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The latest cry is for hue, and kitchens go colorific

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Something is causing a stir in the kitchen: a -- of spice in the form of color. Just as herbs and spices bring out the subtle flavors of a dish, so color can add a welcome zest to what is the heart of many homes.

In the kitchen, color can be the same catalyst it is in other rooms. It adds personality, style and feelings of comfort and warmth that may not make cooking easier, but might make it more fun.

In recent years, color hasn't been much of a story in kitchens. White has been the dominant choice in cabinets, interpreted in traditional styling or modern frameless fronts unadorned even with hardware. White is clean-looking. It's "safe." But for many people, white -- and almond, which preceded it in popularity -- seems bland.

These days there's no such thing as "kitchen colors." The range of colors runs from subtle to vibrant primaries, and any of the hues can be toned down or punched up.

There are many ways to add color to your kitchen, be it a -- or a splash. The easiest, and perhaps least expensive option, is to create a backdrop of color with paint.

After the kitchen walls, cabinets are the most obvious place to try color. Just how daring you are depends on what colors you choose. SieMatic's sassy chrome yellow cabinets might be they matched the walls, for example, but a quiet gray would present a striking foil.

What makes this particular cabinet choice dramatic is its high-gloss finish and simple lines. Large expanses of sunny yellow warm the high-tech outfitting of stainless appliances, teamed with gray granite. The SieMatic cabinets range from $18,000 to $30,000 for an average-size kitchen, 100 to 120 square feet.

Or you might go for something more subdued but with equal impact. Walls in a toasty sunshine yellow, for example, could create an inviting background for robin's-egg blue cabinets. A stain would keep the cabinet color subtle. You might try stenciling the fronts. Such a design would be sophisticated but relaxed.

Color is particularly suited -- but not restricted -- to country styles. Spicy red, low-sheen enamel cabinets from Plain & Fancy's New American Classics line would take on a modern flair with granite counter tops. Contrasting the red cabinets with white walls and matte black laminate counters and back splash would create a stylish impact in a variety of settings.

Plain & Fancy also offers a deep sink with a spillover apron, like an old-fashioned butler's model. Cabinet prices in the New American Classics line start at about $3,000.

If a lot of color is too much for you, try using it as an accent. A single painted or stained cabinet has the same effect as a piece of art or decorative pillow in another room.

Even furniture manufacturers are marketing some colorful armoires or cupboards with the suggestion that they can double freestanding pantries, storage units or even entertainment centers in the kitchen.

The idea reflects that of the "unfitted" kitchen for which Smallbone, an English manufacturer, is known. The Smallbone philosophy, which other manufacturers are adapting, is to construct kitchen cabinets like fine furniture, down to the finishing, detailing and layout. Styles are mixed, and built-ins combined with freestanding pieces provide a look very different from all-the-same cabinets of equal depth.

Plain & Fancy illustrates the unfitted philosophy with a freestanding country baking center in blue antique distressed finish on maple in a white kitchen. The center is quite a standout, with its arched top framing shelves for displaying pretty bowls. Fluting on its pilasters adds a nice but not overdone embellishment. A butcher block counter provides a surface for kneading and rolling out dough, and pigeonhole spice drawers are another handy feature.

A single colorful piece is especially effective when its color is echoed throughout the room. Plain & Fancy shows the same blue in the interiors of white cabinets surrounding the baking center, a thoughtful detail. A kitchen like this will start at $15,000, depending on the cabinets and accessory options.

Controlled doses of color need not be limited to accent cabinets. Kohler's Timberline sink in forest green, for example, could draw the eye in an otherwise quiet setting. Its gleaming brass faucets sparkle like jewelry. The green is especially effective against a buff-colored backdrop.

Or consider zeroing in on a major appliance as a color focal point. Commercial ranges designed for residential use are good candidates because they are such dominant pieces. Further, their design can be as distinguished as that of a luxury car or vintage steam engine.

La Cornue, manufactured in France, has been described as "an art statement" by its distributor, the Purcell-Murray Co. in Brisbane, Calif. It's available in shades such as Azulejo blue (a rich cobalt) as well as lavender blue, rush green, pistachio, red and Provencal yellow. The range has gas and electric burners; a cast-iron simmering plate called a coupe de feu; and a pair of natural convection ovens, one gas for roasting and the other electric for baking.

La Cornue looks as hot as it cooks (at 24,000 Btu; normal is about 10,000 Btu) with its satin brass and nickel chrome trims. Each model carries a plaque bearing the owner's name.

Owners include five-star French chef Roger Verge, actors Danny Glover and Robin Williams, artist Jamie Wyeth, fashion designers Yves Saint Laurent and Joseph Abboud, and Prince Rainier III of Monaco.

Chateau prices ($8,000 to $18,000) haven't deterred enthusiasts, some of whom plan to pass their La Cornues down, like precious antiques, from generation to generation.

Even American manufacturers of commercial-style ranges for residential use are thinking in color and decoration. Viking is offering brass trims to dress its professional range, which may be finished in hunter green, teal, burgundy or plum. It sells for about $5,000.

An economical way to introduce color is on your counter top. Colorful stone, tiles or any number of laminates or solid surfacing materials provide a rainbow of choices. Formica, Wilsonart and Avonite are among the manufacturers offering the look of stone, metal and wood in appealing hues.

A frolic of color can highlight wood cabinets. In a kitchen designed by architects Ferris, Johnson & Perkins of San Diego, maple cabinets are invigorated by contrasts of quiet colors with brazen ones. Formica's Surell in a dark gray called Graphite tops the counters. It sells for $20 to $40 a square foot installed. The island, designed in the shape of a fish, is covered with purple Formica that sells for $11.50 to $17.50 a square foot installed. A red sink and a multicolored ceiling fan add other jolts of color.

You could color an entire counter, or just the edges, with a racing stripe or two, or create a decorative checkerboard with tiles -- or even introduce a stenciled look.

The Nevamar Corp. has developed inlay kits for its Fountainhead line of solid-surfacing materials that allow you to personalize your counter tops. You can fashion your own design by borrowing motifs from wall coverings or fabrics. The design then is transferred to the counter surface by a fabricator who routs out indentations and fills them with liquid resin in the color of your choice.

Whether you're seeking a kitchen with a little down-home charm or have designs on something more streamlined, consider a refreshing swash of color. Cooking with color may be the best seasoning for a kitchen, for all seasons, for all reasons.

Sources

* Formica Corp., 10155 Reading Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45241; (800) 367-6422.

* Kohler Co., Kohler, Wis. 53044; (800) 456-4537, Ext. 705.

* La Cornue, distributed by Purcell-Murray Co., 113 Park Lane, Brisbane, Calif. 94005; (800) 892-4040.

* Nevamar Corp., 8339 Telegraph Road, Odenton, Md. 21113; (800) 777-7888.

* Plain & Fancy, Box 519, Schaefferstown, Pa. 17088; (800) 447-9006.

* SieMatic Corp., 886 Town Center Drive, Langhorne, Pa. 19047; (800) 765-5266.

* Smallbone through SieMatic Corp. at address and phone above.

* Viking Range Corp., 111 Front St., Greenwood, Miss. 38930; (601) 455-1200.

* Wilsonart, Ralph Wilson Plastic Corp., 600 General Bruce Drive, Temple, Texas 76504; (800) 433-3222.

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