Detail Oriented

Today’s kitchen and bath designers are well aware of the current trend away from heavy ornamentation toward a more streamlined look. In most American homes, however, consumers don’t want stark, but rather a more streamlined space with a warm, uncluttered aesthetic.

To achieve this look, designers are turning to a wide range of decorative options, including mouldings, appliqués and corbels, to provide a custom look.

While decorative details made of wood, resin and other materials may not appear to fit in with a trend toward simpler designs, the reality is that many product manufacturers in this category are experiencing unprecedented growth. Improvements in the way cabinet manufacturers now work with these companies, as well as the extensive array of products and price points that have been introduced, have made this option much more attractive to designers than in years past.

According to Jamie Gibbs, principal, Jamie Gibbs and Associates, in New York, NY, several years ago, people were looking to add as many bells and whistles as they could to their kitchens. Unfortunately, the end result was often less than satisfying because these add-on products were not produced with the same finishing process as the cabinetry. “The materials used to make those bells and whistles were not particularly kitchen friendly,” he explains. As a result, cleaners that were used to remove grease from cabinets took the finish right off of some of the embellishments, leaving cabinet companies to field complaints from unhappy customers.

Gibbs adds that “real cooks,” as opposed to people who just wanted beautiful kitchens, were often put off by this. But now that cabinet and detail product manufacturers are working together, these items have garnered wider appeal.

“It’s one of the reasons why manufacturers of ornamental details have seen a surge in business in the past few years,” he explains. “They now supply a product that is not only user friendly, but is also, to a certain extent, cost effective.”

And price was often an issue with millwork, as each added detail raised the overall cost of the room.

“Price drives a lot of things,” comments Sherry Mitchell, IIDA, owner, Sherry H. Mitchell, in Jamestown, NC. “The more embellishment, the higher the price. All of those bells and whistles cost.”

It’s why many designers shop different companies so they can incorporate details even in designs that are lower in budget.

“While a client may only have a budget for stock cabinetry, I can order a set of corbels and have them installed underneath the stock hood, and all of a sudden it’s a much more custom look,” comments Mary Brennan, ASID, owner, M. Brennan Design Associates, in West Milford, NJ. “It’s a very small investment that makes a really big impact.”

Gibbs adds, “Everything comes with a sticker price, and I don’t just mean the cost of the labor and the materials themselves. Sometimes, it’s also the follow-up maintenance that adds to the cost factor.”

Because of this, Gibbs stresses the importance of choosing a design and details that are in sync with the lifestyle of the customer.

“The fancy detail edges that the client just couldn’t live without – the ones that look so beautiful in magazines – may not function with her lifestyle,” Gibbs asserts.

“People show us photos from shelter magazines and say, ‘this is what I want.’ And this is where the kitchen and bath dealer gets into trouble,” adds Gibbs. “When that kitchen or bath just doesn’t hold up or doesn’t function the way the person wants it to, they tell everyone that it is a bad design. But all the designer did was give the customer what she wanted.”

Of course, some clients aren’t as interested in function as they are in having an attractive design. Marc Rothenberg, owner, Westhampton Woodworks, in Westhampton, NY, who designs in a high-end area that acts as a weekend getaway spot, finds his clients don’t want functional.

“The majority of the kitchens we do are Hollywood kitchens; they’re like sets – nothing ever happens in them,” he reports. “I tend to design things that are cookable, but people here don’t want cookable. They want pretty. So, we give them pretty, but we try to make it functional, too.”

To add function to the design and help justify the added expense of some of the decorative details, Gibbs now incorporates items such as storage columns into his designs. “I’ve placed columns with hidden storage into wet bar areas that can hold glasses or bottles of liquor,” he states. “All of a sudden, the details become cost effective, and the customer has gotten the decorative detail she wanted.”

“So, now people realize they can still have a beautiful kitchen and add details in places that are not going to affect the overall aesthetic qualities and usability of the space,” he continues.

Personal Style

Many designers note that the number of design details they incorporate into a kitchen or bath design, as well as the type of ornamentation, is based on the style of the home.

“If the home is of a particular style, that’s going to help me select which decorative details are going to help that flavor come alive,” stresses Brennan.

“Sometimes you’re looking to pick up on a very specific theme, and sometimes you’re looking specifically for ways to pick up a very specific period look or a style. Using these add-ons are really great ways to do that,” she adds.

Terry Berthold, ACSD, designer, Kitchen & Bath Gallery, in Roanoke, VA notes that he focuses on something architecturally, such as columns on the outside of the home, and makes that a focal point in the kitchen. “It’s more of an architectural thing with me than a fancy approach,” he notes.
Eli Yeshaya, owner, South Bay Kitchens, in Lomita, CA explains that his company chooses a theme for the kitchen, and then chooses the types of products and where to use them. “It all relates to the architectural theme that we have.”

“Everybody’s pushing the envelope,” comments Mitchell. “We try to make the consumer happy, and also add a little bit of history to the architecture, especially in some of the newer homes.”

Making the consumer happy is critical to the design process, and designers note that consumers are much more savvy and involved than they used to be.

