very warm looking, depending on the color of the metal and how it’s treated. It really grows on you.”

Industrial-style kitchens have gained in popularity in recent years, says Holtz. “Metal provides strength and a texture to the space as we design it,” he says. “It’s the perfect complement to what we do in our woodworking. I love being able to incorporate different metals to capture both furniture and cabinetry.”

Designers, he adds, have gained inspiration from traditional or Old World looks. “We can use it as an accent on hoods, countertops or cabinets. We’re making large metal doors,” he says. “We’re taking our design ability and pushing the envelope. It’s opened up many possibilities for us.”

Trend: Using Appliance Wood Panel Fronts

Tired of looking at your refrigerator or dishwasher all day long? Homeowners can cover their appliances with wood panel door fronts to match the kitchen cabinets. They provide a consistent look to a kitchen décor and can conceal appliances of different brands, colors and ages. Depending on the manufacturer, wood panel door fronts can be custom-made to fit over various types of appliances.

“Though stainless appliances are still selling strong and add a more industrial look to a kitchen, having matching panels to refrigerators, wine coolers, ice makers, dishwashers and warming drawers adds an element of sophistication, regardless of the style of your kitchen,” says Larisch. Panels can be tailored to accommodate the size and dimensions of most refrigerator and dishwasher brands, so that they blend in with the rest of the kitchen.

“Panels virtually allow the appliance to disappear into the beauty of the cabinetry,” says Larisch. “It’s a great look for the open kitchen.”

Trend: Glass Tile Backsplashes

Glass tile has become a popular material used on backsplashes for several reasons.
“Everyone knows what ceramic tile looks like,” Zielinski says. “Well, we’ve arrived at something new. By tying in a glass tile to your backsplash, you can control the color so much easier.”

In fact, more than half of kitchen designers are using a glass backsplash material today, says Zielinski. “From a year ago, the number rose from 41 percent to 52 percent,” he says.

“They’re stylish, attractive and extremely durable,” he adds. “Glass tiles don’t absorb moisture, and they don’t become stained. They’re easy to clean and come in a variety of styles, sizes and colors.”

Backsplashes play a bigger role in kitchen design these days, especially ones with glossier finishes. A glass backsplash looks sophisticated and contemporary, and reflects light well. “It’s the bling of the kitchen,” Zielinski says. “That glossy, high-sheen look creates punctuation and provides a nice background. It’s not boring, that’s for sure.”

Trend: Mixing and Matching Cabinetry

Say goodbye to the days of having either a stained-wood or painted kitchen in your home.

“We’re starting to use stained wood and paint in the same kitchen,” says Holtz. “But not just any regular stain and paint: We’re using grey-wash stain on walnut cabinetry, mixed with white shelves. People realize you don’t have to have one color on the cabinet. You can do any color you want that goes with the trim in the room. We’re not just doing the cabinetry, but we’re doing the passage doors. When I go into a home, I want to make sure the trim matches the cabinetry. We do the whole package in the kitchen.”

There are other materials that can give cabinetry an entirely different look and feel. What never changes is the box, says Holtz.Beyond that, you can do anything with a cabinet.

“We can take door fronts and drawers and wrap them in leather,” he says. “When we combine that with wood or metal, now we have another texture that is warm. Natural cowhide is very interesting. It’s much softer, and has more of a natural feel to the design. It’s not any different than using reclaimed barn wood. All these materials work together very nicely.”

Will all of these trends fit into the architectural style of your kitchen? Probably not. But one or two may get you on your way to having the kitchen of your dreams. ❚

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