A Luxury Backsplash

It’s almost funny to think that backsplashes — now, a showcase for any number of creative and inspired design ideas — were originally seen as primarily serving a very practical purpose: protecting the sink and stove-side wall from water and routine kitchen splatter.

They still do, of course and are much needed! But thanks to innovation in design and materials, backsplashes have emerged as show-stopping features as well. A custom backsplash that uses scale, material and color well, can be the very statement piece that makes your kitchen one-of-a-kind, and unforgettable.

An example of this is the backsplash I designed for a client who was looking to achieve a kitchen with a contemporary, sleek look. Rather than containing the backsplash to the area between the countertop and the cupboards, I extended it all the way up the wall to the ceiling. The effect is  dramatic, while also very modern, due to the strong, clean lines that result.

St charles kitchen marble backsplashBut it’s not just the scale and scope of this backsplash that make it special. Its beauty and architectural feel is thanks to a new recycled Italian material that I’ve been using recently called Lithoverde. A product of the esteemed, northern Tuscany stone company Salvatori, Lithoverde is a natural, recycled stone texture created from 99% marble offcuts with a natural resin binder.  An environmentally-friendly material, the manufacturing process creates random, geometric patterns, so no two pieces are alike. Here, the vast expanse is at once subdued and luxurious, while also offering plenty of visual interest.

I am not the only one who’s a fan of Lithoverde — my friend, acclaimed British artist John Pawson famously used the material for his striking and monolithic piece, “House of Stone”, created as part of the Milan Furniture Fair. Of course, his “house” did not have a kitchen!

Salvatori-Marmi-Casa-Lithoverde-LoHouse of Stone by John Pawson and Salvatori.


You Can Mix Metals in Your Kitchen Design

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Contrary to what you may have heard, there is no need to ensure that all the hardware in a kitchen matches. I find that a combination of metals and finishes provides a much more contemporary and sophisticated look.

I have been using mixed metals for a number of years now – its a great way to blend a little bit of “old world” architecture with a contemporary style. For example, when I design a kitchen in a pre-war building, I like to respect the architecture. So, even if the kitchen has a very contemporary look, I mix metals and their finishes to help achieve a blend of old and new in the space.

There are many ways to seamlessly mix metals to create a subtle blend and to contrast textures and finishes. The most important point to remember is: don’t use two metals with the same finishes together; rather, combine a metal with a polished finish with another in a satin or antique finish for a more contemporary look. An antique satin brass light fixture can be, for example, a lovely contrast to polished nickel silver hardware.

The Etch collection by Tom Dixon features geodesic forms made of digitally etched metal sheets and create a dramatic look when combined in different finishes, like brass, copper and soft silver.

I don’t just design a faucet in one metal and hardware in another; I often mix metals within one component. One of my favorite pieces is a striking custom hood combining polished stainless steel trim with satin brass rivets.

The selections you make all depend on the look you’re trying to achieve. Do you want a soft patina finish in the kitchen? Mixing metals helps achieve that. Recently, I combined satin nickel hinges – just regular, exposed hinges – with satin brass finials on the cabinets. The blending of the two was subtle, and made for a perfect combination.

Pot racks can make a bold design statement and work well to bring the overall space together. This design by Ann-Morris combines polished nickel and brass.

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Why You Need a Kitchen Designer

Clients often ask me, “Why do I need a kitchen designer? I’m already working with an interior designer.” The answer is simple: A good kitchen designer supports your architect or designer and brings in specialized knowledge of what makes a kitchen look beautiful and work well.

Understanding Materials 

Calcutta Gold InstallationA kitchen designer has intimate knowledge of materials and understands which is best for each application. There are so many options for countertops these days, and our team can offer recommendations on which materials work best for countertops and which should only be used as decorative finishes.

This specialized knowledge carries through into floors and backsplashes, millwork and cabinetry hardware that’s both beautiful and durable,
and appliances that are right for the look and right for the cook. Put simply, we can specify the right material for the right use the first time around.

It’s important to personalize the space to make it fit with the way the owner lives. I always ask a client, “How are you going to use this kitchen? What are the family needs?”

Kitchens are different from the rest of the home, as they are functional workspaces created largely of hard surfaces that are tough to change. My strong suit is designing a kitchen for the particular way it needs to function to meet the needs of the people using it.

