Timeless or trendy? How to choose kitchen upgrades that won’t fade over time
Upgrading a kitchen can feel overwhelming. Even if the layout and size stay the same, many decisions still have to be made, and most of them, from the floor to cabinets, are expensive.
The wrong choices can trap you into a style trend for a decade or more, making a kitchen look like a time capsule rather than the welcoming, organized center of a home.
There are ways to install long-lasting features that will stand the test of time. And there are opportunities for mini updates that won’t require writing another big check.
How long can a “timeless” design hold up? Generations.
The Northwest modern style introduced in the 1930s by Portland architects Pietro Belluschi and John Yeon remains popular because it relies on windows and wood to connect to the outdoors, spare furnishings and “the judicious use of such intangibles as space, light, texture and color,” Belluschi explained.
Even with all the needed cooking gadgets, the guiding principle of a minimalist aesthetic of “less is more” can apply to a kitchen.
The midcentury Gordon House in Silverton, the only structure in Oregon built as designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, has a then-innovative built-in refrigerator that doesn’t protrude past the counters and a panel door to match the stained wood cabinets.
Also new six decades ago: Easy-to-clean backsplashes, under-cabinet task lighting, recessed light fixtures and a skylight in the two-story ceiling.
Wright, who created the plan in 1957 for the Gordon House that was completed in 1964, introduced these concepts to improve cooking efficiency and add a clean look to the home’s “work space.”
Another Wright idea that still has a place today: At the Gordon House, which is open to the public, cabinet doors open fully with piano hinges, allowing someone to work out of the cupboard without having to use valuable counter space.
Today, small appliance garages with pullout shelves and “breakfast closets,” with a coffee maker, juicer and toaster, have doors designed to slide completely away, then close to conceal what’s inside.
Other ways to erase visual clutter: Hacker, which makes custom cabinets, has an appliance platform that disappears by dropping into the counter. And Bocchi has a faucet with a telescopic swivel spout that can be pushed into the sink, which then can be covered to blend into the counter.
Here are suggestions from Portland designers who understand that a kitchen has to be highly functional, and at the cost of a remodel, handsome enough to be front and center to family and guests.
There are blue lacquered cabinets, emerald green stoves and cherry red refrigerators, but generally, in the Pacific Northwest, people want a kitchen that is consistent with the style of the house, say experts.
“My goal is to integrate the kitchen elegantly into the whole living space by using similar materials,” said Portland designer Midori Karasawa of Style Guide Interior Design.
Karasawa, who has experience with remodels and new construction, said kitchen design is first and foremost about functionality.
“This is a space everyone in the house uses day in and day out,” she said. “People by nature crave order and interior spaces that give them a sense of order and symmetry are good for people’s wellbeing.”
The use of the fewest different materials creates a soothing environment, she said, because your eyes don’t have to process many textures, shapes and patterns.
“Let the beautiful materials speak for themselves without the bells and whistles,” she said.
She sees peacefulness in a spare aesthetic. Design writers says she creates “minimalist luxury.”
Here are more of Karasawa’s ideas for a timeless design:
- Clean lines, simplicity and sophistication always stand the test of time.
- Classic stained wood or white cabinetry pays off in style longevity and resale value.
- Install the same flooring as in the adjacent room to create a larger sense of space. Wood floors can hold up to spills and are soft on bare feet.
- Use patterns inspired by nature, which never goes out of style, such as graphics or textures that capture organic movement rather than formulaic patterns such as geometric ones.
- Use a neutral color palette like white, cream or gray on stone counters and other large surfaces.
- Be comfortable with blank spaces; resist filling counters and shelves.
- Appliance technology is always advancing. Consider new appliance sizes, like drawer dishwashers, before deciding on built-in cabinets.
About 90,000 people attended the 2023 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 to see new products at the exhibits and vendor booths spread across more than a million square feet of floor space.
Portland designer Garrison Hullinger and other kitchen experts, architects and dealers gave presentations on design trends at the much anticipated show hosted by the 60-year-old National Kitchen and Bath Association.
