Around the Kitchen

Experts weigh in on the latest and greatest countertops, cabinets, floors and appliances.


Courtesy of Turbochef

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Granite or marble? Maple or walnut? Tile or hardwood? And then there's concrete, stainless, cork-and what's that we heard about recycled glass for countertops? The array of options for designing a kitchen can be dizzying-especially when taking into consideration the fact that it's some serious spending you'll be doing. The 2007 "Cost vs. Value" report from Remodeling magazine, for example, puts a price tag of $21,516 on a minor kitchen remodel for a midrange home in New England and $54,438 on a major one-suffice it to say you'll be living with your decisions for quite some time. No worries. To keep you up to date on your options, we turned to kitchen experts around the state for their take on the latest and greatest products and trends in kitchen design, from the clean-lined cabinets high above you to the gleaming floor beneath your feet-and everything in between. Take a look. Take a deep breath. And then have some fun!

Counter Intuitive
Granite, granite, granite and more granite: If you haven't heard that this ubiquitous stone is where it's at in kitchen countertops, you must've been hiding beneath, well, some other kind of rock.
"It's tough to walk away from the value granite offers," says Karen Roy of Stowe Kitchen & Bath Design Center in South Windsor. For its strength (it ranks right up there with diamonds in terms of scratch resistance), its ease of maintenance (throw a sealer on it once a year and you're good to go) and the hundreds if not thousands of color combinations it comes in, it's "a nice entry-level way to get into an upgraded countertop," sums up Roy-which is why everyone and the Joneses seem to covet it.
"Finishes are where we're seeing the greatest changes in granite," says Gerard Ciccarello of Covenant Kitchens & Baths in Westbrook. "Leather," "brushed" and "honed" finishes provide a soft matte surface and subtle texture that, says Annette DePaepe of Klaff's in Danbury and South Norwalk, allow you to "really make granite your own." A honed finish also translates well to kitchen candidates like marble and limestone, which in high-shine form are highly susceptible to etching from acidic foods like lemon juice and vinegar.
Beyond stone, why not consider something concrete? "We think of concrete as an art form," says Ciccarello. "You can do amazing things with it." And because oh-so-hip concrete can be fabricated in unlimited colors, textures and finishes, molded into virtually any shape or form, and used to embed personal mementos, it makes for a countertop that is truly unlike any other in the marketplace. Covenant's Westbrook showroom, for example, boasts a concrete island countertop with a wave pattern that's inlaid with treasures gathered during long walks along the beach. "People can't keep their hands off it," says Ciccarello.
And then there's the "green team." Key member Vetrazzo creates stunning countertops composed of recycled glass combined with tinted cement. The glass, which makes up an impressive 85 percent of the total mix, comes from everything from curbside recycling programs to decommissioned traffic lights to windshields. A "Certificate of Transformation" provided with each countertop even tells you exactly where the glass in your countertop came from. Hollywood Sage, for example, is a glamorous green styled from the recycled "Georgia Green" bottles used for, among other drinks, ice-cold Coca-Cola. Bottom line: Good-looking for you; good for Mother Earth.
The best news in countertops yet? Take some of that irresistible granite and mix and match it with one (or more) other countertop materials as accents and you will be considered quite au courant, suggests DePaepe. Consider metals like stainless steel, copper or zinc; thick slabs of clear glass or rich mahogany counters lacquered with a trendy marine finish (why settle for a simple maple butcher block?). These may not hold up as well as granite to typical kitchen "use and abuse," says DePaepe, but when combined they offer the best of both worlds. Speaking of which . . . 

Cabinet Meeting
A Westbrook kitchen recently designed by Covenant's Gerard Ciccarello features rich cherry base cabinetry with a custom stain and glaze, a sweeping expanse of creamy white upper cabinetry and an island that is a painterly study in black and red. Oh, yes, it's all about mixed "media" in cabinetry these days. 
"People want a signature kitchen that belongs to them," says Stowe's Karen Roy. A look that blends with the rest of the home and leans, says Roy, toward more "casual, even funky" as opposed to "finished and polished."
You can-and should-certainly mix woods, suggests Gail Bolling of The Kitchen Company in North Haven. Maple and cherry remain the standards but there's also a trend toward woods of character like pine, in all its knotty glory, highly renewable bamboo or Lyptus (from fast-growing Eucalyptus trees), alder, walnut and beautifully cut "ribbon" mahogany.
The deep, dark stains that have become increasingly popular of late provide a solid foundation and contrast with lighter tones-including the relaxed style of custom-painted and/or glazed cabinetry that continues to draw fans. Companies like Wood-Mode also offer such exotic veneers as zebra wood, rift-cut oak and Macassar ebony. "It's more about experimentation than matching," says Bolling.
"Consumers want something special that will reflect the interior-design aspects of the rest of their home," says Klaff's Annette DePaepe. Roy calls it an "unfitted furniture" look. Architectural details like decorative baseboards or crown moldings give the look of the designer pieces that pepper the rest of the home. Helping accomplish such a look are "five-quarter" cabinet doors that measure an inch thick (as opposed to the typical three-quarter-inch) and "allow us to take profile and molding details on doors and make them much more substantial," says Ciccarello.
That being said, "we'll make [your cabinetry] look fantastic," promises Bob Blanco of Shore & Country Kitchens in Fairfield, but function should always come first. "There are more design elements that pertain to the function of cabinetry than you could possibly think of," he says. Take drawers: For starters, Wood-Mode has tilt-out bins, apothecary drawers, built-in knife blocks and drawers that slide right out. Cabinets can be had specifically for your big ol' mixer, your  spices or your home recycling center. There are pull-out pantry towers, tray partitions and appliance garages. "The key," says Blanco, "is to utilize every single inch of space."

Around the Kitchen

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