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|What makes a kitchen a kitchen? Is it the refrigerator and the stove, with their extremes of cold and hot? Is it the hard laminate counters with their shiny clean? Is it the curved silver spout over the sink with its unspoken invitation to stacks of dirty dishes? Is it the tiled backsplash on the wall with its promise of emerging unscathed from any cooking mishap? Or is it the racks of pots and utensils which seem to spark an immediate appetite? The answer is, of course, all of these. And more. There are many elements which combine to make the kitchen the most work-intensive and yet social, the most byproduct-generating and yet cleanest, and the most functional and yet cozy room in the entire home.|
well-designed kitchen is a happy marriage between utilitarian and
ornamental elements, combining work optimization with interior design
to create a room that is classy, convenient, and comfortable. This
means that each element must be chosen with care to not only provide
the necessary functionality
on its own, but to also match and complement each of the other
elements. Thus, important questions to ask are not only, "is this a
high quality appliance?" or "is this a durable countertop?", but also
"does this material match the other elements in the kitchen?", "does
this color clash with the rest of the color scheme?", and "does this
finish fit within the overall design theme?"
We begin with cabinets, which are to a kitchen like closets are to the other rooms in the home. However, cabinets in the kitchen are actually far more important than closets in the rest of the home because they not only provide storage, but also act as primary design elements, directly contributing to the overall look and feel of the space. Important elements to consider with respect to kitchen cabinets include number and type, assembly and customization, framing, material, color, finish, door design, and handle type. Let us consider each of these briefly.
There are three primary types of cabinets. Base cabinets are cabinets which stand on the floor and support the countertops. Pantry cabinets are cabinets which stand on the floor, but extend past the countertops. Wall cabinets are mounted on the walls and hang some distance above the countertops. Most kitchens will feature all of these cabinet types, or at the very least base and wall cabinets, in various arrangements. Typically, the cabinets are styled the same way, and made out of the same materials. However, some designs will feature differences between the base and wall cabinets, most commonly in terms of color.
There are four options when it comes to cabinet assembly and customization. The least expensive option is ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets which come in flat packed boxes and require on-site assembly. These are mass produced to minimize costs and the range of materials and styles is quite limited. A more costly, but still relatively less expensive option is stock cabinets which come pre-assembled. These are available in specific standard sizes and styles, which means that they will only fit kitchens which conform to those same standard measurements. There are different price ranges among stock cabinet choices, with higher priced ranges offering better quality and more intricate designs. A mid-range alternative that offers more variation than standard stock cabinets is semi-custom cabinets. These are essentially stock cabinets which can be modified to a greater extent in terms of sizing and design in order to better fit a particular kitchen. Of course, the greater flexibility and versatility comes with a higher price. Finally, the most expensive alternative is custom cabinets. These can be constructed to exact specifications in terms of sizing, materials, designs, finishes, and any other details. However, the trade-off is time and expense.
Cabinets can be constructed as either framed or frameless. To visualize the difference, imagine a cabinet with its door removed. A framed cabinet has a frame on its face, which partially extends into the inner space, creating a sort of lip around the outer edge. On the other hand, a frameless cabinet does not have a frame, meaning that all that is visible along its face is the thickness of its walls. The framed cabinet design is considered more traditional and offers some optionality with respect to how much the cabinet door overlays the frame. In a full overlay, the cabinet doors fully cover the cabinet frames; in a partial overlay, the cabinet doors partially cover the cabinet frames; and, in a full inset, the cabinet doors sit inside of the cabinet frames. The frameless cabinet design is considered more contemporary and offers somewhat greater utility, as there is no frame lip reducing access to the inside of the cabinet space. With a frameless cabinet, the doors are typically full overlay, although they can also be made as full inset assuming the raw edges of the cabinet receive a proper finish.
