The internet is full of articles and sites that are crafted by people claiming to represent the luxury kitchen market. However, "luxury" is an over-used word these days. Now that "luxury to the masses" is a common marketing concept in everything from handbags to kitchen tile, it has become difficult to wade through the plethora of information to find what the true luxury consumer is really looking for....to be set apart from the mass market. As a kitchen designer for a high-end British company, I seldom engage in projects that cost less than $100,000 (often the cabinetry alone surpasses that amount). Therefore I consider myself to be on the front lines of engagement with the real luxury consumer. If you are building, remodelling, or designing a luxury kitchen, (or perhaps you just want to emulate one), then consider these suggestions.
1. Understand the difference between a framed cabinet with an inset door and a cabinet with an overlay door. A framed cabinet with an inset door is considered to be the higher-end option while cabinetry with overlay doors are the more common type seen on the market today. Many of my clients are not familiar with this difference when they visit my studio and if you are unfamiliar as well, I encourage you to view cabinetry from both categories in person. It is a little bit difficult to visualize, but essentially a framed cabinet with an inset door is a cabinet box with a stationary frame mounted to the front of this box.
The cabinet door then sits inside (flush) the frame. Traditional English cabinetry was bench made in this manner and it still holds appeal today. An overlay cabinet can have a frame or be frameless, but regardless, the door overlaps the frame or box. A frameless cabinet with overlay doors can be very desirable in a contemporary kitchen where clean, smooth lines are desired. However, in terms of traditional cabinetry, this is seen as an inexpensive way to produce a lot of cabinets. A framed cabinet with an inset door is a lot more work to manufacture and requires a great deal more craftsmanship to get everything properly aligned in its aperture. If your home value is over $1.5 Million, you really should be purchasing framed cabinetry with inset doors. There is simply a perceived quality associated with it.
2. Spend your money on high-end refrigeration. Most of my clients still opt to conceal their refrigerators behind custom cabinetry panels. However, even if you want the professional look of stainless steel, I would encourage you not to skimp on your refrigerator. A few years ago, Sub Zero had a firm corner on the market for fully integrated refrigeration. By "full integration", I mean that the refrigerator can be designed to sit flush with the cabinetry (24" deep) without the need for a stainless steel grate above it, and without an exposed stainless steel frame. Now, however, there are several more manufacturers offering this feature, including Miele and Thermador. While not all of my projects utilize a fully integrated refrigerator, the vast majority of them do. Luxury kitchens frequently feature a pair of refrigerators that are paneled and trimmed out to look like an armoire or beautiful piece of furniture. In fact, this can be your kitchen's best focal point if done well.
3. Design a space to conceal all of your counter top appliances, such as coffee makers, toasters, blenders, etc. Most high-end kitchens that are well designed allow the homeowner the luxury of having "uncluttered" counter tops. After all, aesthetics are a big part of what you're paying for. Sometimes this can be a large walk-in pantry with built-in cabinetry. Alternatively, I have often employed a method of creating a tall larder cabinet in close proximity to the sink and refrigerator. This larder cabinet, complete with pocket doors, can have an internal counter top with outlets affixed to the back of the cabinet for plugging in an assortment of small appliances ranging from the microwave to the stand-mixer. The idea here is that everything is easily accessible and already plugged in. No luxury kitchen should require the homeowner to pull out a heavy appliance from a base cabinet.
4. Consider using a mixture of counter top materials. In large luxury kitchens today, a single marble or granite material on all counter surfaces can look quite cold. Perhaps it is because these large kitchens simply have so many square feet of counter top material. Regardless, this is a careful line to walk because using too many different materials can quickly look like a trend. To be easy on the eye, consider using your stone of choice around the perimeter counter tops and then opt for a wood top on the island. This breaks up the coldness factor of stone while not conflicting with the pattern of your marble, limestone, or granite.
5. Don't put a stainless steel panel on your dishwasher. This is really just a pet peeve of mine. Personally, I don't think the dishwasher is an attractive appliance. Therefore there is no added value in putting a stainless steel panel on it - even if all of your other appliances are stainless steel. Placing a stainless steel door on your dishwasher just breaks up the visual line of the beautiful cabinetry on which you are splurging. I strongly encourage you to consider a fully integrated dishwasher model. Miele, Bosch, and Asko all currently offer excellent fully integrated models. Again, the term "fully integrated" means that the entire dishwasher front (including the controls) are concealed behind a cabinetry panel. If done properly, you will not be able to distinguish between your dishwashers and any of the adjacent cabinetry.
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