Consider The Kitchen


PROFESSIONALLY, IT'S BEEN a streaky year for me.  Last spring, I hit a point where I was working on 12 bathrooms at one time.  This fall, it seems to be all about kitchens.  Both rooms are sort of cornerstones of my business in their own way, but the design process for each couldn’t be more different.

Bathrooms can be like little isolated works of art.  It can be fun to do something bold, or even cute, or even themed.  (Which is not typically my jam, but for a bathroom? Sometimes crazy enough to work.)  So, if your powder room strays just a bit from the general aesthetic of the rest of the home, it can be forgiven.  Its doors are usually shut and most homes have more than one.  So go ahead and paper the walls with your 1970s post card collection.  A bit much?  Maybe, but it’s ok because your other bath could be all about nuanced textures and restrained neutral tones.  See?  It can all work out.

Kitchens are an entirely different animal.  And by animal, I mean more like a large, hairy, wooly-booger of an octopus.  For starters, kitchens are almost always doing double duty.  On any given day mine can double as a home office, conference room, homework center, dog kennel, or therapist’s office. Additionally, think about the tasks that I ask my kitchen to facilitate; the cooking, prepping, storing, cleaning, cooling, and heating of food.   And with all that going on, what do we usually want our kitchens to look like?  We want them to look calm and organized and stylish and friendly of course.  And we also want it to just blend right in to the rest of the house—especially for open floor plans.

Impossible?  Not at all.  Just a little bit of a sudoku—perplexing in its way, but so satisfying to wrestle to the ground.  When my kids were young, I used to call my kitchen Command Central -- and to be honest I still think about them that same way for my clients.  So how do I tackle this octopus of a task and bring order back to Command Central?  Well, the same way I clean up big splattery messes (minus the cursing.) I work from the outside in.

For the early stages of a kitchen design, I start with very broad strokes.  Most clients want to talk right away about the finishes that they like.  And that’s a good thing.  It’s all information, and a big part of my job is collecting it at this stage.  But what I really want is to just get my client talking.  I like to see their existing kitchen and the rest of their house, and hear what they like and don’t like about them.  I like to know what problems they are trying to solve with this renovation and what their general aesthetic is.  What’s their lifestyle?  What are their must-haves and their hates?  And I also talk about practical concerns, like when they want to start construction.

I make a point to keep my first set of sketches very loose.  I’m mostly looking at workflow, function, and architectural changes.  Maybe we add some windows over here, or take out a wall and expand over there.  Maybe we can add this island if we run cabinets along that wall.  Let’s make sure the dishwasher will be located near dish storage.  Let’s keep that refrigerator convenient to the cook but also accessible to the rest of the house.  And let’s tuck a pantry in next to those wall ovens.  Keeping my sketches loose and easy to change facilitates a free flow of ideas, for both me and my client, and that’s where the best solutions come from.  I make sure I am listening carefully and willing to pivot as needed.

From there, my plans get tightened up.  I incorporate standard cabinet sizes, and nail down issues like adequate traffic patterns, window sizes, and door swings.  And that coffee bar that can be closed off with a garage-like door?  Well, this is when I figure out exactly what that might look like.

And finally, we circle in further to discuss materials and finishes.  It’s at this stage that we nail down cabinets’ styles, granite, tile, lighting, hardware, and flooring.  Plus, paint colors, window treatments and artwork.  But remember the goal.  It was calm, organized, stylish and friendly.  Making all those decisions will FEEL complicated, because they can be, but at the end they shouldn’t LOOK complicated.  It should all feel so cohesive that people come in and just say it looks great, and then want to BE in the space.  Because there really is no larger compliment than that.  (And poof, that splattery spill is all cleaned up!)

So, if you are doing this on your own, be your own client.  Complete the steps, do your research, work with quality vendors and builders, and probably use some design restraint.  (Which doesn't mean you must go all-white.)  Keep careful records along the way to document the details. (Hello Pinterest.)  So, you'll be able to check that the finish of your faucet will go nicely with the finish on your cabinet hardware. 

So, for me?  Which do I like more, kitchens or bathrooms?  My answer is the classic: I like them both in different ways. (Gosh that was frustrating to hear as a child.)  And now I hear myself say it more and more about all kinds of things.  Like sunrises or sunsets, favorite colors, cats or dogs, spring or fall, sour dough or whole wheat.  Honestly, sometimes life is just an embarrassment of riches because they are all pretty great in their own way.  So, I stand by my answer.  I like them both.  Even if I still think my mother liked me best.

Jennifer Coles is an interior designer. Her instagram is: @coles_color_and_design. Her website is:

home design, interior design