Kitchen Design: Functionality & Longevity.

As a kitchen specialist, I try to educate my clients on the mistakes they can easily avoid when remodeling their kitchens. While beauty and functionality are important in the design, longevity is an equally important factor. Kitchens are a significant investment and should be designed to last twenty years or so. Here is my latest blog post from the Huffington Post with some useful advice on kitchen design.

These tips not only explain the most costly errors made by homeowners, but also serve as a guideline for ensuring a greater lifespan for your kitchen.

Good Lighting is Essential

Proper lighting in a kitchen is essential as it serves many different functions. Kitchens require bright task lighting to define usable prep work areas, and softer mood lighting to create ambiance for the island, seating, and entertaining spaces. Great mood lighting can be achieved with a fabulous statement light fixture over an island or eating enclave. While the light fixture may be an investment piece, it can easily be swapped into another room if it doesn’t work in the kitchen.

Task lighting is a different issue. I advocate planning task lighting in the early stages of the design as it should be built into the original framework of the space; either under the wall cabinets, inside the cabinetry, or recessed into the ceiling.

Design your cabinets with task lighting built in, as it’s difficult to add after they’re installed. You’ll also avoid having pockets of shadow and darkness in the most important prep areas. Task lighting needs to be carefully planned — not only because it’s costly to change, but also because it’s absolutely vital for the functionality of your kitchen.

Costly Kitchen Mistakes 1 The sink area above is brightly illuminated for prep work and does not affect the natural mood lighting of the room.

Understand Your Materials and Finishes

I always say to clients that there are no bad choices when it comes to materials, only poor applications. Materials and finishes need to survive the day-to-day stresses of the space and suit the owner’s lifestyle. If you’re concerned with staining, avoid using white marble countertops in prep areas. They may look beautiful, but marble is extremely porous and thus easily stained. If you’re interested in using marble in your kitchen space, opt for incorporating the material in another prominently featured area. For example, luxurious Calacatta marble is a fabulous material for a backsplash or buffet island.

Changing countertops is expensive as they’re custom cut and difficult to install. Most of the magnificent marble slabs or semi-precious stone counters we use are so large and heavy that we commonly remove windows or walls in order to even get them into the home. Once the counters are installed, the plumber needs to come in to fit the faucets, and the electrician needs to seat the appliances! It’s a huge and costly undertaking.

Like marble countertops, painted white cabinets are a popular finish. However, if you have young children or a lot of activity in your kitchen, chipping is inevitable. Painted cabinets chip, even with the best topcoat. So you need to consider the long-term maintenance of the material you’ve chosen.

Metal cabinets are a more durable alternative — and remember, there is more to metal than stainless steel.

Costly Kitchen Mistakes 2

A combination of metal and lacquer coated cabinets in this kitchen for a family of active cooks.
A few more tips:

Wood floors look gorgeous, but if you have large or active dogs at home, they might not be the best choice, as they are likely to show signs of scratching.

Stone floors can last forever, however they can be hard on your feet if you spend a lot of time prepping in the kitchen. Try to minimize the amount of grout between the stones as it catches excess dirt quickly and can show signs of discoloration.

Stainless steel is a very practical and functional countertop material, but it scratches easily and tends to evoke a colder, industrial feel.

Kitchen Trends: In & Out for 2016

Lead kitchen designers Karen Williams and Robert Schwartz share their predictions for popular trends in 2016. Joining us in conversation is Lindsey Katalan who discusses her observations on the accessories side of things.

What’s In?

KW: I’ve been working with my clients to pick out statement light fixtures for the kitchen space. The more exquisite the piece, the more inclined homeowners are to put it over their island counter top instead of tucking it away in the dining room”

Tananbaum IMG_0012A (C)201 4 Eric van den Brulle

The highlight of this kitchen is the custom designed statement chandelier over the island.

RS: Clients are becoming increasingly more receptive to kitchen technology. Whether it’s electronic lift mechanisms, movable islands, or self diagnostic appliances, the kitchen culture is embracing technological products that alleviate “old world problems”, if you will.

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Three visuals of a movable marble backsplash that serves as a second, shallower wall.

