Great Kitchens

The hub of the home calls for convenience. Get it by following local experts tips and tricks.

By Jennifer Shapira


Synergy Design and Construction
Courtesy of Synergy Design and Construction

Experts’ Favorite Products Make Kitchens More Convenient

Today’s kitchen products are a modern marriage of smart design and high performance. They’re clever, innovative, and help cut prep time. Their job is to make you look good.

Domestic goddess, a place for everything. Everything in its place. You know where you keep things. Maybe the pantry is labeled, like items all grouped together. When you run out of something, it immediately gets added to the grocery list (which is conveniently placed next to the fridge).

OK, maybe some of these are pipe dreams, but the truth is, there are many products out there that can make your time in the kitchen better spent so that you really can enjoy the hub of the home as just that.

When not powered on, your most frequently used items might live off the countertops and out of sight, tucked away in the cabinetry’s appliance garage or pantry. Other, larger appliances, like warming drawers, dishwashing drawers and beverage centers hide in plain view, seamlessly integrated into the kitchen’s perimeter, either in stainless steel, or to match the cabinetry—or a combination of both.

“Kitchens are turning into sleek and efficient pieces of furniture,” says Patrick Carter, president and founder of Reve Studio. “Many appliance manufacturers are offering their products in integrated models. I believe this concept lends itself to the open floor plan everyone desires, yet don’t want the kitchen to be a focal point of the entire floor of the house.”

A household that entertains often might chill bottles of wine in a cooler in an adjacent bar area. A refrigerator drawer at below-counter height might be the perfect place to store kids’ juice boxes and healthy snacks within their easy reach. Built-in espresso makers are more of a must than a luxury, says Carter, adding that even the requisite Keurig needs its own zone.

Synergy Design and Construction
Courtesy of Synergy Design and Construction

Experts say the need for spillover of such features is a direct result in lifestyle change and how we live our lives. For example, we’re never far from our smartphones and tablets. From food prep to completion, technology plays an important role. A home docking station doesn’t need to be cluttered—handheld devices in need of charging can get juiced up via one sleek, often concealed, power source.

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 2013 design trends report, the use of LEDs is here to stay. As consumer awareness grows, designers are specifying the energy-saving lights below cabinets for a soft glow and in pendants above an island for useful task lighting.
The report also noted that touch-activated faucets are growing in popularity. In the last year, 12 percent more member designers placed them in kitchen renovations.

“That’s one thing that we particularly care for, and our clients do, as well,” says Mina Fies, founder and chief executive officer of Synergy Design and Construction. “If you’re handling raw chicken, you can simply touch [the faucet] with your elbow and it will come on so you can wash your hands. It’s just more sanitary and more convenient.”

Kohler Sensate Touchless Kitchen Faucet (Courtesy of Kohler) and Miele Built-In Coffee System (Courtesy of Miele)

Moen’s MotionSense wave technology senses when your hands are nearby, ready for washing. Kohler’s Sensate also recognizes a wave motion when you’re ready to turn on the water and its LED light signals activation. Delta suggests tapping its Touch20 faucet with your “hand, wrist or forearm” to turn on the water flow.

And while the hands-free concept may be modern, companies are making the products available in contemporary designs and finishes, as well as more traditional and transitional styles.

And if putting your foot down is more your style, consider a floor pedal-operated faucet for the ultimate hands-free, no-touch water flow.
“I am a huge fan of my pedal valve,” says Shanon Munn, owner of Ambi Design. “I installed the hands-free pedal on my main sink. It allows the family to wash hands without having to touch the handle. Very helpful if you do a lot of messy cooking.”

In the National Association of Home Builders 2013 report “What Home Buyers Really Want,” the number one most desired feature in a kitchen was a walk-in pantry, followed closely by pull-out drawers and shelves. Everyone wants more storage, but the trick is to maximize it.

Industry professionals agree that as homeowners age in place, traditional cabinet doors may not be as easy to open as they once were; it’s harder to reach items in the back. Pull-out drawers are easier on the back and knees.

Cabinet interiors are becoming much more sophisticated. “It’s not just spice drawers and pull-out trash/recycling cans anymore,” says Carter. “Small appliances now slide out of the appliance garage or lower cabinet, knives are sorted in integral butcher block slots in a drawer, and the foil and plastic wrap have a specific home with cutting boards and the like.”

And for those heavy duty countertop appliances like KitchenAid mixers, a spring-loaded arm inside a cabinet can do the hauling, lifting it right into its designated spot. It’s a perfect solution for those who do a lot of baking, and the mixer doesn’t take up counter space, says Fies. “You can pull it up and work right there, without ever having to lift the actual mixer.”

