/ Kitchenology

Design Tips from Frank Fontana

Frank Fontana

Recently we interviewed Frank Fontana of "Design on a Dime" fame about his new book, "Dirty Little Secrets of Design" (see the last blog post for a quick review of the home design book). We also discussed design tips and trends, as well as his venture with Craftsman, with whom he'll be hosting a web-based DIY show that is streamed in real time. We met at Chicago's Craftsman Experience, an urban toolshed where Fontana will be filming his DIY web show. Here are some highlights from the interview:


  • When asked about tips for finding great items at thrift and salvage stores, Fontana said: "Those places, as cool as they are, can be kind of expensive. One man's trash is another man's gold, and those places know it and will charge you top dollar. I wouldn't go to the section that has the cleaned up and polished objects that these stores will sell to you at top dollar. I would first ask, 'Where's the stuff you plan on throwing away?' Those items are usually the same quality goods, but they might have an extra scratch on them that stores don't want to deal with. I look for vintage items that I can put a little elbow grease and creativity into, because then I can really claim it as my own."


  • We discussed how the workman looks from the runway are making their way to home design: "In general we're seeing a more 'blue collar' hip look. And in home design we are seeing more of that lived-in and rugged vibe. Distressed leather is a big trend in general. You're not seeing opulence like you once did."


  • On his new web series: "It'll be DIY projects streaming live. No edits, no producing. It won't have the clean and fluffy feeling that you get when you watch HGTV and other television shows. We'll show you what happens when a screw falls off the wall or something doesn't go right. While it's great to see how nice everything turns out when it's produced perfectly, the series I'm doing can give you directions on things when they don't go right. We want to show you everything. There's full transparency with what we're doing."


You can learn more about Frank Fontana's new web show at the Craftsman website, or by visiting the Craftsman Facebook Page.

Chicago Craftsman Experience
The retail area of the Craftsman Experience in Chicago.

Craftsman Lawn Care
Craftsman lawn care display at the Craftsman Experience.


Mixing and Matching


This 2-by-1-inch Coastal Keystones collection in straight-mounted Tradewind features Colorbody Porcelain tile from Daltile and glass tile from Oceanside Glass Tile

If you're thinking of adding a tile backsplash, you don't have to stick with just one material. Try combining different materials and textures to bring visual interest to your walls. The Coastal Keystones collection from Daltile features both Daltile porcelain body and Oceanside Glass Tile on pre-mounted sheets. While the porcelain offers a traditional sheen, the translucent glass offers depth and variation. If you're interested in using tile elsewhere, this collection can be used in countertop and floor applications as well.

Mix Colors and Finishes

A Merillat kitchen featuring both Vintage Onyx and Vintage Cardinal finishes.

Mixing cabinet finishes isn't a new design idea, but it's consistently effective. With more new bold finish options like Merillat's new red finish, Vintage Cardinal, you can create a colorful focal point in your kitchen. Red remains a popular choice for kitchens, its warm tones adding bold color in an otherwise neutral kitchen like the one seen above. These painted and antiqued finishes, like the Vintage Onyx that surrounds the range, mix with wood for a varied look.

Mix Shapes

The smooth circular breakfast table complements its attached rectangular Corian island.


Another interesting design choice comes from mixing unlike shapes into your kitchen's design. This island at the New American Home features opposing materials and geometric shapes that combine to create aesthetically and functionally effective design. An upper island made of Corian solid surface offers a striking contrast to the lower solid wood breakfast table. Most pronounced is the geometric opposition of the rectangular upper island and the circular table create a strong design juxtoposition.


Backsplash Bling

A ceramic subway tile backsplash from Fireclay Tile.

Update a classic subway tile backsplash with color: Debris Series recycled ceramic tile by Fireclay Tile.

Currently, my kitchen has a 4-inch splash of the same material as the countertop. The 14 inches between splash top and wall cabinets is painted the same shade as the rest of the kitchen. I'm betting many of you have the same arrangement in your own kitchens, if they haven't been remodeled: Most production builders use this formula.


