Cookin' in the Kitchen

I often day dream about the design of my ideal kitchen- what kind of materials would I use, what appliances would I select and so forth. While it's easy to design anything spectacular with an unlimited budget, we often make decisions based largely on cost. In working with my clients to design their kitchen, the first goal is to make the space as functional as possible. A good starting point is to list your necessary requirements and existing restrictions. Some clients are big cooks while others favor ordering in. And in Manhattan, one is often dealing with small existing spaces which have their own limitations and requires some creativity.  

But let's start with the basics and go through the check list.  

Ideally I love wood floors in kitchens. They are softer on your physical body, warmer and create a nice balance to all the hard surfaces (cabinets, appliances, stone countertops, etc). It is important to be mindful that in a high traffic and busy work areas, the darker and shiner the wood stain & finish the more scratches will show. In particular, you will see more signs by the sink and stove as these get constant wear and tear.

If you are going to use a stone or tile floor, I love the idea of an old material for the floor, like the Petit Granite from Equistite Surfaces. Old limestone or marble floor tiles add a nice contrast to modern cabinets and appliances.

In the last few years my taste in cabinetry leans more and more modern. Meaning, I like a clean plain profiles with little to no molding or recessed paneling. While paint grade cabinets can look well, I also love using cerused oak (yes it's tried and true my favorite). The nice thing about using wood cabinets, is that they won't chip like paint which inevitably will over time. While the upfront cost for wood is more, the long term maintenance cost is less as you won't need to repaint them. Since lower cabinets tend to take more of a beating than the uppers, I sometimes use cerused oak on the lower faces and then white high gloss lacquered cabinets on the uppers.  Clear maple interiors with under drawer glides are a must and look and perform the best in my opinion. 

Laying out all of the drawers with the architect and cabinetmakers is critical.  Each drawer should be assigned for it's purpose- flatware, drying towels, tupperware, knives, etc. It's best to think logically here and try and organize the drawers and cabinets based on function. Plates and glasses are best near the dishwashers and so forth.  If you want to keep your countertops clean, then I like knife drawers with built in knife blocks or a magnetic wall strip to house your knives. I like keeping my countertops as clean as possible and if you haven't figured it out yet- I have OCD tendencies so I like my kitchen to be organized in a logical way.  

Make sure your uppers are deep enough to hold your dinner plates (most of which are 10" diameter) but some are larger so make double check and measure.   

When reviewing plans, keep in mind that most drawer fronts are roughly 2" wider than the interior of the drawers. An 8" wide drawer front means the interior of your drawer is only 6".  That won't allow for much!  As such, it is crucial that you measure everything and double check the drawings over and over. Stiles in my opinion can be a waste of space that could be capitalized for storage and should be omitted when possible.

If saving money is key, and you don't mind seeing your dishes and glasses, then open shelves are the way to go.  However this only looks good if you are organized and have one set of china &  glasses, and so forth.  If your tastes are eclectic and have a collection of mix and match stuff, best to hide it.  If you opt for open shelves, reserve this for your plates and glasses only, not your pantry.  Keep the pantry behind closed doors.  Even if you are tidy and line up your crackers, cereals and nuts, it still looks better behind closed doors.  

I love creating a vertical tray storage.  This is great for baking sheets, cutting boards and large serving trays.  You can never have enough of these in my opinion. 

Cabinet Hardware:
Often treated as an afterthought, choosing cabinet hardware that you love the look and feel of is crucial. Knobs vs. pulls. Long vs. short. How does it feel in your hand? These are all things to explore. I tend to prefer a long modern pull to a more traditional knob. I like using the long pulls on both the uppers (used vertical) and lowers (used horizontal). I would suggest having the cabinet maker create a sample drawer or cabinet panel for your approval to see the proportions and the quality of the finish. The sample face can be brought to the hardware store to select what looks best. I'll say it again, you want to hold the hardware in your hand and make sure if feels good to you. You will be grabbing for these multiple times throughout your day (assuming you actually go in your kitchen!) and it is important that the size and scale, as well as location, are comfortable for your grasp.  