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Partner with the Architect or Designer

We work with many designers and architects and bring in materials that are cohesive with the design they are trying to achieve. Once we get their vision, we source materials that work with the project and are specially suited for the kitchen.

Barn-CounterWe are the first-choice kitchen resource for a number of interior designers, because we recognize their style and can design anything they want while ensuring that it will coordinate with the rest of the home.

The Design Process

Our goal is to create a kitchen that is seamlessly integrated into the designer’s vision for the project, so it’s important that we know what finished product she’s after. Is it a sleek contemporary style, a classic colonial home, or a mid-century modern look? Such input allows us to design a kitchen and select materials and finishes that are cohesive with the style the architect or designer is trying to achieve.

Another benefit we offer to the architect and ultimately to the client is that the drawings we produce include appliance and material specifications, finishes, and trims to be integrated into the CAD drawings that the architect designs. This saves time for everyone involved in the project.

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Kitchen Design Trends To Consider

I enjoy writing my column for Huffington Post Home as it makes me stop for a moment and think about my design sensibility and why I design the way I do. Here is my most recent post about trends in kitchen design. As you’ll see, I’m not a big proponent of catering to the latest trends.

Trends often leave your kitchen feeling outdated only moments after installation, as they focus on passing fads and disregard timeless qualities altogether. However, all significant contributions to kitchen design began as trends that, with time, became classics. Here are some hot trends that may indeed be here to stay.

Oversized Islands

As homes in the U.S. become larger – the average size home has grown almost 900 square feet in the last 30 years – kitchen sizes have increased as well. This means more space for kitchen islands. Consequently, they have become the primary congregation area and focal point of the home. One way to make a unique statement is to feature a great marble countertop with distinctive pendant lighting.

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Living Walls for Herbs

Spring is the perfect time to incorporate a vertical living wall of herbs into your kitchen. When well-constructed and maintained, living walls can be an inexpensive and purposeful addition to your decor, especially if you are an avid cook. Herb walls in particular add not only color but also an enviable natural aroma to your kitchen that, once installed, you’ll be amazed you ever lived without.

Off-white Cabinetry

Out with stark white kitchens and in with warm white alternatives! Off­-white shades are soothing and maintain your resale value while simultaneously offering a more contemporary look. Cabinet paint colors that I recommend include Benjamin Moore’s White Chocolate, Elmira, and Mist. I’m using these colors with a gloss finish to add dimension and modernity to white kitchens I design. Two luxurious Farrow & Ball colors to try are Shadow White and Dropcloth, both delicious and warm.

Bold Colors

Ever since Cameron Diaz’s emerald green kitchen started circulating around Pinterest, bold colored cabinetry has been in high demand. When my clients are open to using a bolder palette on their cabinetry, I steer them toward Farrow & Ball’s color inventory. Try pairing their rich, intense Black Blue paint with white countertops for a vibrant and modern combination.

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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.

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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.


How to Approach Kitchen Design

When I begin designing a kitchen, my first priority is to get an understanding of the lifestyle and uses a kitchen needs to support; then I map out the layout and flow.

Designated areas always work best when designing the flow, which then influences the way the cabinets are designed. Designating an area lets you know exactly what’s supposed to happen in that space and how the cabinets will be used. Then everything designed inside those cabinets should accommodate the function of that particular area.

Once that is defined, I design the look of the cabinetry and finishes. So, although most people think about the cabinets first when they’re looking to redesign their kitchen, it’s really the layout that comes first.

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You need to include different textures, depths and planes to help define the areas, so when you use the kitchen, you feel the dishes go here and the food pantry goes there and cooking is done on this side of the kitchen.

My thought process when designing a cabinet is, “What is the function of that cabinet?” If it’s going to hold dishes it should be designed as a dish cabinet. But, even if it’s going to hold groceries and be a food pantry, I don’t want it to look like a food pantry. I don’t want someone to walk in and see straight away that the Cheerios are over there. So I often use decorative finishes and veneers to create a trompe l’oeil effect to hide a cabinet and add a dash of the unexpected.

stct2 The most creative part of designing a kitchen is to take something very practical, like a food pantry, and make it look aesthetically pleasing.

