With open plan home layouts especially, we have become accustomed to seeing the kitchen and living space as one, zoned out only by the placement of furniture. We have come to like it this way, as it keeps the family or guests in the same space, allowing different activities to happen at the same time as the conversation. The catch is marrying the two aesthetics: that of a kitchen, a task-oriented room where practical lights and surfaces are key, with that of a living space, where it’s all about comfort and ambience.
And even if you do have a separate room for your kitchen, we have now come to require it to look sophisticated and homely rather than cool and purely task oriented. The change needs to happen in the kitchen. A modern home aesthetic and usability require its design and styling to be practical, but elevated and homely enough to create a flow that is easy on the eye, passing from one area into the other without feeling that you’re in separate rooms with a completely different feel (regardless of whether you are or not).
In a way, we’ve come to want modern kitchens to look just as elevated as living spaces, with all the comfort and ambience, while keeping their practical function. Interior designers are here to tell you that’s entirely possible, and talk through five ways in which it can be achieved.
1. Style in beautifully designed ambient lighting
Start with ambient lights, in a sophisticated design. All designers I speak to always mention the power of good lighting to completely transform a room. Bring in elements of what is traditionally seen in the living area into your kitchen lighting scheme with table lamps, interesting wall sconces, and beautifully designed pendants or chandeliers. ‘Table lamps are particularly effective in making a kitchen more homely,’ lighting experts Niki Wright and Scarlett Hampton tell me. ‘Simply switching on a lamp can change the feeling of an entire room and add a feeling of calm and warmth. As the evenings draw in, additional lamps placed at different heights or in various corners and nooks accentuate that coziness; adding practical light without taking from the ambience,’ they explain.
Interior designer Breegan Jane thinks ‘lighting is an absolute must, and selecting the proper lighting can be the difference in a room appearing too dim, or unbalanced,’ she tells me, pointing out that a kitchen island offers a great opportunity to style beautiful pendants for a sophisticated look. ‘I love kitchen island pendants because they come in such a variety of styles, sizes and colors. Pendants are hung separately, which means you can choose to arrange them at different heights if you desire. You can also group them in unique configurations if the space allows. If you have a smaller surface area to light, you can hang a chandelier that gives just the right amount of coverage,’ she adds.
It’s not just the look that’s important, but also the bulbs – think warm light, rather than the harsh white of downlights – to create a relaxing ambience. ‘An elevated kitchen is both practical and inviting, and good lighting achieves both these goals,’ interior designer Susan Yeley tells me. ‘If you are updating on a budget, just getting the right bulb temperature will make a huge difference: we like 3000K to make a space maximally functional as well as cozy. For more impact, invest in new light fixtures too, making sure that any pendants are only about 30-36" (80-90cm) above table and countertops, and add after-market under-cabinet lighting. Once you have good lighting in a kitchen, you'll be amazed you ever lived without it’.
2. Bring in natural materials
Good quality natural materials in warm tones will make your space feel elevated and homely. Whether you’re at the build stage of your kitchen or not, there are always ways in which you can incorporate natural materials without having to completely change your kitchen countertops or floors.
‘Look at adding materials like natural stone – consider marble, of course – in small doses so you're not increasing the budget too much,’ advises designer Gladys Schanstra. ‘Natural stone accessories like trays, platters, mortar & pestle sets, multi-use vessels, fruit bowls, little art sculptures… they can add a classic elevated look to any kitchen. With the right balance, they won’t tilt a kitchen’s overall look toward something more formal than you intend,’ she says.
And if you really want to go for it and create a designed look, try as much as possible to hide busy appliance areas. ‘Sometimes, a busy pattern can make a statement in a small area, like the refrigerator and freezer doors. Consider adding a different wood look or a marble look there. You can clad certain doors with thin sheets of marble or engineered stone. There are plenty of wood choices, too,’ adds Gladys.
3. Curate colorful accessories and art
There’s no reason why you wouldn’t hang art in a kitchen, or style some colorful accessories to create a homely feel. ‘This could involve bowls and plates on an open shelf, maybe the shelf itself is decorative,’ Gladys tells me, encouraging to pick items that speak to your personal taste, including art. Susan agrees: ‘Kitchens love art! Frame and display pieces you love on empty wall space or tilted on a lesser-used countertop, creating a vignette with the fruit bowl. Kitchen art can often be edgier or more personal than might feel comfortable in other spaces,’ she says.
And speaking of more personal art, Gladys tells me not to underestimate the impact of displaying an art piece you, or even your child made. ‘Curate it, though,’ she says. ‘Look for a great piece they made and present it like you would any other piece, thinking through placement height, surroundings and maybe a nice frame – that can certainly make the space more vibrant and personal’.
Another way to bring in subtle accents of color is through your kitchen organizers and containers. This way, as Gladys tells me, you can combine your goals and mix aesthetics with organization. ‘Mash up your desire to elevate a kitchen with the need to organize it,’ she says. ‘You can find some delightful bins, jars and different types of containers that will help you organize things in plain sight, in a way that is visually pleasing! These items can bring a nice contrasting pop of color where you need it. We don’t have to totally hide everything anymore. Make kitchen organization a part of the look you’re designing,’ the expert advises.
4. Combine form and function
The kitchen is a perfect place to balance form and function. Be intentional about every item you pick, and make sure you like its aesthetic. It’s as easy said as done. ‘Swap out the things that are always on display for versions that are designed to look as good as they work,’ suggests Susan.
‘Install a new faucet that has bells and whistles to serve as a centrepiece in the kitchen, or if your salt and pepper shakers and oil dispenser sit out on the cabinet all the time, make them sculptural so they're as easy on the eyes as they are easy to reach. New knobs and handles can, almost by themselves, elevate a space from dated and dull to intentional and interesting,’ she says. Change your sockets and switches from basic plastic to brass or matt black for a more elevated look. And if you’re earlier in the design stage of your home, you can incorporate a beautiful sink that looks unique and adds an element of interest to the space.
5. Keep it clean and tidy
The reality is that all the beautifully curated design elements in the world will get completely lost if the space that hosts them is not clean and tidy, so consider decluttering kitchen countertops and giving your space a deep clean. ‘Your kitchen is a harder-working space that can get grimier more quickly than living spaces, so a deep clean alone can help elevate it to the level of the rest of the house,’ says Susan, adding that if you really want to give it a fresh feel, one of the best ways is to repaint the walls and ceiling.
If you’re not inclined (or don’t need to) go that far the designer suggests purging and hiding items you don't need or don't want to see, like cereal boxes on top of the fridge, for instance, that can instantly bring down the look of a space. ‘Consider cabinet inserts like Rev-a-shelf, which can be found on Amazon, which are relatively affordable and easy to install aftermarket. The more efficient your storage, the more you can minimize the clutter you see and free up your countertop space,’ she says, highlighting that an elevated space is a clutter free space where each item is mindfully selected, has a purpose and an allocated storage of its own.
Good lighting can transform a space. Ambient pendant lights will create an elevated kitchen look.
Price: $29.99 each
Mix form with function and pick everyday items in beautiful designs that you can keep on display.
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Raluca is Digital News Writer for Livingetc.com and passionate about all things interior and living beautifully. Coming from a background writing and styling shoots for fashion magazines such as Marie Claire Raluca’s love for design started at a very young age when her family’s favourite weekend activity was moving the furniture around the house ‘for fun’. Always happiest in creative environments in her spare time she loves designing mindful spaces and doing colour consultations. She finds the best inspiration in art, nature, and the way we live, and thinks that a home should serve our mental and emotional wellbeing as well as our lifestyle.
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