It’s Not Just a Kitchen- It’s the Heart of Your Home

Local experts share their wisdom on how to make your modern dream kitchen a reality- whether it’s new or a remodel. 

Construction by Bella Home Builders. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.
Construction by Bella Home Builders. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.
Construction by Kodiak Construction, Inc. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.
Kitchen design by Scott Smith. Photo courtesy of Crystal Cabinet Works / Curtis Lumber.

We’ve all given into temptation—sitting down for an episode of an HGTV program and getting sucked into a marathon. Before we know it, we’ve successfully binged on home makeover shows to the point that we proclaim to our spouses, children, even parents, all that’s wrong with our own home—and in particular, our kitchen. Because those freshly made kitchens on TV rarely disappoint.

The “afters” leave some of us in tears of jealousy, and others in a state of pensive disillusionment. We wonder why is our kitchen so crowded, so cluttered? Why don’t we have an island with seating for three? Why don’t we have a kitchen worth bragging about? And more importantly, can we?

Local experts are here to tell you that yes, you can. And what’s more, your dream kitchen can become even more real than reality television, and be a reflection of you at the same time.

“Today, it’s all about extreme personalization,” says certified kitchen designer Tony Izzo, president of the local chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. It’s just a matter of figuring out how you’re going to use your space— whether it’s for baking, daily meal prep or the occasional dinner—and tailoring it accordingly.

Because not only should your kitchen do everything you need it to do, it should do it well. So live in the present, and don’t worry about what comes next for your house. “Colors and styles change, and there’s no crystal ball to say what will be popular five, or 10 years down the line,” Izzo says. “So build what you need, and what would be best for your family today.”

Read on to find out what else is trending in kitchens—we’re talking colors, styles, materials—and start dreaming.

Kitchen done in grays and whites, featuring cabinets with pebble-gray finish and coconut patina by Merillat Masterpiece. Photo courtesy of Curtis Lumber, Ballston Spa.
Construction by Belmonte. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.


The “new neutral”

“Gray is everything right now,” Izzo says, calling it the “new neutral.” The sheer range of options—from a milky gray to a dusty shade, all the way to a dark, cool tone—means the color can work for just about anyone.

“Grays are extremely popular with my clients,” says Christina Feldman, whose KBC Design Studio operates out of Saratoga Springs, Clifton Park and St. Petersburg, Florida. “It’s a fresh neutral alternative for people who had gotten sick of the tans and biscuits that were popular for years.”

And it’s not just for walls, either. Gray cabinets, as well gray accents in the kitchen, are taking off, according to Andrea Langford, owner of Andrea Langford Designs in Albany. Gray hued marble and quartz countertops, as well as gray tiled floors are in high demand—but more on that later.

Construction by Heritage Builders. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.


Perennial favorite

Although gray is gaining ground, whites, off-whites and the world in-between are still as big as they were a few years ago. While white walls are a traditional method for keeping things bright, white cabinets lend an even cleaner, fresher, airier look to a kitchen space.

“White kitchens are very popular,” Feldman says. “We’re talking white cabinets of course, but we’re also doing a lot of white countertops in natural stone like quartzite, or white marble with gray accents.”

White cabinets are the bread and butter at Columbia Cabinets in North Greenbush, according to showroom administrator Michele Weiser. “You have no idea how many whites there actually are until you’ve seen what we have. It’s overwhelming sometimes, but it’s beautiful!”

Natural stone and reclaimed wood add warmth to this kitchen at Saratoga Lake. A parade of Homes Pinnacle Home and Best Kitchen Winner. Built by Witt Construction, with Columbia Cabinets. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.
Construction by Belmonte. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.


Bland tiles and laminates have never been more out

Andrea Langford is loving porcelain tile these days, particularly those made to resemble wood. Although not technically new, the tiles are far stronger and more durable than they used to be, and now come in a variety of colors—from pale grays to ebony shades. “It’s requested often and is coming in more formats, and in longer lengths to look even more like wood planking.” Even better? “It’s user-friendly and just looks fantastic,” Langford says.

“Wood grain tiles are insanely popular right now,” agrees Nicole Childs, a kitchen designer with Builder’s Kitchens, Inc. in Albany. “I think every one of my clients seems to be doing them these days.” For those who don’t want the wear issues associated with wood, or are fearful of pet scratches, this provides the look without the worry.

When it comes to more traditional floor tile options, Feldman has found a way to add a twist. “I’ll a pick a floor tile, like an 18” by 18”, and we’ll take the same color—let’s say white—and do half matte, half polished.” The end result is a subtle checkerboard that her clients have fallen in love with. It’s a simple way to keep things fresh, she says.