That’s probably the most difficult aspect of kitchen design: to be practical yet have it look beautiful. Kitchens are, first and foremost, practical.

Being practical does not mean that everything should match. I’ve never been an advocate of wrapping the kitchen in wall cabinetry. A great look is when the cabinets don’t match or, if the colors match, then the cabinets are not contiguous, all at the same height. Cabinets should not run across a wall without a break, the eye needs a relief at some point. As Diane Vreeland said, “The eye has to travel.”

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Bringing in new points of interest — like a great painting or a decorative door treatment — change the whole mood of the space, and make it come alive.

Another important aspect of designing your kitchen cabinets is not to design them just for Thanksgiving, or the holidays, when all of the in-laws are over. You need to design a kitchen for the way you live 90 percent of the time, for everyday living. Then you can make modifications or adjustments for the holidays and larger events.


The Perfect Kitchen for Entertaining

Do you find you’re spending more time in your kitchen? Have you even used it for formal entertaining, not just for casual family dinners? If so, you’re following one of the most important trends in kitchen design today.

As kitchen designer, I see how homeowners are embracing the kitchen like never before. They view it as an integral part of their home, not just for its resale value. Consequently, I’m using more extravagant materials to make the room special, as homeowners feel the investment is worthwhile.

When I began designing kitchens many of my clients would say, “Let’s make the cabinets and tiles white so everyone will like them and my home will be easier to sell.”

People aren’t doing that any longer. They’re telling me, “I want to love my kitchen and I want to entertain in it.” So they’re open to putting in statement pieces like a gorgeous emerald green island or custom blue hood.

The kitchen has become an entertaining area as opposed to just a gathering area. Nowadays people might have a small dinner party in their kitchen because they have beautiful exotic tabletops and wonderful light fixtures so they feel it’s ready for prime time.

There are four trends in kitchen design you can take advantage of to make your kitchen entertainment-worthy:

1) Luxury Countertops

Luxury finishes, such as the exotic quartz surfaces in this photo, were typically used in a living room where people entertained guests. Today, I’m seeing a lot of beautiful stone finishes in the kitchen, even semi-precious stones like amethyst and tiger’s eye.

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2) Hardware as Jewelry

To me, hardware is like ‘jewelry’ for the kitchen, it can dress up a design and add glamour and style. I always find unique, one of a kind items like beautiful Parisian drawer pulls or handmade cabinet pulls as well as precious accessories like silver and pewter hardware to dress up the space.

3) Statement Lighting

Lighting has become a big part of the kitchen and designers are moving away from simple recessed lights. Like adding amazing lighting fixtures, both antique and contemporary, over an island where simple pendants would typically be used, as well as over tables and eating areas, in fact, in all kinds of places.

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4) High End Appliances

Homeowners are more willing to invest in appliances like La Cornue stoves and induction cooktops, which can be extravagant purchases, but offer value and make a strong design statement. Maybe you can’t afford the full treatment, but, planned correctly, even one investment piece can make a huge difference.

As a result of all these design changes, which make for a more guest-friendly kitchen. So we’re opening it up to the rest of the home. Not just to the family room, but even to more formal living and dining rooms.

Our lifestyles have changed over the years, and kitchen design has evolved, making the kitchen more versatile and luxurious, until it has become the most significant room in the home.


Designing a Jewel Box Kitchen

St. Charles designer Ron Krieb joined forces with architect Greg Melitonov of Taller KEN to transform every square inch of a passageway in a small West Village apartment into a radiant galley kitchen.

The client required a multi-functional kitchen that was to be used often, so practicality was as pertinent as aesthetic design.

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“To give the illusion of more space, like a pass-through kitchen, we used uninterrupted clear mirror for the back splash and mirrored backs for the upper glass cabinetry. Almost all the surfaces are dark and reflective so you never perceive the limits of the space and the logistical gymnastics are concealed behind the paneling.” Melitonov says about harmonizing the space-planning with the design.

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The combination of textures and patterns – the grain of the Eucalyptus with the blue Tiger eye stone countertops – provides a lot of character and creates a sense of drama. The use of nickel trim in combination with many small points of light gives the surfaces a kind of glow.

The range was strategically placed by the window to allow for proper ventilation of the kitchen space.

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When sunlight hits the black splash, the whole kitchen sparkles.


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? 

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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!