NoVA designers weigh in on contemporary kitchens

Open space and functionality are what local residents are looking for.

Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Years ago, houses were constructed with distinct areas for the kitchen, dining and living rooms. Today, many Northern Virginia residents have a message for area designers: “Tear down these walls.”

The open floor plan is an extremely popular concept when it comes to creating or remodeling a kitchen. “There is an innate draw to a place where you can get warmth, connection and food,” says Peggy Fisher, design director and owner of The Fisher Group in Annandale. “We often take down walls or move the kitchen so that it can become really a very central part of the house. It’s not just about food because, of course, it is about food, but everything that goes with that—it’s the connection, it’s the community, it’s the family, it’s the nourishment of the soul as well as the body that takes place in that environment.”

McLean’s Bowers Design Build interior designer Angela Rotondo says kitchens designed 20, 30 or more years ago don’t represent how people live today. Many residents are putting an emphasis on kitchen functionality by focusing on both traditional elements and custom needs that will help their lives run more smoothly. Islands are in high demand and are used for multiple purposes including a homework spot and meal preparation area. “Islands are getting bigger, and it is starting to become the casual eating space,” says Bill Millholland, executive vice president of Case Design/Remodeling Inc., which has several offices in the Metro-D.C. area. “Sometimes if you have to make a decision between having [a] separate eating area within the kitchen or a larger island that has seating in it, a lot of people will choose to go with a larger island for that casual dining space.”

Simplicity throughout the kitchen is also a must for many folks who want to remove clutter from countertops and take out overly fussy designs. “They want ease of cleaning,” Fisher says. “They want ease of living. They want a visual rest when they come into their kitchen. Most people have been out sitting in Washington traffic or working all day. When they come home, they want a change of pace. They want a place with calm and respite and refuge about it. Creating a place that is more simple and more easy on the eyes, easy to work in [and] easy to find things in is a really big thing, [as is] removing anything that they don’t use [and] finding a place for them to store the things they would like to use if they could have them at hand—anything that promotes an easier function in the kitchen.”

Photo © Eric Taylor,


Moving more toward a modern aesthetic with contemporary looks, the two main colors folks are choosing for their kitchens are white and gray tones. Anna Gibson, owner of AKG Design Studio in Reston, says gray has become the new beige. “It is the new neutral color,” she says. “There is such a big variation of grays right now. You can make the grays warm, and you can make the grays cold. You can really match any color to gray and it is going to work. … That trend is here to stay for a while.”

Millholland is starting to see a little bit of interest in color to go with white and gray backdrops. “A lot of people are doing it smartly, and that [may] mean introducing it in a backsplash,” he says. “Taking a risk [and] doing a real pop of color in the backsplash—if you hate it in five years you can replace it. It is not the expense that trying to replace cabinetry might be, so if you keep the cabinetry and the tops fairly neutral, whites and shades of gray, then maybe you can take some risk in a backsplash or something like that. We are starting to see some people experiment with that.” He also has seen some customers do experiments with color on islands. Recently, he did turquoise on an island in a white-and-gray kitchen. “The fear is always, ‘Is this going to look like it was remodeled in 2017 in five years?’’ he says. “People are a little hesitant to take that risk, but in small areas we are starting to see more interest in color.”


The days of having a sole fluorescent light mounted to the ceiling in the middle of the kitchen are thankfully dead and gone. Fisher says her company works to provide a flexible lighting plan so clients don’t have to have all the lights on full tilt all the time versus none on. Many area designers are using LEDs in pendant lighting over islands and especially under the cabinets. “In a kitchen, you have to worry about general lighting and then task lighting,” Millholland says. “You want good general lighting in the ceiling so that it is a bright space. But then at a countertop you are casting shadows because often that light is behind you, so you need good lighting on the surface of countertops. Some of the stuff you can do with LEDs is really cool because you can get LEDs in tape, so it is very flexible. It has a very, very low profile so you can run it in cabinetry.”


