Put a Little ‘Wow’ into Your New Space

Finding the right touches to improve a space isn’t so hard if you’re working with the right designer. Discover how you can get what you want while remodeling.

This stylish range hood is paired with floating shelves and a full wall of subway tiles, installed by Advance Design Studio.

Of course you want your newly remodeled room to shine. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? You want a room that functions better, looks great – and it wouldn’t hurt if guests are a little envious, too.

Your designer keeps talking about creating focal points that draw your attention and “wow” others. But how do you find just the right touches, and how do you ensure they won’t break the bank?

If you’re working with a qualified designer, balancing all of your needs and generating a true “wow” in your room isn’t so tough.

“Our designers will ask clients ‘What’s the main thing you see when you turn the corner, walking into that space?’” says Christine Jurs, who co-owns Advance Design Studio, in Gilberts, with husband Todd. “What wall jumps out at you first? Oftentimes, it’s the area of the room you decide to do something really special in.”

Where to Add Some ‘Wow’

The easy answer is you can put it anywhere you like, because the possibilities are endless. Maybe it’s a stylish range hood paired with floating shelves and a full wall of subway tiles. Or maybe it’s the waterfall quartz that “flows” from your countertop down to the floor. Still others might consider the furniture-like touches on cabinetry to be a significant “wow.”

Jurs and the design team at Advance Design Studio like to begin at some very practical points. In the kitchen, they’re likely to begin with appliances, because of the way they’ll integrate with the overall design.

“You might be putting in a really cool cooking area that has lots of potential for a beautiful wow wall, and maybe adding a beautiful colored oven range,” Jurs says.

Islands are an easy starting point, especially when they occupy a large footprint. Their wow factor may be a product of their size, or their attraction may be a matter of color. Black, blue or green cabinetry adds a distinct pop of color against an otherwise white or gray kitchen featuring the popular white stone top.

“Black has become the new neutral,” says Jurs. “Black accents are a way to really punctuate your space. Whether it’s a piece of hardware, a light fixture, a black hood and cabinet wall, or an interesting tile design, people are using intense color in more than one place.”

Likewise, blue is also a “new neutral” that still possesses wow factor.

“Bertch, our favorite cabinet line, just came out with two new colors that we’re loving,” adds Megan Lebar, a designer at Blue Ribbon Millwork, in Woodstock. “They’re both in that chocolate-meets-smoky-gray family.

They’re darker colors you wouldn’t typically want for your whole kitchen, because they are so dark, but for the island it’s just perfect.”

And islands aren’t the only place for a good pop of color. Lebar’s colleague, Dave Wegner, recently designed a Chicago kitchen with cobalt blue base cabinets and white upper cabinets. They were paired with a Rosedale countertop by Cambria. The white marble-like quartz contains swirling grains of rich blacks and blues that tie together both sets of cabinets.

“You can contrast or mix-and-match, but you still have to have a little bit of harmony,” says Wegner. “You might have a flicker of color or a bold pattern on the island quartz countertops, but then you would complement it with a simpler perimeter countertop. The counter becomes a palette you can draw from.”

In one recent design, Wegner scaled down a basement bar and entertainment center in a way that makes it feel spacious yet cozy. The bar begins with smoky chocolate-colored cabinets and a jet-black countertop that would feel dark for a basement, except that the walls and floor contrast with lighter grays and taupes. Glass doors on the overhead cabinets and a strand of blue LED lights on the liquor shelf lighten up the space, as does the white entertainment system built into the opposite wall.

“The client wanted a place where everyone can gather, so it was really focused on that bar because that was the gathering point,” says Lebar. “If it had been all about a movie space, we would have made the entertainment center the focal point.”

Wow Walls

It might sound funny, but Lebar and Wegner consider frameless shower doors to be a true wow factor for bathrooms, not so much because of their look but because of what they reveal: a dramatic tile wall.

“On my mom’s bathroom, that wow factor was a teal hexagon accent tile that we just loved,” says Lebar. “Instead of doing just a little ribbon of it, we utilized it for a whole wall of the shower, and now it’s the first thing you see walking into the space.”

Tile is another common place to add some wow, and it has many applications.

Full tile walls are an increasingly common sight around basement bars, where stone tile adds texture and warmth to an otherwise plain wall. In kitchens, tile can extend from the cooktop to the ceiling, especially when using subway tile.