I am a huge fan of getting a filtered water tap.  Most tap water, while touted to be clean, still contains high levels of certain metals among other properties.  It also helps cut down on bottled water usage. Hot water spouts are not useful in my opinion. Why put money into them and take up counter-space and under-cabinet space when you can simply by a tea kettle? Check out Perrin & Rowe who make some nice filtered taps. One note- make sure you change the filter at least every 6 months!
I prefer a goose neck spout which is nice when filling large pots. I also like a built-in hose for the spout when possible.

I only like using undermount sinks and quite honestly loath overmounts.  They tend to look messy because of the exposed caulking. I don't mind farm house sinks if it compliments the style of your kitchen. While white porcelain sinks are a classic look and are easier to clean, I prefer the clean modern look of stainless steel. I prefer one large sink vs. two smaller ones.  A minimum of 30" wide x 8-10" deep is nice. Any deeper is unnecessary and too commercial.  But anything less than 8" is far too shallow.  Keep in mind if it is an undercount you are also gaining the thickness of the countertop in addition to the depth of your sink.

I loathe putting a dishwasher under a sink- simply terrible and unfunctional- in my opinion just don't do a dishwasher at that point. Make sure you don't have to move from the sink to open the dishwasher.  I can't tell you how many kitchens are poorly layed out in such a manner. Function is put second to the promotional selling point of having a Meile dishwasher- ridiculous! 

Pot fillers:
Unless you cook for large parties and often use massive pots, or you have trouble lifting things, I think they are rarely used and unfunctional.  Reasons not to get one- it's nice to let the water run in any spout if it hasn't been on for a while.  Pot filler are over stoves so running water over a gas burner is a bad idea. So logically that means you need to let it run over a pot, and then dump the pot out in the sink. Ask yourself- is it worth spending the extra money for the spout itself, cutting into the backsplash and running plumbing behind the stove?

Wine Fridges:
These are of course lovely to have. Some people like them in the kitchen, others in the bar area or even in a basement or out of the way closet.

I try to discourage most clients from buying microwaves. I once had a person "Feng Shui" my office and with a special barometer she found the microwave had bad toxic energy- whatever that means!!  Sadly, this has stuck in my head and I choose not to use one and encourage my clients to do the same. While they are quick and efficient, something about them screams NO.  For me- they are an extra appliance that takes up space.  

While I haven't owned one yet, I am loving the popular inductions stove tops.  They have a clean and modern aesthetic and heat up in a flash. Bonus- they are very easy to clean. While there is still a demand for a gas cooktop range, I think these are very promising. If you are going for a gas stove, I think Wolf is just as good as Viking and a little less expensive (owned by the same company). Opt for the black knobs vs the red which will blend in more! Gringer in NYC is a great showroom to see all of the best lines from Miele, Bosch, Gaggenau, Viking, Wolf, Subzero, Liebherr, etc. Marvin is my go to man there!

Subzero's are gorgeous and nice, and also super expensive. So if you are on a budget then consider Fisher & Paykel or GE.  Liebherr is great if you are tight on space and don't have a lot of depth. I am not a huge fan of refrigerator drawers. I don't know why but they just bug me. While they are nice in a bar bc you can panel the fronts to hide and integrate them, I just don't like them. Ice machines are another story too. If you are like me and don't use ice cubes in your beverages then you don't need this. But do make sure your refrigerator has built in ice trays- not all do, which requires a plumbing line. If you cannot get a plumbing line to your refrigerator then you will need to use old school ice trays. Ice machines to me are like microwaves, unnecessary. But if you are entertainging quite often, or love to chuck your own oysters, then maybe you want them. But be careful where you place them because no matter what ice machines make noise- so don't put one in your screening room! 

