Copyright 2002 Bergen Record CorporationThe Record (Bergen County, NJ)...12/01/2002


Once relegated to the back of the house, the kitchen has in recent years come out of confinement. But the challenge in creating an open-faced kitchen - one that's part of a dining area, family room or so-called great room - is downplaying its utilitarian nature.

Beyond choosing appealing materials and colors, a key factor is combating excessive uniformity and rigidity by creating a lively interior landscape and skyline using cabinets and structural elements. Thinking in geographic terms can help a kitchen relate to the spaces around it and yet set it apart from them.

If you're remodeling an old kitchen or planning a kitchen addition or a new home, here are some strategies to keep in mind. Build bridges, not walls. Islands and peninsulas are the kitchen's new walls. Because you can see over and around them, they connect the kitchen to an adjacent dining area, living room or family room and yet define the kitchen's borders. They also allow the cook to maintain visual and conversational contact with family members and guests in adjoining spaces.

Create a kitchen canopy. Even with an open floor plan, it's important to keep the kitchen from spilling over visually into other spaces. What islands and peninsulas do below, dropped soffits and shallow ceiling-mounted cabinets do above. They define the kitchen's borders in a subtle way without blocking views into or out of the kitchen.

A coffered or pitched ceiling can also distinguish the kitchen from neighboring rooms. Going for a high ceiling in the kitchen can boost the perception of spaciousness. Going low in a dining area imparts a sense of intimacy.

Cut back on cabinets. In a kitchen with just one or two walls, finding space for storage is problematic. But resist the impulse to cram in too many cabinets. Instead, design a storage-intensive walk-in pantry. Banish rarely used goods -- the picnicware, the punch bowl, the turkey roaster - to the basement, mudroom, or garage. Store the good china in a lighted china cabinet in the dining area.

Stagger the height, length and depth of wall cabinets. The idea here is to break up the horizontal lines at the top and bottom of a row of cabinets that can make a kitchen look rigid and static. Insert a plate rack or an open shelf unit between two long cabinets.

If you have ample work surfaces, put in a couple of extra-tall cabinets that sit on top of the counter. Using some cabinets that are deeper or shallower than the standard 12 inches can add more visual dimension to a kitchen.

Stagger the height of base cabinets and counters, too. Not all countertops have to be at the same height. Lower a cooktop by 4 to 6 inches and allow 15 to 18 inches of counter space at the same height on either side. In addition to providing some much-needed visual variety, a lowered cooktop can be more ergonomic, particularly for short cooks.

If you're a baker, consider putting in a baking center with a work surface at 30 or 32 inches rather than the standard 36. It's a more comfortable height for rolling out dough or using a hand-held mixer.

Vary cabinet door styles. There's no law that says all cabinets have to be identical. Use solid doors on some cabinets and glass doors on others. Or outfit a couple of doors with wire mesh, lattice or even shirred fabric. Use one style of door for perimeter cabinets and another for the island.

Choose more than one cabinet paint color, wood stain or decorative finish. For example, use barn-red cabinets for the island and natural maple everywhere else. Choose light wood stains for some, dark for others. For just a little rusticity, choose a "distressed" or antiqued finish for just one or two cabinets. For continuity, choose cabinet styles and finishes compatible with built-ins and furnishings in adjacent spaces.

Alternate countertop and backsplash materials. Reserve granite for an island and use a neutral solid surface material for all the other countertops. Top a baking counter with a slab of marble. Use ceramic tile or laminate in the wet areas and top a peninsula with maple butcher block. As for backsplashes, you might want to use stainless steel behind a range but ceramic tile elsewhere.

Hiding appliances is a matter of personal taste. Some people don't mind seeing the refrigerator from the family room. For those who do, cabinet- matching panels can camouflage the kitchen's largest machine. Panels for dishwashers, trash compactors, and icemakers are also available.

Add a raised ledge or breakfast bar to an island or peninsula to hide the cooktop. If you can't position tall double ovens so that they're out of view of neighboring spaces, think about installing a second under-the-counter oven in an island or peninsula.

Ranges are harder to hide, especially large, commercial-style ranges and the bulky exhaust hoods that come with them. That's one reason many consumers are choosing stainless steel models. Stainless steel is a kind of go-with-anything, neutral material that picks up the colors and tones of cabinets and flooring and seems to quietly blend into a kitchen's background.

An opposite strategy is to make a range the kitchen equivalent of a focal-point fireplace by building an alcove around it.

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