Practical Pointers

Here are some things to take into account before finalizing any backsplash plans or buying any material: 

  • If you're planning on changing your countertops, as I am, do that before you change your backsplash. Otherwise, there's an excellent chance it will get damaged during the top removal. You could also create unnecessary potential fit issues.
  • Consider whether you want to use this opportunity to add lights under your wall cabinets first. Again, you don't want to rip out your new backsplash to accommodate wiring later.
  • Overall kitchen electrical placement needs to be factored into your backsplash design, so that a focal point isn't marred by an unfortunate disposal switch or GFCI label!
  • Consider the grout color dictated by your selected backsplash tile colors. My experience has convinced me that I don't ever, ever, ever want to have white grout in my kitchen again-not on the floors, not on the walls, not in this lifetime, never at all! I found it incredibly hard to keep white, even with a talented housekeeper. (If you have a cleaning solution that unfailingly works, dear readers, please share it with the group.)
  • Consider the maintenance issues required for your selected backsplash material. Will it need to be sealed periodically, like marble or granite? If so, how often, and who will handle this chore?
  • If you are planning a focal point for your backsplash, be sure you have the right scale and space for it. You're going to need enough room not just for the design element, but for field tile above and below to frame it. A range hood usually will accommodate this scale. An over-the-range microwave won't give you space for a major statement.
  • For more practical pointers worth considering, read the entire post on Gold Notes.


Tile Style

Tile is one of the most popular choices for kitchen backsplashes, and it offers tremendous versatility. Tile itself is a very durable material. You can find tile floors in Rome, Greece, Morocco and Spain that are centuries — even millennia — old and still beautiful. It's the grout component that can be challenging. As I so strenuously noted above, I try to avoid white grout in kitchens as much as possible. Here are some tile backsplash options that can look great with less work.


A white penny-round tile backsplash from Modwalls.

Make a fun modern backsplash with ModDotz, glazed porcelain penny round tile by Modwalls



A stone tile kitchen backsplash from Crosville.

Add drama to your backsplash with Modern Mythology stone tiles by Crossville.


Other Ideas

While most of the kitchens you'll see published have tile backsplashes, they aren't your only option. Here are some viable alternatives:

Tin tiles can install on a backsplash instead of on the ceiling. They're usually perfectly sized for this space, too, with the standard being 6 by 6 inches and a full-height backsplash being 18 inches. There are so many color and pattern options to choose from now; you're no longer limited to vintage-look silver! Tin tiles are also typically pretty easy to maintain, which certainly fits many of our lifestyles.


A tin kitchen tile backsplash from American Tin Ceiling.

Be a tin man (or woman) with ceiling tiles by The American Tin Ceiling Co.


Paint can be your backsplash's (and budget's) best friend. One of my neighbors in Florida had a very handy husband. He painted a harlequin backsplash for her that looked just like tile; without the work or cost. Because he used kitchen-friendly paint, cooking splashes just rubbed right off! It was also an incredibly economic solution.

Chez J's Splash of Choice! Check out Jamie's choice of backsplash material for Chez J.


Add-on Opportunities

I often suggest to clients (and will implement this idea Chez J) that they carry the backsplash material into other areas of their public space. Natural opportunities for style extension include fireplace surrounds and powder room wainscoting. These also tend to be small areas that can be enhanced inexpensively because of the minimal material needed.

Depending on the material selected-for example, porcelain stone-your backsplash material could become the powder room floor, rather than wainscoting. Or, if there's a medallion available in the tile series you selected for a backsplash, you could create a great companion focal point in the entry way.


Kitchen and bath designer Jamie Goldberg

 © 2011, Jamie Goldberg, AKBD, CAPS. Excerpted from Gold Notes: Nuggets from the World of Residential Design. Jamie is an NKBA-certified designer of kitchens and baths in San Diego, CA, and offers Sensible Style for Home Seller consultations around the country. She can be reached at (619) 796-2217 or




PANTONE'S® Color of the Year: Bright, Beautiful & Expressive

PANTONE'S® Color of the Year: Bright, Beautiful & Expressive

A white kitchen accented with this year's color of the year, Pantone® Radiant Orchid.

