Kitchen Heads Toward the New Millennium

The kitchens of the 1980s and 1990s were suddenly high on style, and it wasn't always good. But in the 21st century we're getting back to good design.
By: Mark McCauley
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In the kitchen, the 1980s were all about stripping down and getting back to basics. That wasn't always pretty, but in the 1990s: Watch out. Everyone switched recipes and went for style, any style, doesn't matter if it matches the rest of the home, it's Style with a capital "S."

What do you want? You can have it. How about an 18th-century kitchen in deep cherry with brass batwing drawer pulls, maybe an Arts-and-Crafts Kitchen, an ethnic-influenced kitchen, perhaps a little California washed-wood finish with that delightful pink undertone was your cup of tea. It was the "anything goes" concept in the '90s, your choice. That's because the kitchen industry wised up and stopped telling people what was fashionable and started asking people what they wanted.

What people wanted, it turned out, was a humongous industrial stove. It was de rigueur to have such a veritable stainless steel monster of a stove — even though you nuked everything — that looked like it belonged in the kitchen of the St. Regis Hotel, whipping up meals for hundreds, three times a day. These babies were big mothers, and, not unlike an automobile, status symbols.

On top of the big-stove fetish, everybody today seems to want to be an Italian. This comes from the following poor reasoning: If I surround myself with Italian style, it will magically change me into a magnificent Italian chef.

Unfortunately, this reasoning is somewhat unsound — sorry to disappoint you. And, in fact, you should absolutely avoid the latest kitchen fashions. A kitchen is going to have a long lifespan, due for the most part to the expense. You aren't going to want to redo your kitchen next fall, so the style you pick today tends to stick around. In 2015, every single human being who views your Tuscan calamity will go, "Hmmm, I bet they did this kitchen in 2005." And darned if they'd be right! Won't you be embarrassed?

The way out of this mess is to decorate your kitchen in conjunction with, not as a complete departure from, the rest of the home's architecture. Look at your home, inside and out, check out the molding style, the roofline and the materials used in other parts of the home. For example, if you have a brick facade on your home, consider incorporating that into your kitchen design, perhaps a travertine pillowed marble backsplash that replicates a brick wall. If you have flagstone outside, consider a flagstone floor in the kitchen.

Your kitchen is your home in miniature, and it is unlikely that you live 50 miles outside of Florence. It's your home, your kitchen, and the essence of the home. Use that to inspire your design choices and old Buckminster Fuller, the guy who got us thinking about the kitchen as the heart of the home, will be proud.

Mark McCauley is the senior interior designer at Darleen's Interiors in Naperville, Ill.

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