Function & Flair

Designers raise the bar on kitchen design by combining the latest in color, cabinetry, and appliances



Cabinetry provides visual points of interest in the design of contemporary kitchens, which interior designer Jeffrey Jurasky calls “domestic laboratories.”

COURTESY THOMAS JAKWAY/ DONNA DUNN & ASSOCIATES

There’s a reason that even the most lavish house parties often ebb and flow in and out of the kitchen. It’s a comfortable, intimate space — and likely well designed with luxurious surfaces, rich colors, and the best of shiniest new appliances. Today’s kitchens are as sophisticated as homeowners — and worthy of investment.

“Kitchens almost don’t seem like kitchens anymore,” says Steve Love of Egg & Dart Ltd. in Palm Desert. “They are looking more like rooms of furniture. We are seeing kitchens in the desert with a coastal look, with cabinets in beachwood tones and counters and islands in shades of white.”

Light and bright. Those are the buzzwords interior designers hear from their clients.

“Cabinets are moving away from dark woods and into oaks and walnuts that are bleached lighter,” says Palm Desert-based interior designer Donna Dunn. “They have tones of gray and green.”

As restaurant-style entertaining happens more at home with gourmet cooking, wine tastings, and pairing dinners, homeowners seek smart features to help them. “I see [clients’] wish lists growing even in today’s economy,” Dunn says. “They want under-counter warming and steaming drawers and wine coolers that make entertaining more efficient.”

Donna Kinder of Ferguson Bath & Kitchen Gallery in Rancho Mirage agrees with Dunn and Love. “Drawers with microwaves and steam ovens for fish and vegetables that fit into islands are big right now,” she says. “People want white cabinets accessorized with minimal hardware, and sinks are back to basic with one large basin.”

Homeowners are also toning down their color choices. “We are seeing more demand for a muted palette moving into whites now,” says Candace Knox of Cambria in Palm Desert. “There is no white granite being mined; all that is coming out of the ground has salmon and yellow tones. To get white you have to go to marble, which is overly soft, stains, and pits easily,” Knox says, adding that natural quartz is antibacterial and easy to maintain.

Separate breakfast tables are becoming relics of the kitchen landscape. In addition to installing cooking and food preparation areas into kitchen islands, designers are incorporating seating for island-top dining. In houses with views, designers situate islands to take full advantage of exterior vistas. A new feature in islands is glass-fronted storage bins where grains, beans, rice, and pasta become part of the decor.  

Appliance selection and location is more important than ever. Rich-looking cabinetry camouflages refrigerators, dishwashers, and trash compactors. Culinary accessories like coffee and cappuccino/espresso bars, and baking stations are also designed to disappear with retractable doors. In contemporary kitchens, lacquered laminate panels add pops of color while creating an overall design statement.

“Cabinetry is the interior architecture of today’s kitchen,” says Palm Springs-based designer Jeffrey Jurasky. “They are the points of interest that create visual excitement.”

“Designers are sourcing products, including ranges that easily integrate into the overall design,” says Bob Woods of Sues, Young and Brown, the Southern California distributor for Viking Range Corp. “We see stainless steel going out, replaced by wood covering appliances, and the range becoming the focal point.”

More attention and money are going into backsplashes behind the range and a hood over the range or a brick archway surrounding it. Splashes of color come from the ranges themselves. Viking offers 24 colors, including pumpkin, lemonade, chocolate, and racing red.

Mille Stone Marble & Tile of Palm Desert deals directly with homeowners designing many backsplashes. “We’re seeing people mixing stones with a travertine backsplash and a glass insert. It’s trending towards mixing materials to create that custom look,” says Michelle DeMille, one of the company’s owners.

Scale and organization count. High-end manufacturer Sub-Zero offers “satellite” refrigerators that fit under the counter. Homeowners want drawers sectioned for cutlery with bins for dry goods and plate racks.

As energy efficiency for lighting and code requirements become more stringent, designers are finding creative ways to use LED and florescent lighting that is functional, fashionable, and green. Recessed florescent lighting with a solid glass diffuser is decorative and attractive and softens the light.

“Homeowners are looking for quality products for the kitchens they are creating — which essentially have commercial applications,” says Steve Dorflinger of Fixtures Living in Rancho Mirage. “They want to create lasting memories and will pay for products that perform for that lifestyle.”

Jurasky refers to today’s kitchens as “domestic laboratories.” That’s what homeowners want, and his firm and others are becoming more creative implementing this concept into good design while the marketplace responds with an abundance of new products.

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