Above: In a San Francisco townhouse designed by Nicole Hollis, the marble-on-marble-on-marble kitchen, in pale purple-veined Breccia Capraia, makes a case that restraint can be overrated.
Daniele Busca tells of a client who went hunting for rugs to match the artwork in his new kitchen. The New York City–based creative director of Scavolini USA, the Italian design company, was impressed that the painting hanging near the client’s island was a mustard yellow Picasso. “A Picasso in the kitchen,” he marveled. “That’s glamorous.”
Long ago, the kitchen was the embodiment of domestic servitude—plain, functional, and unobtrusive. Now it’s evolved into the centerpiece of home life, taking on the coloring, materials, and textures of the room into which it flows. Today’s kitchen may be arrayed along a living room wall or suddenly pop up when you turn a corner of the family room. Either way, it’s expected to put its best face forward. This means out with naked appliances, in with statement lighting, rugs, and furnishings.
Nothing helps a kitchen blend with its surroundings more than cabinetry. Appliances and gadgets are given millwork facades or enclosed within modules, as are nonculinary kitchen features like desks and wet bars. Busca says Scavolini offers custom containers for kitchen appliances that are up to eight feet wide with retractable doors. The most popular use is to hide the army of inventions that are helping us cook: the juice extractors, vacuum sealers, air fryers.
“A lot of our clients don’t even want to see the sink anymore,” says Nina Magon, whose Houston design studio specializes in streamlined, modern looks. In many cases, sinks along with refrigerators are banished to the pantry so that her kitchens look more like entertainment spaces. “You don’t know if the room is the kitchen,” Magon says.
Rich materials contribute to a feeling of modern luxury, whether they are natural stones treated to become more stain-resistant and durable or engineered surfaces that are long on practicality and charm. Onirika, for example, a collection of marble-inspired surfaces that Magon designed for Cosentino, can be vein-matched to create a floating appearance when the material is wrapped around a waterfall countertop. “You can’t do that with natural stone,” Magon says.
Glamour also means distinctiveness. The Hamptons-based designer Timothy Godbold says he’s developed an allergy to generic kitchens—like the ubiquitous white marble model lit by a trio of pendants over the island. “I don’t want my client ripping out their kitchen in five years when the trend is over,” he says. For a recent project, Godbold used marble with a camouflage pattern to cover the refrigerator, freezer, and ovens. “I’m really influenced by military style,” he says. (He even published a book on that subject.) The effect was to make the appliances look more like sculpture.
For Chicago designer Summer Thornton, kitchen glamour is about unexpected colors and materials. She did a red lacquer kitchen with oak cabinetry and plum-colored stone—hues that not only evoke dishes like pasta with tomato sauce but also disguise any messes. In another of her creations, a jade green Officine Gullo range takes up an entire central island. Thornton has even put hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper on backsplashes, behind glass. “It’s totally fun to make sure that the kitchen is speaking to the rest of the house,” she says.
But even small gestures can make a kitchen more glamorous. Thornton suggests adding art (it doesn’t have to be Picasso) “or something that doesn’t necessarily feel that it belongs in the kitchen. I’m always for bringing in something old: a bowl, a vase, a lamp.” The goal is less starkness, more texture.
But whatever you do in your is-that-really-a-kitchen? kitchen, make sure the vent is working properly. “There’s nothing worse than walking into a house and smelling food,” Godbold says, “no matter how good it is.”
This story originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE