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Knock out a wall for an open plan? Install pendant lighting for ambience? Add tile backsplash and an undermounted farmhouse sink? Like kids eyeing up choices in a candy shop, choosing the design, materials, and layout for your new kitchen or deciding on fresh updates for your old one can be daunting.


Eileen Riddle, certified kitchen designer and president and owner of Kitchens by Eileen, says that her clients “are often overwhelmed and scared by the permanency
of some choices and don’t know where to begin.”

mooney3Riddle begins by listening. When clients ask, ‘Where do I start?’ she counters with, “What do you like?” If they don’t know what they like, she responds with, “Tell me what you don’t like.” That usually triggers some reactions and helps to narrow down the choices. She also recommends that they peruse magazines and tear out pages of appealing kitchens, then uses those images to identify a common thread.

After a plan begins to materialize, she physically visits their space to get a sense of how the rest of the house flows, so that she can tie in the kitchen’s design accordingly. “Everyone loves to congregate in the kitchen,” says Riddle, “and casual entertaining is big.”

In order to create the inclusive, friendly feel for you and your guests while you’re dicing the red pepper or giving the pasta a quick stir, the open plan is popular. If you’re working on refreshing an older, blocked-in kitchen, remove a wall—if possible—and invite the conversation and fun into your space. Riddle says you can provide a friendly barrier with a multi-level kitchen island; this feature keeps dinner prep out of view while allowing guests to engage with the cook.

Since the kitchen is one of those spaces that may affect the resale value of your home, that possibility may influence the esthetics of the design. Riddle suggests “going neutral,” in this case, “and add whimsical items in the accessories.” For example, if you select neutral tile and honey maple cabinets, then you can add your own dramatic touches with sleek lighting and a recycled glass backsplash for an urban-chic look.

In place of a lot of fine details and complex shapes, simple, sharp lines are popular.

“A light, clean, tailored look is the new traditional look,” says Riddle.

Consequently, she’s doing a lot of white kitchens with white cabinets, giving a “furniture look” to the space. Riddle says she usually works with six to eight versions that “read white,” with slight degrees of shade differences. Along with whites, jet black and gray are the new neutrals. Popular grays include deep charcoal paired with white, and even charcoal paint on the walls with white trim.

mooney5“Also showing up,” Riddle says, “are warm grays with cool grays, and a taupe gray.”

According to Riddle, “Combining rustic with industrial for an eclectic look is also in.” For example, she recently paired a white kitchen with a reclaimed barn beam used for the mantle over the range hood and finished off the effect by grouping metal stools around the island (pictured on first page).

Stainless steel is timeless and can be put with anything, so stainless steel appliances are still big. Riddle says companies are coming out with clean steel, which offers the look of stainless but with a different texture and a laminate finish; this helps alleviate the smudged fingerprints that invariably show up on refrigerators and dishwashers.

Kitchen sinks are essential for food prepping and cleanup, and stainless steel is again a popular material. There are also some composites on the market that are easy to clean and have eye appeal. Riddle says she puts in a lot of double sinks with a lower divide down the middle. Farm sinks are popular, as are soapstone and cast iron.

She even put in a concrete sink and counter—though she says it’s not as durable a material. According to Riddle, white remains the most popular color for a sink.

When it comes to countertops—granite is No. 1. If you’re put off by its shine, you can opt for honed granite, which gives off a matte finish and results in a more casual look. Another textured option for granite is the leather effect. Metal, wood tops with a marine finish, and distressed wood are also trendy material choices for your counter.

“Additional counter space is key,” says Riddle, so some clients add a peninsula for more work space.

Your kitchen floors see a lot of action, so you want a material that’s durable and easy to clean. Riddle says that’s why wood is a good choice; 75 percent of the kitchens she designs have wood floors. Tile, while esthetically pleasing, does not “give” and may fatigue your legs and feet while standing. Adding a rug or area mat injected with gel material or memory foam may compensate for the lack of “give” in the floor. Cork and bamboo provide eco-friendly flooring options.

Lighting comes in threes: task lighting, located under cabinetry for the work areas; recessed lighting, located in the ceiling for overall illumination; and pendant lighting, installed for ambience. Other than the pendants, Riddle says you shouldn’t think about lighting when you enter the kitchen— it shouldn’t draw attention to itself. She uses LED lighting for maximum efficiency.

mooney7One of Riddle’s favorite quotes is, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” The kitchen, in order to be truly functional, is certainly the place to put this aphorism into practice. Storage options include turnouts, Lazy Susans, corner Lazy Susans, roll out shelves, wire pullouts, under-sink tip-out trays, vertical storage for baking pans and sheets, and pull-out waste recycle units. Proper storage also opens up additional counter space.

When designing kitchens, Riddle designates zones. The cleanup center includes the dishwasher, waste, and cleaning supplies. The cooking/prepping center— where the knives and pots and pans are stored—takes place between cook top and sink or the island. In a large kitchen, she suggests two sinks. The coffee center, where the grinding and brewing of fresh beans takes place, is another zone option for coffee enthusiasts.

What about all those strong cooking aromas that tend to linger—garlic, fish, or a spill on a burner?

“Venting is very important,” Riddle says, “and there are great, quiet fans you can install.”

Blowers mounted on the exterior of the house help remove steam, smoke, grease, and cooking odors, leaving you with fewer residual smells and a well-ventilated space.

Not in the market for a new kitchen nor a total renovation? Riddle says popular upgrades include the following: changing the hardware, switching out the appliances and the hood, adding new tile backsplash, installing under-cabinet lighting and new flooring, and replacing the island with a popular painted distress finish. Any combination of these ideas will give your kitchen what it needs to keep on cooking.