Upgrade the kitchen with high-tech amenities and guest-worthy décor


The kitchen is likely the most utilitarian space in most homes, prioritizing cooking workflow and appliance tech to make daily life easier.

However, it is also a major meeting place for both homeowners and their friends and family. Upgrading the room with more intentional design ties it to this other role – and the rest of the house.

“It’s where we spend a huge portion of our days and even entertain,” said Sarah Cole, designer at an eponymous Massachusetts firm.

“As such, it’s definitely not the room to skimp on style,” she said. “With color, materials, lighting and even art, the kitchen can reflect who you are and make you feel at home.”

Function and form

The kitchen is often the center of the at-home universe, acting as family hangout, entertainment zone and food-and-beverage workhorse.

Although its functional aspects are usually the focus, upgrading the space with personal style and design touches connecting it to the rest of the home make the kitchen the shine as the truly special place it is.

Design by One Coast Design. Photo courtesy of Michelle Woolley Sauter

“A beautiful space with functional and stylish features can inspire you to cook and entertain, while a drab or cluttered kitchen can make you feel stressed or uninspired,” said Michelle Wooley Sauter, founder of One Coast Design in South Carolina.  

Since the kitchen is an oft-used area, “creating an inviting, aesthetically pleasing environment that makes a great first impression is important,” she said.

Before you even get to the style part, though, it is important to consider what you need your kitchen to do for you – how you actually use it, according to another expert.

“The layout is a critical first step when you’re starting a kitchen project,” said Idaho-based designer Maren Baker. “More so than other rooms in the house, function is what drives decisions in the kitchen.”

Before designing a kitchen space, think about storage, how appliances are used, and how work and entertaining happen there.

Updated amenities that boost kitchen function and style include oversized pantries that have room for not just food but smaller appliances and separate beverage refrigerators for saving space in the main fridge, per Ms. Baker.

Appliances, too, are getting a high-tech upgrade.

“Professional-grade appliances are big right now: large ranges, double ovens, even double refrigerators,” Ms. Cole said.

“There’s also a demand for more specialized appliances such as temperature-controlled wine storage, ice makers and even speed ovens,” she said.

Design by Maren Baker Design. Photo by Eric Hausman

That is not to say the classics, such as Sub-Zero, Bosch and Wolf, are not still in high demand.

Ms. Woolley Sauter said these time-tested brands are always a great choice, although nowadays homeowners are mixing brands to get the best of each rather than use one throughout.

Give it heart

“Your kitchen should reflect your personal style and taste,” Ms. Woolley Sauter said, which for most does not translate into a shiny, space-age laboratory.

“The key is to take that brand-new feel off the kitchen while sneaking in absolutely brand-new appliances and functionality,” she said.

Treating the kitchen more like the living room, to a design-wise extent, brings in more personality and a welcoming feel.

“We want them to feel more part of the rest of the house – table lamps on the countertops, vignettes, areas of open shelving, focus on the hardware and lighting,” Ms. Baker said.

“I love that, in order to create these living room-style kitchens, we have options now to hide plugs, electrical, under-shelf/cabinet lighting, without sacrificing function,” she said.

There are even companies making outlets that blend seamlessly with nearly any backsplash or island, a favorite with Ms. Cole along with charging drawers to keep wires at bay.

Design by Sarah Cole Interiors. Photo by Jared Kuzia

Hefty hardware, stylish lighting and veined or colored stone are both being used frequently by the designers to make a big kitchen statement. Natural stone, such as marble or soapstone, adds a textured, organic feel usually saved for other areas of the home.

Taking the shine off of some finishes and using natural wood also lends a lived-in, more relaxed look that blends better with the rest of the house, advises Ms. Woolley Sauter.

Kitchen color palettes are also warming up, the designers and their clients favoring more earthy and bold tones.

“Color has gone from being an accent on an island to the main event in the kitchen,” Ms. Cole said.

“We’re seeing bold color and lots of it – heavily saturated, almost black tones of green, blue and even eggplant, give kitchens an incredible mix of classic and cutting edge,” she said.

If the true classic black-and-white kitchen is what is on order, a warmer feel can still be achieved.

“Something a bit fresher is to do off-white, off-black colors,” Ms. Baker said. “They feel timeless, but also a bit more relaxed, and still work with all sorts of countertops and backsplashes and colors.”

A thoughtful, modern kitchen update that takes design cues from other spaces can truly make a difference in everyday living.

“It’s always said but it is so true – it’s the heart of the home,” Ms. Woolley Sauter said of the kitchen. “It’s also the first room you walk into to start your day. It truly sets the mood for the day.”