PANTONE® 18-3224 Radiant Orchid - The Pantone Color Institute’s® 2014 Color of the Year!


color swatch
If you’re anything like us, these long, gray winter days leave you yearning for a colorful pick-me-up. Thankfully, the Pantone Color Institute’s® 2014 Color of the Year has been announced, and we’re confident it will warm and inspire you with its soft, saturated splendor.

Pantone’s Radiant Orchid is a fresh and seductive change from last year’s Color of the Year, the bold and regal Emerald. This year’s choice is a modern and versatile purple, which depending on its tint or shade, can be used in both casual and luxurious ways in a variety of interior spaces.

“An enchanting harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones, Radiant Orchid inspires confidence and emanates great joy, love and health,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®. “It is a captivating purple, one that draws you in with its beguiling charm.”


Below are several examples of how Radiant Orchid can enliven and enhance your kitchen’s color palette.


 Use Radiant Orchid to bring a fresh and cheery focal point to a white kitchen.



Deeper hues work well with darker stained cabinetry. This kitchen's soft gray countertops are balanced perfectly against the strong pop of purple above.



This contemporary kitchen, designed by InDetail Interiors, exemplifies how utilizing Radiant Orchid adds a vibrant punch of color to a sleek modern design.



Consider using glass mosaic tiles in Radiant Orchid for a dramatic and alluring backsplash.



The high-gloss purple cabinetry used in this contemporary design makes a strong and dynamic visual statement.



This year's color lends itself to many applications. Don't feel like you have to make a huge committment, this color works wonderfully in accent pieces and table settings.



For more information about the Pantone Color Institute’s® 2014 Color of the Year, please visit their website.

Remodeling with Tracy & Tony: Revolving Door


Tony & Tracy's fully remodeled kitchen.

Tracy and Tony are remodeling their 112-year-old Victorian home's kitchen. Previously, Tracy told us about her old kitchen's problems, the realities of remodeling, and in the fourth installment of Remodeling with Tracy and Tony, she fills us in on the final makeover of her new kitchen.


What was I thinking? In my first two entries, I referred to the next phase of our life as an "empty nest." Well, I stand corrected. "Revolving door" is a more accurate description for what life will be like in our home. Just days after the last drawer pull screw was tightened, the last bit of trim painted, both our sons returned home; the older one just graduated from college, and the younger one came home from LA where he'd been working on a project before graduating from high school

It's been great to have them both home for a spell, and I couldn't wait to see them walk into a kitchen that bore zero resemblance to the one they'd left. They stopped dead in their tracks: "Whoa, Mom, this is crazy!" Yeah, Mom may be getting older, but she still has a few tricks up her sleeve!

The new kitchen layout is as versatile as we'd hoped. Given the nocturnal propensities of teens and twenty-something's, the kitchen has been in use almost constantly. The boys groggily meander downstairs for coffee around the same time my husband and I are making lunch. Thanks to the second sink, the fridge drawers and the six-burner stove, we can cook two separate meals without tripping over each other. Now that the weather's warmer, the ice machine and beverage fridge are in constant use. And when the four of us are actually all home for dinner, I've loved having us all sit in the dining room to eat together. (Really, what makes a mom happier?) We've also entertained family recently; our parents were here to celebrate both boys' graduations, and the longer counter area allowed us to both serve buffet style and clean up with room to spare.


New Jenn-Air appliances are a standout feature in this dream kitchen.


Of course, the revolving door never stops spinning. The boys left this morning and will be gone for a month. I'll miss them, but I have to admit, the silence is pretty relaxing! And can you say "grownup party time?" Next week, we're hosting a big open house, and I can't wait to crank the music, mix some cocktails and share our new kitchen with our friends and neighbors.


The new floorplan is perfect for entertaining friends and family.