Cabinets can be made out of a wide range of materials. Wood and wood-based compounds are the most common, but there are numerous other options as well. Traditional cabinets may be made of solid wood, with a broad range of possibilities available, ranging from light woods such as oak, maple, pine, birch, ash, beech, alder, elm, and chestnut to rich and dark woods such as cherry, walnut, mahogany, hickory, butternut, rosewood, and teak. A less expensive option is synthetic wood products, such as plywood, particle board, and medium density fiberboard (MDF). These products are made using a combination of wood, adhesive, and other additives. Typically, plywood is the more expensive option because it has a higher amount and quality of actual wood content than either particle board or MDF. Non-wood options include stainless steel, plastic laminate, melamine, thermofoil. Synthetic components are typically less durable and require replacement rather than repair if damaged. On the flip side, synthetics are less costly than solid wood options.
There is a range of options available with regard to color and finish for cabinets. They can be painted or covered with a veneer. In case of solid wood cabinets, a range of finishes can be used to reveal the grain of the wood, including lacquer, varnish, polyurethane, or shellac. Alternatively, the wood can be stained, which changes the wood's color but retains the grain pattern. Varnish or glaze can then be applied atop the finish for an additional level of sealing and highlighting. The color and finish for the cabinets should reflect the overall theme of the kitchen. Stained wood cabinets would not work in a modern kitchen, just as stainless steel cabinets would look out of place in a Victorian kitchen and plain white cabinets would not look right in an Art Deco kitchen.
The door design is an important visual element with respect to cabinets. The two primary types of cabinet doors are frame and slab. Framed doors have an outer frame - not to be confused with the cabinet frame, if it has one - that is built around a center door panel. Framed doors can have a raised, flat, or recessed panel that has either a squared off or rounded inner carving. By contrast, slab doors are made of a single flat piece of either wood or synthetic material. Framed doors are associated with traditional designs, while slab doors are associated with contemporary styles.
The door handles for the cabinets embody both form and function. The two main types of cabinet door handles are pulls and knobs. A pull is a raised bar that is attached at two ends to the cabinet door, with an opening between the two ends where a person's hand can wrap around the pull. By contrast, a knob is attached to the cabinet door at one end and typically looks along the lines of a small inverted pyramid. Pulls are typically easier to grasp and use than knobs, but for many people the difference is not significant. It is important that the style of the door handles matches the style of the cabinets and the overall look and feel of the kitchen. Knobs will generally be more appropriate for a Shaker style kitchen, ornamental pulls for an Italiante kitchen, and metallic pulls for a contemporary kitchen. Make sure that the knobs and pulls are not too small, allowing for easy grasping, and that ornamental knobs do not have any pointed or sharp features which may be uncomfortable to hold.
This should give you a general overview of cabinets and cabinet doors, but there are many more issues to consider and many more details to understand. For a truly in-depth discussion of this important topic, please take a look at our separate cabinets section, accessible from the main menu of this site.
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Another critical kitchen element is counters, which provide not only workspace, but also often double as serving and eating surfaces. Given how much punishment they take, countertops have to be extremely durable, solid, and easy to clean. At the same time, being a highly visible component and covering significant surface space, counters play an important role is the overall look and feel of the kitchen. The most critical decision in selecting a countertop is picking the right material. The optionality in terms of thickness, color, and finish will generally depend on the material chosen.
The primary materials used for countertops are wood, stone, tile, laminate, concrete, and metal. Each of these represents a category with multiple subcategories which have variations in terms of both pricing and individual properties. There is no single material that is superior to all others, but choices should be informed by thematic considerations, personal preferences, and financial constraints.
Often made of rich woods like teak, mahogany, butternut, cherry, and walnut, wood countertops offer a uniquely warm and inviting appearance. However, wood is vulnerable to denting, scratching, scorching, burning, staining, and blackening. It requires regular upkeep, holds onto food odors, and tends to acquire a progressively distressed look over time. By contrast, stone is a much harder material that is resistant to heat and impervious to scratching. Stone offers a timeless, natural style that can go with both traditional and contemporary kitchen designs. It also provides individuality as no two cuts of stone look exactly alike. The most common types of stone used for countertops are granite, soapstone, slate, limestone, and marble. For a lower cost alternative to stone, consider synthetic or engineered stone which is actually even more durable and provides a similar look and feel at a fraction of the price.
