Kenneth Brown on the Functional Kitchen

What is a functional kitchen? It's all about what works for you, says designer Kenneth Brown. Here, his advice on creating the kitchen you want.

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Interior designer Kenneth Brown doesn't cook, but he still loves the kitchen in his L.A. loft. Glass windows line the walls, with "dark, dark walnut cabinets" below and a white countertop of Calcutta marble. A concrete floor and huge sisal rug complete the space. But even though Kenneth uses the cabinets to store nonkitchen items (and the microwave more than any other appliance), his clean, streamlined kitchen works for his busy life. It's also a reflection of the driving philosophy behind his designs: "Build for what you're gonna use."

Kenneth, host of HGTV's redesign, believes that kitchens should "fit what you need in how you use your kitchen. Some people are happy with a hot plate and a mini fridge; others are gourmet cooks and make meals for 100 people a month." He's encouraged that more people are starting to realize that "these gi-normous kitchens are a waste." Many large kitchens don't function well, he points out, because they're so big that the distance from fridge to stove is too far, or they have two work triangles, requiring lots of extra steps. Kenneth encourages everyone who's contemplating a kitchen redo to "be more responsible about creating what we really need, and not doing it to impress." With that in mind, here are some tips from Kenneth on creating a workable and beautiful kitchen:

Streamline everything. Make sure you have enough room for storage so there's no clutter on the countertops, Kenneth says. If you want to take the clean look a step further, use Kenneth's favorite trick: Install all the electrical outlets underneath the upper cabinets so you don't have visible outlets cluttering up the backsplash.

Create family space in the kitchen. "At the end of the day when everyone's home the kitchen is the place where everyone recharges." There should be a safe place for kids to hang out or do homework, and a spot for a computer. "People enjoy surfing the web in the kitchen, and it's great to have it right there for pulling up recipes for cooking."

Let the kitchen reflect your personality, and not the standards of what you think a kitchen should look like. One of Kenneth's favorite projects was the redesign of a kitchen on a very tight budget. He took the doors off the cabinets to expose freshly painted shelves as an alternative to installing new cabinetry. He brought in a 1950s banquette for seating as a place for the family to hang out, and hung photos of the owners as goofy 8-year-olds on the walls. "We sort of broke the rules," Kenneht says. "But it was all about customizing the kitchen for the homeowner."

Make tough choices. There are so many products available now, from cabinet finishes to hardware, that making a choice can seem paralyzing. "That's the biggest problem every homeowner faces," says Kenneth. "You have to learn to edit and just accept that you're going to stick with one element that's the main feature." If you're in love with your countertops, then choose a backsplash that won't compete with it. "Find other elements to balance it out that won't steal the show."

Function should always come first. Kenneth says his biggest design mistake ever was when he honed Carrara marble for kitchen countertops. "When you hone marble you're stripping off its finish to give it more of a flat, matte look," he explains. "But you're also stripping off the layer that keeps things from soaking into it." As soon as one wet glass touched the countertop, it was "marked for life." Kenneth was good friends with the homeowners, and replaced the countertop with a glossier, but much more functional, intact Carrara marble.

Kathy McCleary is a frequent contributor to

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Kenneth Brown Design


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