This kitchen by Slaten Residential, in St. Charles, takes to heart several of the trendiest designs appearing in the modern luxury kitchen. Custom wall and base cabinets are painted gray, rather than white, and they bear a horizontal wood grain. They pair up with spotless white granite countertops on the perimeter and a mottled stone top on the island. The premium range and matching hood, as well as the refrigerator tower, create focal points in the room. (Slaten Residential photo)

‘Anything Goes’ in the Luxury Kitchen

The more time we spend at home the more we’re spending – truly investing – on making our kitchen a true showpiece of the home. Don’t plan your next kitchen without these must-have design choices.

This kitchen by Slaten Residential, in St. Charles, takes to heart several of the trendiest designs appearing in the modern luxury kitchen. Custom wall and base cabinets are painted gray, rather than white, and they bear a horizontal wood grain. They pair up with spotless white granite countertops on the perimeter and a mottled stone top on the island. The premium range and matching hood, as well as the refrigerator tower, create focal points in the room. (Slaten Residential photo)

All the time we’ve been spending at home lately is having a curious effect on our kitchens. That’s where more homeowners are making a true investment, in a space that boasts practical functionality and stylish good looks.

“Cooking is coming back, because we’re home now,” says Christine Jurs, co-owner of Advance Design Studio, in Gilberts. “We’re finding that people aren’t just satisfied with ordinary cooking, where they do it because they have to. They’re instead taking time to cook. They want to have a kitchen that’s designed to make cooking an enjoyable, purposeful activity now, more so than I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been doing this.”

And there’s no sign of stopping. Jurs says the industry is predicting big things in the kitchen for the coming years.

Along with this increased interest in cooking, homeowners and designers are fully embracing bold, flashy moves. Designer appliances, ultra-functional pantries, striking colors – trends that were simply flashy or considered “luxury” a year ago are becoming the norm as we embrace the reality that we’re seeing a lot more of the kitchen these days.

“There’s no fear right now in putting permanent items in kitchens that have lots of color,” says Jurs. “That’s a really interesting shift right now, and as designers we’re really reveling in it, because it’s so much fun.”
Turns out, it’s fun for homeowners, too.

Putting on the Glitz

Perhaps the boldest choices you’ll find in a modern luxury kitchen are flashy yet also essential.

Take the appliances, for starters. Ultra-functional ranges, some as wide as 60 inches, are a must-have. Some models look like they belong to a gourmet European chef – except that brands like La Cornue and BlueStar have gone above and beyond in creating something that’s also aesthetically attractive.

“It’s this beautiful range as a piece of art, a centerpiece almost,” says Jurs. “People are really proud of these ranges and they’re absolutely beautiful. They even come in colors now. You could put a blue range in your kitchen, and BlueStar is awesome because you can custom color the range in whatever tone you want.”

Overhead, the range hood provides a fitting complement, providing not just a practical point for heat exhaustion but yet another point for some eye candy.

“You could be spending anywhere between $5,000 and $25,000 on a range and the same for the hood,” says Jurs. “These hoods can get quite expensive, but people are investing in them as a centerpiece of the kitchen.”

Lighting presents another opportunity for flashiness. In the modern kitchen, look for some combination of undercabinet lighting, recessed lighting and one showpiece fixture. Typically located above the island, this fixture is begging for attention. On the more elegant side, fixtures may incorporate brass or foiled gold, artistic glass or Swarovski crystals. For more of a farmhouse look, seek out industrial-type fixtures made with wrought iron and combined metal finishes.

“Because we’ve gone from three pendants to two and now to one essential lighting fixture, we’re talking about a design element that gets a lot of focus,” says Jurs. “That fixture is larger, it’s covering more space aesthetically and functionally, and it’s also providing more light. Manufacturers are really producing some unbelievable art-like pieces.”

Then there are the refrigerator and freezer towers – another seemingly professional-grade appliance that adds some flashiness. These appliances easily blend in with crown molding, glass fronts and paneled doors.

Storage is a must-have, and it comes in many formats. Mark Roden, president of M&R Custom Millwork, in Belvidere, finds himself producing more base cabinet drawers than ever before. While roll-outs behind a door are still pretty standard, he’s also seeing more demand for deep drawers and other hideaways.

“More than 10 or 15 years ago, it’s all about wide drawers, pots and pans drawers, and specialty-use drawers like spice racks,” he says. “And then there’s also trash, waste, recycling, and some larger kitchens may have two pull-out trash units.”

Larder cabinets, like this example by Advance Design Studio, pack a surprising amount of functionality into a small space.

The newest storage solution is the larder cabinet, a modern take on an old-fashioned pantry – except this one is more like the Swiss army knife of pantries. Larder cabinets can be big or small, and they can pack a lot of functionality into a space. On the larger end, they might include room for food, small appliances and more, with some combination of base cabinets, a countertop and overhead shelving. Everything hides neatly behind cabinet doors.

