Creating the ideal kitchen has become a national past time. We rearrange, refurbish or remodel — or start from scratch with a blank slate — pouring over magazines, websites and seeking the expertise of contractors and designers to find “everything kitchen,” from colors, tiles and appliances to inspiration. But what do those experts who help create these rooms think really makes an ideal kitchen? What are some of designers’ favorite creations?
Why the kitchen?
Let’s start with the most basic of questions: Why is so much time and effort spent on one utilitarian room? Why not the living room or bedroom? Designers are in agreement here. The kitchen has become home central. “The kitchen,” explains Kathy Peplinski, owner of P Furniture and Vail Lights, “is the heart of the home — it is where everyone gathers.” Kasia Karska of Kasia Karska Design agrees. “The pace of life has sped up so much. The lifestyle is changing. People have less time to spend with family. Meal preparation has become the time to spend together.”
Gone are the walls that hide all aspects of this gathering place. In fact, some of today’s kitchens have become so much a part of the living area that it’s hard to tell where one stops and another begins.
Life truly circles in and through them. Take one of Tracie Schumacher of Studio 80’s favorites. She designed a kitchen that appears as part of the living area itself. The custom walnut cabinetry, with honed black tops, could be taken for cabinetry gracing any sophisticated living room. The low layout not only allows the kitchen to float in the living space, but also retains the home’s perfect view, so owners can gaze right through and out glass walls.
“I loved that we were able to keep all the amazing views, and still make this kitchen function,” says Schumacher. And this called for creative storage solutions. Cabinetry was kept to a minimum and upper cabinets were nixed in favor of base cabinetry for plates and glassware, with a sleek
pantry built to one side of the range. Even the custom, metal hood, designed Consignmentby Studio 80, makes a classy statement for the entire living area, echoing the black in the deep, “funky” angles of ceiling beams, trusses and cantilevered roof. Points out Schumacher, this serene, timeless look “will always look nice with the Colorado season changes.”
A Patti Dixon Design kitchen in Cordillera is another prime example of a kitchen placed front and center in the living space, creating not just a place to prepare food, but an artistic statement as well. Built in the 1990s, the home features impressive rustic stone and wood. Dixon updated the look by adding cool, blue cabinetry set center stage under an almost theatrical frame of soaring, arched and curved beams and trusses, with only a hint of enclosure provided by two massive, moss rock columns.
“The barn-wood beams and stone is a juxtaposition between contemporary and rustic,” explains Dixon. Amplifying the mystique of the setting, Dixon dangled antique, white-globe lights asymmetrically over counters for interest and important task lighting.
Function vs. Family With all this bustle and activity in kitchens, how do designers keep kitchens functional, yet make them appealing enough to keep people hanging around? Donna Lang of Home Outfitters in Avon says kitchens have really evolved. The primary focus of function and the decades-old rule of the “golden triangle” of kitchens has wavered, she explains. It is less important today, she points out, that the stove is within reaching distance of the sink and refrigerator than creating a multi-functional space the entire family can enjoy.
Ample seating and special nuances help to create an inviting space. In one of Lang’s favorite designs, the owners wanted a functional kitchen, but they also wanted it warm and welcoming, perhaps with a special chair to sip morning coffee, while gazing out wide windows. The kitchen she designed is open to the rest of the main floor. The wood cabinets, with their custom taupe finishes, work well with the Giallo granite, and the brown-and-grey- tone palette plays foil to the red alder millwork. Leather barstools lining the center island provide seating options for family and guests to gather while meals are prepared. The owners also wanted to make this room their own by displaying a special collection of beer steins, joyfully collected over years of Beaver Creek Oktoberfests. Lang’s clever solution was to display the steins on a beautifully crafted, A-shaped shelving unit, whose open design refrains from blocking the beautiful views and lets the light of day highlight the prized steins, while offering a clever bit of privacy for the owners. Playing off an owner’s collection or passion is a great way of getting to the heart of any room, and it can help transform the utilitarian aspects of a kitchen into a truly special space. Designer Marilyn Nicola, owner of Pinecones in Vail, did just that in the Eagle-Vail home she helped remodel. The client yearned for a more traditional, cottage look. The home’s cottage-feel did not lend itself to popular mountain log or contemporary designs. So Nicola took the pattern off one of the owner’s favorite vintage quilts and recreated the navy-and-white motif in a tile backsplash. She then incorporated European elements, using the client’s unusual, white-enamel-and-copper French stove as the centerpiece, and added blue-and- white patterned window treatments, white paneled cupboards, topped with white-and-grey quartzite countertops and a farmhouse sink. The rustic wood
beam encapsulating the hood above the stove is both attractive and offers the perfect spot for the owner to display her antique cow collection. “We use a warm white in many of our projects because it is bright and cheery, “ Nicola explains. She eschews trends to make a kitchen “right now.” Nicola says,“Everyone has different tastes and lifestyles.”
Individual Needs Designing to owners’ unique needs also helps make kitchens hum. Many homeowners still revel in cooking, but not all want it to be front and center. Yet, the days of being isolated and shut behind closed doors are gone. The solution? Kim Toms, Managing Principal Designer at Slifer Designs, created a kitchen for a woman who loves to cook and bake for family and friends, but does not want to bring a lot of attention to herself. Toms located the range so the owner could gaze at Longs Peak while working at her home craft. “My favorite part of the kitchen is the hood, made of clear mirror, to reflect some of the 360 degree views from the home,” says Toms. She also loves the stump, selected on site and
then clad in liquid metal, that serves as seating under the island. For the owner’s penchant to be away from the spotlight Toms designed a separate prep/baking area, carefully hidden in the back so the owner can both have some privacy while baking, yet remain connected to the gatherings she enjoys. Storage, Toms notes, is a problem in any kitchen. A walk-in pantry is hidden in the back prep/baking area, and every cabinet in the kitchen is designed to maximize storage. “We were very thoughtful of potential congestion in areas and in the location of appliances,” explains Toms.