The result? Maximum kitchen comfort—without sacrificing style or function.


Synergy Design and Constructio
Courtesy of Synergy Design and Constructio

Architectural Trends in Kitchen Design

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) 2013 Kitchen & Bath Style Report details the industry’s top design trends, and according to local experts, kitchen renovations in the Northern Virginia area fit squarely within the report’s findings.

    According to the report, top trends include:

  • gray kitchens
  • a move to more transitional-style spaces
  • more interest in quartz countertops, though granite remains the most popular

Whites and off-whites still remain the top color schemes in kitchens, according to NKBA’s report. Allie Mann, project designer at Case Design/Remodeling, Inc., has first-hand experience with each of these. Gray is a strong neutral, she says, “A lot of folks are still designing around that color and concept. Gray, as a base of a palette, is still really popular, too.”

The combination of white cabinets and countertops offers a clean, unparalleled aesthetic from top to bottom. Which just goes to show, says Mann, white kitchens are “probably never going away. They’re timeless. And they prove very popular in our region.”

“When we think of countertops,” says Mann, “we think of quartz or engineered stone, or even granite countertops. But we’re seeing a lot more marble and quartzite products, which is interesting.”

As the region sees a move toward transitional design elements, classic white farmhouse sinks, for example, take on a more modern look when paired with sleek faucets.

Mann says farmhouse sinks are traditionally associated with French country style but are becoming more transitional. Available in more materials and colors (fireclay, copper, stainless steel) they hold a wider appeal.

In this area, says Synergy Design and Construction’s Mina Fies, “people are looking to pull more contemporary features into their traditional home. They don’t want to go completely modern; they don’t want to feel disconnected from the rest of the space. So they’ll mix things, which really adds to that transitional feel.”

Kitchen by Case Design
Courtesy of Case Design

Case in point, she recalls a recent renovation in which a client requested just that. The client wanted a traditional farmhouse sink, “with its nice, clean look of having it in white,” but decided on a “unique pull-down faucet that looked almost industrial next to it,” says Fies. “It’s just a good way to mix and match different feels for the space.”

Homeowners are seeking a more finished look in their kitchen spaces than ever before, says Mark Fies, Synergy’s chief operating officer but, he says, a lot of that has to do with educating homeowners about how to make a long-term investment in their kitchen.

Budget Breakdown and ROI
Now that a kitchen makeover is on the mind, budget comes into play. We tapped some local experts to give a general breakdown of how much you can expect to plan for when doing a kitchen remodel.

Thad Whittenburg
Vice President of Sales
Reico Kitchen and Bath

This has been approximately our experience on average.


This doesn’t include labor for installation, electrical, plumbing, etc.

Allie Mann, CKBR
Project Designer
Case Design/Remodeling, Inc.

Q: Return on investment for high-end products that would include how much high-end products cost vs. how much they recoup in value over time:
A: I would say the ROI in our area for a kitchen remodel is typically around 70–75%. +,- . Our DC region tends to see slightly higher than average results.

Perhaps the best example of that trend is in the cleaner, more custom look of cabinetry. Once devoid of any architectural style, a formerly plain side of a cabinet can now “mimic the door style of the rest of the cabinet to give it a more decorative or finished appearance,” he says.

Now, as most cabinets extend to ceiling height for maximum storage space, they are often finished off with crown molding for a more architecturally pleasing look. Similarly, a decorative molding, or light rail, might run below the cabinets to create a seamless effect and conceal any under cabinet lights.

Still considered the hub of the home, it makes sense that a designated charging station should exist in the kitchen. Juice up all those devices in one central location; a sort of light rail can hide that, too.

Glass-front cabinets are popular with homeowners who like to showcase favorite pieces of stoneware. Back-lit by LED lights, they can really be attractive. And for those who like to display all their dishes? Above-counter open shelving is still in its beginning stages. Experts agree the look of floating shelves is for the client who is reasonably organized.

“It keeps you on your toes to be a little more neat,” says Mann. Everything has to be put back in its place. “That’s the number one reason why folks ask for non-glass cabinets or doors. Because they may be a little messier; they want to close it.”

And if possible, always add more natural light. Transom windows are a good solution, says Mann; they provide architectural detail, but their height allows for cabinets below.

Another designer and architect favorite is the countertop-based button, a clever solution to the light-slash-garbage disposal switch above the sink. Now, a gorgeous new glass tile backsplash won’t be interrupted by that old-school switch.

