design observations

Contrasting Kitchen Islands

Sometimes kitchens can look a little bland and boring all in one color or finish.  On some of my kitchen remodels I recommend making the island a contrasting finish so that it stands out as a piece of furniture or relieves some of the monotony of the cabinetry.  When I do that I often find I need to change the counter there too.  The kitchens then become sort of a two tone scheme, where there is a light counter on the dark cabinet and vice versa.  This design is not for every situation but it does work well in many instances.

In the remodel above, the island really becomes the centerpiece of the kitchen with a beautiful wood finish and details like turned legs.  The counter is a textural limestone, coral reef, that brings more interest and brings everyone to the "table" of the kitchen.

A two tone scheme here was created, white counter on dark island and dark counter on white perimeter cabinets.

A new stained wood island becomes an added quality feature in this remodeled kitchen.  Again, light counter on darker island, dark counter on light perimeter cabinets. I'm doing a kitchen now where we have wood perimeter cabinets and a painted island.  Still contrasting, just the other way around.

You can see what I mean.  On both of these last two, we kept the existing floors for budget purposes. The floors were so light that going with the contrasting island really helps give some definition in the spaces.

The following designers also utilized a contrasting island to add interest and break up the space.

Jim Howard - House Beautiful

Suzanne Lantz - Traditional Home

Healing Barsanti - House Beautiful

Joan Nemirow - Traditional Home

M. Elle Design - Elle Decor

Christopher Peacock - House Beautiful

Dee Dee Taylor Eustace - Traditional Home

Nancy Bozhardt - House Beautiful

Stanley Hura - Traditional Home

Barry Dixon - House Beautiful

Ray Booth - Elle Decor

Loving some contrast in the kitchen!

Discussion Continued...

When Scale Doesn't Matter

There are some rules to decorating, but if you peruse the high end magazines and projects of top notch designers working these days, you soon realize that rules are often disregarded.  Whether it's done for personal taste, dramatic impact, or simply to do something unique, rules in decorating are often made to be broken.  This is when decorating becomes art and in the hands of a real designer, it has incredible results.

Scale is one of those elements that can be toyed with to create real drama.  A large object in a small space or a small object in a large space can really command your eye and focus your attention.  If you want a relaxed, peaceful, calm interior, scaling something to fit the space is very appropriate.  However, if you want some drama or to create a really personal, artistic statement, try over or under scaling an object of importance in a space.


Dick Bories and Jim Shearron - Elle Decor

Doesn't that small, beautifully carved clock command attention in the vast expanse of all that white?


Patrick Printy - Elle Decor

The justaposition of the hefty brass candlestick on top of the tiny table arouses curiosity.


Susan Ferrier - House Beautiful

Is there any doubt that it's all about the chandelier?


Barry Dixon - House Beautiful

The large mirror makes a grand gesture. By comparison, the sconces are dwarfed, making the space seem even grander.


Steven Gambrel - Elle Decor

The vintage Italian light fixture is small in scale with the rest of the room.  That scale dynamic emphasizes it's importance.


Jim Hodgins - House Beautiful

That piece of art above, reaching from sconce to sconce and from the ceiling down past the top of the sofa creates a strong visual in this room and commands your attention.  Don't you feel you're in the presence of a real masterpiece?


Steven Gambrel - Elle Decor

What a strong, architectural presence the overscaled dentil moulding gives this room 


Amilee Wendt - ASID Showhouse 2011

I loved this light fixture Amilee Wendt chose for the study in the showhouse I was in last spring.  It was such a bold statement.


Jay Griffith - House Beautiful



I love how dramatic this little lamp and table looks in the tall niche one would typically want to fill with art or stuff.

Anytime you break the rules, you must be careful it doesn't look like a mistake.  In the hands of masterful designers, breaking the rules can become art.

Discussion Continued...

Pick Something

Some of the most successful interiors are developed by selecting one major element in a space and making it the star.  Everything else in the room plays a supporting role, remaining visually quiet. Like a choir with a soloist, a cast of actors in a movie with it's lead character, or a ballet troupe with a prima ballerina, not everyone or everything can shine all at once.  The more quiet the supporting parts, the more dramatic the outcome will be.


Ceiling - no showstopping, sculptural furnishings or colorful fabrics here....just that amazing ceiling.


Color - so rich you want to just wrap yourself up in it.


