Charming Cottage-Inspired Kitchen

Designer Christine Donner creates a sophisticated kitchen design that features pro-quality appliances, an oversized island and contrasting white and dark cabinetry.

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Designer Christine Donner creates a beautiful kitchen in Darien, Conn., with contrasting white and dark woods. Subway tile laid in a herringbone pattern adds to the classic feel of the space, while also creating visual interest. We caught up with Donner to find out how she tackled challenges and incorporated the homeowners' goals into the kitchen.

Describe the homeowners' wishlist.

They wanted a dramatic-looking kitchen with drop-dead kitchen styling, using the highest quality materials as well as space and equipment for two serious cooks. This room has a 48-inch range with double ovens, a single oven, hi-speed oven/microwave and warming drawer.

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What were the homeowners' design problems?

We really did not have a space issue in this room; it's so generous we could do what we wanted. A bigger problem was getting the window right – wide and tall enough. We actually rejected the original window, sold it off and ordered a much taller one. It made all the difference to the drama of the space.

What was your biggest obstacle in this space?

Since our palette was white on white on white with some silver and dark notes, the challenge was to create visual variety, some way for the eye to travel around the room. Varying the cabinet heights, using a silver grille in the angled corner cabinets that sit on the counter and the intricate patterning of the backsplash tiles were all efforts to create variety within our constraints.

How does the end result match up with your original vision?

I think every project turns out a bit differently than you envision it because you can't know the sum of the whole until it's done and all the parts come together: the walnut floor, the marble, the white on white – and it sings. It's better than you hoped. It takes on its own life. This was one that exceeded all our expectations – a stunning room to step into.

What lessons did you learn?

This young homeowner had a vision that was quite clear and eclectic and just a bit ahead of the curve. She has no problem mixing and matching periods or going bold with scale. The contrasting palette of whites with very dark wood was just coming into vogue. She also wanted shiny silver hardware in an almost Art Deco design. It's now used everywhere, but she was the first. I enjoyed working with her, as it stretched me as a designer.

What are the "hidden gems"?

Those wall sconces. That long wall of white cabinets needed relief, needed something to wake them up. I had to struggled to clear the space for those sconces, but they add just the right note of sparkle and style. I also ran the tiles up the wall to right under the sconces, giving them prominence in the design. The herringbone pattern of small subway tiles on the backsplash added another note of personality.

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