LK: Bid adieu to the silver tray and start serving your guests on literal works of art. Porcelain is becoming the new medium for artists such as Marina Abramovic, Jeff Koons and David Lynch. Bernardaud encourages these artists to channel their artistic flare right onto the plate. Talk about a palate cleanser!

David Lynch’s limited edition porcelain artwork available through CURATED

David Lynch’s limited edition porcelain artwork available through our CURATED division.

What’s Out?

KW- I’m glad to see that heavy and over sized hardware is fading out. People are finally realizing that meat locker hinges are disproportionate to the cabinet size. Beautiful cabinetry should be showcased and not hidden behind bulky pulls and handles. I’m excited to see clients choosing more refined hardware in 2016.

RS: Built in coffee makers are being supplemented for small professional countertop models. People are becoming more discerning about every square inch of their kitchen space and ultimately realizing that coffee machines are too bulky for a single function that can be performed by a counter top appliance.

LK- The Sputnik light, my friends, used to be out of this world. Now let’s get it out of this world! Or at least back to Russia.



It should come as no surprise that Robb Report chose an iconic St. Charles kitchen to grace the cover of their 2015 summer feature.


Karen Williams with her copy of Robb Report magazine, which boasts her kitchen design on it’s cover.

The kitchen, boasting a state of the art La Cornue amongst other top tier appliances, elegantly transformed the space into a multifunctional kitchen with two prep areas and cleverly disguised pantry storage.

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La Cornue Chateau Range

Read the full article online here.

Design Challenge: Through the Window

In the world of luxury kitchen design, designers and clients alike seek to achieve a level of grandeur in their work– perhaps in the form of a drop dead gorgeous burgundy La Cornue island, a statement light fixture, or a massive semiprecious countertop. But sometimes these heavy-hitters are simply too big to be brought up in an elevator or up the stairs – what then? 


Let us take a scenario I recently encountered in for a client with an elegantly appointed loft on the upper east side. The client wanted a 9 x 5 foot Carrara marble island; one continuous, giant slab. This piece, however, couldn’t fit even horizontally in the largest elevator in the building!

While the facades of luxury high-rises in Manhattan echo grandeur of an earlier time, their interiors especially back and service entrances often also reflect an older period- one of far more diminutive proportions! These narrow staircases and petite elevators were truly not built for the rigors of modern construction nor the magnitude of modern taste.

The alternative: We take out the windows and hoist the giant countertop in on a crane!

Fortunately, kitchen designers are not alone in their woes of spacial constraints. Often the decorator will need the crane as well to bring in an oversize sofa, large works of art, or (classically) a grand piano.

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These pieces are brought up near the end of the job, when almost everything else is in place. Decorators, designers, and architects team up to ensure that all oversize items are coordinated to be hoisted up on the same day. Often the entire street will have to be blocked off for several to accommodate the crane as it carefully hauls up materials piece by piece.

While attempting to install a kitchen on the twentieth (or higher!) floor poses significant challenges, private houses are often just as difficult if not more challenging to install. Fortunately many kitchens are built on the ground floor of the home but, as to any rule, there are always exceptions. When I renovated the kitchen for a brownstone in Brooklyn where the kitchen was situated on the second floor (pictured left). The design of the kitchen was sleek and I specified some heavy-hitting appliances that would suit the needs of a busy family and high volume kitchen: a large integrated Sub Zero refrigerator and a Wolf range.

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Normally these appliances can be brought up (thankfully) in a service elevator for apartment buildings; but here, there was no service elevator and the stairs in the house curved gracefully in a way that would simply not accommodate their substantial size. As a result, these two appliances had to be hoisted by crane up just one story to that second floor and brought in via the balcony. A lot of work for such a short distance.

The added effort (and drama) that can arise from designing and installing on a larger scale, makes these kitchens just that much more special and unique. It allows the kitchen to acquire a narrative ofits own- and isn’t that what having a custom kitchen design all about? So for your next project feel free to dream large, but be aware that the oversize pieces require substantial productions to execute! 

Trends in Luxury Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets not only serve an extremely important practical purpose — that of storing everything from cookware, to dry goods, to china — but also typically occupy the largest amount of real estate in the kitchen, which means the aesthetics of your cabinetry plays a huge role in the overall look of your space.

