Kitchen Design: Choosing your Style and Finishes

Written by Susan Orfald


The first step in renovating your kitchen is the design plan, as discussed in previous issues of eatdrink. Selecting your appliances is important in this step. The next consideration is selecting the style and the finishes for your space.

What style appeals to you? Is it traditional, transitional, urban, country, contemporary or modern? It is important to take the style of the house into consideration and to make selections which accentuate and complement the architecture and details of the home.

English Country style kitchen, with porcelain tile floors and concrete countertops.

English Country style kitchen, with porcelain tile floors and concrete countertops.

The floor is an important aspect. Thought needs to be given to how it flows into the rooms adjacent to the kitchen. Also, think of the floor in terms of your lifestyle. Is there a pool outside the kitchen area where people will be going in and out with wet feet? Whether you have small children or pets might lead you to make particular choices.

The top selections for kitchen flooring are hardwood, cork, tile and natural stone. Hardwood works well with open concept designs in terms of flow between rooms. It is resilient, warm on the feet, and works with almost any style of cabinetry. The drawback is that it can scratch and dent; but it has longevity, as it can be refinished over time.

Cork is as comfortable as it is cushiony, and is renewable and sustainable since cork is harvested from the bark of the cork tree and does not harm or destroy the tree itself. Similar to hardwood flooring, cork can be pre-finished in the factory, or urethaned on site after installation.

Tile or stone flooring are practical in terms of durability. They come in many sizes and configurations, and lend themselves to different styles. They can be heated from below, which makes them much more comfortable to stand on. Tile can be hard on one’s legs if standing on it for any length of time.

The floor is a sort of “back drop” for the rest of the kitchen. If I am selecting materials for a whole house, I often start with flooring so that it has flow, or coordination, from one room to the next.

The most prominent finish selections to consider are the cabinetry. I advocate selecting styles and finishes that have longevity, rather than being trendy, as a well designed and constructed kitchen should last 30 years or longer. You may choose to change the hardware or countertops after some time, but a well thought out design is an asset to a sustainable, long lasting kitchen.

Country French kitchen, with a mix of woods (maple, cherry and pine), concrete floors (our showroom), granite countertops and stucco canopy.

Country French kitchen, with a mix of woods (maple, cherry and pine), concrete floors (our showroom), granite countertops and stucco canopy.

In a traditional kitchen, styles such as Country French, English Country and Classic incorporate wood cabinets. Maple, cherry, oak, walnut, pine or mahogany are popular choices. Poplar or maple woods, combined with a medium density fibreboard, are typically used when the cabinetry is to be painted. Often different woods are used within the same space to create more of an “unfitted” kitchen or the look of accent furniture pieces.

Finishes can be anything from clear lacquer coats to a variety of finishes with glazes to create furniture that looks well worn, with sheens that range from a 10 degree (or flat) to a 90 degree high gloss. The same options are available for painted finishes. Select solid colours for a more urban look, or antiqued, glazed and distressed finishes for a traditional space. For distressing, cabinetmakers create wear marks, worn edges and other indentations to give the appearance of a well loved antique piece of furniture which has been well refurbished. Finishes can influence the overall atmosphere of a kitchen, from classic, refined and upscale to comfortable, relaxed and casual.

There are many different door styles to consider as well. For a traditional setting, the most common styles are a solid wood raised panel door, or an inset panel door, which combines a flat panel with a solid wood frame. For a more ornate design, applied mouldings can also augment a door style.

In a transitional kitchen, the door style and finishes tend to be simpler.

A Shaker style painted kitchen, with walnut hardwood floor and granite tops with marble backsplash.

A Shaker style painted kitchen, with walnut hardwood floor and granite tops with marble backsplash.

A “shaker style” is very flexible, and can take on many different looks depending on materials and hardware. Inlays of different woods or metal can be added to doors or other elements of a kitchen to create different styles or looks.

In a more contemporary setting, it is more common to use veneers, as the doors are typically flat and more conducive to veneers. Veneers are available in all previously listed woods, as well as bamboo, sycamore, anigre (an African hardwood) and others. Many exotic woods are offered in veneers. Figured woods give the wood a “flamed” look. There is also a wide selection of laminates available for contemporary kitchens. Newer laminates include textured finishes that give the appearance of wood grain.

For hardware (handles, knobs, pulls), chrome, brushed nickel, brass, antique brass or pewter, oil rubbed bronze or black finishes are available. I often refer to the hardware as the jewelry of the cabinets. It is usually the last accessory to be selected. In traditional kitchens you may choose more than one style or finish. Metals can be combined in a kitchen, in the same the way that different finishes can work together.

Another big decision concerns the countertop. There are many choices available. The most popular are granite, quartz, wood, marble, concrete, solid surface acrylics, stainless steel, tiles, and laminate. Choices in countertops are very personal. You may like more of a solid or sand look, larger stones or chips yet very uniform, or a flowing, textured multi-coloured and patterned look — like a piece of art. Selections like this can really make a statement in your kitchen, or be subservient to other materials in the kitchen. If you are choosing granite or marble, I think it is important, especially if there is movement in the stone, to see the slab in it’s entirety.

Most importantly, when deciding on your selections, take into consideration the dynamics of the cook and people using the space and how they will use it, as well as what is practical, what you like and what you will feel comfortable in for many years to come.



SUE ORFALD is an Interior Designer with Hutton Bielmann Design Inc.

About the author

Susan Orfald

Susan Orfald is an Interior Designer who has been designing kitchens (and many other spaces) for 28 years. She works at Hutton Bielmann Design Inc. in London.