Another option as far as countertop material is concrete. Although it does not sound particularly high-end or cosmopolitan, the special concrete used for kitchen counters has a very refined and sleek look to it. The material is extremely durable and heat resistant, yet it offers a unique texture. One of the key benefits of concrete is virtually unlimited color choice and thickness options coupled with the possibility of inlaying pebbles, shells, and other objects to create an absolutely unique appearance. The only downside of concrete is that it requires some minor upkeep in terms of occasional waxing and that it can be a bit tough on glasses.
An option that is often used in restaurant kitchens, but has also become increasingly popular in the home is metal. The benefits of metal are that it is heat proof, hygienic, and offers a very clean look combined with the option of having the sink built right into the countertop. The most common metal alloys used for countertops are stainless steel, copper, and zinc. Stainless steel is the strongest and most scratch resistant, but it can create a cold, inert feeling. Copper offers a much warmer color, but it is also a much softer metal which means that scratches are inevitable. Zinc is an intermediate, starting off with the silver sheen of stainless steel, but dulling over time into a soft bluish gray. Like copper, it is susceptible to scratching, but the scratches tend to blend into the matte surface.
A less expensive option than most of the others explored so far is tile. Durable, resistant to heat, and available in many different colors and styles, tile offers both functionality and variety. However, tile provides an uneven surface that can also chip over time and the grout, which is the space between the tiles, is vulnerable to staining. Tile is also not as versatile as other countertop materials. Generally providing a rustic or country look, tile countertops will look out of place in a contemporary kitchen.
Synthetic materials provide two additional countertop options in the form of solid-surface and laminate. Solid-surface is a chemical blend of stone and acrylic that provides a hard top that is resistant to staining and provides a stone-like appearance for about half the price. Solid-surface is easy to clean and easier on dishware than stone, but it is not heat or scratch resistant. Laminate is even less expensive than solid-surface - in fact, it is the least costly option when it comes to countertops. The reason is that it is made of the cheapest materials: paper, resin, and MDF. Formica is probably the best known brand of laminate. The benefits of laminate is that there is a wide range of colors and styles and laminate countertops are easy to clean and maintain. However, the material is vulnerable to burning and scratching and unlike solid-surface countertops where markings can be sanded off, a laminate countertop's markings are permanent.
This should provide a general overview of the topic of countertops, but it is really only scratching the surface, no pun intended. For a lot more detailed information regarding countertop materials and other critical issues, including pricing, please take a look at our separate countertops section, accessible from the main menu of this site.
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Another important kitchen element is, of course, appliances. Without appliances, a kitchen would be little more than a storage room with running water. The most common appliances - the three that make up the classic kitchen work triangle - are the refrigerator, the stove/oven, and the sink. These also represent the three stages of food preparation: store (refrigerator), prep (sink), and cook (stove/oven). While these three appliances remain the mainstay of any kitchen, there have been many extensions and additions which have contributed to progressively empowering the cook to do more in less time.
Any cook who has thrown a dinner party for multiple guests knows that there is really a fourth stage to food preparation: clean-up. This has meant the addition of a fourth primary appliance in most kitchens, which is the dishwasher. Furthermore, as any cook who has had to clean up after a large party with a small-sized dishwasher can testify, the size of the appliance is a critical consideration with respect to its convenience and usability. The size of the refrigerator, the area of the cooktop, the number of ovens, the amount of sink space, and the capacity of the dishwasher should all reflect the weekday and weekend needs of the household.
For refrigerators, the rule of thumb is 12 cubic feet of space for the first 2 members of the household and another 2 to 3 cubic feet of space for each additional member of the household. Most modern refrigerators offer 20 cubic feet of capacity, which means they can support households of up to 6, but for larger households, it is advisable to either purchase an oversized refrigerator or an additional mini refrigerator that will provide incremental storage. Refrigerators generally come with the freezer on top, on bottom, or on the side. Those with freezers on top or bottom may have either a single hinged door or double doors which open from the middle. Double doors can be more convenient as they facilitate a natural compartmentalization of the refrigerator space. For models with a side freezer, it is advisable to check that the freezer is not too narrow to accommodate such perennial favorites as frozen turkeys and frozen pizzas.
