September 29, 2022

Above: Kitchen millwork gleams in high-gloss Red Wine by Fine Paints of Europe in a Manhattan apartment designed by Nick Olsen.


For more than a century, kitchens have evolved at a steady clip. Victorian models were no-nonsense workspaces buried downstairs or in the back of the house and managed by servants. During the first half of the 20th century, they blossomed into cheerful rooms where housewives cooked three meals a day while keeping an eye on their children. After World War II, a hunger for sociability and a thirst for efficiency led to kitchens that opened to surrounding rooms, with islands holding the appliances as well as the storage space that had gone missing when walls were taken down.

And that is pretty much the story of kitchens today. The question is, When is the white-kitchen trend finally going to die? “People are very attached to this light and airy thing, which is my ultimate pet peeve because not everything needs to be light and airy,” says designer Danielle Colding, who recently did one kitchen with cabinets painted in high-gloss saffron yellow. “You need contrast. If everything is light, you get no dimension.”

kitchen with rustic wood counter and stools with wood bodies and metal legs and white tiled walls

In Bronson Van Wyck’s idiosyncratic Manhattan home, a custom island clad in salvaged pine.

Pernille Loof

“I think it’s cool to have a moody kitchen,” echoes designer Brittany Marom, who likes mixing wood accents like tambour doors and oak hoods into her kitchens. “It’s a bigger pain to constantly maintain your white cabinetry and marble.”

We have been stuck on the white kitchen because of a meetup of influences. There is the belief that because cuisines are so central to our lives, they should present no risk of getting on our nerves. There is the fear that a unique kitchen affects the home’s resale value. And there is the Instagram phenomenon of certain white ones taking on the totemic allure of the Parthenon.

kitchen with speckled floor and green tiled wall behind counter

Commercial appliances contrast with majolica tiles and terrazzo in the kitchen of a villa on Capri, Italy, designed by Giuliano Andrea dell’Uva.

Nathalie Krag

But now the needle is finally moving. After two years of confinement, people are thinking less about what the next owners might want in a kitchen and more about themselves. Or as Colding puts it: “They’re saying, ‘This kitchen is for me, and I want to enjoy it.’”

“Not everything needs to be light and airy”

This attitude yields not just greater visual daring but also less preciousness. Designer Ernest de la Torre persuaded the owners of an early-20th-century mansion in Tuxedo Park, New York, not to rip out the 1960s St. Charles kitchen but to paint the stainless steel cabinets turquoise. (The wood floor was painted, too.) “It’s their favorite room in the whole house,” he says.

Emma Beryl says she sees her design clients gravitating to “living” materials like stone and wood “that will age with them.” These people have come to terms with stained and nicked marble and the idea that “your home should look more like a home.”

stainless steel kitchen cabinetry with multiple windows with white shades behind it and a dark flora rug on the floor

Polished stainless steel cabinetry in an apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia, designed by Eka Papamichael.

Francesco Dolfo

For perfectionists seeking alternatives to natural stone, there is the evolving world of engineered quartz slabs from firms like Caesarstone and Cambria, which are highly resistant to stains and scratches and come in a variety of colors and finishes.

Appliances from brands like Sub-Zero, Wolf, and LG are ever higher-tech. And for fans of color, Big Chill’s retro-style stove comes in pastel green with a brushed copper trim, and Bertazzoni’s ranges are coated in sleek automotive paint inspired by Italian racing cars. “It used to be that La Cornue was one of the only brands that did the fun, colorful ranges, and now that’s expanded tenfold,” Colding says.

For all these advances, one kind of modern kitchen harks back to Victorian times. De la Torre says more of his clients are requesting discreet chefs’ kitchens for private cooks to prepare meals. Because these spaces often occupy a lower floor, he added, “old-fashioned dumbwaiters are back.”


Outdoor Kitchens 101

In a 2021 survey of kitchen trends conducted by the American Institute of Architects, outdoor kitchens topped the list of popular features. Advice for those hopping on the bandwagon:

Consider the Materials

Teak seems like a natural for cabinets, but it weathers and needs to be restained every year, designer Brittany Marom says.

Consider the Fun

“I did one recently with a rosé tap,” Emma Beryl recalls.

Consider the Management

Will you be constantly schlepping supplies from inside? The outdoor kitchen that can store what you need may not have been invented yet, designer Ernest de la Torre says.

may 2022 cover  elle decor

This story originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE


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