It's where the party always starts and ends. Where the family spends its quality time over a meal together. Where we'll catch up with a friend over a glass of wine at the counter. And we're not afraid to say it: the kitchen is our favourite room in the house. Here, top designers share their best tips for creating a dream space to call your own.
Lose the upper cabinets
A lack of upper cabinets in this Whistler kitchen by Vancouver’s Project 22 Design emphasized the airy, open-concept space. It also left little room for storage. Principal designer Denise Ashmore balanced this with an entire wall of integrated Gaggenau appliances and storage. “It’s super functional as a pantry and for dish storage,” she says, “and allows us to be more artful with the open shelves.”
A modern backsplash is always a good idea
“Without the black backsplash, it would look like a totally different kitchen,” admits Ben Leavitt, creative director at PlaidFox Studio. The chevroned black subway tiles from Ames Tile and Stone bring in a modernist touch to an otherwise farmhouse kitchen: the perfect mix for a homeowner with modern-leaning personal taste who also wanted to complement the farm-country neighbourhood around his home in Langley, B.C. A mix of flat-panel white cabinets and knotty warm oak cabinetry pop against the wall-to-wall backsplash, while industrial-style lights from Visual Comfort bridge the aesthetic gap. “Contrast is so important to create something interesting,” says Leavitt. “Matching, for me personally, is the death of good design.”
Make your island a place for conversation
You’d never know this North Vancouver duplex was once a prime example of ’70s-era style: dark brown and woodsy. Despite a modest budget—the homeowner was a young realtor who planned to flip the home in a few years—designer Gillian Segal took the kitchen to its bright and modern current look with a number of clever updates. Durable laminate vinyl was a more budget-friendly option for most of the cabinets, along with some metal framing to provide contrast. Fluted glass doors give an airiness to the space while being more forgiving—no need to stress about a perfectly organized set of dishware. And rather than creating an eating nook, Segal expanded the central island to have two-sided seating. “It’s something I feel strongly about in projects,” says Segal. “You’d never sit in a row of four people. Bar stools that go around or partially around an island are really great for both functionality and conversation.”
Create distinct spaces within an open plan
Just because a home is open concept, don’t give up on having distinct rooms within the space. Designers Alykhan Velji and Alison Connor of Alykhan Velji Design created this dynamic kitchen and dining area for homeowners who loved to entertain: white cabinetry lines the kitchen area, which transitions to a charcoal grey bar in the adjoining dining space. “It creates ample storage, but also creates a delineation between the dining room and kitchen,” notes Velji. “If we’d kept it white, it would read more like a casual eating nook.” Tying it all together, the range hood over the stove is clad in dark grey shiplap, picking up the same tones that are on the bar, and matte black accents feature throughout—on the faucet, drawer pulls and the lighting fixtures above the island. It all sets the stage for those bold turquoise tiles from DalTile on the backsplash. “The clients really wanted the kitchen to make an impact,” says Velji. “It’s the first thing people see as they walk in the room.”
Hide cabinets in plain sight
“It all started with that hood fan,” says designer Ami McKay of Pure Design. The custom, beadboard-clad design was painted a moody blue (Benjamin Moore’s Evening Dove) and extended beyond the fan itself to create more opportunities for disguised storage—the beadboard hides the seams of the cabinetry, creating the illusion that it’s all one piece of wood. The rest of the millwork was intentionally warm, earthy and naturally woodsy in tone, to contrast with the wood-look tile floor—the latter chosen both for its beauty and for its durability. “The family has two huge labs, and so everything needed to be dog- and kid-proof,” explains McKay.
A white-on-white kitchen can be more than one white
The colour palette of this classic white kitchen from the team at Kelly Deck Design is more complex than it initially looks. Its Northern-Europe-meets-Hamptons vibe features timeless white Shaker cabinets, beadboard detailing on the hood fan and island and sturdy quartz counters paired with finely machined black metal drawer pulls. But there’s also a play of cool and warm white shades throughout the space: the handmade Shingles tiles from Walker Zanger have a creamy white finish; the quartz counter on the island is a cool grey, with a warmer white on the perimeter; and while the cabinets lean on the cooler, crisp white side of the spectrum, the white oak flooring throughout is warm. “It’s all quite deliberate,” says designer Kelly Deck. “Layers of crisp white next to warm whites gives an all-white concept a lot more depth.”
Don’t be afraid of fingerprints
“For the last 15 years in Calgary we’ve had a big push for modern houses, especially for younger people,” says designer Paul Lavoie of Paul Lavoie Interior Design. But not for these homeowners. “He told us, ‘We want our children to be raised in a house that’s much more fairy-tale tradition, embedded with history.’” Lavoie and senior designer Julie Lanctot set to work to create an “Alice in Wonderland-ish” space that’s gilded with polished chrome, crystal chandeliers and, most strikingly, antiqued mirror fronts over the refrigerators. “It’s hard to ask somebody, when they have young kids, to go for mirrors in a kitchen,” says Lavoie. “Plain mirror would be a problem for fingerprints, but because it’s antique, it’s forgiving—and it has a luminescent quality to it.”
Balance out the black
Dark hues and black kitchens are trending right now, but proceed with caution, warns Space Harmony’s Negar Reihani. “You need to be really careful how much of it you use and how you use it,” says the interior designer. In this recent Vancouver renovation, Reihani practices what she preaches, demonstrating the fine art of balancing darkness and light to create a vibe that’s impactful without feeling heavy. Here, she plays the floor-to-ceiling cabinetry off of light oak flooring, then breaks up an otherwise imposing wall of millwork with pretty reeded glass (which adds a subtle hit of sparkle, too).
Make your wish list, check it twice
Sometimes, you need to experience what you don’t like to know what you do like—and the Smith family collected plenty of preferences over the years. “We moved probably 20 different times when I was growing up because of my dad’s job,” says interior designer Tori Palynchuk, who designed her parents a new home in Kelowna—with the help of project managers Fawdry Homes—where they could finally settle
down for a while. (“I expect to be here until I’m 100 years old,” laughs mom Susan Smith.)
The result of all those years of noting inconveniences and less-than-stellar functionality in the temporary homes they lived in allowed them to put together a wish list for a dream kitchen with a perfect flow for a family that loves to cook together. Palynchuk spread out the prepping and cooking stations, installed oversized pantry cabinets with convenient slide-out drawers, added a six-burner gas range with tools within reach (there’s lots of open storage for everyday items) and placed the faucet right at her mom’s arm length for easy access with no back strain. “You just instinctively go to the right place to pull out exactly what you need,” says Smith. “I come in here and I don’t see anything I need to fix.
It makes me so, so happy.”
A neutral palette can still be edgy
Karin Bohn, creative director of House of Bohn, knew that she didn’t want an all-white kitchen when she renovated her own North Vancouver townhouse. “I wanted it to feel casual North Vancouver, but also a little bit glam,” she says. She made the bold choice of installing matte black cabinets, which she balanced with rustic elements like a white oak floor, walnut island countertop and distressed stained-oak ceiling beams. The result is a striking space that walks the line between dramatic and down-to-earth. “It’s still a neutral palette, but fresh and edgy at the same time,” says Bohn.
Think outside the backsplash
This West Vancouver project was function-focused, so natural materials and neutral hues ruled the reno. Even the ceramic tile backsplash—usually a go-to spot for graphics—was selected to tie in to the cabinetry. Nyla Free, owner and principal designer of Nyla Free Designs, instead took the interest to the island: porcelain tiles from Saltillo in Calgary provide a flash of pattern in an otherwise subdued space. “This was an idea that was unexpected; it brought in the graphic element but still within a palette that was very simple,” says Free.