I'm so glad we did this remodel. As is true for most families, the kitchen is the heart of our home, and we now have a space that's open and flexible enough whether it's just the two of us or whether we have a house full of people. It truly took a village of talented Chicago-area professionals to design and build our kitchen, and I'd like to thank the folks at Smartrooms/Wood-Mode, Greene & Proppe Design, MP Construction, Falcon Construction, Community Home Supply and Jenn-Air for their creativity, diligence and inexhaustible attention to detail. Together, they helped make a kitchen we've already fallen in love with, and one where memories will be made for years to come.


Easy Makeovers

GE Profile Microwave

One of the most versatile appliances on the market: The GE Advantium microwaves, cooks and keeps food warm all in the space of a standard over the range space.

Your kitchen is the sum of many parts, and when those parts need fixing, it's tempting to gut the entire thing with a remodel. Makeovers need not be overwhelming projects with endless investment of time and money. In this edition of Sensible Style, we explore some of the most common reasons for big kitchen remodels and their simpler, more sensible makeover solutions.


Appliance updates

Many a kitchen remodel has started with a dishwasher failure. That doesn't mean you have to go into debt to redo your entire kitchen. Here are some Sensible Style tips for appliance replacement:


  • If you don't want to replace your cabinets too, opt for appliances of the same size but with improved features. For example, an over-the-range microwave can be replaced with a convection/microwave/warmer combination. Both use the same space but the combo gives you a second oven and warming "drawer" capability too.


  • Replace a 30- or 36-inch electric cooktop with an induction model.


Cabinet issues

Are the cabinets really falling apart, or is it just that the doors and drawer fronts have gotten dinged and dingy over the years?


  • If the issue is merely cosmetic and you don't need to improve the layout of your kitchen, then refacing may be a better option than replacing. Refacing companies will put new drawer fronts, doors and matching skins on your existing cabinets.


  • If the cabinet doors are okay but decorative hardware has broken or gone missing over the years, then now is a great time to update your knobs and pulls.


  • If your cabinets are literally falling apart, you're going to have to replace them. Your simplest option is to keep the same layout to avoid flooring or appliance issues, but that doesn't mean you have to keep the same cabinet style or types. For example, two 15-inch drawer-over-door cabinets can become one 30-inch pan drawer cabinet. One blind corner cabinet can become a blind corner with swing-outs or, if there's space around the corner, a lazy susan cabinet.


Atlas Homewares Canterbury

Dress up your cabinets with hardware, like these Top Drawer knobs and pulls from Atlas Homewares



Counter intuitiveSo your laminate countertops have finally surrendered. There's no disguising the water damage around the sink any longer and they've got to go. You have numerous options available to you, depending on your needs and budget.


  • The easiest, most affordable fix is new laminate tops, especially if your kitchen is a galley, L- or U-shaped configuration with no bar top or island. In this instance, you can use some of the good-looking models sold in stock at Home Depot or Lowes. If you do have an island or bar, you can have those two pieces special-ordered and buy the others in stock.


Limestone countertops from Silestone

Quartz countertops, like this Capri Limestone by Silestone, are a sensible and stylish makeover.



Storage forage

So your cabinets are bursting at the seams and you just inherited your grandmother's cookware. Where the heck are you going to put these treasured gifts?


  • You've got a skinny base cabinet that holds almost nothing. Pick up a set of tray dividers and make it a very useful storage spot for your pizza stone, cutting boards and cookie sheets.


  • You've also got tremendously under-used space between your countertops and wall cabinets that can handle multiple backsplash organizers. These can hold counter-robbing paper towel holders, knives, utensils or spice jars. You probably have enough room for all of these great space savers!


revashelf cabinet divider

Make your existing cabinet space more efficient with organizers like this roll-out from Rev-a-Shelf.


For more Sensible Style easy kitchen makeover tips, visit my blog.


Kitchen and bath designer Jamie Goldberg

© 2011, Jamie Goldberg, AKBD, CAPS. Excerpted from Gold Notes: Nuggets from the World of Residential Design. Jamie is an NKBA-certified designer of kitchens and baths in San Diego, CA, and offers Sensible Style for Home Seller consultations around the country. She can be reached at (619) 796-2217 or




Remodeling with Tracy and Tony: Renovating Realities


The cabinets are torn out, and the remodel is officially underway.