“They see magazines and they have a lot of pictures of these carvings, and that’s what they want,” comments Berthold.

“People are much more outspoken lately with their requests,” adds Rothenberg. The problem with those requests is that clients often walk in with a picture of a 30' square kitchen with corbels and posts and 12"-high mouldings. “They want their kitchen to look like that, but their kitchen is 8'x10' and they want to spend $9,000,” he notes. “So, your design needs to fall somewhere in the middle, with a few details added into it.”

Though this is a drawback, Rothenberg does encourage people to bring in photos of parts that they like. “It can even be a dresser, but if it has something they like, we’ll see if we can work it into the design,” he comments. “We actually encourage that rather than bringing in photos of entire kitchens, because generally when a person brings in an entire kitchen, it’s not going to fit their space.”

Cherie Storm, kitchen and bath designer, Island Woodcrafts Ltd., in Manteo, NC also encourages customer input. “I try to find out what style my customer likes, and then I try to incorporate as much detail into the kitchen without going overboard,” notes Storm.

Design Interpretations

A favorite use for design details by current kitchen and bath designers is to incorporate products that will translate to a furniture look.

“I do inlays, rope mouldings, French legs – the small details such as bump outs in the cabinets with legs to make the cabinets look like a piece of furniture,” says Storm.

Berthold adds that he also does legs on islands to make them look like tables or pieces of furniture.

Brennan notes that, when she’s doing a custom piece for a client, such as a bath vanity, she likes to use hand-turned or hand-carved details to provide that furniture feeling. “It gives me the opportunity to design a carving specifically for that piece, and I might be able to echo a detail or a pattern I’m picking up from the fabric of a window treatment. It gives everything a very personalized, very custom detailed look.”

Brennan just completed a project that was adjacent to the kitchen, where a straight run of autumn leaves was incorporated into the face of the fireplace mantel. “We used a fabric from the kitchen that featured a leafy pattern, and echoed it through the adjacent room,” she comments. “It was a little unique,” and tied the two rooms together.

The growing trend of Great Rooms and open-room designs that are centered around the kitchen is also creating a need for decorative detail, according to Gibbs. “Most people want a psychological barrier between the kitchen and this other room to define usage zones,” he explains. As a result, “columns have become a big deal. Floor-to-ceiling pilasters are often used to define these usage areas.”

Gibbs notes that detail is also significant when adding one of these oversized rooms onto a house. “How do you help that room integrate with the rest of the house? Functional detail – crown mouldings that match up to the rest of the house, high baseboards that match up to the tall baseboards from the original construction, door surrounds that have bulls eyes,” he relates.

Crown mouldings are a clear favorite among designers, providing an elegant, built-in look.

“I like to go all the way up to the ceiling using cabinetry and crown moulding,” comments Mitchell. “You get the most use of your vertical space that way.”

Utilizing combinations of mouldings provides countless looks for the designer. Berthold notes that he did a design recently that featured 11 pieces of moulding. “If you have a 10-foot ceiling, instead of running the cabinets all of the way up, I’ll do a lot of nice mouldings and details.

“I do a lot of stacked mouldings, as well as some columns,” he adds, though he notes that he doesn’t rely very heavily on carvings or corbels. “That can get a little gaudy if you use too much.”

“The use of corbels would have to be minimal in a design,” concurs Mitchell. “They’re great integrated either on a peninsula or an island, or over the range.”

“We use corbels to hold up countertops and for overhangs on countertops,” reports Rothenberg. “We put most of the ornamentation, such as corbels and fancy mouldings, into hoods.”

Brennan notes that decorative details can make a huge difference when doing partial renovations, as well. “I worked for a client who was not prepared to gut the kitchen and change out all of the cabinets,” she explains. “All I had to work with was the island in terms of giving the room an entirely new look.”

She used a pair of corbels on each end of the island, which acted as a major component of the overall look. “It gave the piece a real furniture-feel, and it wasn’t a very big investment,” Brennan states.

Simpler details are Yeshaya’s most popular choices when using ornamentation. “The ones that are more generic speak to more people,” he stresses. “The others are a little more specific, and can be too ornate.”

Indeed, when using decorative details, it is often the small additions that make a big impact.

Brennan notes that she likes to incorporate foot details on cabinetry for kitchens and baths, because the looks are endless. “It’s a small detail, but one that goes a long way,” she explains.

“One of the houses I did had furniture baseboard on the island with rope inlay, because the doors are rope inlay doors,” Storm explains. “It really pulls the look together if you find a style and elaborate on the smaller details.”

“We also like to bump things out, such as sinks with angled flutes to create different dimensions going around the kitchen,” Rothenberg states. “It gives the room a little more interest than just flat countertops going all the way around.”

That interest is becoming more prevalent in the bathroom, as waterproof materials and pliability make details easier to work with in challenging spaces.
“You don’t always have to do tile work in the bathroom,” asserts Mitchell. Instead, she recommends using raised panels around the tub. “Mouldings can also be used a picture frames around mirrors…,” she adds. “You can do a lot of beautiful applications."