By David M. Brown
Everyone’s path leads to the kitchen.
The most popular room in the contemporary home, it is the destination for all family members: Your kitchen flexes for meals, after-school snacks, chit-chat, internet recipes, homework.
When your guests arrive, for formal or informal entertaining, your kitchen is the first course. Here, they have some water, a glass of wine, a soda; you catch up. For parties, one or more islands provide buffet spaces for appetizers or main meals. Guests may then transition to your great room or outside to the patio, courtyards and lawn. Kitchens are our go-to rooms, our must-stops for nourishment of body and soul.
If you’re focusing on this central space, for a tear-down or just a refresh to sell, or you’re building or buying a home, consider your lifestyle first, says Tanya Shively, ASID, LEED AP, principal of Scottsdale’s Sesshu Design Associates, which has completed large and small renovations and whole-home projects for 20 years.
“How do you live? What is the single most important thing you want your kitchen to do? Do you like to entertain? If so, for how many people: family, business, friends or all of the above? Do you like to cook gourmet meals or make reservations and just heat up food at home?” she asks.
Shively transcends functionality. She calls her holistic methodology WELL Designed, as she considers many aspects of lifestyle, including choosing sustainable technology and materials and designing for comfort, style and psychological well-being. She is a Valley pioneer in eco-sensitive design.
“Our first step in our design process is an in-depth research interview during which we are learning how the homeowner lives: what their desires and needs are,” she explains. “We look at their health situation: Do they have allergies, respiratory issues or other needs that we can help to alleviate with our design?”
Making your kitchen more functional from a wellness perspective is essential. For instance, is having a refrigerator drawer in a location that makes grabbing a healthy beverage easier, and because of this, are you more likely to do it? Is it easier for your children to grab a snack or healthy drink from an undercounter refrigerator drawer in the island, rather than opening the main fridge?
“Things that store items in a place that is most convenient for how you live and function in your home are a huge difference maker,” Shively says.
Your kitchen should be yours; plan to be there a while. “For someone who loves to bake, we may incorporate a pop-up mixer stand and a marble pastry slab in the island. For a smaller woman, we lower ovens to a more manageable height or we add pull-out steps into toe kicks to make top shelves more accessible.”
Don’t be led by trends but consider them, especially if improved technology will enhance your family’s health. New cooking appliances are an example. “Steam ovens are becoming more popular as people realize that microwaves are not the best,” she explains. “They can do almost any of those tasks as well or better.”
Also trending are integrated coffee makers, multiple dishwashers and “refrigerators on the spot”: units with multiple locations rather than just one large refrigerator and freezer. “Refrigerators are popping up all over the house: in the pantry and the butler pantry and smaller units in the kitchen island,” she says. “We’re also seeing small undercounter beverage centers in the master suite, in the family room or the playroom.
Butler pantries, often without the butler, are very popular with those who entertain frequently. “They help to keep the mess out of sight, so that guests can still enjoy the open flow of the house. Appliances such as extra dishwashers, ovens, warming drawers, and refrigerators are often part of the space,” she says.
She notes that for years she has worked with Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery in Scottsdale for appliances and plumbing fixtures, including Kitchenaid, Sub-Zero, La Cornue and Grohe. “Their service is top-notch, too,” she says.
The semi-open kitchen concept has become popular, following the totally open plan, which has been dominant for the last decade. “People are now realizing that a little division of space can be a good thing,” she says, noting that transitions include archways and sliding or barn doors.
Materials are durable and easy to maintain, with natural products in focus, such as quartzite countertops. “Because it’s a natural stone, it has inherent beauty but is very dense and less prone to staining than even granite,” she notes. “And, it cleans beautifully.” Many clients are also returning to classic marble in their kitchens, she adds, knowing that it will patina over time.
In finishes, faucetry and door and cabinet hardware, warm metallics are prevalent: satin brass, copper or even muted bronze tones. Warm and cool are mixing well –– a shift from the monothematic stainless steel from the last decade. “These tones look great with white cabinets as well as warm wood tones, which are also starting to replace all the white of the past several years,” she says.
For backsplashes, subway tiles, so popular before, are diminishing in requests, Shively explains. Hand-painted, shaped or dimensional tiles are now very popular, and they work equally with traditional and contemporary kitchens. She frequents Tabarka Studio in Scottsdale for its unique tiles, all handcrafted locally, and custom-design capability.
If you’re intending to stay in your place for a long stretch, say, 10 years, a more eccentric design signature is okay. But, in general, think about resale; people visit kitchens first when they’re buying, too. “The next owner may not like the same strong colors you do, so in the more expensive items a neutral is a safer choice,” she explains.
“That being said, if you really love something, and are willing to make the trade-off down the road, I say do it,” she notes. “Your kitchen should make you happy every day, and if that bold blue will do that, then be bold and go blue.”