With that in mind, she added a one-stop shop for morning coffee, with cups and a refrigeration drawer below. While kitchens may be open to flow and conversations, the downside of a dinner party where guests are moving freely through can be the inevitable trail of dirty dishes, pots and pans left behind.
Carolyn Samelson, kitchen designer at William Ohs in Edwards, has the perfect solution in on of her favorite Vail projects. The main kitchen flows with seamless symmetry with the living area as a sophisticated, transitional space, with classic colors, created with interior designer Elizabeth Reed. The cream island plays nicely against walnut cabinets and terra cotta gold
countertops. An artistic, custom bronze hood blends beautifully with dark cabinets, and a big leaf table, made of ancient burl holds center stage, inviting guests to sit and dine in style. To hide any resulting mess from dinner preparation, Samelson created a more discreet catering kitchen beyond the central kitchen. The catering kitchen is fit with appliances and dishwasher, enabling the main kitchen to stay clean and appealing for entertaining. The kitchen includes cleverly hidden storage and a “surprise cabinet” for quick retrieval of glasses and plates.
The proper pulls and knobs can also contribute to the overall design and function of a kitchen. “We are in a time of great transition and no hard rules seem to apply,” says Karolyn Harper of Alpine Builders Hardware, with traditional kitchens giving way to cleaner lines. New patinas are emerging for an intriguing mix of knobs and pulls, such as black, slate gray, chrome with satin nickel finishes, and dark and the softer, brushed bronze. “Our philosophy at Alpine Builders’ Hardware is to let function guide the application,” explains Harper.
Closed ends on pulls avoid catching and ruining clothing; trash drawers are easier to grasp with pulls instead of knobs; and a single, long pull is recommended on large or heavy drawers with pots and pans.
Yvonne Jacobs of Jacobs and Tribe states she has seen so many amazing solutions for kitchens in her 30 years of designing. Partnering with creative minds, like the experts at Vail Cabinets, with whom she consulted on one of her favorite kitchens, helped
to bring a level of functionality to the kitchen, she says. The island was designed to bring the family together and was accomplished by removing a half-wall, which formerly separated the kitchen from the family room. The new design now works beautifully to allow kids to do homework and for conversation to flow. “It has fostered togetherness,” Jacobs says. But what Jacobs is truly excited about is the return of color to kitchens. She appreciates that the client was willing to use color and have some fun, exemplified in the colorful backsplash by Walker Zanger. Says Jacobs, “It is a fun pattern and creates a happy, lively place for this young family.”
To maximize color and functionality, don’t forget the unsung hero: lighting. “Since the kitchen is not only for cooking, but also entertaining,” says Peplinski, “lighting is very important.” William Lott, manager at Vail Lights, observes, whether a home is brand new or a remodel, there is rarely enough thought put into lighting, or enough recessed lighting. According to Peplinski, there are three main categories of lighting: ambient, task and decorative. Ambient lighting provides a consistent light layer of light, usually from the ceiling with recessed, track and ceiling-mounted lights. With LED used in many recessed lights, Lott advises paying attention to the color temperature of LED lights as they can enhance or flatten a color scheme. Task lighting highlights work areas, and decorative lighting includes sconces, chandeliers and pendants, which can add a pop of color.
Turning smaller kitchens into a gathering space can be a challenge. Again, Samelson had a solution. She points to a favorite Bachelor Gulch kitchen, created with interior designer Carole Moore. A townhome with limited, compact space, Samelson used every nook and cranny during the remodel to make it not only functional, but sing with appeal. She used corner holes and created shelves that pull out to maximize space; a pullout next to the range conveniently conceals utensils. The sink was cutout in a multi-function counter to avoid creating a separate counter to hold it. Cabinets don’t quite reach the ceiling, allowing storage space above.
The space is still inviting, with bushels of texture in the leathered island and marble countertops. The blue-gray cabinets contrast with the reclaimed wood ceiling and rustic, oak island. They’re backlit and the glow highlights the tile and makes the custom, steel- hood gleam. And, this small space even caters beautifully to guests. Samelson created a separate nook in the back so guests can feel free to brew a cup of coffee, or heat up a snack in the separate microwave oven, without interfering with the wave of household activities. Says Samelson, “everybody has company.”
Kasia Karska Designs recently remodeled one of the oldest A-frames in the valley. The owners loved the history of this unique and picturesque structure, but wanted it designed with a modern, connected space for living, dining and kitchen. The biggest challenge was working around the A-frame’s original post and beams. Instead of fighting them, they were left exposed. Karska stained them black, contrasting sharply with white walls, ceiling and the snow-white, Carnelian marble countertops, whose bluish hues pick up the indigo cabinets. “It creates architectural interest, while showing how the house was built,” she explains.
The white also lightens and brightens the previously darker spaces, highlighting natural woods. A string staircase, replacing the previous solid version, offers further unity of spaces, and an added nook opens up the wall and creates a place for family members to chat around the fireplace. The counter for eating was slightly raised to separate it visually from the preparation spaces, and a country pantry and refrigerator give nod to the home’s heritage. By adding new long windows and a large patio door, the home is now light and airy and reconnected to its beautiful surroundings in the woods, along a stream in East Vail. “The kitchen,” says Karska, “now functions as a living space.”
Of course designing or remodeling any room, although exciting, can be a challenge. But, once the task is complete, the feeling of satisfaction and the joy one receives, upon completion of the work, makes it all worthwhile.