Cork flooring is another highlydurable option, Feldman says, although it gets a bad rap: “It’s something I absolutely love, but people tend to be afraid of it because they’re misinformed about the durability.” The range of colors available—from natural, to green, to gray, to red—mean it can fit with any décor you have in mind. Plus, it’s soft underfoot, retains warmth and is made from sustainable materials.

Although traditionally reserved for family rooms, dens and hallways, hardwood is slowly being welcomed into the kitchen space, Feldman says. “Especially in Saratoga it really warms up the room, and the quality and the finish is getting much better.” Exotics, like Brazilian walnut, add new dimensionality and a beautiful range of tone.

“It’s all about the wood floor these days,” according to Heather Bodnaryk, a designer with Curtis Lumber in Ballston Spa. One of her recent designs featuring hardwood flooring, white cabinets and an ebony island won the classic division for best kitchen at the 2015 Saratoga Showcase of Homes. Wood works beautifully in open concept spaces, Bodnaryk says, enabling continuous flooring throughout the kitchen, dining area, family room and beyond.

Construction by Witt Construction. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.
Construction by VanVeghten. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.


Boost space and seating with a two-in-one

“Everybody loves an island—It just maximizes space like nothing else can,” says Tony Izzo. Besides the obvious benefits of added counter and cabinet space, the potential for seating is nothing short of amazing.

“When you entertain people they tend to hang around the island, where all the food is,” Childs says. So tuck a few stools underneath so guests can get comfortable. Plus, the extra seating can do double-duty as the perfect homework station, helping busy moms and dads keep an eye on things during meal prep.

Bodnaryk used an extra deep island in her showcase home, to house the sink, dishwasher and a few stools. “People want that open concept, so there are no walls anymore to house sinks and dishwashers and trash receptacles, so we’re moving them onto the island.” But the revised arrangement works beautifully, she says.

Langford, Bodnaryk and Feldman tend to use an island as an anchor, often opting for a darker cabinet base, in an espresso or black shade, to contrast with the perimeter cabinets. The comparative light/dark dynamic really sets things off, Bodnaryk says, and creates visual interest.

Adding a soapstone or wood countertop can up the interest factor even further, Feldman says. She also loves to switch things up by tapping Silver Fox Salvage in Albany to custom-build an island from reclaimed wood and metal, with one-of-a-kind results.

Columbia Cabinets has taken islands to a whole new level—literally. By offering split heights, they have embraced households with shorter and taller occupants, while at the same time adding another element of interest. And there’s no need to keep both sections the same, says owner Evan Levey. “Use some kind of stone or composite on one section, and do the other in walnut or some kind of wood.” It’s an unexpected touch that keeps things from looking too sterile.

Design by Richard and Andrea Langford. Courtesy of Andrea Langford Designs, LLC. Photo by Dan Cooper.
Kitchen design by Katie Ott. Photo courtesy of Crystal Cabinet Works, Inc. / Curtis Lumber.


Whether daring or subtle, color adds individual flair

Adding some color to an otherwise neutral space is a great way to further personalize, according to Izzo. But what’s the color of choice these days? Is it still red? As in the all-red-everything trend that hit a few years back, which had people sporting red Kitchen Aid mixers next to red Keurigs, utensils, towels and the like?

“As far as accent colors, it’s really any color you like these days,” says Langford. So feel free to choose a color that speaks to you and your personality. That could be turquoise, which Langford considers a “wonderful choice” for a kitchen, or orange, a “fun, food color,” or even amethyst. Yellow or pink tend to be more polarizing, she says—as in you either love it or you hate it—but if that’s what speaks to you, go for it.

Langford advises keeping your color wheel in mind for the sake of balance. Be mindful of warm and cool colors and how they complement one another. Red, for instance, is a warm shade, but when paired with cool gray, looks fantastic in a kitchen space. The same goes for orange.

If you’re feeling a bit daring, Izzo says you can create a louder pop in the form of a painted range. High-end appliance makers like Bertazzoni are using auto paint technology to provide a colorful finish that lasts—like a Ferrari-red range painted by non-other than the Ferrari factory itself. So even if the car is a pipe dream, the range can be yours for a cool $2,400.

2013 Parade of Homes Pinnacle Home Winner Best Kitchen and 2013 NKBA Tri-State Award for Best Kitchen. Built by Witt Construction, with Columbia Cabinets. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.


A place for everything, everything in its place

When it comes to achieving a clean, streamlined look and avoiding clutter, organization is key. There’s simply no way around it, but when drawers, cabinets and countertops are built to help you, the task becomes more manageable.

Design has moved far beyond the old-fashioned bread drawer and lazy Susan to include slotted utensil trays and drawers with built-in spice racks, as well as dual trash/recyclable drawers, says Evan Levey. Mixer lifts stored near a sink make baking and clean-up a breeze, while islands with built-in cutting boards and pull-out trays keep items handy.