For stoves/ovens, the traditional design with stove above and oven below in a single unit is still the most popular. However, there has been a pronounced trend toward modularization. An additional cooktop that is separate from the oven is added in many kitchens where the classic four burners are simply not enough to handle all of the cooking needs. Alternatively, many ranges now come with six or eight burners which utilize a modular design, meaning that burners can be switched out for griddles, steamers, grills, woks, rotisseries, deep-fryers, or downdrafts, depending on the cook's preferences. Wall ovens and dual oven designs can provide additional cooking area, particularly during large holiday and special occasion meals. In terms of selecting gas-powered versus electric-powered ranges and ovens, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Gas appliances have a higher upfront price, but offer an instant response (no warm-up time), precise control, and a lower energy cost. Electric appliances are less expensive to purchase and offer a very consistent heating level, but require warm-up and incur higher energy costs. As far as controls, they should be easy to reach and operate. If there are young children in the home, it may be advisable to select cooktops with controls that are located against the backsplash. A ventilation fan or range hood should be installed above the cooktop in order to make sure that grease and odors are properly vented so as to not spoil the air and ruin kitchen surfaces.
Kitchen sinks come in single basin, dual bowl, and triple bowl configurations. An effective design for space-challenged kitchens is the corner-square, which places two bowls on either side of an L corner, typically with a swiveling spout that can be positioned over either sink. It is important to ensure that each bowl of the sink is not only sufficiently long and wide, but also sufficiently deep to allow for the stacking and rinsing of pots, pans, dishes, cups, and utensils. At least 16 inches of length, 20 inches of width, and 8 inches of depth should be considered mandatory. Naturally, the bowls can be smaller in double or triple bowled designs. Sinks can be made from a variety of materials, with stainless steel, enamel, solid-surface, and quartz composite the most popular choices, although some consumers also opt for more custom options such as fire clay, soapstone, and copper. Sinks can also be mounted into the countertop in several different ways. The most common mount is called "self-rimming", where the lip of the sink overhangs the counter on all four sides. By contrast, an "integral" mount eliminates the lip and makes the sink a continuation of the countertop. An "undermount" is a second lipless option, where the sink is fused to the underside of the countertop. Finally, in selecting a sink it is important to consider such features as pull-out sprayers, built-in water filters, and undersink garbage disposal which can all add a significant level of convenience.
In addition to the basics, there are numerous appliances which have been engineered to make various facets of the cook's work easier, faster, or both. Microwaves and dishwashers are two well known examples and, today, may be found in a majority of kitchens. In addition, there are myriad so-called "small kitchen appliances" designed for specific tasks such as vegetable preparation (choppers, slicers, dicers, food processors), meat processing (grinders, hot dog makers), frying (skillets, deep fryers, griddles, woks), specialized heating (grills, steamers, rice cookers, roasters, hot plates), baking (mixers, waffle irons, hand blenders), beverage making (blenders, juicers, kettles, coffee makers), and bread cooking (toasters, toaster ovens, sandwich makers).
Appliances should be chosen not only for their utility, which is of primary importance, but also for their looks. Aesthetically, appliances should not clash with the overall theme of the kitchen. In the case of traditional, country, rustic, and especially Old World kitchens, it may be advisable to hide certain modern appliances behind panels which blend with the throwback look of the cabinetry and countertops. This keeps the design theme intact, but still offers the cook access to the latest in cooking technology. Alternatively, a number of manufacturers produce modern kitchen appliances that feature an antiquated external appearance.
The world of kitchen appliances is incredibly varied and complex. The descriptions provided here are a bare bones overview. For significantly more information and critical detail, please take a look at our separate appliances section, accessible from the main menu of this site.
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The next key element for a kitchen is the flooring. It is vitally important that the floors be durable, stain resistant, and easy to clean, but still look aesthetically pleasing. As with countertops, the most important decision with respect to flooring is the choice of material. Carpeting or any kind of large rug are completely impractical for a kitchen as regular leaks and spills are not simply likely, but absolutely inevitable. Rather, kitchen floors are typically made of wood, laminate, linoleum, vinyl, tile, or stone.
Kitchen floors cover a large surface area and are a highly visible part of the space. They also serve to either distinguish the kitchen area from or join it to the rest of the home. Consequently, the material, as well as its pattern and color, have to serve multiple functions. Certain materials provide added versatility which can make them a viable option for a broad range of kitchen designs, while others are appropriate for either only traditional or only contemporary styles.