Tracy and Tony are remodeling their 112-year-old Victorian home's kitchen. Tracy filled us in her last entry about her kitchen's past and her family's future. In our second installment of Remodeling with Tracy and Tony, she catches us up on the remodel's progress and the unexpected realities of renovating your kitchen.

As I type this entry, I'm wearing a paper mask to filter out the dust from the drywall that's being torn savagely off the walls downstairs. The music that's blasting in my headphones only partially masks the screech of the cut saw that's tearing through century-old two-by-fours.

Our kitchen has been stripped naked down to its studs, a sad, empty shell of dangling wires and saggy insulation. The only water on the first floor comes from a water cooler in the mudroom. A dorm-sized fridge, an ancient leftover from our college years, holds all our cold food: namely, a few cartons of yogurt and a quart of milk. We eat our carryout dinners hunched over the coffee table in the family room, which we access by unzipping the plastic curtain that's been taped over the opening to the room in an attempt to seal out the dust. (Remember the sterile room they rigged up in the movie E.T. when the government discovered the little alien living among us? Like that!) And I've quickly abandoned any sense of pride when I stumble downstairs bright and early each morning, sporting my old blue bathrobe and bed head, to open the door for the work crew.


The first wall cabinet is hung.


But these are mere inconveniences in a finite process, and it's immensely satisfying to finally see our plans taking shape. Every day something new happens. When the crew knocked down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, connecting the spaces for the first time, the light from the southern windows poured in and the room looked instantly bigger, even though the overall footprint remains unchanged.


 Going, going, gone! The wall now opens between our living and dining rooms.


The plumbing rough in for the new prep sink is in, and I can already imagine how splitting that area away from the main sink is going to eliminate the bottleneck that plagued us when we entertained in the old kitchen. It's also going to be really nice to chop vegetables there while looking out into the back garden.

Of course, no matter how well you plan, surprises are inevitable in a project like this, and we've had our share. Without the old dining room wall, we can finally see how uneven the dining room floor is: one side is over two inches lower than the other! So we've made a "while-we're-at-it" decision to replace the floor. The decision is one that adds to our costs, but one for which we'll be grateful later on.


 Dining room floorboards gone, and a level floor on its way.


Another surprise greeted us as the plumbing stack pipe that runs from the second floor down to the basement turns out to be inconveniently located right where a glass cabinet is drawn on the plans, so that has to be moved. Thankfully, our contractor has plenty of experience with old houses. And crazy as it sounds, I kind of enjoy making those on-the-fly decisions. Keeps things interesting!


The view from our dining room into our kitchen (on the left) and our living room (on the right).


If all goes as planned, the plumbing and electrical will be done soon, the drywall will go up, and the new cabinets will arrive shortly afterwards. We're getting closer every day!




Remodeling with Tracy and Tony: Getting Started

remodeling a kitchen - before kitchen

Tracy and Tony's Kitchen: Before

Tracy and Tony are remodeling their 112-year-old Victorian home's kitchen. When they last remodeled in 1997, the couple and their two sons filled the kitchen with busy activity. Now that their kids are leaving home, Tracy and Tony are ready to transition into their new lives as empty nesters with a kitchen that better fits their needs. In this three-part series, Remodeling with Tracy and Tony, we'll follow the family as they remodel. To get things started, Tracy fills us in on how they decided to remodel and their big plans for the new kitchen.


Back in my days of changing diapers and chasing two toddlers, the idea of becoming an empty nester seemed as remote as getting a full night's sleep. So can someone please tell me where the last 22 years went?

In six months, our youngest son will be leaving for college. It's a bittersweet transition, but I'd be lying if I didn't say my husband and I are also excited to start this new chapter in our lives. We remodeled our 112-year-old Victorian on Chicago's north side in 1997, and it's been a wonderful place to raise our two sons. But now we feel compelled to mark the emotional transition in our life by changing our physical surroundings as well. To re-feather our nest, if you will.

As empty nesters, some things in our lives won't change. We'll both still be working. And we'll always want the kids to have a comfortable place to boomerang home to. But our kitchen needs an update.