When it comes to holding all of the cooking and entertaining items, cabinetry trends are evolving from a traditional raised panel to more contemporary looks with a flat panel, possibly with texture or a Shaker look. While most residents will have the same cabinetry throughout their kitchen, Millholland says a new trend is variation. “Now it is not unusual at all for the base cabinets to be different than the wall cabinets or the island to be different from the surrounding cabinets,” he says.

Rotondo says many clients have been requesting custom pantries. “Everyone has a pantry, and if you can’t quite fit in a pantry there [are] a lot of built-in pantries that we are doing that [are] integrated with the cabinetry,” she says. “It looks like it is part of the cabinetry, but you can fit a lot of different things in there with pull-out drawers and accessories.”
There was a trend several years ago where residents were using paneling to conceal appliances such as dishwashers and refrigerators. “I think the days of hiding all the appliances are numbered,” Fisher says. “It’s not that people particularly want to display them, but there is more of a matter-of-factness about them. They are there. We use them.”


While marble looks great in a bathroom, residents are realizing that having the material as a kitchen countertop may not be the best choice considering its durability. “Quartz is really starting to take over countertops,” Millholland says. “Granite and marble are moving to a second tier in terms of what most people want. Quartz is moving up.” Rotondo has also seen a move toward quartzite also because of its long lifespan.

Appliances and Fixtures

When it comes to buying new appliances, stainless steel continues to be in demand. Fisher says her clients want quiet in their kitchens, so they will pay a little more for the upgraded appliances to ensure a peaceful experience. She has also seen a trend with clients buying induction cooktops because they are fast, safe and low-energy. “Those are coming on strong, and I think they will come on much stronger,” she says.
While faucets vary by kitchen design, Gibson says her clients like the large, gooseneck industrial fixtures. “It gives you more space between the sink and faucet to clean pots and pans,” she says.

Photo courtesy of AKG Design Studio

When contemplating kitchen remodeling, some residents worry about incorporating personal touchstones into the design because it may affect resale value. “If they are going to sell it in five years, OK that is a consideration. But longer than that you might as well enjoy it because after that somebody else is going to come in and say [they] want a totally new look anyway,” Fisher says. “I always encourage people if they are there for longer term within reason—let’s just do it.”

Rotondo says buyers may see an old, outdated kitchen as a big hurdle ahead of them. “If [the kitchen] is completed, it is a luxury,” she says. Millholland says the kitchen is an investment because if “you have a killer kitchen, it usually adds some value to the house, but it also just makes you smile every time you walk into it. It is a beautiful space. Everybody that comes into the home sees it and says nice things about it, so it makes you proud of that. It really impacts your lifestyle.”

Designers work with 2-D and 3-D models and virtual reality technology to make sure clients can experience the space before any construction or remodeling work begins so they can get a good feel for their decisions and how the space will work for them. “We approach kitchens like couture,” Millholland says. “It is custom-built for that client. We want it tailored to how they use the space.”

Fisher says her goal at the end of a project is to hear clients say, “This fits us.” Instead of hearing a disappointed tone in, “Oh. I didn’t know it would look this,” she wants to hear the excited tone in, “Oh! I didn’t know it was going to look like this!” “I hear the latter, and that is what I work for,” she says. “I want them to have what works for them. We spend hours trying to solve complicated design and installation questions up front in design so the construction process can go as smoothly as possible and as quickly as possible so they can get to the point after they have invested all of this faith and trust and money and time and effort and heart into the project so they can start to see it was well-placed and they will get what will work for them.”

A kitchen remodel not only takes a toll on your wallet and time—it also takes a toll on your daily life. Make sure you are getting something you’ll enjoy for days, months and years to come.


Open floor plan
LED lighting
White and gray color combinations
Small pops of color
Quartz countertops
Open space on countertops
Island seating for eating
Flat-panel cabinetry
Gooseneck, industrial faucets
Induction cooktops
Paying extra for quieter appliances


Walls and enclosed spaces
Single fluorescent lights
Marble countertops
Hiding appliances behind paneling
Clutter on countertops
Raised panel cabinetry
Getting cheap appliances that are loud

(October 2017)