Of course, you should never choose a design based solely on what’s in vogue; first and foremost, you should love it and want to see it every day. Trends come and go, and a kitchen defines your lifestyle. That said, it’s always interesting and exciting to survey the latest looks, technologies, and design trends, and see if any of it feels right for you.

Here are the top four trends in cabinetry that I’m seeing in kitchens today, and that I’m personally enjoying incorporating into my own designs.

Exotic Wood Veneers

One of the most versatile and stunning trends in kitchens is the use of exotic wood veneers, thin slices that showcase the wood’s natural grain. I talked with one of my longtime colleagues Andy Tobias about what she’s seeing. “In contemporary designs, people are using veneers to create interest,” she says, using the example of a cabinet door with a veneer center panel in an otherwise spare design.

Veneers are nothing new, but what I find truly exciting and inspiring is the range of interesting and exotic woods now available. There’s the African species Bubinga (also known as African Rosewood), which has a rich, reddish color and darker purplish waves. The Southeast Asian Paldao is a lighter wood, often tan or light grey, with dark stripes, while the European Larch can be a warm red, rich and dramatic chestnut, or subdued brown.

I love using veneers in a variety of ways, from accent pieces to full cabinet treatments. In all our kitchens with full cabinet veneers, you’ll see the figure, or pattern on the wood matched to create a cohesive overall look, and it’s exceptionally beautiful.

Here is a kitchen with fumed oak veneer cabinets.


A Range of Choices

Another reason why I love working with veneers in these exquisite wood varieties is the range of looks one can achieve with them. Depending on the cut, finish, or treatment (such as fuming), the same wood can appear entirely different. They also work well for horizontal applications.

White Kitchens

White kitchens might be far from cutting-edge; they’ve been popular forever. But the shade of white on the rise is bright, crisp and clean, not the off-white that’s been so popular in recent years.

Here’s an example of a “new look” white kitchen, a project we designed that utilizes bright white cabinets.

Regardless of the material used, this minimalist color trend dovetails very nicely with the increased popularity of streamlined designs. I’m creating more and more kitchens featuring clean lines and simple silhouettes across all styles — contemporary, transitional, and traditional.

Milk Paint Finish

For kitchens of a more traditional design, I’ve been using cabinets in what’s known as a milk paint finish, and it’s a style that’s increasingly popular. One of the nice features of this elegant finish is that the brushstroke is easier to touch up.

For this technique, paint is applied in two layers, a base and a topcoat, for a subtle, tone-on-tone look. It has the appearance of hand-painting because it is.

Mixing white and dark

More than ever, I’m seeing kitchen designs that feature contrast, and mixing light and dark elements is a technique I’ve enjoyed using for a while. You might think this would be jarring to the eye, but it can actually be quite subtle, or provide just the thing to anchor a space or provide some excitement.

This kitchen design is one where a dark element — in this case, a walnut island topped with the semi-precious grey agate counter — provides a pleasing counterpoint to its surroundings in white marble, wood and commercial-grade glass tile.

5 Unique Kitchen Islands To Consider

Kitchen islands are some of the hardest working pieces in the room: these (frequently literally) central elements provide the surface for everything from prepping, chopping, and eating, to reading, doing homework, and sharing a glass of wine.

And yet, so many islands blend in with their surroundings, in finishes perfectly matching the kitchen’s cabinetry, or end up being an afterthought in an overall design.

What a mistake! The kitchen island is the perfect place to make a strong style statement, to employ a truly special piece, and to make an investment — it is, after all, probably one of the few things in the kitchen everyone is sure to see and use. That’s why I always say, do something different.

Here are five great examples of uncommon kitchen islands, each special in their own way, but all guaranteed to pack a real punch in the most popular room in the house!

La Cornue W

Many of you may know La Cornue for its line of exceptional kitchen ranges. What you may not know is that the company recently partnered with the French architect-designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte to create the new line, Cornue W.


Among the fruits of this collaboration is this stunning contemporary piece; La Cornue has dubbed it a “prep table,” but I think it would make an exceptional island. It also comes as an induction table, for those of you in need of more cooking surface.