On the first day of the show, Hullinger viewed the new Liebherr-Openstage Peak column refrigerator and found it useful. “Every shelf and drawer has a full extension to pull out,” he said.
“Families are spending so much time in their homes they are appreciating a thoughtful and organized kitchen and pantry,” he said. “One out of three kitchens we are designing has a working pantry or scullery kitchen with an additional sink and even an additional dishwasher.”
Hullinger found that matte black is still trending in appliances, plumbing fixtures and cabinet hardware. In contrast, he calls the matte white faucets New York-based designer Jason Wu created for Brizo’s Kitchen collection “beautiful.”
Tapping into the desire for natural stone and wood, Hullinger noted that Emtek Hardware has knobs and levers in white oak and black walnut as well as terrazzo and black marble.
He also studied the Bocchi Baveno Move faucet with a telescopic swivel spout. The faucet can be pushed down to hide in one of Baveno’s fireclay sinks and a cutting board can cover the entire sink. “Now that is a way to get rid of visual clutter,” said Hullinger.
Karasawa, who also attended the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, said concealing the faucet creates additional surface for entertaining, maximizing counter space.
She also appreciated the seamless look of a Monogram refrigerator with a painted grass cloth exterior that matched the walls in Richard T. Anuszkiewicz’s exhibit.
Other highlights of the show were well-designed storage solutions.
Hacker offers corner cabinet storage in a high-roller style that, with the flip of a switch, the counter elevates and the bottom cabinet comes out, said Karasawa. And with a soft touch, Vauth-Sagel’s cabinet organizing system brings a shelf or lazy susan out for full access.
“A cabinet organizing system is a must-have feature in today’s kitchen because it is all about maximizing storage spaces,” said Karasawa. “We consistently see innovation in this area.”
Kitchens are the most complicated room in a home, and an extensive remodel may be beyond even seasoned do-it-yourselfers. A construction professional may be needed to expand a footprint or enlarge windows, remove or add a wall, or install cabinets and flooring. Hiring a plumber, electrician and other tradespeople might also be required.
A custom designed, high-end large kitchen can cost $50,000 or more, according to a 2023 study by Houzz, an online resource with content by more than 3 million home remodeling and design professionals.
Even people who make careful choices can find that they have blown through their budget. To keep from overspending, decide on the objective and create a checklist of priorities.
The good news: Lower-cost versions of high-end materials are available, especially storage solutions and tiles. And rebates for installing energy-saving appliances lessen upfront costs and continue to reward with lower monthly utility bills.
Home tours such as NW Natural Street of Dreams offer a chance to meet local suppliers and gather ideas by walking through a kitchen with a luxury look, efficient layout and smart appliances.
Japanese-based architect Kengo Kuma’s minimalist kitchen on the 2017 Street of Dreams tour in Happy Valley exhibited the beauty and benefits of building smartly with sustainable materials.
Cabinets are the biggest expense in a kitchen remodel, and they range widely from custom ones that can cost around $50,000 to stock cabinets at IKEA for half the price, and Home Depot and Lowe’s cabinets for even less.
Updated kitchens typically have simple Shaker-style or flat-panel cabinets, and backsplashes that rise from the counter to ceiling, creating a consistent, clean look.
If the existing cabinets function well and the design and layout still fit, they might just need a cosmetic lift with new hardware or paint.
A kitchen designer can explain how to make improvements in phases to stay within a budget, and the work owners can do themselves.
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072
[email protected] | @janeteastman
Our journalism needs your support. Please become a subscriber today at OregonLive.com/subscribe.
More on home design
• A smart kitchen remodel ‘doesn’t have to break the bank,’ say designers
• Kitchen cabinets are costly. Don’t make them trendy
• Take home these cozy, romantic lodge decor ideas from Crater Lake and other national parks
• ‘Where We Call Home’ reflects on cultural, natural histories of Pacific Northwest plants and animals
• 2023 Oregon home design trends: Smart, stylish spaces to entertain, store stuff
• Improvements to make and enjoy now that will pay off when you sell your home