Fresh Kitchens

New finishes and efficient designs for cooking and storage signal a revolution in design

New alternative surfaces, such as Cambria’s natural quartz countertops, are increasingly popular in solid gray, taupe, and oatmeal colors.


The days of the biggest and the best no longer rank No. 1 on homeowners’ wish lists for new kitchens. Energy efficiency, cost effectiveness, and timesaving design elements now take top priority.

 “We’re seeing clients asking for very clean-line designs with concealed storage, appliances, and cabinets, making the kitchen almost not look like a kitchen,” says Steven Reed Love, owner of Palm Desert-based Egg & Dart.

Look for a larger piece of the kitchen footprint in extra-large pantries. Today’s pantry is a multifunctional workspace for catering, storage, and countertops. “A preparation area in the pantry is traditionally Asian,” explains Penny Chin, certified interior designer at Egg & Dart. “It goes back to the separate cooking and eating areas they have in wealthy homes in Asia with the dirty kitchen and the clean kitchen.” Some of these large pantries integrate laundry facilities.

For function, cooks look to double islands. That’s what Kim Diesel wanted for the house she and her husband, Bill, recently built in Indian Wells Country Club. “I wanted one island for a hang-out perch for family and friends while I cook and one prep double-sink workstation island,” she says. Hosts often serve casual suppers at secondary kitchen islands.

Kitchen armoires are trendy for casitas, offering complete 120V, U.L.-listed mini-kitchens that conceal a solid-surface countertop, stainless steel sink, two-burner Ceran glass cooktop, under-counter refrigerator/freezer, dishwasher drawer, and storage. It can be styled to fit any decor. Prices average about $10,000.

In the desert, where many homeowners put as much stock in their outdoor kitchens as their indoor spaces, 100 percent waterproof cabinetry — with a warranty not to crack or split — withstands even the most intense summer heat. 

Cabinetry sets the foundation for a kitchen design. Egg & Dart carries five lines. Homeowners choose a door style and then select the box construction to meet their price point. “Choosing your cabinets this way allows for true flexibility in both design and price,” Chin says. Traditional maple and cherry remain the top choice in wood finishes, though hickory, alder, and ebony are gaining popularity. For those who want color in their cabinetry, muted forest greens and bright reds appear frequently. Drawer pulls showcase whimsy in motifs such as dragonflies and oak leaves.  

Cabinetmakers also respond to requests for efficient storage. Extra-tall cabinets accommodate olive oil and vinegar bottles. Customized drawers store spices and knives. Rick Kaxyak of RK Kitchen & Bath in Palm Springs is using more multiple-drawer stacks with dividers for pots and pans, silverware, and knives.


LED lighting — from task to decorative to under-counter lighting — is now integral to kitchen design. New California codes on energy-efficient lighting drive this trend.  Green products continue to surface in countertops, cabinetry, lighting, and appliances. “Educating clients on what being green means and integrating that into their kitchen is what I often do,” Kaxyak says. “I explain that green is not cheap initially but [it] pays off in the long run. For example, using LED lighting for both ceiling and under the counter costs more, but is more energy efficient.”  

Donna Dunn & Associates, an interior design firm based in Palm Desert, has seen two decades of desert kitchen design trends. “The No. 1 priority today is for function and efficiency,” Dunn says. “That’s for the average client and cook. A true gourmet cook has different requirements.” Energy efficiency runs high in the increasingly popular magnetic induction cooktops and ranges. “It’s all about speed and using these very fast, high-speed ranges and cooktops that reduce cooking time in half,” she says. Prices run between $8,000 and $10,000 for an induction range.

“Magnetic induction cooking is popular in Europe,” says Bob Woods, president of Sues, Young & Brown (the exclusive Southern California Viking distributor). “We are seeing prices starting to come down on the cooktops. … We are still in the education process and do demos on induction cooking like we did when microwaves first were introduced.” The Viking Power Management system speeds boil times, as well as quick simmers for sauces. Viking induction cooktops are compatible with all Viking cookware, as well as most other high-end brands of stainless steel and enamel cookware. According to Woods, induction cooking garners a 95 percent energy efficiency rating versus 55 percent for gas.

It’s important to understand how green appliances perform differently from traditional ones. “Ask salespeople to explain how new energy efficient-rated kitchen appliances are different,” Woods advises. For example, energy efficient-rated dishwashers use less energy for drying, so for the best dry you must use a product like Jet Dry. “Understand the differences, and set your expectations accordingly,” Woods says.


Some homeowners want theme kitchens, ranging from Moroccan to Asian. And when they want color, it’s bright; and they mix palettes. “We’re seeing white teamed with wasabi green married with cabinet doors of blue and white glass,” Reed Love says. For a contemporary Asian kitchen, stainless steel hardware sets off dark, rich wood cabinetry. 

New backsplash materials, including glass tiles, are showing up in bright whites, creamy creams, light greens, and soft oranges. All add texture and color where homeowners in the past have favored traditional ceramic tile.  

Look for new alternative surfaces like Cambria’s natural quartz countertops. Colors in the latest collection include tones of gray, taupe, and oatmeal. “These solid colors give you a clean look you
don’t get with granite that work well in contemporary settings,” Dunn says.

Candice Knox, sales director for Cambria, agrees. “The big color trend in Cambria’s new generation of stone for 2011 is lots of choices in the gray palette. We see gray as the new beige.” Look for gray mixed with both the cool of stainless steel and the warmth of wood.

“Granite is on the way out as the countertop surface of choice,” she continues. “New technology coupled with changing consumer tastes is driving new trends from manufacturers. “Consumers are asking for greater performance, and they want more for their investment.” Cambria’s new generation of quartz surfaces showcases a warm stone that requires no sealing and has twice the strength as granite. It never needs polishing or reconditioning and, most importantly, resists stains and heat — and comes with a warranty. It cleans with soap and water.

“Two trends I am seeing are colors like red and yellow in the kitchen with cabinetry and no-seam glass countertops,” says Mike McKendree, managing designer of J. Randolph Interiors in Palm Springs. Texture is in. Porcelain textured flooring tiles and even textured surfaces for refrigerators with tiny inlaid geometric squares have a growing role in kitchen design, he says. McKendree has clients who buy art specifically for their kitchens. “A splash of Old World on the wall in a contemporary kitchen really mixes it all up and gets rid of that formula look,” he says.

Innovative design with evidence of the homeowner’s personal stamp, rules in new kitchens and makeovers. With these and other high-tech, high-quality products available, it’s easier than ever to personalize your kitchen.

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