Kitchens Differ

The kitchens I've designed are custom rooms.  They are mostly alterations in an existing residence, so what already exists is an influence.  While sometimes we might move a kitchen to a different area, or expand it into a new area, sometimes we have to work with things we are not going to change much, such as plumbing, or ceiling heights, or locations of doors to other rooms.

The biggest influence, however, is who will be using the kitchen, what they need functionally, and what character or feel is sought.  In terms of function we consider questions such as:  

  • Will it be used frequently or infrequently?
  • One cook or multiple cooks?
  • A work space or social space?
  • Quick and easy meals or more challenging preparations?
  • Small children living in the house?

Answers to questions like these will provide a direction for the general organization of the room.  For example, ease of circulation is vital in a kitchen frequently used by multiple cooks, and social spaces.  More compact arrangements, including 'U' shaped kitchens may be perfectly functional for single cook and infrequently used kitchens.  For more active kitchens we look for more than one entrance and the right amount of space between cabinetry.

A particular general organization is only the starting point, the skeleton of the finished room. It can be formally expressed in a limitless number of different ways.  Here style is important.  But in my view, the style that is important is not style in the sense of fashion, it is the style of the person using the kitchen, which may in some cases follow the latest fashion and in others not.  In any event it is the personal style that we are trying to understand, express and serve.

That personal style will be evident in the choice of materials, colors, equipment, and a host of small details, such as the particular hardware used to open and close things, or even a lack of hardware to open and close things.

One person's style might also align closely with a particular architectural style, such as Arts and Crafts, or it might be an eclectic mix of styles or a unique idiosyncratic style.  It might be reticent and reserved for one person and expressive and exuberant for another.

In this light I'd like to share a kitchen detail from "The Lab."  This detail is an example of style as defined here.  It's personal.

It begins with a desire for color to liven up the room colors (which are soft grays, yellow tans, red and green) and in particular a desire to achieve that by incorporating the colorful ceramic tiles of Mexico in the back splash of the main countertop.  These tiles are hand made which means that they are not perfectly flat, and are not gauged, which means instead of being say exactly 4" square, they are 4" plus or minus 3/16".  For us it was not just a nice contrast with the precise elements in the room (the appliances and cabinets).  It combines color, associated with joy, and imperfection associated with the "man made" nature of the material.  It fits our style to seek perfection but accept some imperfection as we must on occasion look kindly on ourselves.

 To start we needed a place with a good assortment of tiles.  Talavera Cermics in Berkeley was our library for tiles.  It's worth noting the wide variety of plain color and hand painted tiles there are to work with.  There are no limits to the graphic design possibilities.  Had we wanted a calm, regular, or traditional arrangement we would have found just the right tiles for that.  Our choice was to see what fun we could have with a broad and colorful assortment in a tile collage.

But how many to get of each tile?  We did not want to buy tiles we didn't need.  So we selected the tiles we liked, and photographed them.  Like this:

DSC 1349.2

Then using the drawing software we used for our drawings, we imported the photos of the different tiles.  We start with one image of each tile, but we can duplicate them as we develop the collage.  When the layout is as we'd like to see it, we then know how many of each tile to buy, and where they go.  Here is small view of the layout:

Our intent was not a completely random arrangement.  In addition to considering how each tile sat with respect to its neighbors (a matter of personal style), we also had a few things we wanted to do to give some structure to the arrangement.  For starters we wanted to emphasize the most important feature of this stretch of counter which was the sink.  There the splash rises higher, also a functional idea.  Also at the sink we grouped several tiles of the same color to give the eye a rest at the sink and faucet area.

The next important key elements were the ends of the tile, left and right, and the corner.  In those locations we used a similar arrangement of three tiles.  And to tie the ends, corner and sink together we used a common decorative marker, a white on blue tile depicting the moon with the halo of the sun.

For one last personal touch, we had each close family member (4 total) visit the store and select their signature tile, which were then install at the raised corners in the sink area.  Here is a detail shot of the corner:

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And an overall view of the counter and splash:

DSC 1374

A final note would have to be that this was fun and playful, and in remodeling some fun is important.  For balance.


© More Than Construction, Inc., 2014