The large size of this kitchen island, designed by Blue Ribbon Millwork, in Woodstock, coordinates well with the other elements of this open-concept kitchen and its surrounding rooms.

When Remodeling, Tie it All Together with Design

Color, line, shape, texture, space, form and unity are important considerations when planning your remodeled space. Learn from the experts how these elements add up to make a beautiful new room.

The large size of this kitchen island, designed by Blue Ribbon Millwork, in Woodstock, coordinates well with the other elements of this open-concept kitchen and its surrounding rooms.

It’s Saturday afternoon and Dave Wegner is talking his client off a ledge. The kitchen/bath designer at Blue Ribbon Millwork, in Woodstock, is reassuring his client that she’s selected the ideal countertops for her new kitchen island.

“Dave, I’m panicking. These colors aren’t right. What do I do? It’s horrible, it’s too dark,” she says.
Kim, those are the original colors you picked. They’re going to look great.

Come Wednesday, Wegner’s client, Kim, is too nervous. She can’t bring herself to watch as six men carry in the single quartz slab that will top her enormous island.

“They put it in place, she went and looked at it, and she told the guys, ‘I have to tell Dave,’” Wegner recalls. “I got an email with just one word: Awesome.”

Kim had just discovered what her trusted designer knew all along. That white quartz top, with swirls of brown running through it, plays delightfully with the elements of this open-concept kitchen and its surrounding spaces.

“It ties everything in,” says Wegner. “There’s a big wall with a fireplace and stone surround, hardwood floors everywhere, hickory cabinets in the kitchen.”

Color. Line. Shape. Texture. Space. Form. Unity.

Most artists consider these seven principles paramount. Kitchen and bath designers do, too. In the perfect kitchen and bathroom design, there’s a certain harmony that exists between all elements. Colors, shapes, materials and styles all work together in conveying the homeowner’s unique personality and style. And it’s the combination of architectural details and material finishes that carry the greatest impact.

“You can always change your wall color, your accent pieces or the decorations you have,” says Wegner. “You can always change those, but the cabinets and countertops are your permanent pieces.”

Impact of Color

Tracy Levin and Jim Kill, designers at McDowell Remodeling, in St. Charles, consider color to be one of the most important starting points. Gray is still a dominant look, and it can play tones that are both warm and cool. Levin believes it’s important to mix some of the warmer (darker) grays with cooler (lighter) grays. Benjamin Moore’s “Revere Pewter” paint can play either way, depending on what complements it.

“Bring in some reclaimed wood to support your warm tones,” says Levin. “The modern farmhouse look is big right now, and it brings together warm and cool grays with some warm wood tones.”

Kill adds that he’s hesitant to stray too far toward a brown or earthen color palette. Honey oak finishes are still passé.

“Some people have talked about browns coming back, but I don’t think they are quite yet,” says Kill. “People are painting their walls with more grays than browns and yellows.”

And yet, in the bathrooms, more manufacturers are combining metal finishes, drawing in both cooler silver tones and warmer golden tones.

“They’re mixing finishes such as gold and chrome looks,” says Levin. “Champagne gold fixtures have been popular, in lieu of the outdated gold brass finish. Master bathrooms overall are trying to hit that luxury feeling. I have one client right now who wants to feel like she’s in a hotel suite. Homeowners want a respite from the workplace. I try to achieve both form and function in my design. I want to give my clients a beautiful luxurious design and meet their needs functionally.”

Try mixing in those grays and browns to create a little pop of color someplace unexpected.

“You can bring in colors through appliances like toasters or coffee makers – things like that you wouldn’t always think of right away,” says Kill. “But you put a little red into the scheme and it will liven things up.”

Lynn Havlicek, designer at Geneva Cabinet Gallery, in Geneva, looks for colors that complement each other – either similar tones or total opposites.

“The floor and cabinet should be complementary, matching, and not two different color families,” she says. “Same thing with countertops and backsplashes. You don’t want them both to be too busy. Or else, you have one that’s busy but let the busy thing stand out.”

Before beginning a new layout, Havlicek looks for signals around the house that will clue her into complementing color palettes.

“We look for hints in the furnishings, the rugs, things like that,” she says. “We want to know about the homeowner’s taste, their woodwork and their styles.”

Line & Shape

Havlicek accomplishes balance in a room by coordinating symmetrical lines and shapes.

“You want the doors close to the same sizes, in roughly similar heights and widths,” says Havlicek. “Even the doors are simple now – no corbels or insets, so you have to create some balance in your design.”

When used appropriately, asymmetry can have an equal effect. Mixing and matching is becoming a more common way of creating interest while still maintaining harmony. Havlicek likens it to the “pop of something interesting.”

“For example, use an antique piece in a more contemporary, or modern, setting,” she says. “It stands apart, but it still goes with the design. You want it to look like it was added into the room over time.”

Wegner finds most homeowners want something akin to the plain Shaker-style door. Some styles, however, eliminate all form of decoration. The “slab” style cabinet is exactly that – one piece of wood, no inset, no raised panel, no molding of any kind. In McHenry County, the in between “Marcus” style door, by Bertch, is gaining the most notice. It has an inset panel with a simple ogee (an s-shaped molding). Because Bertch is a fully custom cabinet line, Wegner can make adjustments as desired.

“I have one client who wants detailing on the inside of the door, with an outside profile that’s square,” says Wegner. “But the particular style only has the ogee on the outside. Bertch will accommodate that.”

