You know the expression "It's not the clothes you wear but how you wear them?" Well it's the same with kitchen design. Materials only make the difference if you know how to parade them, play with them, and, ultimately, push them to your best advantage.
So let's stop thinking what comes next after stainless steel. Because the answer is more: More stainless steel, more wood-stain cabinets, and more stone. Knowing this..Can we be as innovative as the Romans? or Corbusier? Some of the greatest contributions to architecture, after all, owe to rethinking the most traditional materials. The art lies in the application.
So let's take a closer look at the most commonplace kitchen materials, one at a time.
Wood is easily cut, carved, pierced and joined. So why not manipulate the same wood in different ways, as seen in this highly textural kitchen by Jim Livingston of Livingston Kitchens in Deer Park, Illinois? Lattice work, decorative aprons and baroque corbels are lively layers when harmonized with the same wood stain.
Grain is another consideration. The less seams, the stronger a grain's graphic impact. Try matching long expanses
of grain from surface to surface, as seen on this zebrawood island by Zack Simmons of CKS Design Studio in Durham.
Or consider how distinct grains can be artfully combined with shape and volume, as on this complex edge profile by Craft-Art wood countertops.
Anyone with deep pockets can impress their neighbors with a huge slab of beautifully veined marble. But who would think to bookmatch smaller slabs into a butterfly pattern? The cost of the material is often less and any extra installation time minimal. But as Bethesda MD designer Bradford Creer proves in this marble-clad kitchen, the return makes a one-of-a-kind pattern out of a naturally varying material.
Now up the ante a bit more. Marble isn't quarried by the slab. It comes in blocks that can be cut into several slabs of the same grain.
Karen Williams of St. Charles of New York shops this way, always on the hunt for blocks of stone that can be cut into slabs of different shapes and thicknesses and installed one luxurious layer over another.
Combine the potential of nature and technology, and you have Stile Artistic Design who create intricate inlays of aluminum in marble using laser-jet technology.
As restaurants have known for years, this cool industrial surface is virtually impenetrable, easily cleanable, and therefore both safe and hygienic for use on hardworking countertops and appliances. But why lay it flat only? It can be quilted (as seen in 1950s diners), woven in strips, or manipulated in more painterly ways as seen on the Coquille hood by Cheng Designs. Here a 16-gauge stainless steel is hand burnished with a ribbon finish that brings hard steel the look of streaming water.
Another cool option is to juxtapose machined steel with its thermal opposite—natural, warm-stained woods. The pairing is even more striking in the kitchen below, another by St. Charles of New York, where the choice to wrap wood cabinets with a steel toe kick makes every use of the material appear purely decorative.
And speaking of decorative, the ever-practical stainless steel sink is also available with couture touches. Among the many new customizations offered by Elkay is a new etching technology. Choose a greek key border design or your own monogram—however the surface is etched, its smoothness (as well as durability and longevity) remains the same.
Some may say what's old is new again. Cliché or truly unique, even when using the most common materials, the choice is up to you.