European Transitions

Kitchen and bath designers have long drawn inspiration from architectural and design styles from around the world, as have those consumers who were lucky enough to travel abroad on a regular basis.

But, in the last 10 years, the advent of the Internet and the dramatic expansion of world travel among everyday consumers have led to increased interest and demand for home designs that remind people of faraway places.

Matthew Quinn, designer and partner, Design Galleria Kitchen & Bath Studio in Atlanta, GA, also cites the plethora of European magazines and books that are currently available as a reason for the increased interest. And Linda Maglia, owner, Studio Maglia in Studio City, CA stresses other media exposure, such as HGTV, as drivers.

“I’m amazed at how educated and self-taught people are about kitchen and bath design, especially in the high-end market,” she comments.

As a designer, Maglia notes that she has studied details and materials and surfaces. “Now, the members of the general public are really absorbing their surroundings when they travel or visit a friend’s house,” she remarks. “Now that they’ve been educated and exposed to these things, they have a passion for it.”

While design influences from Europe have always been key, as more consumers are exposed to them, they become more interested in recreating that ambience. European styles, such as the romance of Old World, also blend well with many architectural styles found in the U.S.

Consumers have been particularly fond of Tuscan and country French influences in the past few years, but many designers note that these styles are growing tired. As they begin to wane in the U.S., other European design influences are gaining ground.

“If people are traveling in Europe and staying with family and friends, they are seeing that – even in vintage homes – kitchens are very contemporary,” reports Kelly Stewart, CMKBD, director of sales development, Kitchens by Deane in Stamford, CT.

But visitors from the U.S. are also being influenced by their trips to historic homes and museums and other places of interest that are hundreds of years old.

Some of the result of viewing old and new European styles is a combination of the two designs – the cleaner, simpler lines of contemporary mixed with classic design elements and influences that have been around for centuries.

The Other Europe

While styles such as Tuscan and French country ebb and flow, “English Tudor and English cottage are and have been prevalent all along,” asserts Quinn.

Among the details featured in Tudor designs, says Quinn, are X features in cabinet styling and beam design, dark wood floors, stained cabinetry, diamonds in the backsplash tile, and black and copper accents in the room.

Tudor-style homes are abundant in the area surrounding The Hammer & Nail, Inc. – homes that were built around the turn of the 20th century. In fact, the building that houses the firm’s showroom was built around that time and has a Tudor feeling to it, according to Bart Lidsky, president, The Hammer & Nail, Inc. in Wyckoff, NJ.

“Our front showroom fits in with that,” he remarks. The display features a dark, richly colored wood, which in general is a trend that people are more attracted to these days, he comments.

The showroom kitchen has “a bit more of a primitive feeling to it in the sense that, even though there are some beautiful details, there’s nothing frilly about the style. The details are very strong, the moldings are kind of oversized and the wood looks aged,” he explains.

Stone and wood fit into this overall feeling, but there are definite types of stone and wood that fit better than others, according to Lidsky. “The stones need to have a very aged feeling to them,” he points out. “In order for materials to fit in, they should look like they’ve been there since the house was built.” He adds that brick is often involved in the design of the kitchen – “a brick floor or brick wall, or maybe even a range that’s cut into a brick wall or archway.”

Lidsky notes that his firm is doing a lot more mahogany and deeper stained white oak – both quarter-sawn and regular.

“There are also still some painted cabinets going into houses like this, but the painted has to be something that has some age to it,” he comments. “You’re not going to find a clean, crisp white kitchen in a Tudor house and have it make a lot of sense.”

“We do a lot of the highlighted finishes, glazed finishes – whether it’s painted and we do a brown glaze over it, or it’s stained and we do a glaze,” states JoLynn Johnson, CBD, CKD, president/owner, Crystal Kitchen Center in Crystal, MN. “We do a lot of painted white or off white with the brown highlight – the wear-worn look coming through. And then we do go into the darker wood with maybe a darker highlight so that it gives it an even richer look.”

Countertops in these kitchens are usually marble or wood, as opposed to granite, according to Lidsky. “Granite just wouldn’t have been used,” stresses Lidsky. “It’s too glossy, too glitzy. It just doesn’t fit in, though a honed granite of some sort might be okay.”

Maglia notes that she is working with enormous amounts of glass tile, mixed woods, limestones and honed marbles. She notes that white marble is particularly hot right now, especially in the bath. “It’s a throwback to the glamour of the 1930s and 1940s, but people are putting a spin on it by having it all honed, so it kind of has a modern look – not slick,” she says. “It’s a huge trend right now, and people are mixing it with glass tile or glass mosaic as an accent.”

For flooring Stewart notes that his firm is using a lot of either real or faux weathered limestone or marble floors – “earthy textured tile. Generally, we’ll bring that up with more tumbled marbles, or sometimes go to glazed tiles up on the wall,” he comments.

Other materials used in these kitchens include antiqued copper and bronze for range hoods, sinks and cabinet hardware, notes Lidsky. “It will either be rusty or aged copper or bronze,” he observes. “Rusty wrought iron is part of that look, as well.”

“Warm metallics – finishes that have a little bit of warmth to them, such as nickels, pewters, oil-rubbed bronze and aged and rust finish hardware – fit with these styles,” comments Maglia. “It shouldn’t look like it’s just off the shelf. It should have some age to it.”

Stewart notes that, in some of the colonial homes he does, clients will request a colonial kitchen with some romantic touches. To accomplish this, he’ll get an island piece that’s in a heavy, weathered oak that has a “Tudor-ish” feel – “where it feels like a furniture piece set into an environment that’s more architecturally compatible with the rest of the house,” he comments.