Simple designs have an added bonus, one that’s increasingly attractive to busy homeowners: the lack of nooks and crannies makes these cabinets easy to keep clean – in look and in function.

“People are doing more-plain doors with less detail in their doors, so they can do more decoration nearby – the tile backsplash, the floor or a glass accent,” Wegner says. “And a simple, easy door is easier to clean than one with grooves and moldings.”

Levin notices designs overall are becoming more masculine in nature, shedding the more curvy feminine forms in favor of something that looks simple and strong.

“Think bolder legs on kitchen islands, as opposed to the more traditional look of curvy contours,” says Levin. “Concrete countertops have also been on the rise in design trends. Mixing metal finishes, such as gold and chrome on faucet fixtures and larger-sized cabinet hardware. Add in Edison Chroe pendant lighting over islands to finish off the design.”


Think about all of the places texture exists in your kitchen or bathroom – flooring, cabinets, countertops, backsplashes, light and plumbing fixtures. Texture ultimately comes down to focal point. What do you want to play the starring role, and how can the other surfaces play the supporting role?
Designers like Levin and Kill determine focal points based on the client’s interest.

“Do they want a lot of movement in the countertop, or do they want just a little accent and movement, where maybe you can have fun with a backsplash and keep your countertop more simple?” says Levin.

If you’re focusing on texture in cabinets, wood choices and stains make all the difference. Golden oak is out of fashion, says Wegner, but the more rustic-looking hickory and alder are increasingly common choices. They’re both grainy like oak and less subdued than a birch, cherry or maple finish.

At the same time, some homeowners are foregoing all traditional stains in favor of a painted cabinet – which is most often executed in the kitchen island. Bertch, for example, can match any color in the Sherwin-Williams color book.

“Companies are getting more and more involved in doing whatever the customer wants,” says Wegner. “It’s because a lot of these are bigger-ticket items now, and people are willing to pay for quality products.”

There’s also an increasing appetite for quartz countertops, a manmade product that’s been surpassing granite in popularity. With nearly 150 colors in its lineup, producer Cambria makes numerous tops that realistically mimic the veins and textures of granite and marble. And they’re easier to maintain, too. No sealing – just soapy water and it’s clean.

Quartz also comes in a subdued matte finish, which produces a color and texture all its own. By comparison, matte looks flatter, with little to no sheen.

“If you look at the gloss finish of this, versus the matte, it’s totally different,” says Wegner, showing a sample in the Woodstock showroom. “The Berwyn, gloss versus matte, tones it down significantly. You notice more glitter in the gloss, but it’s not as speckly in the matte. You don’t notice the chips of color. Same with the Berkeley. Gloss and matte look like totally different colors.”

When it comes to tiles, choices abound. Levin finds patterned tile going by the wayside, in favor of simple and subdued finishes.

Top of mind to many consumers are durability, longevity and cleanliness, which is why there’s a growing trend toward porcelain tile that looks like wood. It bears the same textures and colors as wood but with greater durability for the high-traffic kitchen.

“Clients want to know if it’s actually got color through and through, or if it chips, will they be able to see it?” says Hannah Kolzow, designer at McDowell Remodeling. “I’m a mother of three, so I know it’s going to happen. So, when it does, can I conceal it?”

Space & Form

Dimension in a layout also helps to create a focal point. Depending on the kind of style you’re going for – white kitchen, industrial chic, modern farmhouse – elements like range hoods and glass cabinets can create depth where it wouldn’t already exist.

Havlicek often turns to a sleek metal range hood to create a focal point over the range.

“But in a white kitchen, which has been really popular lately, you can calm down the hood and make it plain white so it fits in with the perimeter of the kitchen,” she says.

A glass-fronted cabinet door creates additional depth and opens opportunities for introducing color through décor. A few LED lights inside the cabinet illuminate objects inside.

“We have used some leaded glass lately,” says Havlicek. “It’s really pretty. It’s usually made with clear, beveled glass.”


The principle of unity is especially obvious in older homes, where interior and exterior closely fit a particular style. Whenever Havlicek works on historical homes, she’s keen on keeping the new kitchen or bathroom in line with the rest of the home.

“Tudor style, for example, is boxier and has more stained wood than a bright, colorful Victorian with lots of ornamentation,” she says. “Or a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of Prairie style uses more wood grains and stains.”

McDowell Remodeling does work both inside and outside. When it comes to exteriors, consistency – unity – in design is essential. Additions, sunrooms and porticos should echo the rooflines and styles of the rest of the home. Updates to siding and windows will also unify the overall look.

Interior updates may also call for a few fix-ups in other rooms. Flooring, for example, may spread through multiple rooms including the kitchen.

Even in a newer home, designers can unify a new room with the aesthetic of the remaining home. McDowell Remodeling recently completed a bathroom update that melds the husband’s interest in antique furniture with the wife’s preference for transitional design.

The result is a spa-like bathroom that goes modern with a barn door-style entrance and reclaimed wood shelving. It stays more traditional with white porcelain tile flooring, a white wainscoting and a soft blue wall paint.

“Even though the wainscoting is white, it’s still very traditional, so that pulls the whole theme of the house together,” says Kolzow. “And it makes it look a little more antique-like, which just pulls together the entire house.”

Tying it Together

Wegner doesn’t doubt his client made the right choice. The more subdued white-brown combo countertop can complement the other focal points around the room. And those are much easier to update with time.
“You don’t have to change everything,” Wegner says. “Just change the little pieces around to give it a totally different look.”