A separate breakfast nook went unused in the old kitchen.

A separate breakfast nook went unused in the old kitchen.


Without the boys around, we'll travel and eat out more. When we are home, mealtimes will be super casual, and we certainly won't need the three separate eating spaces we have now…counter, kitchen table, and dining room. 

We'll entertain more, too. (I don't know about your kitchen, but ours has the irresistible gravitational pull of a black hole. Whether we have six people over or 60, they all want to hang out right in front of the kitchen sink.) So we need to open up the room a bit.

And since our first remodel, our tastes have become even more contemporary. Think "minimalist, urban loft." This is no small design challenge when your house was built in 1899!

So it's time to remodel our kitchen, and this time, I'm determined to do it right. In 1997, we didn't use a kitchen designer, which I sorely regret. For example, a designer would have warned me that my deep, rollout pantry shelves would quickly become a disorganized mess. How messy? Well, I just tossed out some dusty old packets of Alfredo sauce that expired in 2003.

Tracy and Tony's old kitchen never got a backsplash.

 Tracy and Tony's old kitchen never got a backsplash.


The electrical outlets in the backsplash that chopped up the wall so much I never figured out what kind of tile to install? A kitchen designer would have advised me to install the outlets in a strip hidden under the cabinetry to create a smooth, contiguous surface for tile. 

The halogen lights positioned so close to the wine cubbies that they made all the reds go rancid? You get my drift.

lights make wine hot in wine storage

Hot wine? No, thank you.


For kitchen number two, I'm calling in a pro, Dayna Waldman at Smartrooms, and she's going to be on board from day one. Together with the terrific architect/design team at Greene & Proppe Design, we're going to get it right this time.

Am I a little wistful about my last one leaving the nest? Sure. But a kitchen that fits our "new" life is going to ease the sting. So stay tuned as we roll up our sleeves and get going!



Design Tips for Home Sellers


Rich palettes and new neutrals, like this sage, are appealing color choices.

This is a special edition of Sensible Style, one geared toward the thousands of homeowners wanting--or needing--to sell their homes, condos or townhouses.

As a recent home seller and house hunter myself, as well as a professional kitchen and bath designer, I can share tips from every perspective to help you sell your place quicker, and for more money. These low-cost design tips can improve your home for prospective buyers without a major investment of materials or labor. In fact, most of the resources included in this post are available through most home improvement stores and can be completed over one weekend.

One quick note: These tips are geared toward transitional and traditional homes since these homes dominate the current real estate market.

Let's get started on getting your home sold sooner, and for more money!


Paint: First, lasting impression

Paint is one of the first things buyers will notice about your place and one of the most affordable to change. While some realtors rave about "neutrals throughout," bland beiges aren't the mainstay of home design magazines, websites or the model homes that home buyers reference.

Instead today's neutrals show up in deeper, richer tones like coffee and sage. The more your rooms resemble current, stylish homes, the quicker your place will sell.

Use color schemes shown in popular magazine spreads or at upscale retailers. Restoration Hardware has a nice, rich palette that I like to work with.

For suggestions on which paints go with which cabinets and countertops, please check out this earlier Winning Color Combinations Sensible Style post.


Lighting: Let there be improvements!

I've replaced hundreds of bare bones light bars in six years of bath remodels. Do yourself a favor and replace yours too. Choose a model that works with the other finishes in the room but adds some updated style. It's cheap. It's easy. It's one of the simplest improvements you can make to your bathrooms, especially the master bath.

lighting fixture for selling your home
Add lighting style to your bath with a satin nickel bath bar like this one from World Imports.

Windows: Covering yourself

To me, nothing says cheap like aluminum mini blinds. (They also get bent easily by folks checking out your views.) Buyers look at them and imagine their replacements being an expensive, custom change. To get that custom window treatments look to intrigue your prospective buyers, you don't have to spend a lot of money. I like two-inch white faux wood blinds as a frugal alternative to custom shutters. They'll look like an upgrade when you're selling, but many common sizes can be found in stock at home centers.

faux wood blinds for selling your home
Dress up your windows with two-inch faux wood blinds like these instead of metal minis.

