Giving Your Kitchen a Timeless Quality

by Bonnie Richardson

With good planning and careful attention to the selection of materials, the typical homeowner can develop a kitchen that will last a lifetime; one that will age gracefully and only become more comfortable over time. The best way to illustrate what I mean is to provide answers to the following questions.

I want to be sure I'm getting good value for my investment. What can I do to make sure my kitchen will stay current?

A kitchen that fits the character of the rest of the house will always be in style. That does not mean it has to have a "period look," but its materials and finishes should complement the balance of the house. Traffic patterns, work spaces, lighting, and ventilation need to be carefully considered. If a kitchen functions well – if it's comfortable for just about any cook – it will be easy to update in the future.

Do some materials resist looking out of date better than others?

You can always rely on the beauty of natural materials. There are a variety of wood grains and finishes that will remain current over time. Granite and other stone will provide quality surfaces that will complement many different styles. Stainless steel, tin, copper, and galvanized metal are also interesting materials that offer a lasting finish.

I like all the new trendy colors, but I worry about committing something as permanent as my kitchen to them.

If you know you like change, plan for it. Try cabinets that have a paint-grade finish, with a simple shape and solid structure. In five or six years you can repaint and install new hardware accessories and have a totally new look. Most appliances today have panel inserts that accommodate a face changing.

Color is an important element. Strong, bold hues can give the room vitality, but owners often tire of colors after a few years. The answer is not necessarily an all white or beige kitchen. Just restrict colors to paintable surfaces, fabrics, and accessories that can be easily changed.

Is there any rule of thumb regarding storage?

You can never go wrong by designing substantial storage into a kitchen. Walk-in pantries are always appreciated. Include a few outlets in the pantry at counter height and you can turn one shelf into an appliance counter. Add a window, or perhaps a second sink, and it can become a butler's pantry with a work station that will accommodate another cook. Good planning is important when it comes to storage. Often-used items need to be easily accessible, while seasonal serving pieces can be tucked away in a more remote location.

What can you do with a kitchen that looks like it's trapped in a time warp?

It is true that some things will come and go: trash compactors, harvest gold and avocado appliances. Retrofitting those items is generally pretty simple if the balance of the kitchen works well. The space for the trash compactor can be redesigned for pull-out recycling bins, and most appliances can be replaced with little or no cabinet adjustment. However, if the refrigerator is located in the wrong place to begin with, it's still going to be in the wrong place no matter what color it is. And if the countertop is royal blue laminate, it may be difficult to work into a new color palette.

I really love to cook. How should my kitchen remodel differ from, say, a run-of-the-mill project?

There are times when a kitchen should be specifically designed with the cook in mind. A gourmet cook will require more space for tools and appliances than someone who restricts their menu to "microwave only." People who bake frequently have special needs. Discuss your specific needs and cooking habits with your designer to be sure he or she has a detailed understanding of what's important to you and can plan accordingly.

Bonnie Richardson
Since graduating from Arizona State University in 1983 with a bachelor of architecture degree, Bonnie Richardson has worked for local architecture firms. She established her independent practice in 1987 and has also served for many years as a faculty associate in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at ASU.

National Kitchen & Bath Association
The content of this article is provided courtesy of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). At, you'll find an inspiration gallery of award-winning kitchen and bath designs from NKBA members, complete with photos and floorplans. In addition, this consumer website offers articles and tips written specifically for homeowners, an extensive glossary of kitchen and bath remodeling terms, and illustrations and explanations of kitchen and bath planning guidelines. There, you can also e-mail questions to the NKBA's kitchen and bath experts, as well as order a free copy of the NKBA Kitchen & Bath Workbook.