Pattern - the bed is almost non-existent, everything else plain.


Art - so dramatic, nothing else competes.


Vessel sink - with support from vanity top and walls.


Wall finish - the banquette is so neutral and unassuming by comparison.


Marble - details and cabinetry are all so simple.


Wallpaper - nothing else pretends to compete.

Sometimes it's best not to overwork everything in a space.  Let one thing stand alone and appreciate the plain-ness of the rest.

Discussion Continued...

Same Color Walls and Mouldings

Suzanne Kasler, Kim Winkler - House Beautiful

Using the same color on walls and mouldings in interiors can be effective in doing many things.  Most importantly, it makes the lines or bands of contrast go away and a stronger, bolder, somewhat more contemporary look emerges.  Where contrasting moulding might have visually divided up the space above, it is now unified with one color statement.  Those beautiful, rich wood doors really stand out in this single color space.

Gwen Driscoll - Elle Decor

The graceful lines of the furniture and rich color in the artwork stand out in this interior.  The same color treament updates and modernizes the traditional furnishings.

Kay Douglass - House Beautiful

Painting the wall mouldings and door the same color as the walls simplifies the look in this dining room. The texture of the ceiling is allowed to be the star.

Barry Dixon - Traditional Home

The colorful artwork really stands out on the wall with mouldings subdued by a same color treatment.  

Barry Dixon - Traditional Home

The intricate carving in the mouldings above is actually more pronounced.  If they had been painted a contrasting color you would have noticed the banding or lines of the moulding, not the detail of the carving.

Barbara Westbrook - House Beautiful

Here the same color on the mouldings gives a bigger impact to the overall design.  That smokiness and romantic quality would have been destroyed with the crispness of white mouldings.

Elaine Griffin - Elle Decor

This color makes a bolder statement painted on walls, baseboards, and window trim and shutters.

Robert Goodwin - House Beautiful

The gilded antiques above are set against a simple backdrop that is not fussed with a contrasting moulding.

Kay Douglass - Veranda

Just gorgeous.  A simplified, modernized version of a traditional dining room.  It doesn't forget it's past, but is such a creative and dramatic reinvention.

While not appropriate in every situation, the same color used on walls, mouldings, and doors can add an updated, bolder look to a room.  The lines running around the room or "outlining" disappears and color envelopes the space.  The objects in the room become more visually pronounced and emphasized. What a great tool for instantly changing the look or feel in a room!

Discussion Continued...

Repetition in Design

Jacqueline Derry Segura - House Beautiful

Repetition is one of the tools used in design to reinforce a concept.  It helps provide continuity, aids in making a statement, and celebrates that one element that is worth repeating. 

Color is one of the most common elements repeated in design.  In the bedroom above, the gorgeous citron color is repeated in the ottomans, lamps, headboard, and art.  A fresh, vibrant mood is created because of the repetition of that color.

Chantal Dussouchaud - House Beautiful

In this image, the map motif or theme is repeated.  It reinforces a global, traveled feel in the space.

Miles Redd - Elle Decor

The curvy silhouettes of the chairs, sofa, and window treatments repeated here evoke a feminine quality in this room.  The lipstick red color also contributes to that look, repeated as well.

Mark Cunningham - Elle Decor

The boxy shapes in the chairs, cocktail table, and window make a strong style statement of a masculine, almost business-like interior.

Laura Kirar - House Beautiful

These rectangular mirrors repeat the window shape and make for tall, linear look. It sort of celebrates the narrow window which could have been a negative at a bathroom vanity.

Tom Sheerer - House Beautiful

The repetition of bold patterns makes for a playful, interesting space. 

Dan Marty - House Beautiful

I love the textural interest repeated here in the rug, chair backs, and baskets.  It reinforces a casual, relaxed ambience.

In all these examples, the repetition of certain features helps strengthen the overall design intent.

In this accessible bathroom design I did for a client, a linear, horizontal line was repeated in plumbing fixtures, lighting, hardware, mouldings, and louvered doors.  A masculine, spa-like ambience was desired and the horizontal lines help create that feel in the space.

In this kitchen remodel, copper was used repeatedly to bring a French country look to the space.  Copper cabinet pulls, sink, faucet, and accessories helped make a statement.

I love the use of copper here.  It was just the right metal finish to compliment the soft color scheme.

Repetition in design is great for emphasis and I love to see it used successfully.

Discussion Continued...