Creating kitchens that sing

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Cedarstone Homes and Deslaurier Custom Cabinets were contenders in the 2012 Housing Design Awards in the production kitchen 130 square feet or more category with this kitchen, which features pull-out pantry and spice shelves.

It’s the heart of the home, where everyone gathers and everything happens, yet all too often our kitchens don’t work the way they should.

Last month’s Housing Design Awards saw a parade of dreamy kitchens strutting their stuff in seven categories, amounting to more than one-quarter of all the entries. And Emile Salem, who chairs the Renovators’ Council at the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association, says kitchen renovations account for almost one-quarter of the projects done by his company, Ottawa Home Improvements Corp.

Clearly, kitchens are popular. So what do we do wrong and how can we get the most out of them?

Jim Deslaurier is co-owner of Deslaurier Custom Cabinets, which won three kitchen awards at last month’s gala. He has seen a lot of mistakes in his 30-plus years in the business and says much of it starts with design. “I’ve walked into brand-new kitchens and gone, ‘Oh my God, why did they put the stove over there?’”

“The most important thing you can do for a kitchen … is the design,” adds Friedemann Weinhardt, owner of Design First Interiors, which also won three kitchen categories at the awards. There are basic guidelines we need to follow in the design of a kitchen and ignoring them will create problems, he says.

“The work triangle is still really, really important and always will be because that’s the flow of work when you’re in the kitchen.” (The work triangle is the area from the sink to the stove to the fridge and back to the sink and forms the starting point of any design.)

“If you don’t get the fridge and the stove and the dishwasher and the sink and everything in the right spot, it’s not going to work very well,” Deslaurier says. And there is a right spot.

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, you need a minimum of four feet between points in the triangle and a maximum of nine. Any more than that and you’ll have “a lot of wasted steps,” says interior designer Sandra Gibbons, co-ordinator of the kitchen and bath design program at Algonquin College and one of the judges for this year’s awards.

But just as you don’t want your appliances too far apart, they shouldn’t be too close together either. Anything that impedes the flow in the kitchen cuts down on its efficiency, like appliance doors that block off the space when they’re open, she says. And squeezing everything together, as is often done when the kitchen space is small, can mean not enough counter space.

“That doesn’t mean that you need miles of counter space,” Weinhardt says. “What that means is you need the counter space in the right place.” It’s important, for instance, to have counter space on either side of the sink to ensure there’s an easy work flow for the two main functions at a sink — washing dishes and preparing food.

All of them stress the importance of work flow and function in the kitchen. “The functionality is where you really have to get it straight,” adds Giuseppe Castrucci, vice-president at Laurysen Kitchens.

But before it even comes to the design of the kitchen, there are things to consider, like what Castrucci refers to as the hate list and the wish list — because it’s important to know what you don’t like about your current kitchen as well as what you’d like to have in a new one. “Sometimes a hate list is more important than the wish list,” he says with a grin. The lists create a process of elimination that usually helps you figure out what will work for your new design, adds Deslaurier designer Pam Vanderbraak.

As well, you need to know what you want in the way of appliances — a kitchen can’t be designed without them.

“It causes a lot of wasted time when your appliances are not totally picked,” Des­laurier says. Gibbons agrees, saying there are no standard sizes for appliances anymore. And Castrucci adds that often people don’t have a good sense of space. “They really want those big huge appliances and it doesn’t fit the kitchen footprint.”

Along with that, you need to know what you want your appliances to do and how they work. Deslaurier knows this from experience, having brought home an oven that he got a great deal on but his wife hated because it wasn’t wide enough to fit her big turkey. “She suffered for 10 years with the wrong oven,” he says with a laugh.

When it does come to the design of the kitchen, there are more things to keep in mind. It’s important to know, for instance, just how the kitchen will be used.

“How many people are going to actually work in the kitchen? How often do you and your husband cook at the same time? That affects how we should start trying to set that up,” Deslaurier says.

Castrucci adds: “Each individual person works differently in their kitchen. They have certain things they want at their fingertips because they know what kind of food they cook every day.” Knowing that makes it easier to design the kitchen to fit your lifestyle.

Will the style of the kitchen you want — assuming you know what that is — fit the house? “It’s got to be what you like, but it’s also got to tie into the other rooms in the house,” Deslaurier says.

