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Designer Kitchen V. Big-Box-Store-Kitchen: Ideas to Steal from Each

It’s the most exciting -- and rewarding -- room in your home to renovate, but also the most expensive. With a little savvy strategizing and purposeful planning, however, you can create a customized space that suits the way you cook and live. Here, two couples took decidedly different approaches: One hired an architect for a dramatic remodel; the other headed to a big-box store for major design help. Both got the kitchen they always wanted.

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Designer Kitchen

Open Invitation

When Cristin Frodella and Conor Sheridan bought their Park Slope, Brooklyn, brownstone three years ago, their first order of business was knocking out the walls on the parlor floor to create an open cooking and living space. “We wanted it to be joyful, not stuffy,” says Frodella, the global head of education marketing at Google, who envisioned her stepkids (Sheridan’s daughter, Clancy, 11; and son, Finnegan, 9) running around, as well as lots of casual parties.

The couple had three criteria for their kitchen: It should be the heart of the home, open onto the backyard, and -- for Sheridan, who loves cooking over a fire -- feature a wood-burning grill.

Working with New York City architect Elizabeth Roberts, the couple oriented the kitchen horizontally across the back of the house and centered the range on the island, then replaced the back wall with steel-casement windows and doors. For storage, they chose a mix of open shelves and deep cabinets. Their biggest splurge was framing the counter-height grill with a wall of midnight-blue glazed tiles from Heath Ceramics. “That is the big moment: Once you’ve made a design decision like that, the other details can be less expensive and more subdued,” says Roberts, who often advises clients to save on hardware and prepainted cabinets. For the couple, the grill is a stunning centerpiece. “Conor makes duck, steaks, and vegetables on it -- even fruit for dessert,” Frodella says. “If we have people over, it’s a Brazilian meat-fest.”

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All in the Details

When architect Elizabeth Roberts designs kitchens, she considers exactly what will go into open and closed storage spaces. She also factors in the path from the front door to the refrigerator, so there’s room to bring in groceries.

The family uses the Grillworks indoor grill (which was installed by their contractor) year-round, but “it makes things especially cozy in the fall,” Frodella says. The wheel crank moves the rack closer to or farther from the coals. 

A large island anchors the kitchen and provides storage underneath. The couple chose bleu de Savoie, a blue-gray marble, for their countertops. The pendant light is from Rejuvenation. 

Create Your Perfect Space

In keeping with Frodella’s desire to “bring the outdoors in,” the sink is situated so that she faces the garden when doing dishes. Their ladder is from Putnam Rolling Ladder Co., in New York City. It’s portable, so they installed rails along both sides of the kitchen.

Big-Box-Store Kitchen

Smart Starts

When they were still living in New York City, Jessica Davis and her husband, Will, cooked ambitious dishes like pâté and ramen from scratch in their tiny apartment. Then, last year, they bought their first home, a 1925 Colonial in South Orange, New Jersey, with a sparse, dated kitchen that was begging for an upgrade.

To design a space where they could cook, bake, and entertain together, Jessica, vice president and design director for Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s, turned to a colleague whose work she admired. She and Marissa Brown, vice president and design director for Martha Stewart Living Kitchens at the Home Depot, began a process that mirrored a typical big-box kitchen renovation: Jessica set a budget, created Pinterest inspiration boards, and studied the Martha Stewart Living catalog for ideas. Then they worked to determine her overall aesthetic (modern farmhouse) and fine-tune the details -- namely, clever organizing systems throughout.

“A kitchen is a big purchase, so people get afraid of the costs, take shortcuts, and skip storage solutions,” Brown says. “But the more you can build in the first time, the better. We talked about where to keep all of Jessica’s odds and ends, from olive oil and vinegar bottles to rolling pins.”

Then the Home Depot provided a 3-D plan, the couple hired a contractor, and their kitchen was completed in about 14 weeks. They’re still on cloud nine today: “It’s so much space!” Jessica says. “We have to pinch ourselves that it’s actually ours.”

 

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Farm Fresh

Jessica and Will Davis’s kitchen features Martha Stewart Living for the Home Depot Ox Hill cabinets, in Ocean Floor, and Bedford Brass knobs and pulls. The Design Craft pendant lights are from Overstock.com. To keep their kitchen airy, they installed only two cabinets on the walls; the rest are under the counters. A white subway-tile backsplash adds brightness and is a classic, affordable option.

Barstools are great for entertaining, but they also help define work space, Jessica says: “When family is visiting, I want them nearby but out of the way while I cook!” These stools are from Target. The couple collects volumes on everything from French and southern cooking to baking and pickling. Now their library has a proper home.

  • A Spacious Sink
    A Spacious Sink

    “I’ve always liked this style, and I wanted something big, since we love to cook and entertain,” says Jessica of her Kohler farmhouse sink (with a brass Delta faucet). “It’s easy to wash large things like cookie sheets in it, as well as bunches of greens or other produce.”

