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Dream kitchens blend function and comfort, topped with personal touches

For some people, it’s the dreary countertops that are getting them down. For others, it’s the damaged cabinets or far-from-ideal layout. Whether the project in mind is big or small (although is any kitchen project every really small?), remodeling a kitchen is a big step (and, yes, a big mess).

So many decisions! What contractor? Repaint or replace cabinets? Single- or double-bowl sink? What on the floor?

Local professionals are there to help, of course. And tips are easily found. If it’s inspiration you’re after, we visited two local homes that feature many of the design elements people are talking about today. Home Depot, Benjamin Moore and Moen provided additional photographs.

So what’s cooking in kitchens? “People are looking for more color – the countertops, flooring, paint colors, light fixtures and accessories. It can be very monochromatic or very bright and vibrant,” said Tom Halloran, a designer with Modern Kitchens of Buffalo.

In addition, people are eager to explore the different materials available today – from unique tiles for the backsplash to stunning countertops.

Even though granite remains popular, solid-surface quartz has come on really strong the past few years, Halloran said. Combinations of stainless steel and black are popular for appliances, and the hot item right now in cooking equipment is the steam convection oven, he said.

“Lighting also has gotten to be a big factor with the LED lights and the new concepts that go along with that,” he added.

When it comes to following the latest trends – and considering that a custom kitchen can start about $25,000 – Wayne Watson of Auburn Watson offered this tip: “It’s OK to play with something that is trendy for items that are easily and relatively inexpensively changed. It could be paint or wallcoverings; it even could be a piece of artwork that is hung on the wall – as opposed to a floor, a cabinet or a piece of stone on the countertop. You want that to be much more timeless,” he said.

“It continues the thought that we live in our kitchens. Our kitchens now are looking a lot more like family rooms ... if anything, it’s just comfort. And obviously it has to be functional,” Watson said.

Check out these two kitchens; the first is one of Halloran’s projects. The second, Watson’s.

A place to hang out

The kitchen has evolved at the East Amherst home of Susie Riessen, an interior decorator, and Rick Woodman, who works in commercial construction. While the kitchen was designed nine years ago when the ranch home was enlarged, the wall paint colors, cushion fabrics and window treatments have been updated. In the case of the paint color, updated three times.

Today, highlights of their kitchen include: Brookhaven cabinets by Wood-Mode in a medium-cherry finish with brushed-nickel knobs and pulls; sloped tin ceiling painted a light neutral; skylights; granite countertops; Sub-Zero refrigerator that matches the cabinets, and Italian subway tile on the backsplash except in the area around the Wolf range, where Riessen instead chose hammered stainless steel for the backsplash.

“There’s no grout to clean; you just wipe it down,” she said.

The floor is natural slate. “It can take a beating,” said Riessen, who uses a Shark steam mop to deep clean the floor regularly.

A two-level island provides spaces for eating on one side and food prep on the other. Nearby, a banquette area with L-shaped upholstered built-in bench, two leather Parsons chairs and an antique 7-by-3-foot cherry table provides ample seating for dinners.

Original artwork, light gray walls and faux Roman shades are found here. Riessen, a gardener, also pulled in some plants as well as some antiques. Her parents owned an antiques business in Holland when she was growing up so she enjoys incorporating old pieces in with the new. But no going overboard.

“The look in decorating right now, in general, is a move toward scaling back throughout the home – going with minimal, yet showy pieces,” Riessen said.

Riessen, who follows design trends, highlighted a few:

• Cabinets: Look for painted finishes in the gray, toffee and mocha families. White is a perennial favorite.

• Countertops: “New looks include textured concretes, soapstones and we’re also seeing a lot of marble,” she said.

• Backsplash: “Porcelain mimics the look of marble but is more affordable,” she said.

European vacation

“Rustic French” is how Jamie C. Johnson describes the style of her kitchen designed by Auburn Watson in the home she shares with her builder/contractor husband, Paul. In fact, it was the reproduction of a French antique sideboard that inspired its design. One of the two style cabinets found here are crafted from very distressed alder wood done in a driftwood stain.

“It has knots galore; the more the better,” said Johnson, a local interior designer.

Paired with these is a second style for upper cabinets – a smooth walnut.

“I wanted it to look like a wardrobe,” she said of the furniture-inspired design.

The countertops are solid-surface quartz; the island countertop is granite with a built-in Jenn-Air cooktop. (The downdraft ventilation system eliminates the need for a hood, Johnson explained). Other highlights: Framed artwork; open shelving; a backsplash in herringbone pattern, and a bisque-colored sink with brushed-nickel farmhouse faucet. The floors are walnut, as is the table in the living area.

Hardware features three styles in an antique pewter; the drawer pulls incorporate crystal as well. What becomes clear is that Johnson is not into everything matching although everything flows harmoniously. The kitchen opens to and blends with the main living area and other rooms.

“I wanted to create more of a living space than a wall of storage,” said Johnson of the kitchen design.

Although this is a new kitchen – the Johnsons tore down an existing home and built new on this residential street in the Delaware District – the interior designer has a few tips for homeowners wanting to update their existing kitchens:

• Paint a few of the cupboards in a different color or finish. (A tip: If you no longer like the looks of your cabinets but the quality is there and the kitchen layout is good, consider refinishing, resurfacing or repainting. Do-it-yourselfers can find plenty of advice on doing so; anyone else can hire a professional.)

• Update with lighting or new hardware.

• Remember, kitchen accessories do not have to be just kitchen things, Johnson said. Frame some photographs in a style that reflects that of your kitchen and rest of the house – whether it is traditional, modern or another look.

“No matter your style, you can make your kitchen more personal,” she said.

email: smartin@buffnews.com