“It may not be sexy,” says Mann, “but I just find them so functional.”


Choosing the Best Contractor

You’re ready to remodel your kitchen. Now what? How to go about finding a contractor to do the work?

It may sound basic, says Mina Fies, founder and chief executive officer Synergy Design and Construction, but good contractor communication is crucial. When interviewing potential candidates, and scheduling meeting times those are the first signs of a contractor’s communication skills. Are they returning your phone calls in a timely manner? Are they showing up on time for a meeting?

Those are important indications of how organized a contractor is, and how well he communicates: “Pay attention to those first few interactions and make sure you’re getting that initial good start with the relationship.”

Just like in a job interview, first impressions count. After all, it’s your kitchen—and your money. That person and team will be spending a lot of time at your home, so it’s important to feel comfortable.

Also important, says Mark Fies, National Association of the Remodeling Industry Metro D.C. chapter president, is to check a prospective contractor’s license information; make sure it’s up to date. That’s information that any contractor should present upfront.

Poll your friends and neighbors for referrals; who they’ve worked with, what they learned, their challenges and high points. But even if a neighbor had a great experience, it doesn’t mean the contractor is licensed. If something goes wrong, the license allows the state or jurisdiction to “step in and either help the homeowner directly or go after the licensed contractor to make sure that whatever the concern is, it’s rectified.”

“If there’s an applicant who is asked to be a member of NARI, we make sure that they are licensed, that they don’t have any complaints through the BBB,” he says. “There’s a further background investigation that we do as an association to make sure that we’re only getting the best contractors in the association.”

Ins and Outs in Kitchen Remodeling
Solid surfacing is the new thing in countertops,” says Patrick Carter, president and founder of Reve Design Studio, Inc. For those seeking a natural look but with all the practicality and little upkeep, it can be a great option. “It is more controlled with color and texture,” he says, “and some patterns are so varied; they look almost like a full natural product.”

Shanon Munn says, “mixed materials are still being used frequently. Mixed cabinet colors as well as mixed counter surfaces (outside cabinets and counters in a different color than the island for example). Different wood colors on the island and outer cabinets reinforces a “furniture” feel.”

The integration of specialty appliances, says Mark Fies. “Like a beverage center built into the cabinetry,” for easy access to juice boxes, soda or beer. “Or pull-out warming drawers, dishwashing drawers or a microwave drawer. Something that is integrated in the kitchen [cabinetry] as opposed to the old-fashioned, sit-on-my-countertop microwave.”

“Our true custom kitchens are designed and built with every kitchen tool accounted for and there is a home for everything,” says Carter. “Many of the companies that provide components for cabinet interiors are getting very creative. Small appliances now slide out of the appliance garage or lower cabinet, knives are sorted in integral butcher block slots in a drawer and the foil and plastic wrap have a specific home with cutting boards and the like.”

“The most interesting thing is trying to incorporate docking stations in kitchens,” says Allie Mann, project designer at Case Design/Remodeling, Inc. “The docking stations are a place where everyone can go because the kitchen is more the hub of the home.”

The kitchen desk idea, says Mann. The actual sit-down at a designated desk area enjoyed some popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s has gone away, she says. It’s been replaced with a “countertop surface where you have a drawer for each family member, and you have those integral outlets—a docking station for the family.”

Mann also says the traditional work triangle is out: “Think about how the triangle has three legs and the efficiencies of it.” Instead, she says, the layout of the kitchen depends entirely on the client’s needs. Some people don’t need to have their appliances placed in a neat work area for the best reach, it can sometimes be about how they work, how they cook, what their needs are.”

“I think that oil-rubbed bronze has seen the end of its heyday,” says Munn. For faucet fixtures and cabinet knobs and pulls, “stick to brushed nickel or stainless steel.”

Having one main light source and/or not using energy efficient light fixtures. “We talk about the layering of lighting in kitchens,” says Mann. “We have our task, our general and our ambient; usually there’s a combination with recessed lighting throughout the perimeter.” Consider a pendant above an island or LED undercabinet lighting: “These different layers give you more control of how you light your kitchen, and, of course, some of these can be dimmable.”

Cabinet doors vs. drawers. European-style kitchens have subscribed to the concept of roll-out drawers for years, says Janice Rasmussen, owner of Executive Order. It’s easier to reach into a drawer than deal with a door; there’s no need to drop to your knees in search of what might be in the back. “As you age, it’s hard to bend down! Anything that’s a drawer as opposed to doors is a benefit.”


(October 2013)