“It’s great for tucking things away,” says Jurs. “It can be a coffee station cabinet. It can be a mixer station. You might store your baking items, like sugar and flour there, or your toaster and Vitamix. We don’t want to put these things away in a cabinet every time we use them, because it’s too labor-intensive. So here, it’s hidden within the kitchen and not just sitting out on the counter.”

Bold Colors

Gray is, in many ways, the “new white,” and as this color takes off in popularity, designers are seeing new possibilities for this color palette.

For starters, the always-evolving white kitchen is an overwhelming favorite.

“We do a lot of painted right now,” says Roden, of M&R Custom Millwork. “I would say seven out of 10 kitchens we do these days are some version of white, off-white, gray, dark gray or light-gray paint.”

The trend is spreading beyond the kitchen, as more homeowners match the rest of their house to their newly remodeled kitchen.

“A lot of people are going with painted trim in the house, as a complement to the painted cabinetry,” says Roden. “In a new house, you seldom see stained wood anymore. You see a lot of trim painted, doors painted, and that’s usually accented by a wood floor or tile floor.”

As the white/gray color scheme evolves, so, too, do its complements. While Roden sees a trend toward espresso/chocolate-colored islands to contrast with the white/gray cabinets, Jurs is seeing far more bold selections. Blues and greens are becoming a go-to choice for contrasting islands. In some cases, they’re also becoming the go-to color on every cabinet. It’s a serious roll-back from the “universal appeal” that’s been popular over the past decade or so. Where before, designers brought in color through tile, wall paint or accents, they’re simply fearless today.

“We’re doing a lot of green cabinetry, and people are being so bold,” says Jurs. “They’re putting their investment into these cabinets, and it’s not like you’re going to redo your cabinets in 5 or 10 years from now.”
Despite the incredible popularity of painted cabinets, don’t rule out the power of stained wood. Traditional finishes are still in strong demand, and some new styles are adding a new degree of “sex appeal” to wood finishes.

Roden finds that cherry is still a popular choice, and walnut is making a comeback. Rustic-looking knotty alder has its place, too.

At the same time, Roden finds a growing demand for a new spin on traditional finishes. In recent years, he’s seen more requests for cabinetry where the wood is stained lightly and the grain is positioned horizontally. It creates a sleek, modern effect that pairs well with lighter-colored countertops and stainless steel accents. The doors are typically flat, with no inset.

“The grain goes left to right, and it fits well with a high-end veneer and a contemporary flat door,” says Roden. “You might combine that with a Shaker-style kitchen and have something painted there, too. It’s a unique look.”

White painted cabinets are by far the top choice among homeowners, but a dark chocolate wood stain on the island provides a fitting complement, as seen in this example by M&R Custom Millwork, in Belvidere.

Pick the Right Professional

The constant deluge of home improvement ideas we find on social media and television makes it easier than ever to pull together a trendy look with less effort. Home interiors stores coordinate everything for us and manufacturers cater to every style. Flashy websites tempt us into thinking we can achieve that designer look all by ourselves – and at a lower price.

But beware the mirage.

“There are customers who are so price-conscious they’ll get on a website and find something that looks nice in a picture, but in reality it’s often very poorly constructed,” says Roden. “It’s unfortunate, because people save and budget for this project, and they’ll quickly find it’s a disaster.”

The lesson: know who you’re buying from, says Roden. When it comes to serious remodeling, the professionals bring both experience and expertise that prove crucial in completing a luxury look. Designers like those at Advance Design Studio are carefully trained in design, and they often have a team of reputable contractors and craftsmen behind them, to ensure that the client’s vision becomes a reality.

Roden has spent 40 years producing cabinetry and other woodwork that’s made-to-order. Custom cabinetry sometimes has a reputation for being more expensive, he says, but in reality it’s often a better value for the money.

The difference lies in his ability to meet exact specifications. Most cabinet distributors, by comparison, will only produce in 3-inch increments. When things don’t fit exactly, they’ll add spacers or fillers to make up the difference – and that’s not always aesthetically pleasing.

M&R Custom Millwork takes time to meet with clients and understand their vision. Then, they take their own measurements and bring the client’s vision to life. Should an issue arise, either in production or installation, the team can respond quickly.

“Some people don’t know they’ve made a mistake until it’s too late,” he says. “Then, you have to order a replacement, the factory has to make a new one, then get it to the distributor, and it could be weeks of delay. We can overcome a problem in a matter of hours or days.”

Similarly, Jurs and her team are specially trained to find solutions and overcome problems quickly. They’ve spent years pulling together design elements and helping families to better use the space they have. Best of all, they bring in a fresh perspective and a knack for building “wow factor” into any room.

They’ve built cabinet doors that open to reveal a hidden room, and built up buzz online with arched, glass-inset pocket doors that separate a refreshed kitchen from a formal dining room. They’ve spent years bringing bold ideas to life.

“Don’t overthink it,” says Jurs. “Be open, because you might be pleasantly surprised. That’s something a lot of homeowners will tell us on a project. They’ll say, ‘I didn’t really know what I needed, but one of your designers came back with something I hadn’t even considered, and I loved it.’”