Smart Design Changes the Game in the Kitchen

Inside the Home Tech Experts showroom in Southampton. Michael Heller photo

Where form and function meet is the essence of design. Though once regarded as a functional space only, today’s kitchen is a culmination of features both seen and unseen that have come to define the space. This evolution encompasses the same concept designers have long given the rest of the home, and serves as a highly personal project for clients. Advances in appliances and technology are complemented by thoughtful design that make this central area of the home more than just a place to cook. Catering to a shift in wants and needs from clients, kitchen designers share what elements define the modern kitchen.

A strong consideration of how the homeowner will use the space is determined prior to getting into the materials needed to design a kitchen. Whether it be light cooking on the weekends or hosting large holiday parties, each detail lends itself to the user’s function. Designer Laura Maresca-Sanatore with Hampton Design in Bridgehampton says the firm prides itself on listening to the client’s needs rather than dictating the design of the space. “When I am designing a space, I always start with the appliances and work around those fixed assets of the space,” the designer explains. “It’s often a matter of how they use the space. Do they cook a lot? How do they cook?”

A kitchen by Hampton Design.

Hampton Design clients often select top grade appliances like Sub-Zero and Wolf as the functional elements necessary in their kitchens. This brand of chef-grade products has recently upped their game with the M Series, a line Sanatore speaks about with excitement. Not overly modern or overly traditional, the built-in and transitional options allow these otherwise large appliances to be integrated into cabinets and look seamless in a space.

“Elements that are designed well can be flushed into cabinetry,” Sanatore says. “They blend in well when you panel them. I always panel a dishwasher, it’s just my thing. I think it’s because anything under the counter if I can get it to look like cabinetry, that’s great.”

Technology in kitchen design often refers to appliances for Gary Trapanotto of Designer Kitchens East in Mattituck. Specializing in custom cabinetry design, the company focuses on the minute details that can make a big impact. “On the cabinetry end of it, the most important thing is up-to-date hardware,” he explains, as this is one of Designer Kitchens East’s specialties. “Everyone wants the full extension, soft close drawers and doors, and whatever accessories can be integrated into the cabinets to make them function better for them.”

Founded on advanced and current technology, trending smart appliances allow Home Technology Experts in Southampton to approach the kitchen with the same notion as any other room in a home they design, which often includes audio, video, lighting and smart home control planning.

“For audio, we typically like to make sure that the space will have even sound coverage,” says Home Technology Experts president Alex Karoussos. “If the island runs parallel to the kitchen cabinets we can usually install two speakers in line with the island and provide good coverage for island and prep areas. For larger kitchens that have L-shaped cabinets, we typically end up recommending four to six speakers so that there is even stereo coverage no matter whether your cooking, prepping or entertaining at the kitchen island.”

Incorporating video aspects into the kitchen becomes more complicated as clients typically look for a design that conceals televisions as much as possible when not in use. Recessed options like Séura can blend into the backsplash and there are motorized options where televisions can either drop from upper cabinets or rise from base cabinets. These solutions maintain the user’s ability to utilize technology in the kitchen without being overtly obvious.

Integrating appliances to become non-visual things are part of Sanatore’s aesthetic as well. She notes that while stainless steel is popular, there is a way to incorporate it into the space and keeps it beautiful. “Some appliances can be paneled, some can be stainless steel,” she explains. “It gives good ebb and flow. Stainless can be harsh, it depends on the style of the kitchen, but with paneling you would never know it was there. It gives the kitchen a lot of function and still incorporates form. It kind of blends away.”

To keep technology aesthetically pleasing, Karoussos lists television lifts, Séura Hydra recessed televisions, TRUFIG outlets, Adorne designer wall plates with USB, and Adorne under cabinet lighting and power as features that can blend in easily. Something designers agree that has often been overlooked or underutilized in any given space is lighting. It is a crucial element that helps to define an atmosphere, which is particularly important in open kitchens where the space needs to be well lit for cooking or dim for dining.

“Our goal is to make the control of all the lighting elements such as under cabinet lights, high hats, pendants, toe kick lights, etc. as simple as possible,” Karoussos explains, adding there are several “scenes” lighting can create ranging from clean and bright lighting for the entire kitchen to cooking scenes where just the prep areas are well lit thanks to control solutions from Lutron. “The possibilities become endless with a lighting control solution in place. If there are shades in the room, the same buttons that trigger lighting scenes can also trigger shades to open and close.”

Design by Designer Kitchens East.

Trapanotto agrees lighting is an essential design element, especially in the kitchen. With new LED products on the market, he has found that more people are integrating under cabinet lighting in kitchens with discreet LED tape that is less obvious than traditional light rails. He also agrees that understanding the function the client needs to have in the kitchen is one of the most important steps in design.

Finding that the style of kitchens on the North and South Forks are similar, Trapanotto says the last few years trends have leaned heavy towards the painted Shaker style of cabinetry. “Some of the versatility we have with some of our cabinets is the manufacturer can color match any color,” he says. “That gives customers a tremendous color palate that we can work with.”

Advances in material production have also been instrumental in kitchen design, particularly quartz countertops which serve as longer lasting alternative to marble. Noting white kitchens are one of the most popular styles on the East End, Trapanotto has noticed a major shift in the industry from traditional to modern design. “A few years ago, maple and cherry cabinetry were predominant in the market,” he shares. “Now it is 80% paint. It’s amazing what they can do.”

Whether a client wishes to utilize advances in technology or create a place that allows them to unplug and relax by cooking, the design of the kitchen is a collaborative process. Homeowners determine the necessary function and designers create the form. Timeless design, the ever-popular white kitchen, and use of high technology and appliances blended into the space are on trend for the East End, though good design will always be what suits the client best.

“It’s our job to listen,” says Sanatore of interior design. “They have to live here, not me. If it doesn’t work for them, I haven’t done my job properly.”