Taking Center Stage

Focal points in a space serve a variety of functions, not the least of which is drawing attention and adding the ‘wow’ factor that makes heads turn.

Cooking centers are one of the most common areas that designers like to emphasize, oftentimes creating a custom ventilation hood or intricate backsplash pattern that sets off a professional-grade cooktop.

However, designers frequently look to other areas of the kitchen as well. Sometimes it’s an island in a contrasting finish, a great colored appliance, a cool piece of artwork or even a unique countertop treatment that takes center stage.

This month, Kitchen & Bath Design News asked several kitchen designers to share a favorite space, highlighting what materials and products make the design stand out…and what elements help to support it to create the perfect kitchen.


Designer: Cheryl Kees Clendenon, owner; In Detail Interiors; Pensacola, FL

Design goal: This kitchen was designed for a young family who wanted a harmonious eat-in and live-in space.

Focal point: The island

Focal point elements: Cerused white oak cabinetry offers masculinity and heft to the island, which features custom furniture-style details and mouldings. The island is topped with Raven Caesarstone to provide a sort of modern juxtaposition. “The island anchors the space,” says Kees. “The kitchen is very large, with an open floor plan, so the dark island provides a place for the eye to rest. Everything emanates from it.”

Additionally, the island’s custom stain exudes a hint of green “that doesn’t necessarily read green,” she notes. “I wanted on overlay of dark green that replicates the color of the bayou outside the windows.”

Supporting cast: White perimeter cabinetry features blue undertones to support an organic feel. “It serves as a backdrop for the island,” she says. “It’s light and bright, giving the island more drama. Without the island and other details – such as the lighting and special glass inserts in some of the upper cabinets – this would just be another white kitchen.”

Importance of focal points: For Clendenon, it’s more about creating harmonious spaces rather than placing sole emphasis on a single focal point that ‘screams’ to be seen. “To me, projects need to read as a ‘whole,’” she says. “I don’t necessarily want someone to come into a kitchen or bath and say ‘what a gorgeous backsplash.’ Instead, I prefer they say ‘what a gorgeous kitchen.’ It’s really all about the details, the layers…as well as the materials and design execution.”


Designer: Vasi Ypsilantis, CKD; The Breakfast Room; Manhasset, NY

Design goal: Ypsilantis was commissioned to design the kitchen in a style that reflects the homeowner, who wanted something classic, yet unique and young. “Most importantly, she did not want to have another white kitchen that you expect on Long Island,” she says.

Focal point: Cooking area

Focal point elements: The backsplash features custom white marble and grey glass tiles, set in an arabesque pattern. “The grey glass fits perfectly with the stainless panels and grey tones of the granite in the island,” says the designer. The stainless steel hood is accented with custom panels that feature mullions in a geometric pattern. This same geometric theme is repeated on the refrigerator/freezer panels.

Supporting cast: Angles were a theme for this kitchen design as highlighted in the ceiling which features an octagonal coffer. “This created a lower ceiling to define the overall cabinet height,”’ she says. “Yet the space did not lose its full 11' height in the center of the room.”

Additionally, the peninsula provides a strong visual definition and allows for more counter space, which was important for this Kosher kitchen.

Importance of focal points: Multiple focal points are imperative, says Ypsilantis. “There should be a focal point from every point of entry, as well as from interior points where someone would stand or sit for extended periods of time,” she says. “Focal points are sometimes strong, as in the case of this range/hood area, or subtle, such as the architectural oversized arch and window area that looks to the outside. Another subtle focal point in this kitchen is the wall of tall units with the refrigerator/freezer covered with custom geometric panels.”


Designer: Michael O'Brien, managing partner; Arizona Designs Kitchens and Baths; Tucson, AZ

Design goal: O’Brien designed this space to preserve and enhance the views of the desert landscape surrounding this mountain home, while providing a natural aesthetic and enhancing functionality.