Hardwood floors provide warmth, resilience, versatility, and durability. They can be made from a broad range of hard woods, including oak, maple, beech, ash, pine, alder, cherry, walnut, teak, hickory, pecan, and mahogany. Soft woods such as pine are generally not as good of an option when it comes to floors because they tend to scuff and scratch, showing wear and tear much sooner than hard woods. Floors made of wood usually feature one of three distinctive patterns. Plank flooring utilizing wood planks that are typically cut 3 to 8 inches wide, although even wider planks can be used for a rustic styled kitchen. Strip flooring utilizes skinny planks which are cut to be less than 3 inches wide. This is a versatile look that works for both traditional and contemporary kitchens. Parquet utilizes even smaller rectangular pieces of wood arranged in geometric shapes to create multidirectional patterns. Most hardwood floors are covered with a urethane based finish to provide a seal against moisture and stains. Hardwood floors can also be painted and stenciled to attain an interesting and unique look.
Stone is another great natural look for the floors, arguably unrivaled in terms of its authentic beauty and elegant patterns. Granite and marble provide beautiful flooring options, but both stain easily. The stains can be removed, but this can be a somewhat involved task. Throw rugs near the sinks can help reduce the risk of staining. Slate and travertine offer a more stain-resistant and easier-to-maintain option. In general, stone is expensive and challenging to maintain, but it can be an absolute showstopper in terms of looks.
A less costly alternative to hardwood and stone is vinyl, which is a popular choice because of its ease of installation, durability, inexpensiveness, resilience, and ease of cleaning. Available in sheets or tiles, vinyl offers a broad range of designs, styles, and colors and can be patterned to match the looks of many other materials. Vinyl comes in a range of pricing options, with greater cushioning, better sound absorption, and additional design flexibility available at higher prices. Vinyl is a plastic-based product. For a natural and environmentally friendly alternative that is still cost-efficient, consumers can consider linoleum. It is made from linseed oil, pine resin, ground cork, and pulverized wood. Many people confuse vinyl and linoleum. While both are made in sheets or tiles, have a somewhat similar look and feel, and offer a range of patterns and colors, one is a synthetic product while the other is made of all natural materials. There are different processes used for the making of linoleum, but when properly manufactured, it is generally more of a "green" and longer lasting alternative to vinyl.
Another synthetic option for kitchen flooring which has been gaining a great deal of popularity is laminate. Made much harder and more durable than countertop laminate, the laminate used for floors uses a specialized process to apply a photographic layer which can make the floors look like any other material, including hardwood or stone. Laminate has the added benefit of being able to be laid over existing flooring. Looking like a natural material, yet less expensive and often easier to care for than the real thing, laminate provides an incredibly versatile option and, as a result, has been progressively becoming more and more prevalent. However, because laminate is made using a compound that incorporates formaldehyde there may be some health concerns. Certain manufacturers have tried to counter such effects by utilizing a process that reduces formaldehyde emissions.
The final option for kitchen floors worth mentioning here is tile. Traditional ceramic tile is made from clay that is pressed, glazed, and fired which creates incredible durability. Tile offers a virtually limitless range of colors and patterns, including hand painted options for an absolutely unique look. Specialized grout options are available to minimize mildew and staining in between the tiles. For a more rustic look, terra-cotta tiles which are made using clay that is fired but left unglazed can be a wonderful option, although they need to be sealed in order to provide moisture resistance.
This is a general overview of the flooring options available for kitchens. However, there are several other, less mainstream options, as well as numerous additional details which are worth considering before deciding on a specific flooring alternative. For more information, please take a look at our separate kitchen floors section, accessible from the main menu of this site.
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An often overlooked kitchen element is the walls. The amount of wear and tear that occurs on the walls of a kitchen is far greater than on the walls of any other room in the home. Moisture from the sink splashes onto the kitchen walls, smoke from the pots settles onto the kitchen walls, food particles land on the kitchen walls, cooking odors seep into the kitchen walls, grease particles fall on top of the kitchen walls, and oil droplets alight on the kitchen walls. In the regular process of cooking - stirring, chopping, dicing, mixing, flipping - small bits of food, some too small to see, fly off and hit the kitchen walls. Consequently, the kitchen walls, particularly the areas between the countertops and the cabinets which are closest to the worktops, should be covered with a sturdy, durable, and easy to clean material.
