A Taste of Italy

A Taste of Italy

By Leslie Hart

Nevertheless, there were enough mind-expanding ideas and provocative combinations of materials and looks to keep our cameras popping and sketch-books full, especially for American design professionals more accustomed to a traditional design vocabulary.
The overall aesthetic in the majority of kitchens was geometric, pared down, simple, elegant, and clean.

We were inspired by inventive use of lighting, surprised at countertop materials (no granite!), intrigued by the new hidden kitchen and delighted by the bold scale of hoods and lamp shades.

We were stopped in our tracks by bold colors and lingered to rub our hands over tactile wood grains. We chuckled at the possible return of l980s white and laminate European cabinetry and laughed outright at some cutesy rooms that resulted when our sleek European cousins tried their hand at traditional country looks.

Color Trends
Dark and medium silvery gray wood grains, deeply wire brushed, dominated the show. Although there were still some light oak finishes, these were in decline from the previous 2002 show.

Dark rift-cut oaks looked stately paired with stainless steel or creamy solid surface or composite counters. So did the deeper brown walnuts.

Secondary to the dark grays were dark chocolate finishes. While oak and walnut predominated, there were also highly patterned and sometimes exotic wood grains such as mahogany, teak, olive, zebra and eucalyptus. The dark woods appeared most often with a semi-gloss finish rather than matte. Overall, wood grains were used predominantly on the horizontal rather than vertical.

Not everything in the palette was subdued, however. The darker woods were punched up with blasts of citrus oranges and limes. Red in many tones popped up as another frequent accent color, ranging from fire engine laminates, to cherry red paint, to oxblood stains on wood.

Designers whose work was evident at the event frequently employed a "cube" approach to color combinations. For instance, they used a row of cabinet doors in the center of a tall elevation to introduce a new color.

An intriguing glimpse of a new trend on the horizon the antithesis of the dark woods but in sync with the retro movement was the reappearance in a few places of the contemporary all-white kitchen, a return of the early l980s European look with aluminum channel pulls.

There was a new interpretation of the early 1980s Poggenpohl door with grooved horizontally grained dark wood in an aluminum frame and a reintroduction of the Almillmo ribbed laminate door. Gloss polyester, acrylic and laminate doors staged a small comeback, as well.

Geometry Lesson
The one piece that symbolized the overall design vocabulary at Milan was the classic Parson's table. The shape was used to intersect with, or interrelate to, other pieces. For example, it appeared at a right angle tethered as a peninsula to a run of cabinets, but either sitting above or below the counter height. It reached up to 42" to elongate a rectangular island. It also served as a bridge to connect two elements in a corridor shape, or to create a T-shape gathering area with decorative wall storage at the top end of the T.

Sometimes it jutted out as an open end to a run of cabinets or looked like its old self as a regular table in the middle of the room, topped by a bold, overscaled circular light shade.

Several islands were clearly Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired. The base was made up of a shelf created by a horizontal member sitting on the toe kick. A free-standing shelf was then placed midway, which wrapped around one or both sides of the island as it extended out the back. The countertop then extended and aligned itself with the shelves below.

One adaptation had one side of the island extended for a two- to three-person seating area at the end, with the back including
L-shaped wraparound shelves.

Closed cabinet storage was liberally mixed with elegant open shelf storage created within a system. For example, aluminum frame encased veneer panels were separated by a channel housing L-shaped aluminum brackets to support glass shelves.

Cabinet door configurations, like the wood grains, emphasized the horizontal. For instance, there were almost no traditional sink base cabinets with doors; they all had drawers instead (easier to do without disposers, of course.) But even in other locations, drawers got very long and quite shallow.

Wall cabinets, too, posed some issues for petite visitors. Rather than typical wall cabinets, the Italians and Germans generally used long horizontal flip-up doors (think of airplane luggage compartments). Aesthetically pleasing, often with sleek glass doors edged with a slight bevel framed in aluminum, they did present ergonomic challenges. Anyone 5'2" could barely reach the opened doors to pull them closed. A configuration that worked better was a wall cabinet door that split in the middle, the top half moving up, the bottom (with handle) pulling down.