Jurs is smitten with the bold and playful patterns found in encaustic tiles, which bear colorful repeating patterns and evoke the feeling of lavish English palaces or Moorish and Cuban designs.

“We just did an entire wall of encaustic tile in a master bathroom, and I’m just in love with it,” she says. “It’s so strikingly beautiful that you cannot walk into this room and not think, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”

Wood may also be a good way to bring some wow into a room. Jurs’ team recently transformed an ordinary hearth room adjacent to the kitchen with a custom-built, wooden furniture-like buffet and an aged-looking mantelpiece.

“The project manager carefully selected this particular piece of wood and then distressed it by hand and finished it right on site,” says Jurs. “The client stated, when the project was complete, ‘This is like a family heirloom to us now.’ I was just blown away by how personal this beautiful piece had become to the family.”

Getting to Wow

Jurs finds it’s typical for a client to have some idea of where they want their wow. For one suburban mom, it was a particular stone she’d chosen for the kids’ double vanity.

Knowing where you want your wow helps to get things started. But there are plenty of other considerations that will determine where – and how – you can integrate your wow.

When remodeling an existing space, Jurs starts with two questions: What does the space “want,” and what detail is exciting to the client? In other words, consider the space’s physical and aesthetic characteristics and limitations, in addition to the client’s needs.

For Lebar and Wegner, focal points often coincide with the old architectural mantra of “form follows function.”

“I think the best wow factors help to solve a problem for the space,” says Lebar. “For example, a lot of clients are renovating because the laminate countertops are pulling up. They’re looking at quartz because it’s more durable, but it’s also a great opportunity to add a stunning pattern or color to the kitchen without replacing cabinets.”

In some cases, the problem is that a peninsula blocks the flow of a kitchen. A new cabinet layout might use an island to open up the flow.

“This is a fun opportunity to create a focal point with a bold finish for the cabinets, like an espresso/gray stain for a cozy gathering spot in an otherwise simple white design,” says Lebar.

The amount of wow may be limited by the overall size and scope of the project. If your new kitchen opens up to multiple rooms, you’ll have more opportunities for wow. If your kitchen is a little more confined, you can still have your wow – it’s just that you’ll need a strategy for scaling it down.

“People see these gorgeous kitchens on Pinterest or Houzz, and they’re these massively huge kitchens. People say, ‘I want that in my house,’” says Wegner. “Well, only this much is going to fit in your kitchen because you haven’t got a 20-foot wall. In a smaller space, you’ve got to find alternatives that give the same look but on a smaller scale.”

Common Traps

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re looking for a wow factor. Finding things you like is the easy part. Focusing on what works best is a real challenge. Why make it such a showroom that you feel guilty using it?

“If they’re in between wanting the navy island and the big veiny countertop, and they don’t work together, I tell the client to pick their favorite long-term,” says Lebar. “Or, I’ll ask, what’s going to make you walk into this space five years from now and make you smile?”

There are practical concerns, too. Budget, for instance, is often a limiting factor.

The team at Advance Design Studio follows what it calls a “Common Sense Remodeling” process on every project, and realistic budgeting is one of the first steps. Early meetings always involve conversations about project investments and what’s possible at each level.

“I don’t think there’s any reason you shouldn’t get most of what you want and have an outcome that you’re totally going to love, whether you’re at the high side or the low side of your budget,” says Jurs. “But sometimes you may need to compromise to make your project fit your finances. A good designer will help you wade through all of the possibilities and put together a solid solution that you can be really happy with.”

One place never to skimp is the right contractor. Lebar, Wegner and Jurs have heard a litany of horror stories from clients who hired the low bidder, only to discover hidden costs or shoddy craftsmanship down the road. Both Blue Ribbon and Advance Design Studio maintain a stable of trusted craftsmen.

“Remodeling shouldn’t have to be some big, scary disaster that takes forever to complete and breaks the bank,” says Jurs. “This isn’t something you get to do too many times in life, so it should be incredibly rewarding and fun, and done with a company that has a tried and true system to assure a great experience.”

Get What You Want

Jurs encourages her clients to make an investment wherever it matters most to them. If you’re going to spruce up your kitchen, bathroom, basement or living space, why not create something that’ll truly satisfy?

“We find that many of our clients have been thinking about remodeling for a long time,” says Jurs. “They look forward to the lifestyle change that comes with their new space and have an idea of what the investment will cost. If you’re going to renovate, you should do it right, hire the best firm you can, and get what you want in your finished space as well as in your remodeling experience.”