Traditionally, the part of the wall behind the stove was covered with a hardy material that extended a few inches above the cooktop and was intended to protect the wall from inadvertent splashes. Correspondingly, this protective piece was termed a "backsplash". Over time, backsplashes were made higher and extended along the wall to cover additional space behind the sinks and the worktops. Today, kitchen backsplashes not only provide protection for the walls, but also serve as an important design feature of the kitchen. Often, the backsplash design is run all the way around the kitchen and fully covers the wall space between the countertops and the wall cabinets. In case of all white or other basic colored cabinets, the backsplash can provide a much needed "splash" of color.
Although ceramic tile is traditionally associated with a kitchen backsplash, it can actually be made from a variety of materials, including glass, stone, metal, concrete, beadboard, vinyl, and wallpaper. Ceramic tiles are popular because they are relatively inexpensive and yet highly versatile. The colors and patterns available with ceramic tile are virtually limitless. At the same time, ceramic tile is durable, water-resistant, and easy to clean. Stone tiles offer the same benefits and a more elegant look, but they are substantially more expensive.
For kitchens which have solid-surface counters, a backsplash using the same material can provide a sleek and consistent look. However, this is not inexpensive. In situations where a set of new solid-surface counters is being put in, the service provider may be willing to put together a backsplash using the extra material left over from the countertops. This has the added benefit of matching the color of the backsplash precisely to the color of the counters. A solid-surface backsplash can generally be installed one of two ways. A loose backsplash is attached to the wall, while a rigid backsplash is fused directly to the countertop.
Similarly, for kitchens which have concrete counters, a concrete backsplash can provide a more cohesive and elegant look than a traditional tile backsplash. The backsplash does not have to be made at the same time as the countertops, but at a later date. The concrete can be mixed to match the existing counters exactly and either installed independently or cast as an overlay to cover up the old backsplash. An interesting and effective look is a concrete backsplash with inlaid pebbles.
The most expensive option for a kitchen backsplash is metal, which is orders of magnitude more costly than ceramic or even stone tile. A backsplash can be made of almost any sheet metal, with stainless steel, copper, zinc, tin, aluminum, and brass the most common options. The surface can be adjusted to several different looks, including hammered, ribbed, quilted, and custom etched patterns. The overall cost can be reduced by either using pre-fabricated standard sized metal tiles or utilizing a metal laminate in which the top layer, rather than plastic, is made of stainless steel, brass, copper, or aluminum.
An interesting option for a kitchen backsplash that is becoming increasingly popular is glass. A glass block backsplash is actually part of an exterior wall and allows natural light to come through. This is an expensive and complex design as it requires a portion of the outer wall to be removed and framed before the glass block can be put in. A far less costly alternative is the use of plated glass which can be installed over the wall, protecting the finish from grease and stains. The benefit of glass is that in addition to the protection, it still allows the color and finish of the walls to come through and reflects light back onto the work surfaces. Yet another way to go is to utilize glass tile, which can be made in a virtually limitless array of looks, designs, colors, and finishes. Glass tile is durable, easy to clean and maintain, and fits with any other type of material. It also offers the additional benefit of reflecting and diffusing light, brightening up the kitchen space.
Two additional and fairly inexpensive options for kitchen backsplashes are beadboard and wallpaper. Beadboard is a type of wood paneling which features distinctive grooves and is associated with traditional and country kitchen styles. It is fairly inexpensive to buy and install, but does require more effort to upkeep and clean than other materials. Wallpaper can offer protection for the walls and provide a limitless range of colors and patterns. However, specialized water-resistant wallpaper should be used otherwise it will not be very functional in a kitchen environment.
It is important to select a backsplash color, pattern, and finish which fits with the rest of the kitchen. Because a backsplash ties together the cabinets and the counters, either a complementary or offsetting color should be selected. A rough finish gives a more rustic and casual look while a shiny finish provides a more refined and elegant appearance. The material should also match the design theme. A stainless steel backsplash would be at home in a transitional or contemporary kitchen, but out of place in a traditional or Old World kitchen. By the same token, a beadboard backsplash would fit right into a country or Arts & Crafts kitchen, but not work too well in either a modern or a Victorian kitchen.