One exception that nicely counterbalanced the horizontal feel was a design element consisting of a block of nine square (24"x24") cabinets lined up on a wall, tick-tack-toe fashion. Often this piece was used at the end of the room where the kitchen would transition into the dining area. Generally, these cabinets had touch latches. Sometimes the block of cabinets was set over low open shelves.

Setting off deep toned wood cabinets were quiet, elegant countertops of either solid surfacing, quartz composite, or even laminate. The quartz composite had a much finer particulate than commonly seen here.

These mainstream materials were enriched by thicker fronts, edged in wood or set into mitered metal frames. Counters often wrapped into legs, Parson's table style.

End splashes were frequently finished in an alternative material to the actual door such as vertically grooved aluminum ends on cabinets with wood doors, and stainless steel ends.

While there was some marble, use of this material has clearly declined since the show that took place two years ago. There was almost no granite or terrazzo in evidence, either. There was, however, some use of other stone, seen in natural honed/matte stones for the first time.

Stainless counters appeared everywhere as workhorses of the kitchen with integrated cooktops and sinks all as one piece.
Glass countertops looked fresh, especially on an elegant arched molding (1" to 1-1/4" thick) that served as a platform for 1/4" to 1/2" glass top. When a backsplash was used, it was typically short at 1" to 1/2", or tall at 8" to 12".

Light as a Design Tool
The most potent and inventive design tool used to catch visitors' eyes at the show was lighting, especially much more interesting applications of diffused lighting.

It was used as a room divider; on backsplashes; over, under and in the middle of shelving, inside cabinets and tucked in a channel between counter and base cabinets. For example, there was a 42" high x 6" deep illuminated frosted glass panel between a kitchen and adjacent living area. Back lighting created drama in a wood framed wall section housing open shelving.

Many kitchens featured open aluminum framed shelves with illuminated frosted glass inserts. Depending on the location of the lighting, the shelves provided uplighting or down (task) lighting.

A hanging wall of nine square cabinets with translucent panel doors was made more dramatic with interior lighting. Many cabinets (tall, base and wall) had lights that went on when doors opened. Another variation was an electric eye in a backsplash to control kitchen lighting.

Other great uses of lighting in evidence included:

  • An elongated strip in an overhanging countertop (again, made of glass).
  • A light washed technique behind a glass backsplash (approximately 8" to 12" high) with grommet connectors in each corner.
  • A molded shaped Corian light fixture connected to the sink cabinet.

Not all lighting was built-in, however. Dramatic over-scaled fabric light shades, round or rectangular, appeared singly or in pairs over islands or peninsulas.

This same oversize, double-barreled approach was applied to hoods and other appliances. Not one, but two, side-by-side chimneys rose dramatically over cooktops. Twin wall ovens, or even a trio, were placed side-by-side rather than stacked. Sometimes they were wall hung, or simply sat on a counter, almost as pieces of sculpture, rather than built into cabinetry.
Dishwashers often stretched to 36". But the must-have appliance, in almost every kitchen, was the built-in espresso machine. One look that perplexed at least these American visitors: hoods that arched away from the user so you looked right into the guts.
After years of breaking down the kitchen walls, designers in Europe are building them back in again, closing off a space that might be called the "hidden kitchen."

Concealed behind what look like tall pantry doors or behind sliding doors, the hidden kitchen detaches the food prep and dining area from the more nitty-gritty clean up and storage area.

The hidden kitchen, somewhat like a butler's pantry, contains storage, dishwasher and sink, and is designed for the messier parts of prepping and cleaning up. Borrowing a function from professional kitchens, it's a spot for the sous chef and bus boy. Final cooking and dining takes place in the more public, designed and formal part of the room.

While a few traditional kitchens did creep into the show, for the most part they were viewed by Americans as unsuccessful, either with poor proportions or ditsy, cutesy looks. One exception, however, was one kitchen with linen-weight lace fused to glass inserts in cabinet doors and edged with bronze metal molding.

The Asian look is waning in kitchens, as evidenced by the displays, although it was still the dominant theme for accessories at the show.

The Milan kitchen show, Eurocucina, takes place in even years as part of the Milan Furniture Fair or Salone Internazionale del Mobile. Once primarily devoted to Italian cabinet manufacturers, this year it drew German, French and Austrian companies as well, for a total of 150 exhibitors. For more information on the show, go to www.cosmit.it. KBDN