Time to lighten up in the kitchen

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Jane Harrison

Running cabinets to the ceiling makes them look like part of the wall. — SUNSET PUBLISHING

If your kitchen has you cornered and claustrophobic, it’s time to lighten up. Today, the trend in kitchen design is to replace formidable banks of upper cabinets with open shelves or windows and free up wall space for art — or nothing at all.

“Uppers start to encroach on the feeling of space,” says architect Neal Swartz, who prefers pantry cabinets in their place. When he uses uppers he runs them to the ceiling “so that they feel like they’re part of the wall rather than boxes hanging off the walls.”

Swartz is part of the design panel contributing to Kitchens: A Sunset Design Guide (by Karen Templer, Sunset Publishing, 2008).

“More and more, uppers are disappearing entirely, replaced by open shelving, old-fashioned plate racks, or no upper storage at all,” writes Templer.

Award-winning kitchen designer Beverley Binns, featured on the cover of Canadian Kitchen & Bath (kandb.ca), demonstrates the practical and dramatic impact of this approach.

“The original kitchen was very tight and confined,” says Binns. Her goal was to open the space to create a more inviting workplace for the family. She employed chic, dark base units to blend with the floor and anchor the new design; upper cabinets are white.

All of the above design principles are a boon to those renovating on a budget. The Sunset book displays a kitchen transformed by two different colours of paint on the upper and base cabinets. Doors were left off some of the upper cabinets to create open shelving.

If the kitchen has reasonable lower cabinets, updating the room could be as simple as painting the uppers the same colour as the wall, replacing upper cabinets with open shelves or simply removing the doors from them before refinishing. With careful selection, the mix-and-match approach also allows you to replace just the upper cabinets rather than all of them.

Lighten up your kitchen to create a stylish, convivial space to welcome family and friends — or just cheer up the cook.

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