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An important element in many kitchens is the tables and chairs. Not every kitchen will have the room for chairs, let alone a table. However, larger kitchen spaces often accommodate an eating area, whether in the form of high chairs around an island or peninsula, or in the form of a separate dining table and matching chair set. Given how much thought, planning, and financial investment goes into designing the rest of the kitchen, it would be a real shame to spoil the effect with a few poorly chosen pieces of furniture. Consequently, the selection of chairs and, if necessary, a table, requires careful consideration.
The key issues to think about when it comes to kitchen furniture are functionality, size, comfort, style, materials, and color. Chairs have to be the right height for the tabletop, island, or peninsula next to which they are being placed. They have to be convenient to access, comfortable to sit in, simple to move, and reasonably easy to clean. The design of the chairs should match the overall theme of the kitchen generally, and the tabletop specifically. By the same token, a table should be the right size to fit into the allotted space and not infringe on the cooking area or any of the work triangles. The materials and design of the table should not clash with the rest of the kitchen, but rather flow as though it is a natural extension of the cabinets and counters.
In case of a table and chairs, the easiest way to assure consistency is by purchasing a set. This ensures that both the table and the chairs are made of the same materials and utilize the same color scheme. However, in case there is already a tabletop in place, such as a kitchen peninsula or island, the goal should be to find chairs which match in terms of both function and appearance. From a functional perspective, the distance between the chair seat and the tabletop should be between 10 inches and 12 inches. This means that peninsulas and islands typically require a high-backed chair. From an appearance perspective, the chairs should be either made of the same type of material in case of a wood, metal, or synthetic tabletop, or of a different material that is closely matched in terms of look and feel in case of a concrete, stone, or tile countertop.
Generally, the style of furniture should match the design style of the kitchen. For Old World kitchens, consider heavy oak tables and chairs with wrought iron accents. For rustic kitchens, log or pine furniture works excellently. For country kitchens, a range of looks and colors schemes can work well, although they should almost always be wood-based. For traditional kitchens, elegant designs in wood, metal, and glass are the most appropriate. For contemporary kitchens, consider modern ergonomic and minimalist looks coupled with sleek, synthetic materials such as plastic, chrome, stainless steel, and laminates.
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An element whose importance is often underestimated is the lighting. However, this is a critical aspect of both the cooking and the social components of life in the kitchen. Insufficient light can make cooking not only unnecessarily difficult, but in fact unsafe. The workspaces and the appliances should be clearly visible, with sufficient light to measure, mix, read labels, and perform functions on the cooktop. Since dealing with sharp knives and hot surfaces is an everyday component of cooking, one must be able to clearly see what he or she is doing.
At the same time, from a social standpoint, the lighting should be warm and welcoming, serving to draw people into the space. Whether it is a child doing his or her homework at the island while watching mom cook, or a guest reading a recipe in a cookbook, or a visitor interacting with the cook, there should be plenty of light to support these activities in the kitchen. While plentiful, the lighting should not be stark and sterile like in an office or a hospital.
There are two types of lighting which should be available in a kitchen: natural light and synthetic light. Natural light refers to daylight streaming through the windows. It is generally advisable to maximize the amount of window space in the kitchen, allowing natural light to penetrate to all of the work surfaces and cabinets. A sun-lit kitchen is not only a comfortable working environment, but also a very cheerful and uplifting space. Consider using garden, bay, or bow windows which are beautifully shaped, allow plenty of light, and have the added benefit of providing shelf space along the sill.
For the evening, synthetic light from fixtures can bring the kitchen to life, offering a more customizable look and feel than is available with natural light alone. Synthetic lighting can be divided among general lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. General lighting refers to the primary sources used to light the room, such as a chandelier or track lighting, which are turned on when a person enters the kitchen. Task lighting refers to fixtures which provide additional light to specific work areas, such as a pendant light over a countertop. Accent lighting refers to ornamental highlights typically placed over or under cabinets whose purpose is decorative rather than functional.
