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Kitchens with character: Days of all-white cabinets, standard granite are numbered

For Baltimore At Home
All-white cabinets, standard granite. Been there, done that. Kitchens with character are in trend now.

All-white cabinets, standard granite. Been there, done that.

When it comes to kitchen design, homeowners generally play it safe. Yet the latest trends include mismatched cabinets, mixed materials and unexpected color schemes.

When Nancy Wodka was ready to renovate the 35-year-old Pikesville kitchen she shares with Alan Silverberg and cats Petey, Harold and Jasmin, she was adamantly against anything traditional.

“It had to be contemporary without being overly stark and gleaming,” she says. “I wanted the character of mixing colors, and on Houzz I was really drawn to the mix of brown and white.”

Interior designer Jeanine Turner of Turner Design Firm worked with Scotland Kitchen & Bath Designs and Dae-Mark Construction Co. to create a kitchen for Wodka and Silverberg that was warm, modern and highly functional.

According to Turner, creating a kitchen with character is reflecting the homeowner’s personality and passions.

“Nancy is an art collector, so I wanted the kitchen to have an artistic quality,” she says.

Wodka is also a lawyer, so she had an interest in the practicalities of function, which is why the kitchen has two microwaves and two ovens — perfect for party prep.

Adhering to the brown and white palette that appealed to Wodka, Turner’s design mixes maple cabinets with a chocolate stain, cabinets in a glossy white paint and counters that are a mix of granite and Q-stone, a quartz-based engineered stone. The wood laminate floor from the main level is carried into the kitchen to create a uniform, open space.

“You can do a lot with wild colors and materials as long as you keep them in balance and you only feature one star in the room,” she says. “Nancy is very in to granite and the natural beauty of stone, so the star in her kitchen is the complicated, artistic granite.”

The granite in Wodka’s kitchen features rich swirls of brown and cream with tiny veins of gray. It is used on two separate spaces, each with a waterfall edge, which Turner explains is a great technique to display the show-stopping quality of a special granite that might be lost if it’s only horizontal on a countertop. By bringing the opposing white counter down in a waterfall on either side of the island as well, it creates a frame to offset the rich wood cabinetry.

Wodka found the slightly oversized, gray teardrop pendants from LBL Lighting. They subtly pick up the gray in the granite while complementing the overall brown and white scheme.

“It’s a little eclectic, I’d even say funky,” says Wodka of her kitchen, “but what strikes me is the warmth and function of it.”

Like anything a little outside the norm, trying something a bit daring in the kitchen takes a little trust and no small amount of faith.

“The kitchen is a bit scary because you can spend anywhere from $20,000 to $250,000, so its an investment and homeowners feel they need to play it safe,” says Blue Arnold, principal of Kitchens By Request in Jarrettsville. He says it is all about finding your comfort zone — and pushing a little past it.

Start with simple steps away from the norm. For the timid, he recommends something different on the island. A head-turning, unique veneer, like zebra wood or curly maple, can add punch to an all-white kitchen. For the more daring, he likes the trend in translucent materials like onyx, which will glow when backlit in the evening.

Instead of white cabinets, Arnold suggests linen white on the upper counters and a rich gray on the bottom counters as a nice compromise that can create a room with more character. Or, if embracing the current gray trend, use it in acrylic panel doors for luscious, contemporary cabinets. It’s also simple to exchange standard lighting for something extraordinary, like a chandelier.

For Sparks-based clients Judy and Don Cullison, Arnold did not need to press them to express their personal style in the kitchen; he merely had to shape it.

“We’ve always liked color and a rustic, country look,” says Judy Cullison. “[Arnold] wanted to keep with the ‘country’ but wanted to make it fresher.”

For Arnold, the challenge was to take the classic early-American, Williamsburg-esque style his clients loved and update it for a new era. Given the Cullisons’ love of color and request to avoid white, he began with cabinets painted in Benjamin Moore’s lemon drop yellow.

“I loved it,” Cullison enthuses, “and everything spun off from there.”

Because the yellow was so vibrant, the other colors needed to be softer.

“If every single color was dramatic, it would be too much,” Arnold explains. He selected colors by Farrow & Ball including Hague blue on the island and Calke green on the built-in hutch. He categorizes red as a neutral because it works well in many home spaces and with many colors, which is why he selected Rectory red trim to pull the room together.

Too many shiny surfaces would have made the space overwhelming, which is why Arnold kept the counters and other surfaces low-sheen and soft. The backsplash is bead board, there’s honed marble on the island, and the counters are Vermont soapstone with a beeswax rub.

When Judy Cullison is having a bad day, she flips through photos of her kitchen on her phone. “It takes me to my happy place,” she says.

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