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Good kitchens sometimes need to break rules Add to ...

Whether you're a gourmet cook or the height of your culinary ability is making toast, the kitchen is still the best place to invest your renovation dollars. It's at the heart of the home, the gathering place for the family's daily meals, and the most happening location during any party.

Given that the kitchen has so many important roles to play, it's not hard to see why creating the ultimate hub can be a stressful undertaking. My approach to renovating this space is more tried and true than experimental, but that doesn't mean all my kitchens look alike.

I've never done the same thing twice and am constantly looking for new materials and finishes to introduce. Here's what I'm always thinking when I tackle a new kitchen design.

Forget about triangles

My No. 1 aim is to achieve a great layout with long runs of counter space for preparation areas. I don't subscribe to the silly "triangle rule" - that the layout should be dictated by three points: the refrigerator, cooking area and sink, and all of them should be within easy reach. I find that that often creates mini corners of useable counter space and leaves the chef feeling cramped. Even in a relatively small space, I try to focus on making the cook feel that there's room to spare.

Forget the fancy frills

All those glossy magazines showcase the latest and greatest in systems to keep the inside of your cabinets looking pretty and organized. Pull out pantries, specially fitted spice drawers, custom pot holders, multifunctional lazy Susan's. ... Just say no! No to corbels, dentil moulding, cornices, faux fireplace chimneys, pillars, applied details and faux finishes. This isn't Tuscany or Provence, and there is no need to try to make your kitchen look like your last vacation destination. My rule is simple: If it isn't functional, forget it! Did I also mention that all these decorative bits (which I refer to as "bing bongs" and "gewgaws") don't come cheap? Adding these "fancy" details to your new kitchen will only push the cost higher.

Keep it light

I love bold, dramatic, cutting-edge colours for kitchens. Bring on navy blue, tomato red and tangerine orange. Nothing is more eye-popping and exhilarating than cabinets sprayed in dazzling hues of high-gloss lacquer. But let's face it, most of you are looking for a kitchen that stands the test of time, something that will be a selling feature if you decide to move, and that makes you feel good every time you enter it. For some reason I just can't promise that you'll love tangerine in 10 years, though I wish I were the type of designer who didn't care so that at some point I could test out some of these crazy shades. My need for enduring style and timeless choices guides me to suggest that clients choose a lighter shade of pale for the fixed elements, such as cabinets, and then go nuts with a bold accent colour on the walls that is both inexpensive and easy to change if, by chance, you should find that red walls make you jumpy, irritable and scrappy (before you've even had a sip of morning java).

Do it two ways

Just because it's light doesn't mean it has to be white. Torn between my desire for something new and my need to appeal to the greatest number of people when selling the house, I settled on light, but not white. I chose a pale grey for all the gables, the crown and the open shelves, and did just the door fronts in a pale yellowy cream. During the order process, I think there might have been some eye rolling of the "what is she thinking now?" variety, but, once installed, these two colours pick up the variations in both the counters and the backsplash, and create a very subtle two-tone effect. I can't say it's bold, but it's better than plain old vanilla.

Don't give in to granite

I know granite has a reputation as the practical choice for stone countertops, but I just can't give in to the speckles, the flecks and the golden, pinky hues that this material offers. And dark is way out of the question for me. (If my counters are dirty, I want to see what's on them, please.) I've long used marble (a classic no-no) because I think kitchens should develop a patina like a time-worn French bistro (all counters and bars and table tops are generally carrera white marble with a grey vein). With marble, you have to be willing to live with counters that will develop stains over time. I always made a concession in order to get the look I love, but now there's a new choice for light counters - all hail Caesarstone! This new product is a quartz composite, comes in beautiful designer-approved shades, and won't stain, crack or discolour like natural materials. For my house, I chose "nougat," which has a pale background and sparkly bits of white and pale grey. It's stunning.

Stay connected

The common wish is to have an island, but I find a peninsula is often far more effective, especially when space is an issue. If you are thinking about removing all or part of the wall between the kitchen and dining room, I think the peninsula is the answer. It allows you to create a better division between a more polished dining area and the functional needs of the kitchen space, plus it offers great storage opportunities and, of course, helps to hide the unsightly messes created by the resident chef.

Open and closed

Every kitchen I design has to have a balance of practical storage and pretty display space. I'm a collector of decorative ceramics and glass, so I always like to have some of my treasures on display when I'm in my kitchen. Open shelves are best when used to display a single collection of a single colour as opposed to a catch all for every tchotchke you've ever picked up. Clear glass doesn't do much and shows the dust, so try to stick to sculptural, yet practical pieces that are used on a regular basis (so that the shelves become a functional area for items that are close at hand). In addition to open shelves, I also like some textured glass cabinets, which add a bit of sparkle, yet disguise what lies behind. In my house, I chose wide "reeded" glass and used it so the lines run horizontally instead of the standard vertical. Accent these cabinets with a glittery crystal pendant light and your kitchen will sparkle like a shiny new diamond. Hey, there's no rule saying kitchens can't have a bit of glam factor!

Hardware matters

There are two components to this thought. First, don't cheap out on your hardware as it's the final detail, the jewellery of your kitchen. Make sure you choose something you love (as long as what you love isn't the whimsical type of knob featuring flowers, vegetables, or any cutesy motif ... motifs are bad). Second, think about whether you really want handles, or whether knobs will do. Handles are often available in more trendy profiles (think of the long bar from a few years ago), but the disadvantage here is that you need to drill two holes to install a handle and only one for a knob. If your tastes change, you can always switch a knob for a different style, but it's not so easy to find an alternative to a handle with the same spacing for screws. Something to keep in mind if resale is on the horizon.

Sarah Richardson is host and co-producer of Sarah's House and Design Inc. on HGTV ( http://www.hgtv.ca) and Principal of Sarah Richardson Design ( http://www.sarahrichardsondesign.com).

Where to get things

Cabinetry - Altima Kitchens, 905-760-1311 or http://www.altima-kitchens.com/main.htm

Appliances - Frigidaire, http://www.frigidaireelements.com

Sink/faucet - Blanco Canada, http://www.blancocanada.com

Countertops - CaesarStone through Ciot, 416-785-8080 or http://www.ciot.com or http://www.caesarstone.com

Pendant light - Alico Industries, http://www.alicoindustries.com

Backsplash - Saltillo Imports, 416-441-2224 or http://www.saltillo-tiles.com

Cabinetry hardware - Lee Valley Tools, http://www.leevalley.com

Paint - Cabinetry gables, crown, shelves: "Silver cloud" (30YY63/024); cabinet doors and drawers: "Cielo blanco" (43YY81/051), both from ICI, http://www.iciduluxpaints.com

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