Upgrading what is, arguably, the most important room in the house can be exciting, expensive and overwhelming. Done right, however, it will likely be the most valuable project you ever complete in your home.
Award-winning interior designers, Lauren Grayston and Sarah O’Brien, together with the team at cTx Design Group, have designed and worked on hundreds of spectacular kitchens. They shared their advice for creating space, colour, and character, as well as explaining where to save and where to prioritise quality.
SPLURGE VS SAVE
“Try to invest in quality cabinets and a very good countertop,” said Ms Grayston. “If you go with cheap, and they start falling apart in a year, then it’s going to be a lot more expensive to change them out than if you’d just done it right the first time.”
Ms O’Brien added: “A lot of mess and hard work goes into installing kitchen cabinets, so for stress levels, you’re not going to want to go through that every five years.”
Easily replaceable fixtures and fittings are where you can afford to go less expensive. These include lighting, cabinet hardware, kitchen accessories, furniture, and furnishings.
For durability and cost, Ms Grayston recommended quartz countertops from Eminence or Surface Trends: “Natural stone is popular as well, but you have to take care of it a lot more. There is also a porcelain product, which is really hard and durable, it’s just a little more costly. That’s why quartz is the most popular ‘bang for your buck’”.
While she recommended investing in appliances, she added: “You don’t have to go to the highest extent to still get a good quality appliance.” What is important, however, is to go through “a local warranty seller,” because if you bring an appliance in yourself and there’s an issue with it, that’s on you to fix.
“We use Bermuda Supply a lot,” she said. “They’re excellent and if something gets damaged in shipping, it’s replaced without question.”
One costly, common mistake people often make when doing a kitchen by themselves is measurements: “It’s very difficult unless you know what you’re doing, to get it 100 percent correct,” they said. They therefore recommended asking the kitchen installer to review the measurements to ensure the correct amount of space, for example, for walkways and appliance clearance.
Family and friends like to congregate in the kitchen, but the chef still needs to be able to move around safely. Kitchens therefore require more space than they used to as well as lots of storage. How can this be done without major construction work?
“Instead of having wall to wall cabinetry, maybe some open shelves,” said Ms Grayston, who added that instead of having “full upper wall cabinets”, one well-placed tall cabinet could supply as much storage, allowing for more open space.
Good lighting can also make a kitchen seem bigger.
Ms O’Brien recommended “layers of lighting”, meaning not just lights in the ceiling, but undercounter lighting for doing tasks and hanging lights or sconces to make the room visually interesting.
For more general ceiling lighting, discreet Soffit lights have become popular, and the way lighting is built into the ceiling or other spaces can also add character: “Sometimes, it’s not a very interesting light, but the way that it highlights what it’s highlighting is what makes it interesting,” she continued.
Picking out light fixtures also doesn’t have to be expensive. Together, they have sourced lighting from a variety of places including thrift stores and local lighting shops as well as overseas suppliers.
Light fixture designs are also evolving: “A lot of lighting that’s coming out that’s really cool is more ceramic and plaster finishes, and interesting stone,” said Ms Grayston. “There’s a lot more cottage industry lighting now where you can find really cool hand-made lights from obscure places.”
In addition to lighting, colour and texture can be used to add interest to your kitchen, in particular the backsplash:
“Personality comes out hugely in backsplash,” said Ms Grayston. Even if it’s a really contemporary kitchen, where it might not be tiles, maybe it’s a huge slab of marble, with some movement in it. It creates so much energy in the space.”
Glass is another backsplash option; however tile tends to be the most cost effective.
As well as looking good, backsplashes are also functional. They are easy to clean and stop water getting down the back of the cabinets, extending their life.
In terms of colour, “moodier palettes” are currently popular: “We’ve seen a lot of white and light oaks. I think there’s going to be more stained oaks. Wood grain is always popular,” said Ms Grayston. They are also getting a lot of requests for “English green”.
If you are on a tight budget, however, they recommend going white: “White is going to be timeless. It’s the ‘little black dress’, that you can dress up or dress down,” she continued. “A white kitchen is going to be available from a good quality, less expensive provider, because every cabinet maker does a white kitchen. You can mix it up by adding a different colour island.”
There’s also no end to the personal touches you can add. They have made customised spaces for family pets, hidden pantries, toe-kicks that double up as shallow drawers, black metal framed bar stations with in-lit glass fronted cabinets, and one client, an artist, even cut down a tree outside her house and used that as the base for her kitchen island.
THE PERFECT KITCHEN
What does their own, perfect kitchen look like? “It’s got to have some wood grain in it,” said Ms Grayston. “That could be in the floor, the cabinets, or the shelving. My perfect kitchen has a nice big island for eating and socialising. A huge workstation sink. And of course, good layout and lighting.”
Ms O’Brien would also like “a very big, oversized hood as a feature. It’s a really good focal point. It draws your eye in,” she said.