Columbia Cabinets offers dozens of these different built-in, space saving accessories to help make life a little easier. They’ve also embraced technology, something that Levey says is another top trend these days, born out of necessity—finding harmony between technology, form and function. In an effort to prove that tech can truly be at home in the kitchen, Levey offers specialized build-outs that hold iPads to make recipe viewing less sticky, and hideaway charging stations to keep cords out of view. “It’s about adding another dimension,” he explains, to expand upon basic functionality and make it better.

Cabinets that reach new heights—to the ceiling—maximize storage space, enabling you to tuck rarely used items up and away. In terms of styling, Levey says his customers tend to favor slab door or Shaker door fronts, both of which are on the simpler end of the spectrum. Their flat fronts offer a sleeker, more modern look. “But we’re also seeing more of a trend going back to a wax finish, or an aged finish,” he says. That sort of crackled, sanded and waxed treatment combined with tasteful wormholes gives a distressed look that Levey says is gaining in popularity.

2013 Parade of Homes Pinnacle Home Winner Best Kitchen and 2013 NKBA Tri-State Award for Best Kitchen. Built by Witt Construction, with Columbia Cabinets. Photo by Randall Perry Photography.


Still on top

“Stainless—that’s here to stay for as long as I can see,” says Langford. “If I got my crystal ball out, I just know I’d see stainless in the future. I just know it.” Besides being timeless, it coordinates with just about everything, making it an obvious go-to. Izzo says it’s also something that appeals to men and women equally, meaning there’s really no need for compromise. Men like its sleek look, and women love that it’s a classic finish.

It’s also a far cry from the old fashioned enamel used on the ranges of yester-year, or the vinyl used on fridges. And opting for stainless means that your fridge can match your range can match your microwave can match your dishwasher— and across brand lines, too.

“Stainless steel is forever,” says Bodnaryk. Enough said.

Kitchen design by Kathy Witkowski. Photo courtesy of Curtis Lumber.


Natural beauty—and tough, too

Move over granite. There’s a new kid in town.

The hottest material for counter tops these days is quartz, according to Izzo. “It’s just absolutely taken off.” Childs says as much as 80 percent of the counters she sold for a few years were granit —everybody’s favorite. “Now, 80 per cent is quartz. It’s just completely flipped.”

That’s because quartz counter tops are not only durable, they’re antiseptic, non-porous and comply with National Sanitation Foundation standards. Which means they’re a great alternative to granite, especially for families.

“You’re not supposed to clean granite and marble with harsh chemicals,” Izzo says. “But you know what kills bacteria? Harsh chemicals.” Quartz doesn’t have those limitations.

Although made from natural materials, these slabs are actually a composite, made from ground up quartz, resin and color agents. “But the great thing is, it’s engineered to be as hard as marble,” Izzo says. Plus, it comes in a range of colors and patterns to suit any taste—and when designed that way, can even pass for granite. It’s also on par in terms of price.

“But really, it’s whatever floats your boat,” says Jed Dare, a kitchen designer at GNH Lumber in Latham. “No surface is perfect. No surface is unbreakable. So go with what speaks to you.”

Dare, himself, is a fan of granite, and appreciates the movement and flow made possible through the stone’s characteristic veining: “There’s a depth of color there that you don’t always get with quartz.” But his customers have veered away from it of late, weary of the need to seal it. But sealing isn’t the chore most people think it is, he says. Once a year should do the trick, and you can do it yourself in an evening, although it needs an overnight to cure.

Kitchen design by Michael Borrelli. Photo courtesy of Crystal Cabinet Works, Inc. / Curtis Lumber.


Let there be light—lots of light

“LED is huge, and definitely here to stay,” according to Langford, who has found creative ways to build extra lighting into her designs through the use of LED. “LED eliminates that warmth issue you have with kitchens, because it doesn’t produce the heat that halogen does.” After all, you don’t want the butter on your counter to melt, or the fruit to ripen prematurely.

That makes LED the perfect choice for under-cabinet lighting and task lighting. “Some LED light fixtures function on battery, which means you don’t have to worry about plug placement,” Langford says. But avoid the round “puck” lighting, and instead opt for linear solutions to help spread the light. Be mindful of your color temperature. Warmer tones are what we see on a daily basis, so don’t go too cool.

Designer Izzo suggests thinking about lighting in three ways—overhead, task and accent—because a well-rounded design should take them all into account. Most modern kitchen designs include a combination of recessed and pendant lighting to provide light at different heights, but under-cabinet task lighting is just as important. It brightens up chopping, cooking and baking, shedding light on your hands, which is just where you need it. Accent light is all about highlighting, setting off a piece of art or décor to provide a focal point. “But it’s really a matter of blending and using them together thoughtfully,” Izzo says.