How to Create an Enduring Kitchen

Hastings Farmhouse Kitchen by Todd Hansen

Most of us have a long wish list for our kitchens: We want professional-grade appliances, well-organized storage, an island with a prep sink, granite countertops, lots of windows…the list of possibilities goes on and on. When it comes to style, the options are just as limitless—finishes, colors, materials. Choices galore.

But one thing is certain: No one wants to put time and money into a kitchen re-do that will be “so 2012” in a couple years.


An enduring kitchen sheds embellishments and ultra-modern looks in favor of simple, clean design with emphasis on the classics, say the pros who specialize in kitchen design. Resale isn’t top of mind these days, but timeless styles that make a kitchen easier to sell also make it easier to live with long term. “Even if you are doing the kitchen for yourself, you have to think about resale,” adds kitchen designer Jolynn Johnson, owner of Crystal Kitchen Center in Crystal. “Especially if you are contemplating resale in the next five years, you want to put in traditional because people want that warm, comfortable feeling.”

Likewise, a well-designed, user-friendly space will never go out of style. As homeowners consider the costs of remodeling their kitchens, they value good design more, says architect John Idstrom, president of Partners 4, Design in Minneapolis. “We’ve noticed with tighter budgets today, people still want to hire a professional to help them plan the room design and make choices,” he says. They realize that design fees are not the place to cut corners; guidance from a professional about the layout plan, work areas, traffic flow, and material selections is a good investment.

Live-in Value

Five years ago, you could plan on recouping nearly three-quarters of what you invested in remodeling your kitchen at resale; today, that figure is just 55 percent, according to Remodeling magazine’s latest Cost vs. Value Report. With dollars-and-cents payback declining, many people now remodel to create “live-in” value—they invest in creating a kitchen customized expressly to meet their needs and wants.

“The real enduring trend is toward a personalized kitchen space,” says Carl A. Smith, III, principal of Scarlette Design and president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Kitchens can be designed for cooks who want open shelving, a prep sink, and specialized storage; entertainers who want ample seating, serving, and bar areas; or for parents who want a desk for homework, charging area for digital devices, and craft area with loads of storage.

“The kitchen is the focal point of many homes and central to the living experience,” says interior designer Carla Bast in Minneapolis. Thus, she’s seeing more open, multipurpose spaces. Kitchens that invite lingering with the host or multitasking with a laptop often incorporate “soft seating,” says architect Todd Hansen, principal of Albertsson-Hansen Architects in Minneapolis. “People live in their kitchens and family members aren’t always standing and working at the same time. This means freestanding chairs, a built-in banquette, or even a sofa to complement an adjacent area with table and chairs. You want something other than a backless stool.”  

A user-friendly space by Partners 4, Design

Sustainable Choices

Savvy green consumers know that enduring kitchens incorporate sustainable products—they may cost more upfront, but they save energy, require less repair, and last longer. They choose Energy Star-rated appliances, which have almost become standard, energy-efficient lighting, and water-saving faucets.

Many also prefer to use healthy materials, including non-toxic and low-VOC paint, cabinetry, and flooring.

They may take green to the next level by using recycled glass tile, lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and reclaimed wood. A remodeling project committed to using green products and building techniques may earn certification from an organization such as LEED, Minnesota GreenStar, or Minnesota Green Path to mark its enduring sustainability—also a desirable selling point for resale.

Open design kitchen by Albertsson-Hansen Architects

Appliances Matter

Commercial-style appliances with an integrated or built-in look are also here to stay. “We’re seeing more integrated appliances with fronts that match the cabinetry in the wood or finish,” Idstrom says. Countertop-depth refrigerators facilitate the built-in look.

Architect Hansen notes enduring appliances use classic shapes with non-trendy materials. “Viking professional and Wolf-Subzero seem to get this, while some other manufacturers try to over-style their appliances. Too sleek or streamlined can easily date an appliance,” he says. He advises clients to go with stainless, while other designers note black is a safe choice.

And those small appliances that contribute to countertop clutter? They are now tucked out of sight in appliance garages or in the pantry when not in use. Since ample storage is so important to most homeowners, pantries of all stripes are enjoying a renaissance. “It could be a walk-in pantry or four shallow pantries or two side by side,” Johnson says.

Another way to keep appliances out of sight is the drawer appliance, says Colleen Eastman, interior designer with M.A. Peterson, a design-build firm in Edina. “You can hide the microwave on the business side of the kitchen island,” she says. Other popular drawer appliances include warming-oven drawers, and cooler and freezer drawers.

Counters and Tiles

Neutrals and monochromatic themes—think shades of black, gray, or white—are popular choices for countertops and backsplashes. Experts advise keeping it simple. “One thing that will date a kitchen is putting in too many decorative elements, so keep the tile as neutral as possible,” Hansen says. You can easily introduce color and pattern with easy-to-change paint, window treatments, upholstery, and accessories.

When it comes to basics such as tile, designers say, play with shape more than color. White subway tiles are the epitome of classic, and complement either traditional or contemporary kitchens. Keep it fresh by varying tile sizes. Instead of the typical 3- by-6-inch subway tiles, use 3- by-9-inch, suggests Eastman. Hansen adds: “Tile as a white field always looks fresh and clean, and can always have other colors around it without it clashing.”

Designers are using less glass tile in the kitchen, except for accent deco tiles, (used sparingly), and in larger sizes, such as 4- by-4-inch or 4- by-6-inch, Eastman says. “We tend to do less detailing in the backsplash than the trend was 10 years ago, and, overall, the kitchen tends to be a little more monochromatic,” she says. Other popular detailing includes mosaics or a long, linear feature strip in the backsplash about 3 inches up from the counter.

Granite is the standard for countertops today, but other natural stones and engineered surfaces such as Cambria and Corian are also popular. “Natural stone countertops keep it neutral. Carrara marble or a black granite are materials that have looked good for decades and decades that you see in 100-year-old kitchens in old English country houses,” Hansen says. It’s best to match island countertops to those on the perimeter cabinetry. “Use contrasting woods in the island, but keep counters consistent,” Eastman recommends.

Natural stone countertop

Cabinetry and Finishes

Smith is seeing more dark-stained woods, such as cherry or oak, particularly for islands, often paired with a second color for the perimeter cabinetry. Most homeowners prefer quarter-sawn oak rather than light oak cabinetry.

Hansen recommends going with natural woodwork for a classic look. “Use natural color woodwork rather than stain if possible, unless you’re matching the stain in the rest of the house. Wood by itself is never out of style.”

Likewise, white or cream enamel cabinets impart a classic, friendly look, say Eastman and Johnson. Introduce contrast by playing light against dark in a kitchen by using gray cabinets to complement a creamy stone floor or all-dark cabinetry with a white statuary marble countertop, suggests Eastman.

For a classic cabinet style, consider full-inset cabinetry (doors flush with the cabinet frame), says Hansen. Update the feel through configuration, proportion, and hardware, which could be changed out in the future. Simply changing drawer knobs and pulls also updates a kitchen, as does using a variety of closed and open-style cabinets. He notes another bonus of open shelving: “You can always change what you put on the shelves as your taste evolves, but if the shelves themselves are neutral, new things will look good on them.”

Personalized cabinetry by Carl A. Smith III

By Marcia Jedd

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