The cabinets against the wall act as part of the architecture and are more in keeping with the style of the house, and the furniture-type pieces offer more freedom to bring in some romantic looks.

Romantic touches can be accomplished with pieces that reflect English country, French country and Mediterranean styles as well as Tudor, Stewart remarks.

“Heavier pieces, large turnings, carved elements and burnished glazes [all reflect a romantic sense]. They are often the large-scale pieces – the door elements, the rails, frames, moldings, hardware – generally they end up getting into the larger scale. “It’s a mix of styles, and that’s a popular trend,” he explains. The mixing of colors, finishes, styles and molding treatments in a room is very popular, adds Stewart, “because the kitchens we’re doing these days are huge. All one style can be overpowering, so we’re mixing things for balance so that we don’t overwhelm with one particular look.”

While people gravitate toward a particular look that they’ve seen in their world travels, magazines or other homes, “they’re often afraid of doing too much of it,” reports Stewart. “Doing part of it in this way allows them to express the desire for a particular thing, but [also] allows them to do it in a way that doesn’t seem too risky. It’s a way of hedging against a concern that it may be trendy.”

Jean Buchen, CKD and designer/sales for KT Highland, Inc. in Lancaster, PA, designed a kitchen in an old Tudor house that focused on the island as the piece that gave the room its Tudor look. In this design Buchen used a simple beaded inset cabinet door with a paint glaze finish on the perimeter cabinets, and used an island that was an old antique piece in quarter-sawn oak. “That piece came out of a store, so the sides and back were this gorgeous paneled wood, but the inside [had] very rough open shelves,” she explains. “I had a cabinetmaker make a face for it and working doors and drawers so that it would function as an island.” Feet were added, which gave it a furniture feel.

“It still pulled together that wonderful heavy Tudor look, but the whole room didn’t get overbearing,” Buchen states.

The warmth of a stone fireplace was an inspiration for one of Quinn’s kitchen designs. He created a niche for the range that featured a stone and tiled hearth hood above. A stone trimmed arch entry to the pantry on one side of the range was balanced by an arched niche that displayed a collection of old lacquered copper pots on the other. Wood floors, a beamed ceiling, honed granite countertops and a mix of cabinet finishes completed the space.

Designers note that there is still an interest in the English Gothic style for the kitchen. Tess Giuliani, owner, Tess Giuliani Designs, Inc., in Ridgewood, NJ, designed a kitchen recently for a customer who traveled to Europe often and loved the Gothic style.

To achieve this look, Giuliani designed the cabinets with a Gothic arch and used carved molding details on the island that continued in that style. “I also designed with a furniture look where I could,” Giuliani reports.

Her client requested that she design the room around a blue Viking range, and chose Bahia Blue granite for the countertops. “Because she loves flowers, the backsplash was designed with all of her favorite flowers,” she comments, and the client’s antique blue and white china collection was highlighted in the space.

Four styles of leaded glass in the Gothic style were also incorporated into the room. “They kept the look interesting and balanced,” she remarks.

When creating an English cottage look, Buchen often uses some type of beaded groove in the panel of the cabinet doors, or adds beadboard in the wainscoting around the room.

“It could also be reflected in some little foot details,” she comments, though she notes that she ensures that, with the decorative pieces, she’s not hurting the function of the kitchen. “Sometimes when you get too overly ornate with little foot details and all kinds of ins and outs, it doesn’t function really well. If your client is a person who rushes from one thing to another, you would need to watch where those little feet are tucked because you can catch on them when you’re moving from one part of the kitchen to the other.”

Warm Contemporary

The cleaner, more contemporary look that’s being seen in Tudor and English cottage design is also being reflected in other kitchen design styles, as well. The clean-lined, stark contemporary styling that is seen in many homes throughout Europe is having an impact on American kitchens, but not in the same way as across the ocean.

Maglia sees a trend toward modernism, even in more traditional-type real estate. “People are not going as fussy and complicated [in their design elements],” she reports. “They are streamlining things more. It’s more transitional. Even if you have a Mediterranean, English Tudor or Mediterranean Tuscan style home, people are doing a really crisp, simple look.

“Edge details are not as complicated as before,” Maglia continues. She notes that, by designing this way, customers are playing it safer for resale, as well, because they’re not going overboard.

“It’s also more cost-effective,” she adds. “Rather than doing a really ornate edge detail, they’re doing things more simply. It’s more timeless.”

But while Europe is seeing the use of high gloss surfaces and colors, design in the U.S. is still more conservative, with warm woods and dark stains taking the place of high shine and stark contrasts.

Maglia stresses the popularity of subway tiles as something she’s been doing quite a bit. “It’s really classic, but it’s also kind of modern, too, because it’s so simplistic.”

In the higher-end markets, granite is being passed over in favor of other, less glossy surfaces, note many designers.

“Marble is really big on countertops, especially honed marble, as well as soapstone, limestone and slate,” relates Maglia. She adds that she’s also doing a lot of honed black granite that resembles soapstone, “for people who have a very active kitchen and want zero maintenance.”

Johnson notes that her firm’s new showroom features a European Estate kitchen display with a soapstone countertop with a soapstone sink. “That’s a trend that is huge,” she stresses.

People are also incorporating modern elements, such as glass tiles. “You wouldn’t think that glass tiles would be that popular in Europe, but it’s a huge trend – enormous – in London especially,” states Maglia.

She notes that wood floors are also on the rise in the kitchen. “It really does warm up the room,” she comments. “It’s a new trend, though it’s a throwback to way back when.”

That statement truly sums up the overall approach to today’s European design influences – putting a new twist on an old classic. KBDN