This year’s cultural conversation about the 1 percent and the 99 percent might be politically volatile, but steer the discussion away from income inequality and you’re likely to find widespread appreciation of that tiny statistical sliver of statistics at the top. Pick any group of athletes, for example; the rare talents always solicit plenty of admiration. How about national college rankings for academic excellence? Or a city’s best restaurants?
The point is, great performances are always welcome at the table. Even if we can’t all match the stellar quality levels at the top of any discipline, we can appreciate and even learn or benefit from them. That’s especially true of homebuilding and renovation, where great examples of design and artisanship end up in the magazines and books we scour for ideas and inspiration. Most homeowners are happy to duplicate or adapt ideas from these sources, even if few of us will ever write a check with as many zeroes as it took to produce the results found on those impressive pages.
Even with housing values still battered and bruised, our homes are as central to our lives as they have ever been, and the kitchen is still the heart of most. That role is celebrated in House Beautiful: Kitchens, a compilation from the pages of House Beautiful magazine, by Lisa Cregan.
The kitchens that made the cut for this book are, presumably, the best from among many featured in the namesake magazine, and they come adorned with adjectives such as ultimate, dream and gorgeous. The sizes and styles vary widely, but they all reflect the skills of proven designers at the top of their game, and of the many craftsmen and fabricators who transformed the designers’ ideas into material reality.
Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of custom and/or high-end goods in these kitchens, but not everything reflects spending power. Many features are simply about getting the right balance of colors or textures, improving the room’s layout or function, or making the storage more user-friendly. Any of these objectives could be tackled with similar strategies, even if the finer aesthetics are out of reach of modest budgets. And some luxury touches, even if pricey, are kept to a scale that could be duplicated in many other projects.
The book’s subtitle, Creating a Beautiful Kitchen of Your Own, is a clear indication that the contents are not intended as mere eye candy or as out-of-reach riches to be coveted. The format follows suit accordingly. For example, the profile of each kitchen is followed by a section called “Stalking the Look,” which provides specific information about the products and materials featured as well as the design strategies employed in using them. Essentially, they translate the styles into manageable parts.
Additional planning savvy is provided via other sections in the book. “Breakout Sessions” provide the basics of kitchen layout and function, discuss how to handle color issues, and offer guidance on trends such as the inclusion of multifunction islands in many kitchen floor plans. There’s even a litany of Do-and-Don’t advice from many of the designers whose work is featured. Many of these recommendations reflect hard-won wisdom for which someone else paid dearly, and they can help reduce regrets and mistakes in other kitchen projects.
Other sections called “Object Lessons” focus specifically on product and material categories, and include everything from cooling and cooking appliances to flooring, lighting fixtures, sinks and faucets, countertops and backsplashes, and storage options.
The book’s overriding character derives from an array of unique and very personalized designs. This is good for inspiration, but can be frustrating and intimidating for DIY remodelers and others with limited renovation budgets. Also, it tends to make the results more exotic than some homeowners might want for themselves.
If there’s any caveat to this compilation, it’s that bling-struck readers will need to keep their own preferences and priorities in mind, which might be hard to do amid so many remarkable and pricey kitchens. Many professional designers like to pursue new territory with each project. This is understandable; there’s no fun in running a “been there, done that” design business. But rarefied goods and high-end solutions are by definition not for everyone, so the virtue here lies in the creative strategies rather than the dollar amounts evident. Seeing so much planning and design excellence in one volume can’t help but contribute to a new kitchen you’ll love, and that is priceless in any currency.