With a sleek, minimalist silhouette, a top of oiled American oak, and three drawers, this beauty boasts both form and function. (And just goes to show you: sometimes a great kitchen island isn’t even an island!)

Newland Kitchen Island from Hickory Chair


I love this island for its effortless fusion of farmhouse aesthetic and modern style. Designed by Thomas O’Brien, the island’s streamlined legs are made from figured ash, while the top is available in English brown oak or as a Carrera marble slab.

Drawers on one side provide space to stash essentials (or hide clutter!) and shiny silver campaign pulls keep things from being too blah. Brown too dark for you?: it’s also available in white.

Napoli Wine Island by Habersham Home


An island fit for a king! This regal piece not only features elegant architectural details and hardware, rich wood and stately stone, it’s also a handy place to store wine bottles; five drawers keep favored vintages at the ready.

John Boos Grazzi Kitchen Island with 8″ Drop Leaf


I see this island as a great fit for a busy family with young kids, and think it can work in the everyday kitchen or the country getaway with equal ease. The white base is casual without being too informal and detailing on the legs adds some visual interest.

The top features a gorgeous 2 ¼ inch piece of edge grain maple, while practical elements such as two drawers, and 8-inch drop leaf, and a slatted shelf make this beauty a real workhorse as well!

Vintage American Butcher Block


Seeking a conversation piece like none other? Look no further!  When I say this piece is unique I mean it: it’s truly one-of-a-kind. A vintage American butcher block dating from the 1920s, this find rom Old Plank has tons of character.

Made from maple, it features dovetail joinery and the original brass hardware, as well as some slight imperfections that I think just add to its appeal. You won’t find this in anyone else’s kitchen!

Sub-Zero 2010-12 Kitchen Design Contest

I was thrilled to be named a global winner in Sub-Zero and Wolf’s 2010-12 Kitchen Design Contest. Now the September issues of Elle Décor, Dwell and Traditional Home have all announced my win!

Below is a shot of the layout in Elle Décor – it describes the style and features of the Shasha Residence kitchen, which won me 1st Place in the Global Traditional Category.

Semi-Precious Stone Countertops Add Impact

I’ve always loved using stone in my designs, and now more than ever, employing exquisite and rare specimens in interesting and surprising ways helps ensure your interior is exceptional and unique while also reflecting your personal style.

Like most building materials, semi-precious stone can be used in a variety of ways to create varying effects. Some types of stone are all about drama and delivering a striking visual impact. For example, this gorgeous deep blue Dumortierite, employed for both the vanity top and the floor in this powder room, never fails to get noticed —in the very best way, of course! — and lends a luxurious, exotic feel to the space.

A central island topped with gorgeous slabs of illuminated Agate Quartz provides the centerpiece for this award-winning kitchen in the home of a busy family with three children. You might think that only the adults appreciate a fine fixture like this, but in fact, the under-lit Agate looks like something out of the Museum of Natural History and the children love hunting for fossils while mom is cooking.

At the other end of the spectrum, stone can also be used in a more restrained, and subtle way while maintaining a similar sense of luxury. Up close, exceptional, fine details become apparent: the marble is a single slab of fine Calacatta Gold; the backsplash features a curved cut that provides texture, and to the left and right of the sink, thin grooves cut into the stone enable water to drain easily from the workspace. Subtle and refined, but no less special than a powerhouse cut of stone! It’s all about sensibility.

I love to incorporate white onyx into my designs because it casts a subtle hint of luxury, as it does here, used as an understated and elegant base for this cabinet.

Here are Bob and I with a gorgeous slab of champagne Quartzite; it’s so difficult to find a slab this huge that’s perfectly consistent. Imagine this as a central element in a kitchen: Stunning! (Needless to say, I snapped it up in a heartbeat!)

As you can see from all of these examples, when it comes to selecting a fine stone material, the options, while not infinite, are certainly vast!

I find that far too often, materials like wood and stone are seen as mere building blocks enlisted in service of the kitchen’s “grand design”. To me, the stone itself is a key element in the kitchen, and selecting the right one (and using it effectively), is a surefire way to create an unforgettable space.