General lighting is the most important and, for smaller kitchens, may be sufficient. As far as general light fixtures, the most common choices are recessed lighting, chandelier lighting, surface lighting, and track lighting. Recessed lighting refers to fixtures which are inserted and made flush with the ceiling. The effect is sleek and minimalist, representing a great lighting option for transitional and contemporary kitchens. Because recessed lighting is unobtrusive, it is much easier to amplify the light by utilizing multiple lamps than would be possible with a chandelier. On the other hand, a chandelier is an incredibly elegant option for a traditional kitchen and can serve as not only a source of lighting, but a structural showpiece. Chandelier designs range from heavy, bronze and wrought iron candle-holder types associated with Old World kitchens to the airy, crystal extravaganzas of the Victorian Age.
Where recessed lighting is pressed into the ceiling and chandelier lighting is dropped down from the ceiling, surface lighting refers to fixtures which are installed flush with the ceiling. Surface lighting is the most versatile option, with fixtures available in a broad range of styles, from rectangle box fluorescents to sleek puck designs to vintage globe and bowl shaped options. Technically, track lighting is a subset of surface lighting, but it is generally broken out as a separate category. Because the individual lamps on a track can be directionally adjusted, track lighting can serve as both general and task lighting. Like recessed lighting, track lighting has a contemporary feel to it and would look out of place in a traditional or Old World kitchen.
Task lighting almost always utilizes some type of pendant light, whether in the form of individual pendant lights, or multi-pendant fixtures. The best quality of pendant lights is their incredible flexibility - a pendant can look like a medieval bronze candlestick or a postmodern jigsaw globe or anything in between. At the same time, a pendant light can be hung in any location as, unlike general lighting, task lighting does not have to be centralized. This makes task lighting an easy addition to any kitchen that can provide both functional light and a gorgeous decorative touch. In the case of workspace that is tucked underneath cabinets, under cabinet lighting provides a perfect task lighting option that can also add to the brightness and cheerfulness of the room by bringing light out from the walls.
Accent lights are lower energy output lights whose primary role is decorative rather than functional. Most commonly, accent lights are installed over cabinets, over pictures or mosaics, or inside of cabinets if they have glass paneling. Accent lights typically utilize LED, xenon, or fluorescent bulbs arranged in either individual mounts or strips. Over cabinet lights can produce a unique effect, turning an area that is usually associated with dust and darkness into an ethereal glow. Interior lights in glass cabinets containing china can create a beautiful display. Accent lighting is not only for contemporary designs, but can work in almost any kitchen. For example, wall sconces can be a beautiful addition to a traditional or Old World kitchen.
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The final kitchen element considered here is racks and shelves. The difference between the two is that a shelf provides stacking space while a rack provides hanging space. Shelves are almost always run against a wall, while racks can be either run against a wall or suspended from the ceiling. A common design element is the addition of a ceiling mounted pot rack above an island.
From a thematic perspective, the addition of shelves and racks tends to provide a more accessible, relaxed, and cozy atmosphere. Where cabinets typically hide dishware, cookware, and food ingredients from view, racks and shelves put them on full display, providing a sort of opening on the kitchen's inner secrets. The country and rustic kitchen styles, which are less formal than traditional or contemporary, tend to utilize open shelving extensively. Racks are an even more versatile element, with pot racks commonly found in not only country and rustic, but also Old World and traditional kitchens. As with lighting fixtures, shelves and racks can be made in a broad range of styles, from vintage to modern.
From a functional standpoint, shelves and racks can provide additional storage or display space where the incorporation of cabinets is impractical. Shelves can be placed above a sink and racks can be suspended from the ceiling. Moving spices onto a shelf and pots onto a rack can free up substantial cabinet space, providing much needed storage room for other items. In addition, items placed in plain view on a shelf or rack are often much easier to find than things that have been tucked away in a hard-to-reach corner of a cabinet.
With shelves, it is important to select a material, color, and finish that matches the existing cabinets. For example, a metal shelf would look out of place in a kitchen with all wood cabinetry. By the same token, a rack should serve as an effective and complementary offset. In many cases, a rack that matches the material and color of the cabinet door pulls can look very effective.
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