I am not a fan of dishwasher drawers. Instead get an 18"wide Miele. And of course if you have the room for it, get a regular 24"wide dishwasher. I think Miele & Bosch are the best and worth the investment. I also am a huge fan of leaving appliances as appliances and not covering them with a face frame to hide or integrate them. Stainless steel is gorgeous- so just look for clean lines with a nice shaped handle. A hidden control panel on a dishwasher is a nice touch.

You can never have enough light in your kitchen. You first need to decide if you want to do recessed or decorative lights or a combination of the two. I usually like a combination- recessed over cabinets and decorative over an island. But of course it all depends. If your kitchen is very large, then it will look cleaner with recessed lights vs. dotting your ceiling with decorative lights. Keep in mind if using metal shades (like industrial halophonies)- they only shine down and not all around. 

Undercounted lights are always a divisive topic. I like them- are they necessary? No. They provide nice ambient light. Make sure to get LED strips so they don't get hot. Some of the older under-counter lights tend to get super hot, which is not great right under your pantry or oil storage. Because you need to build a recessed niche under the cabinets to hide them, be sure that your cabinet maker & electrician are involved in the planning of such lights.

Electrical Outlets:
There are two options for outlets. You can either do backlash outlets (I prefer duplex outlets layed horizontally). Depending on the color of the stone I either use a stainless steel or white cover plate.  You can also do a strip outlet, where there are plugs about every 6". This is great and very clean so you don't need to cut into your stone backsplash and these are located in the back and underside of your upper cabinets. Do not put these in the front of the upper cabinets- can you imagine having a cord hanging from the front near the countertop edge? If you plan on leaving your toaster or coffee maker plugged in at all time, then go for your duplex outlet in the backsplash. Otherwise be prepared to unplug these after use with the electrical strip unless you want to see your cord dangling down.

Countertop & Backsplash:
Marble and other natural stones are a beautiful look in a kitchen, however, I don't love polished stones which often looks too shiny, and most honed natural stones will pit with acid. All natural stones for the most part are susceptible to wear from lemon juice and other acids like red wine. And that's ok. A limestone top can look fabulous with pit marks if that is the look you are going for. You just need to know this going in. Also you need to select a stone with large enough slabs if you are doing an island in one piece.  Otherwise, you need to cut the stone in such a way that it works. Generally speaking I like using 3cm or 1.25" thickness with a square 1/8" eased edge. I also love a thicker countertop, like a 2-3"thick countertop, which can be achieved by building up the countertop or mitering the edge. Note that you will see a seam so a good fabricator matters.  

I prefer using slabs for the backlashes because I think it is a nice continuation of the countertop and looks clean. However this of course depends on what countertop you use. Keep in mind that if your countertop is 3cm you may want to use 2cm as the backsplash for cost and depth, unless of course you have waste from the countertop.  If you are buying a 2cm slab for the backsplash it will need to match the 3cm slabs for the countertop.  This is key- you need to go to stone yard and inspect the slabs in person. This may even require going to a few stone yards to find the material or pieces you like. All natural stone needs to be sealed and best done at least once a year!!

Recently I have been loving Caesarstone and Glassos. Caesarstone is a composite man-made stone, which functions much like granite so it's hard, but has a satin finish that is between a honed and polished. I love the white color best. I also love Glassos. This material is a little harder to fabricate and install, and has a more polished finish, but is gorgeous and modern and white!  

Last word on stones, You need to select materials that matches your home and the style of your home and it's location.  So if you have a traditional country house then consider using a honed stone and not polished. If you are modernizing it and want to add a modern kitchen, then be mindful of what you select so it doesn't feel like it flew in from the set of the Jetsons. 

In general- I try and keep my kitchens on the lighter side.  While dark wood kitchens, like Danish modern walnut cabinets, can look beautiful- in the end you will have a dark room that is more masculine, and for me, I like things lighter and airer.
If you are about to embark on a renovation or just thinking about one, here are a few of my favorite things to help in the process of building or renovating your kitchen.