Another cheap-looking window treatment is plastic vertical blinds, often seen covering patio doors. I suggest long, wide fabric window panels as the most affordable replacement for those door treatments. They're widely available in discount home goods stores, as are the rods to hang them on. Go simple and solid in a natural fabric like white cotton to offset your richly-colored, newly-painted walls.


Faucets: An opportunity to turn on style

Another turn-off is plastic-handled faucets in your kitchen or bath. They will be noticed immediately and read low budget to your buyers. Countertop-mounted sink faucets are very easy and inexpensive to change out.

kohler faucet for selling your home
This Kohler Archer easily replaces a standard four-inch spread faucet and instantly upgrades your bath.


Tub and shower faucets are not as easy to replace, unless you can get fixtures that fit the existing valves. One way to tackle this project is to note the manufacturer name on your current faucets, take a photo of them to your nearest home center and look at their special order books. If they show your model, they'll also show its valve and you may be able to find a new set that works with that valve. If so, that's an easy handyman replacement. I did this easy makeover at my last house for less than $200, including parts and labor.


One final thought

Declutter. Declutter. Declutter. I was looking at an otherwise spacious townhome this week with overstuffed and overextended closets. It gave the impression that there wasn't enough storage in the home. Whatever doesn't fit into your closet neatly needs to be stored somewhere else. The same holds true for linen towers, kitchen cabinets and bath vanities.

For more essential Sensible Style for Home Seller tips, including hardware, flooring and final touches, read the full post here.


Kitchen and bath designer Jamie Goldberg

© 2011, Jamie Goldberg, AKBD, CAPS. Excerpted from Gold Notes: Nuggets from the World of Residential Design. Jamie is an NKBA-certified designer of kitchens and baths in San Diego, CA, and offers Sensible Style for Home Seller consultations around the country. She can be reached at (619) 796-2217 or



Family Kitchens

Cambria quartz countertops in a modern kitchen.

Engineered stone counters (quartz) from Cambria offer stone durability and concrete style, without the maintenance hassles of either.

So many of the kitchens I design are for families with active children or teens. Some include grandparents who now live with the parents and kids. Some also include pets. I love designing these projects, as I know that my success in making them both sensible and stylish will lead to years of happy use.

The sensible component means that the kitchen will fit:

  • how the family will really use the space on a daily basis;

  • the home's architecture, especially when we're tearing down walls to open it to great rooms and dining areas;


  • the home's value, so that if they move in the near future, they will maximize their investment in the kitchen project;


  • prevailing neighborhood standards (also for maximum resale consideration).

The style component gives them a look that they'll enjoy for years to come as well. It won't be fad-driven, but updated in a way that reflects the homeowners' long-held preferences. If prevailing neighborhood standards dictate integrated appliances, I'll recommend that option to the client. If every other home in the neighborhood has stone countertops, I'll suggest that for maximum resale, should they decide to move in five or seven years.

The most important consideration, I believe, is designing the kitchen to how that family uses the space on a daily basis. That means creating storage that accommodates their everyday cookware, serveware and meal ingredients.


Material Matters

Sensible Style kitchen planning means guiding my clients in selecting materials that will stand up to daily use with a maintenance level that makes sense for their lifestyle. Here's a typical example. Granite is a very popular countertop material for its unparallelled natural beauty, heat and scratch resistance — as well as its historically high resale value — but many homeowners fail to take into account its porosity.

When clients have young children or a house that's the popular teen hangout and tell me that they want granite countertops, I let them know that granite will need to be sealed periodically, and what the recommended schedule is for the stone they like. I also warn them that certain spills — e.g., orange or tomato juice — that go unnoticed for busy hours can stain granite, even eating through a sealer. I will typically suggest an easier-to-maintain quartz or engineered stone counter for this household. I also like this material's long warranties.


A modern kitchen with a Kerlite porcelain tile floor.

Kerlite, used most often in commercial settings, is a stylish, durable porcelain tile that works for busy home kitchens, too.



