Vern's Design Tips: Dueling Kitchens

In episode two, the Design Stars face the dreaded kitchen challenge. See what Vern says they did right, did wrong and how she could have done it better.

Kitchen with Brown Cabinets and Granite Countertops

Make Sure to Identify an Overall Design Theme

Kitchens are unquestionably the most difficult room in any house to renovate. The intricacies of coordinating precise material measurements for cabinets, countertops and backsplash tiles — along with the coordination of plumbing and outlets for appliances, the sink and the faucet — make this a true test of any candidate seeking the Design Star title.

As always, developing a strong design idea is a key component to success since there are limited opportunities due to the utilitarian necessities of kitchens. Just as important, however, is underscoring functional aspects while ensuring the successful execution of the transformation. Aesthetics, function and execution must all come together in this complicated project, while budget, time and teamwork constraints loom overhead.

Inject Creativity Into Your Design

One of the most unforgivable offenses any designer can inflict on a homeowner is the failure to complete a kitchen transformation. This is the heart of most homes and a non-functioning and incomplete transformation would never be tolerated from a Design Star. From this vantage point, this team has accomplished a monumental task by carefully coordinating all of the necessary elements to ensure that their design was executable within the allotted time and budget. From a design standpoint, there are some strong moves that help update this kitchen while addressing the expressed desires of the family.

Stainless steel appliances are a timeless addition that are adaptable to almost any design scheme and will provide enhanced value to this family’s home. Additionally, the dark stone countertops and dark-brown cabinetry are a classic and highly practical combination that addresses this family’s desire to have a kitchen with a strong ethnic flair. Unquestionably, this kitchen evokes Morocco with its trio of exotic lanterns above the island and the many “curve” and “counter-curve” graphic elements that always suggest this part of the world.

The painted green graphic underneath the bar-height countertop demonstrates that design elements can be creatively injected in unexpected places, while the use of organic produce to stage the scene on the island shows a complete thought process and plenty of time to get all the elements included. Where this kitchen begins to derail, however, is in the lack of editing. More is not necessarily more in the design world, and this kitchen’s relentless injection of “stuff” ultimately makes the overall aesthetic interpretation somewhat unsuccessful. A colorful valance above the sink with paisley print juxtaposed with a Buddha (not generally considered Moroccan) below it is a prime example of not establishing visual focal points in the space.

White Kitchen Breakfast Bar

Use a Breakfast Bar to Create Room Division

This Design Star team has designed a kitchen layout that really cooks: miles of counter space along the perimeter, a convenient island and a separate bar area for entertaining. Designer Candice Olsen, explains one of the issues in open-concept kitchens is that the mess of meal prep is on full display from adjacent rooms. This design incorporates a taller 42-inch-tall height counter to act as a visual bunker between rooms – messy cooks of the world, take note!

Bright kitchen walls in a vibrant red-orange with green accent areas make a bold statement, but must compete with bright-yellow ceilings with unfortunate cobalt-blue accents. Although this kitchen is a phenomenal success in execution and has some inspirational design moments, the overall aesthetic impression is dampened by the myriad of colors and decorative accents all fighting for attention. Choosing a maximum of two wall colors to focus on, along with a serious editing of decorative elements, would have tied this ethnic kitchen together and made a much more sophisticated design statement.

Have a Plan

While the previous kitchen displayed an over-exuberance of color, this team’s kitchen design showcases the opposite side of the coin. A clean-lined design plan, employing neutral materials throughout, gives this kitchen a sophisticated update with a modern edge. A total lack of accessories, however, lends a lifeless quality to the overall feel and is the first indicator that there was a serious dearth of both time and team management.

Upon closer examination, it becomes evident that poor coordination of measurements has led to serious functional issues such as countertops that aren’t quite the right size, cabinet doors that don’t open properly and a backsplash without grout. Kitchen transformations must always be treated like fine-tuned machines and necessitate correct measurements and sequential installation if the expensive materials involved are to be fit properly.

Beautiful wood floors, dark-brown cabinets and sleek stainless steel appliances and cabinet pulls set the stage for a successful transformation, but the lack of material and time management means our homeowners have to wait for a finishing crew to complete the job post-reveal. A total lack of color, from either paint or accessories, causes this kitchen to fall flat. Beautiful material selections aren’t optimally showcased due to the overall bland nature of the walls and could seriously benefit by a wall color with a little more depth. When there is very little contrast between a backsplash, countertop and wall color, there must be another element in the space (such as a light fixture or art) that commands attention as the focal point. In this case, there isn’t anything, so the kitchen feels bland and boring.

The biggest offense, however, is the unfinished transformation itself. A Design Star must always be conscious of the fact that homeowners should be left with a fully functional kitchen that allows their families the ability to cook, eat and gather. Successful transformations are always the confluence of function and design — and this team unfortunately falls apart through poor team member and time management.

Next Up


See Full Schedule

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.