From Cabinets to Lighting: Expert Tips for Designing Your Dream Kitchen

Julia Millay Walsh

Home renovations are undoubtedly on the brain for many of us in this new year, so we thought we'd help you tackle one of the trickiest (and costliest) makeovers you can take on: the kitchen. A place where function is certainly more important than form, there's a lot to consider in a kitchen renovation, beyond fabrics and pretty finishes. So, we reached out to kitchen design pro Karen Williams, principal designer at St. Charles of New York, for her expert tips. Read on below for the designer's sage advice, and click through the slideshow above for visual inspiration.


"Replacing cabinetry will always give you the most value," Williams says. "It takes up the largest part of your kitchen, and it will inevitably make the most impact." Exotic woods and veneers are popular with the designer's clients, yet, since they are all unique, "they're difficult to duplicate," she says. Fumed oak is a favorite, and it can take on a drastically different look depending on how it's finished. Covered in high-gloss lacquer, the wood is prêt for a sleek, contemporary interior, while a matte finish with slight brushing would suit a rustic barn kitchen.


When shopping for appliances, "You need to work with a professional for guidance," William says. Weigh all factors, such as who uses the kitchen, how many people are cooking at one time, and how often your family cooks. "Not everyone needs all of the appliance features on the market, and they're very often not used," she says. "You can still get a great dishwasher, even if it doesn't have 15 cycles."


Hardware is "definitely something to spend some money on," as it "really dictates the look of your kitchen. She's right, especially if you consider that there can be anywhere from 40 to 50 pieces of hardware in any kitchen. Three things to consider in hardware: "It should feel good to your hand, it should be easy to use, and it should be aesthetically pleasing," she says. With a subtle, sophisticated aesthetic, satin brass hardware is her go-to lately, and it complements nickel faucets for a beautiful "mixing of metals."


Lighting is always important, and every room should have a balance of countertop and overhead lighting, Williams says. New innovations in LED bulbs have greatly improved the options of undercounter lighting -- "with the LED bulbs now, your food even looks more attractive." Interior and lower cabinets are also recommended: "Anything that's deep, dark, or below the counter should have a light."


Many kitchens today have an open plan, flowing into the living room or dining room, or they have a "breakfast nook" that's used regularly, even for dinner. To create continuity between these spaces, "surfaces need to speak to each other," Williams says. Accordingly, she recommends selecting furniture in complementary colors. Even more important is "to consider ambience light, so people don't feel like they've left the party and gone into the kitchen." Ambient lighting can also help to tone down the presence of the kitchen, Williams says, "so you don't feel compelled to go over and clean it up in the middle of your meal."

header6 If you're taking on a kitchen renovation without the help of a designer, Williams advises doing four things before you hire a contractor: research, check with your referrals, look at credentials, and interview -- at least three candidates. When interviewing, it's especially important, she says, that you ask "whether they have worked with -- or are even familiar with -- the materials you've chosen." 7

As for the designer's biggest kitchen renovation "don't," Williams says, "Unless you're catering or it's holiday cookie time, you don't need acres of countertop space." What's more important is to design stations for different tasks, such as prep and clean-up.


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Facet-02 Knob, $60, Nest Studio Masterpiece Mariettta Cabinet Door, Price Upon Request, Merillat  Alpinus Polished Granite Slab, Price Upon Request, Country Floors
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For Town by Michael S Smith Faucet, $2495, Kallista Tangled Chandelier, $285, Schoolhouse Electric Viking 30" Professional Gas Range, $4579, ABT

Photographs: Laurey Glenn, Designed by Karen Williams of St. Charles of New York, Designed by Robert Schwartz of St. Charles of New YorkWindsor SmithJessica Helgerson, Nick Johnson for Luxe Interiors+DesignJose LeonWilliam Abranowicz for Elle DecorD. GIlbert PhotographyAshley WhittakerChris PateyPoggenpohl  

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