Talk to just about anyone— architect, designer, homeowner—and they’ll tell you the kitchen is the most important room in a house. Historically a walled-off place to cook, the kitchen over the past several years has evolved into the place to hang out with family and entertain guests. Far from being hidden, it’s actually on display!
A lot of thought and money go into making the proverbial heart of the home the most attractive and functional it can be. Decisions have to be made regarding color, materials, appliances and more. While here in New England tastes skew toward traditional, there is more and more interest in moving beyond a “safe” all-white kitchen to one that, even if it’s in a reserved New England way, makes a statement.
“Everyone sees gray differently,” says kitchen designer Brett Gonsalves, observing that his clientele is taking steps, albeit baby ones, to move away from white. Currently, all the vignettes in his showroom, Kitchens & Baths of Mattapoisett, feature an iteration of gray cabinetry. Wood-mode, the custom line they carry exclusively, offers 23 different shades of gray, including Silver Mist, Agate and Shale, in opaque paint and grain-enhancing stain.
“Gray has replaced creamy whites, it’s a chameleon color,” says Mark Haddad, president of Interiology Design Co., who believes the color, with its myriad variations in tone, will stick around for a while yet. “Gray is coming out in many different forms,” adds Haddad, citing, for example, Frost, a semi-transparent stain. This and other lightly pigmented stains enhance the natural beauty of the wood by allowing the grain, texture and color variations within the wood to show through.
It’s the found-in-nature aspect of gray that draws people to the color, and this predilection for earthy and organic is also reflected in today’s most-requested custom tile backsplashes. “I’ve seen a trend toward rustic,” says Christine Bernier of Tile Showcase, adding that for her high-end clientele “if it’s not hand-molded tile, it’s definitely stone.” Hand-molded tile, characterized by irregular edges, corners and surface variations, requires less maintenance than natural stone. “People want the look of stone but if they’re not going to accept its imperfections, we guide them to a ceramic,” notes Bernier.
Having each worked for Tile Showcase for more than 25 years, Bernier and her colleague Cynthia Haarstick have seen many trends come and go. Fifteen years ago, Delft tiles were popular and, more recently, clients coveted inset tile designs above the stove. Today, both designers agree that “fussy” and “busy” are out. As for mosaics, the advanced precision of water jet-cut technology produces more of a seamless, clean look than hand-cut tiles.
“Every trend is a reaction to a previous one,” notes designer Katie Fitzgerald of Right Angle Kitchens, who recently worked on an all-black kitchen in Topsfield, Massachusetts. “Everything has been so light and airy for so long; now, you see more saturated color.” That said, some habits die hard; according to Fitzgerald, “Everyone does subway tile.” While often confused, “subway” refers to the brick pattern the tiles are laid in, not to the tile itself. “It’s very versatile,” says Fitzgerald, explaining that subway tile comes in a variety of materials, in sizes other than the standard 3 inch by 6 inch, and can be stacked for a change from the standard brick pattern.
Duncan Lomas of Vartanian Custom Cabinets has been designing kitchens for 30 years. He recalls the rudimentary bench seating at the table of his childhood home, and remarks at how this “retro” style has become a lot more sophisticated, often incorporating nice millwork and upholstery. “Banquettes are a bit of a fashion statement,” he says, noting that back in the day they were usually just painted plywood. “They’re going into a lot nicer houses than in the past.”
But practicality is just as important as aesthetics. “A banquette is an ingenious way to use space. It doesn’t take up as much space as a table and chairs, and it can add storage,” observes Lomas. “A banquette has a nice, cozy appeal.”
There was a time not too long ago when having an island in the kitchen that contrasted with the rest of the cabinetry was considered daring. Now, not only is this almost de rigueur, but having two tones is just a starting point. “The open nature of kitchens lends itself to mixing finishes,” says Mark Haddad, “[the look] is more furniture-like.” Designer Michael Tcherniavski agrees, explaining that at his company, SieMatic, the question is always, “Why don’t we start by designing something that would actually, physically go with other things in the open space? It doesn’t necessarily need to match the style of the house, but it needs to respect it.”
Architect Adolfo Perez agrees, saying, “It’s nice when the kitchen is tied into the other concepts of the house.” More than a decade ago, when Clarke’s Kitchen Design Contest started, Perez won an award for a very modern kitchen. This year he won again for a kitchen that includes a dominant range and hood with a big stainlesssteel island. Some might call this style “industrial,” but Perez prefers “professional.” The architect admits that a modern aesthetic is slow to gain favor in Greater Boston, the area he works in most frequently, but says, “It’s more common now to see contemporary interiors in traditional buildings. I think it’s very successful to mix those two.”
“Our clients don’t want a kitchen that looks like their neighbor’s,” says kitchen designer Donna Venegas of Venegas and Company, whose state-of-the-art showroom in Boston’s South End is a treasure trove of kitchen materials that are in no way run-of-the-mill: faux metal, cerused oak, satin brass, back-painted glass, geometric inlays, pearlescent paint, orbital and mirrored stainless steel and much, much more. “There are infinite options,” says Venegas who says she started seven years ago to incorporate mixed metals not only in hardware and lighting. “Materiality is so important,” she says.
If you’re not quite ready to go all in with metallic-finished cabinetry, changing up your hardware is a small way to make a big impact. Fresh from the 2018 Architectural Digest Design Show, designer Buffy Goodwin of Deane, Inc. reports that brass is boss when it comes to kitchen hardware. “Not your grandmother’s old lacquered brass,” she says, but rather a “modern bronze,” which looks like gold but isn’t yellowed; it’s softer.” The warm metals—gold, brass, copper—are what’s trending for sure.
The growing popularity of countertops made of quartz, an engineered stone, over granite, marble and other stones mined from the earth may seem like an aberration of the “all things natural” movement. But, as Diana Lamberty and Andrea Gallagher of Marble and Granite, Inc. in Westwood, Massachusetts, attest, its durability cannot be beat.
“Quartz has taken off in the last few years,” says Lamberty, noting that “it is very streamlined and low-maintenance,” in addition to its hardwearing practicality. Nonporous and resistant to heat, spills and scratches, quartz has a high common-sense appeal that is increasingly being matched by its looks. “Quartz has come a long way to coming close to [the look of] marble,” notes Gallagher. In fact, quartz can also mimic slate and other stones, or create a solidhued modern look.