Flooring is another key material selection. Travertine became a very popular choice for high-end kitchens, but it's not my recommendation for a busy family household. One, it's a natural material that needs to be kept sealed. Two, it's very hard underfoot, which can make lengthy meal preparation painful to the cook's feet, legs, hips and back. Three, when wet it becomes a slip hazard. And kitchen floors, especially with young kids, can get wet pretty often. For any grandparents in the home, that can be a broken hip waiting to happen!

For a family kitchen, I like a distressed-look wood or porcelain tile, especially through-body color, for hiding chips and rectified for minimum grout lines. With regard to grout, I learned from my own previous kitchen to avoid white; it shows every morsel that ever drops on it! For hard floors like tile and wood, I also recommend a cushioned mat in front of the sink and cooktop.


Space Case

As I mentioned, designing a family kitchen involves strategic space planning. This includes figuring out how to allocate food storage. Will a standard 36 inches wide freestanding refrigerator meet the family's needs? If we're upgrading to a sleeker, countertop-depth model, do we need to go to a 42- or 48-inch model? Would separate fridge and freezer units make more sense, given their flexible sizing options?

Each family is going to have different needs, of course, but I wouldn't want to put a family of four in less than 25 cubic feet of fridge/freezer capacity. I also wouldn't want to give them less than 36 inches of pantry space, with roll-out trays for easier access.

Supplemental fridge drawers on an island can be a boon for a busy family. It can be a good spot for putting kids' treats within their reach, and saving on energy bills while they deliberate on their afternoon snack.



A single or double refrigerator drawer, like this one from Sub-Zero, is great for easy kid access and supplemental food storage.



Safety Counts

If I'm putting a slide-in range or cooktop into an island or peninsula plan, I like to have an absolute minimum of 12 inches left and right of it. I don't want a running child or excited pet to knock over a hot pot by bumping into the handle. I also like to have at least 15 inches behind the cooking surface if there will be counter-height seating on the other side, 12 inches for bar-height seating.

My recommendation to clients with aging parents, forgetful teens and young children is to consider an induction cooktop or range. Induction will give cooks the performance level of gas without the hazards. It's energy efficient, easy maintenance, and safer to use. Only the area under and immediately next to the pot or pan gets hot, and once the pot or pan is removed, the magnetic-generated heat goes away.


A Wolf microwave drawer placed at waist height, next to a kitchen counter.

A microwave drawer, such as this one by Wolf,



I'm not a fan of over-the-range microwaves, as I consider them both unsightly and potentially unsafe. This is particularly true for petite clients, children, older clients who may have less upper-body strength, and clients with gas stovetop burners. It's so easy to hurt yourself on a front burner when reaching up into a microwave.

Whenever space allows, I like to move the microwave to a more comfortable height, near counter space for unloading. Microwave drawers on islands are great for older kids in the house. They can heat up their own snacks and meals and not be in the way of the cook, who may be preparing dinner while the child does homework nearby.

Eat-at islands have become very popular in recent years. I recommend against them, except when I can locate the seating on the non-working side of the kitchen. I don't like to seat anyone between an island and cooking surface for safety reasons. I also prefer not to seat them between the island and a prep or clean-up station, so that they aren't accidentally bumping a nearby person with a knife in his or her hand.

If there are grandparents in the household, I like to plan seating at table height, rather than a 42-inch bar height or 36-inch counter height. It's awkward for an older person to climb onto a stool and impossible for some disabled people.

If there are pets in the house, I like to designate a feeding area for them away from the cooking, prep and human eating zones. They're less likely to be tripped on that way, or trip up someone carrying a hot item to the table.


What's the one must-have item in every family kitchen? Find the answer and other tips by reading more about Family Kitchens at Jamie's own blog, Gold Notes.


Kitchen and bath designer Jamie Goldberg

 © 2011, Jamie Goldberg, AKBD, CAPS. Excerpted from Gold Notes: Nuggets from the World of Residential Design. Jamie is an NKBA-certified designer of kitchens and baths in San Diego, CA, and offers Sensible Style for Home Seller consultations around the country. She can be reached at (619) 796-2217 or