Designers share their advice for creating a hardworking and stylish space.
Kitchen renovations are the most exciting but also the most nerve-wracking renovations. Get it right and you’ll have your forever kitchen that just gets better with age, but a few missteps and you could make costly mistakes that will leave you with something you tire of quickly. We talked to a few of our favorite designers to get their tips for a timeless kitchen, including tips for picking the right paint color and how to style your space. Follow their advice to get a kitchen you’ll love for years:
Cecily Mendell, principal of Cecy J Interiors in Santa Monica, California says all her kitchen designs begin with a deep dive into how her clients are actually going to use the kitchen. A design will only be timeless if it’s also functional, she says. Mendell will design a different kitchen for the couple that doesn’t really cook and a large family that hosts guests often. “We try to tailor our work to the style and needs of each client,” she says.
“I like for a home to tell me what it wants to be,” says designer Cheryl Luckett of Dwell by Cheryl in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I think too often we try and force a house into being something it was never intended to be.” So, if you have a midcentury ranch, you might think twice about a farmhouse-inspired design (despite what Chip and Joanna may be doing on HGTV). In Luckett’s own contemporary bungalow, she opted to stick with honey oak cabinetry even though it wasn’t trending, because it matched the flooring throughout the home and felt right for the house.
“Keep it clean, and keep it quality,” say Justin and Tyler Sachs, the designer-carpenter brothers behind Stonington Cabinetry & Designs in Madison, New Jersey. They note that things like symmetry and functionality are the parts of the design that really matter for a timeless feeling. “As long as a kitchen has these basic design elements, there are tons of different colors and finish options that would work for any given space and last the test of time and taste.”
The Sachs Brothers say they love to bring color into their kitchen designs, but they always consider the space itself before settling on a hue. “The scale, the feel of the room, the amount of natural light, all influence what we’ll choose,” says Tyler Sachs. He notes that if the space is a bit larger, with taller ceilings and lots of natural light, it’s safe to do a medium, or even a darker color on the millwork (you can then lighten the room up with the countertops, backsplash and fixtures).
“We love contrast,” Tyler Sachs says. “If our clients are looking for a white kitchen, we at least try to nudge them to do a contrasting island, possibly in natural wood or a navy or dark grey.” If you have your heart set on an all-white kitchen, Sachs notes there are tons of great soft whites, that aren’t so stark or sterile as a really white-white.
“Most of the kitchens we do are for working families, so it’s imperative to make our kitchens feel warm and soft,” says Tyler Sachs. His firm Stonington Cabinetry & Designs is known for adding warmth from natural wood accents and natural stone, especially honed marble and quartzite. “Natural materials are one way to soften the space and bring the outdoors in,” says Sachs.
All the designers interviewed agree that accessories are a great way to make a kitchen feel like home. The Brothers Stonington have a soft spot for charcuterie and cutting boards, wooden bowls, greenery, and pottery. Luckett leans into adding the colorful fabric and textiles that her design firm is known for. Mendell likes textiles with an interesting yet not overwhelming pattern like the Kali Woven Jute Rug she used in her San Francisco project. Accessories are also an opportunity to try out a trend with an element that is easy to change.
Rugs add comfort and style, and the Sachs brothers say a rug is a must in every kitchen. “We absolutely love a good indoor/outdoor runner in our kitchens with a cushy pad underneath. Not only does it look good, a rug is easily changed, so if you ever want to switch it up, no problem,” says Tyler Sachs.
In the design for this kitchen in the Bay Area, Mendell wanted the walls to quietly reflect the fog that typically rolls in from the San Francisco Bay, so she chose ‘Coventry Gray’ by Benjamin Moore for the cabinets and Benjamin Moore’s ‘Classic Gray’ for the walls. A home with a view of evergreens might end up with a green cabinet color.
Luckett says not to worry too much about longevity when creating your design: Instead, focus on what will bring you joy, like a fun tile pattern or a paint color you love. “I think the [goal of timelessness] is an excuse to stay with something comfortable and not risky,” she says. But Luckett points out that what you like often doesn’t fluctuate that much; if your favorite color has been blue since grade school, that’s not likely to change. “I think we get caught up in what we’re supposed to like and what we’re supposed to pick for longevity or for resale.,” she says. “But at the end of the day, this is your home. It should be a reflection of you.”
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