  • Stealth Storage
    Stealth Storage

    One brilliant way to keep countertops pristine? Place canisters of cooking utensils and other big items in an easy-access vertical drawer. This one, which holds baking staples on the lower shelf, is tucked into a narrow space between the dishwasher and oven.

  • Pole Positioning
    Pole Positioning

    To keep plates and bowls organized -- and prevent them from bumping into each other and chipping -- Jessica opted for a deep drawer with movable pegs (there’s a grid of holes on the bottom). A shallow drawer on top is perfect for table linens.

  • Fancy Footwork
    Fancy Footwork

    To make the most of every square inch of her kitchen, Jessica chose toe-kick drawers, which open with a gentle push of the foot, under the base cabinets. They’re ideal for storing flat over-size items like trays, serving platters, and cutting boards.

  • A Spacious Sink
    A Spacious Sink

    “I’ve always liked this style, and I wanted something big, since we love to cook and entertain,” says Jessica of her Kohler farmhouse sink (with a brass Delta faucet). “It’s easy to wash large things like cookie sheets in it, as well as bunches of greens or other produce.”

  • Pole Positioning
    Pole Positioning

    To keep plates and bowls organized -- and prevent them from bumping into each other and chipping -- Jessica opted for a deep drawer with movable pegs (there’s a grid of holes on the bottom). A shallow drawer on top is perfect for table linens.

  • Stealth Storage
    Stealth Storage

    One brilliant way to keep countertops pristine? Place canisters of cooking utensils and other big items in an easy-access vertical drawer. This one, which holds baking staples on the lower shelf, is tucked into a narrow space between the dishwasher and oven.

  • Fancy Footwork
    Fancy Footwork

    To make the most of every square inch of her kitchen, Jessica chose toe-kick drawers, which open with a gentle push of the foot, under the base cabinets. They’re ideal for storing flat over-size items like trays, serving platters, and cutting boards.

Counter Offerings

When choosing this major kitchen feature, think about your style, budget, and willingness to maintain it (resealer, anyone?). Use our cheat sheet below.

  • 1. Richlite: Made from paper composite and resin, this eco-friendly material comes in many colors, resists stains, and handles heat well.

    2. Butcher Block: Often made from maple or oak, wooden counters look warm and are simple to maintain: They stain easily but can be sanded or resealed with mineral oil.

    3. Corian: This seamless blend of acrylic polymers and materials derived from natural stone looks and feels luxe but is low-maintenance -- it holds up well to wear and tear and doesn’t stain.

    4. Granite: Sourced from hard volcanic rock, this pricier material is known for its rich color and durability, but be sure to use trivets on it: Repeated heat can cause cracks.

    5. Marble: It’s beautiful, heat-resistant, and long-lasting, yet also more prone to stains. Avoid putting acidic foods or cleansers on it, and reseal every six months or so.

  • 6. Stainless Steel: Often used in commercial kitchens, this sturdy material handles heat well, won’t stain, and is a breeze to clean. A few cons: It’s costly and may dent or scratch (though minor etches can be buffed out).

    7. Soapstone: This composite of talc and other minerals is used in laboratories because it stands up well to heat, chemicals, and mild cleansers, but it’s softer than granite and can chip.

    8. Engineered Stone: Some of these counters, which are commonly made from quartz particles, look more man-made than real stone, but they’re far more durable.

    9. ​​Concrete: Pros: It’s heat- and scratch-resistant, and it can be custom- tinted. Cons: It’s costly and can stain, so it must be resealed often.

     

  • 1. Richlite: Made from paper composite and resin, this eco-friendly material comes in many colors, resists stains, and handles heat well.

    2. Butcher Block: Often made from maple or oak, wooden counters look warm and are simple to maintain: They stain easily but can be sanded or resealed with mineral oil.

    3. Corian: This seamless blend of acrylic polymers and materials derived from natural stone looks and feels luxe but is low-maintenance -- it holds up well to wear and tear and doesn’t stain.

    4. Granite: Sourced from hard volcanic rock, this pricier material is known for its rich color and durability, but be sure to use trivets on it: Repeated heat can cause cracks.

    5. Marble: It’s beautiful, heat-resistant, and long-lasting, yet also more prone to stains. Avoid putting acidic foods or cleansers on it, and reseal every six months or so.

  • 6. Stainless Steel: Often used in commercial kitchens, this sturdy material handles heat well, won’t stain, and is a breeze to clean. A few cons: It’s costly and may dent or scratch (though minor etches can be buffed out).

    7. Soapstone: This composite of talc and other minerals is used in laboratories because it stands up well to heat, chemicals, and mild cleansers, but it’s softer than granite and can chip.

    8. Engineered Stone: Some of these counters, which are commonly made from quartz particles, look more man-made than real stone, but they’re far more durable.

    9. ​​Concrete: Pros: It’s heat- and scratch-resistant, and it can be custom- tinted. Cons: It’s costly and can stain, so it must be resealed often.

     

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