Castrucci says: “You’re obviously not going to put an ultra-modern kitchen in a traditional home. It won’t blend, there’s no harmony there.”

Lighting is often an an area that’s overlooked.

“People don’t really consider lighting enough,” Castrucci says, “but it’s really, really important. It makes or breaks (a room) sometimes.” Just as he believes a kitchen designer should be the one to design your kitchen, he recommends clients take their designs to a lighting store and have them determine your lighting needs. “They have the professional lighting designers there … let them come up with the lighting plan so that you’re not going to regret it.”

So just what, beyond the overall design, makes a kitchen sing?

Symmetry, for one.

“Repetition in design elements is very good,” says Weinhardt, whose balance, symmetry and repetition in a Rideau Canal kitchen won him awards at both last month’s Housing Design Awards and at the Ontario Home Builders’ Awards of Distinction in September. Weinhardt is now entering the project into a North-America-wide design competition.

Clean lines, for another. “The things we’re seeing now is less busy features,” Des­laurier says. Even in more traditional kitchens, the detailing is minimized, Castrucci adds. “You’re not seeing the big heavy crown moulding anymore. There’s still crown or cove, but it’s a lot more elegant design, less profile.”

Undermount sinks, solid surface counters and exciting textures are adding that elegance, Deslaurier says.

And interior detailing really makes a kitchen stand out, things like pullouts, organizers, rollouts, high-end drawer systems, spice trays and recycle organizers — which are even more important now that the city has reduced the frequency of garbage pickup.

“There’s so many beautiful storage solutions that we can do inside cabinets now that we weren’t able to do before,” Gibbons says.

All of the designers say that material and quality are important. Will something cheaper come with the same kind of support and design service, Deslaurier asks. “Because you’re stuck with it once it goes in; it’s yours.”

“Quality is the original sustainability because you don’t have to do it again,” Weinhardt adds, citing the example of a kitchen he did some 20 years ago. The client is now back, wanting to update, but doesn’t want to replace everything because it’s still good and it still works for her.

The bottom line is make sure you’re prepared when you go to talk to a designer.

“Do your research — it’s a big investment,” Vanderbraak says, with Deslaurier adding, “It’s something that’s going to be a part of the house for a long time.”


The experts weigh in on the latest kitchens trends.

European influence: Doors are disappearing, being replaced by more and more drawers. “All the doors are pretty well gone now from a contemporary European design,” says Giuseppe Castrucci of Laurysen Kitchens. Doors that do exist are opening in non-traditional ways, either lifting or flipping up, and in contemporary kitchens “they’re going so far as eliminating the uppers and just putting shelves.”

Rev your motor: “Everything’s being motorized,” Castrucci says. Both doors and drawers that open with the lightest of touch speak to an aging demographic and creating ergonomic functions in the kitchen is becoming more and more popular as a result. The two major suppliers of mechanical door and drawer systems are Blum and Grass, both based in Europe.

Shades of white: Whatever the style, the white kitchens of the last few years continue to gain traction, branching out into varying shades of white — “off-white is really making a big impact,” Castrucci says — as well as biscotti and grey, which Deslaurier designer Pam Vanderbraak refers to as the new neutral. Castrucci is even starting to see darker greys, like pepper, emerging as a trend.

Two-tone treatment: It started a few years ago, when dark kitchens were brightened with a white island. Now it’s the reverse, Castrucci says, but “the two-tone is still there. That seems to have really stayed.”

Island oasis: They’re getting bigger and more like a piece of furniture as families turn them into multi-purpose spots. “They’re not a boxy piece of cabinetry in the centre of the room anymore,” says Sandra Gibbons of Algonquin College’s kitchen and bath design program. Particularly in open-concept layouts, the island sees triple duty as food prep station, homework spot and service counter when entertaining and may have decorative panels on the sides, columns at the corners or be lifted up on legs. “It’s breaking the boringness of having everything the same,” she says.

Design elements: Waterfall countertops, where the counter extends down the side of the cabinetry, “that’s way in,” says Gibbons. Friedemann Weinhardt of Design First Interiors is also seeing the emergence of exotic wood grains and designing with horizontal grains, thin countertops (the one in his showroom is only one centimetre thick), fewer upper cabinets and very little corner transitions.

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