Focal point: Dual focal points include backless upper cabinets combined with a granite farm sink

Focal point elements: Because this space is all about nature and the view, O’Brien modified the standard cabinets above the sink by replacing the standard back with glass, then adding glass shelves. Since this window faces east, a lot of natural morning light floods the room.

In addition to preserving the view, the homeowners wanted to bring the natural beauty of the sand, trees and rocks into the kitchen, replicating the desert tones with the raw-edge, apron-front granite sink. “Using this color of granite brings the outside in, giving the kitchen a desert look,” says O’Brien, adding that its unfinished edge adds to the rustic appeal.

Supporting cast: A neutral palette, natural materials and rustic finishes emphasize the homeowners’ desire for a kitchen that fits with its surroundings.

Importance of focal points: The kitchen is often a natural gathering space in a home, whether around the island, dining table or cooking around the range, says O’Brien. “Focal points serve to draw people further into the kitchen space and make them feel comfortable,” he explains. “They also enhance the overall theme of the design and can act as conversation starters at a get-together. What the homeowner and designer choose to make as a focal point also provides insight into the people themselves – what their priorities are and what they value.”


Designer: Design Team; Artisan Kitchens and Baths; Buffalo, NY

Design goal: This space needed a strong visual element at the far end of the kitchen to draw and welcome people into the space.

Focal point: Wolf range/cooking center

Focal point elements: The custom cabinet hood unifies the area with the entirety of the kitchen. The tile backsplash, with metallic elements and pot filler, softens the impact of the large range and pulls the eye to a place where the majority of the design elements come together in harmony.

Supporting cast: The quantity and variety of interesting geometric elements in this space are unique. While the design team had some challenging angles to work with, by varying the angles of the peninsula and islands, and by incorporating softened angles and curves, the pathways become more accessible and welcoming.

The ensemble is flanked by windows, which provide a pleasant view of the yard and train the eye to the focal point like a frame, while breaking the space with natural light and eliminating the potential for a ‘cave’ effect.

Importance of focal points: Focal points provide a first glance summary of the intended feel of the space. They should excite, amuse and beckon the viewer to look around in greater detail, much like an amuse-bouche in a restaurant setting. Pulling the eye to the far end of this generously proportioned space allows viewers to immerse themselves into the warmth of the room.


Designer: Kathy Marshall, owner; K. Marshall Design; Wenham, MA

Design goal: A large addition was added to the house, which pushed the kitchen to the center, thereby eliminating a traditional sink-in-front-of-the-window design. “The homeowners also wanted to make the space fit their French Country-inspired home,” she elaborates. “And with four older kids, she wanted to take the design to the next phase of their lives…she wanted something that was sophisticated, something they could entertain in.”

Focal point: Copper hood with diamond-shaped backsplash tiles

Focal point elements: The copper hood takes center stage in the cooking area, which is accented by diamond-shaped backsplash tiles and an oil-rubbed bronze pot filler. The backsplash tile is repeated throughout the kitchen and into the adjacent bar area. To mimic the diamond pattern, Marshall included several glass cabinet doors with custom diamond-shaped mullions.

Supporting cast: The island, bar and desk area complement the space, creating additional focal points throughout the kitchen, “depending on where you sit,” she notes. The rich brown stain in the bar area cabinets and refrigerator panels tie in with the island and its wood top, as well as with the decorative baskets in the desk area.

A final finishing touch is the vintage light fixture above the island. “She found it at an antique store and we had it rewired,” she says. “It’s beautiful and fits perfectly into the décor of the rest of the home.”

Importance of focal points: While focal points are visually pleasing, they also help to unclutter the mind, notes the designer. “They take your eye to a certain spot,” she says. “Then, as you move around the room, they help tell a story. When I design a room, I consider myself a storyteller…creating a starting point, then moving around the room and completing thoughts. When it’s done well, it’s also functional. Clients may only pick up on the fact that there is a lot of countertop space and that it looks like someplace they’d like to cook. But when the homeowners are in the kitchen, I want them to feel they’re in a warm, comfortable space that represents who they are.”