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We’ve all spent a lot more time in our kitchens over the course of the last year, and many homeowners have decided they are ready for a change, via remodeling or starting from scratch in a newly built home.

Take a look at five distinctive projects that incorporate the latest in kitchen design and technology. They just might inspire you to start dreaming of a kitchen update of your own.

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What They Wanted:

When it was time to build their new suburban home, these homeowners — who are empty-nesters and former city dwellers — knew they wanted the kitchen to accommodate multiple cooks and include timeless style with a unique focal point.

They reached out to Gail Drury at Drury Design shortly after construction began so she could improve upon the builder-basic kitchen originally in the plans. “I knew I wanted a palette of light gray, charcoal and black and something with clean lines,” says the homeowner. “It also had to be a big open space because we do a lot of cooking and have a big Italian family.”

How They Achieved It:

“We gave them four options, and one of them reconfigured the space to move the door between the kitchen and mudroom and fit two center islands,” Drury says. One of the islands features a stained finish and legs and includes a sink and drawer dishwasher for easy prep and cleanup, and the other is a lighter gray like the perimeter cabinets and offers comfortable seating as well as refrigerator and warming drawers.

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The room also features a stunning bar area/butler’s pantry that is gray with large glass tiles that sparkle beneath puck lights. The area includes a large wine cooler and ice maker and features a cabinetry finish that mirrors the work island.

The cabinetry on the oven wall, which also houses the refrigerator and freezer, is a rich ebony color. Throughout the room, fixtures, hardware and lighting lend warm gold accents that gleam brightly against the muted palette.

A custom-designed black metal hood with brass straps is a dramatic focal point and stands out boldly against the quartz wall, which is an extension of the counter- top material. It is flanked by lighted cabinets and long narrow black metal windows, which Drury says are currently trending.

“I think the hood is my favorite part, but I really enjoy the whole look of the room,” says the homeowner. “It’s so different than what we had in the city, which was more vintage because it was a historical house. It’s beautiful and we really have had time to enjoy it.”

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What They Wanted:

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When Kevin Ely purchased his Geneva home, the kitchen — which prominently featured an awkwardly shaped island and a lot of dark finishes — left a lot to be desired. “It was outdated and not our style, and it was showing the wear and tear of the previous 18 years,” Kevin recalls. He wanted a kitchen that would be lighter and easier to work in as well as open to the home’s family room.

How They Achieved It: 

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Brian Hogan at Hogan Design and Construction helped them to reshape the room to suit their needs, including a well-thought-out work triangle with plentiful storage and more open concept. Hogan says the previous design featured odd angles and limited wall space. “The previous cabinetry was very dark and the island had an unusual shape that made eating together and moving around the kitchen very awkward.”

Relocating the dishwasher to the right of the sink made room for additional storage adjacent to the range, and extending the L-shaped counter allowed space for a microwave/warming drawer. The island was replaced by one that fosters ease of movement throughout the space.

Rather than knock down the entire wall between the kitchen and adjacent family room, they outfitted it with a large serving window. “This way, we were able to create the sense of openness the clients desired while maintaining needed storage in the cabinets and beverage fridge below,” Hogan says.

Cabinets were extended to the ceiling to increase storage and to help create the angles needed to successfully execute the detailed coffered ceiling that became the room’s focal point. The coffered ceiling extends the length of the kitchen and into the casual dining/breakfast space, where a custom hutch allows for additional storage and provides additional serving space. To make that adjacent room match the look and feel of the renewed kitchen space, they painted the fireplace facade and updated the wall color to a brighter neutral palette. Wood floors were updated throughout the entire area, helping to connect the rooms.

Though his family has since moved, Kevin says they really enjoyed the overhauled kitchen. “Our favorite part  was definitely the ceiling, which makes a huge statement when you walk into the kitchen,” he recalls. “The white and gray colors from the different tiles and counter-tops created a much lighter feel that matched our style. With all new appliances and modern plumbing fixtures, the kitchen was completely transformed.”

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What They Wanted:

When Matt and Sara Joyce were looking to downsize to a smaller home, they knew they wanted the newly built residence to include a kitchen that fit into an open floorplan, offered plenty of workspace and contained a pantry that combined countertop workspace and storage. Plus, they wanted to incorporate reclaimed materials from the company Matt owns, Stockyards Brick & Timber.

How They Achieved It:

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Bruce George of Charles Vincent George Architects helped them shape the space into exactly what they envisioned. The layout was designed with the kitchen at the heart of the central living area. A 12-ft-wide opening separates the kitchen and adjacent family room and double-sliding glass pocket doors are located between the kitchen and the sunroom. “This gives the kitchen its own identity while maintaining strong visual connections to those areas,” George notes.

The room features a tongue-and-groove ceiling, white subway-tile walls and quartzite countertops that complement the custom painted maple cabinetry. A zinc range hood designed by CVG and brought to life by a local metal fabrication company serves as a striking focal point. The flooring is a unique random blend of both red and white oak from salvaged boards, which, along with the reclaimed brick used in the dinette, were sourced by Matt’s company.

In fact, the couple was able to incorporate materials from Stockyards throughout the home. “We used reclaimed brick for the whole exterior and a few brick floors and walls inside, reclaimed timbers inside and outside, and reclaimed oak floors from salvaged barn wood throughout whole house,” Sara explains.

Ovens and other appliances were fitted under countertops to maximize counter space and the fairly sizable pantry was cleverly hidden behind a corner cabinet. “With the open feeling they wanted and the quantity of counter space desired, we had to get creative about how the pantry was designed,” George says. The couple uses the room to store foods, serving dishes and appliances, including the microwave.

Sara especially likes the door leading to the pantry. “I think my favorite part of the kitchen is the pantry door,” says Sara. “It is a custom door and everything about it is just perfect.”

George is pleased with the finished design. “The white painted cabinetry, walls, ceilings and light-colored counter material all make it an extremely light bright and happy place to be.”

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What They Wanted:

During the three decades they have lived in their Naperville home, Tony and Kelly Hopp have completed two major additions and multiple remodeling projects.

The empty-nesters love their neighbors and decided they wanted to stay put rather than downsize. The one space that really didn’t work for them was the kitchen. “As big as the home is, it had the smallest little kitchen,” Kelly says. “I called it ‘the horseshoe’ because of its shape.” She wanted a roomier, more-efficient space where the couple could cook together and entertain their large extended family.

How They Achieved It:

Because the kitchen was built with a restaurant stove and high-quality cabinets, the Hopps had previously tried to give it a cosmetic makeover with paint and new countertops. For this remodel, they decided to start from scratch and address the room’s function as well as its appearance.

Working with Patty Rosignal, owner and designer of River Oak Cabinetry & Design, opened the couple up to a possibility they had not considered — walling off the door between the kitchen and dining room.

“We needed to get creative in order to address their goals, and relocating the door provided a nice long wall for the range they wanted,” says Rosignal. The old 60-inch stove was flanked by cabinets, not counters, and the couple wanted a smaller, 48-inch model with counter space on either side. “We finally have a place to put ingredients while we are cooking,” Kelly says. Pullouts next to the stove offer easy access to pots and pans.

Creating an angled peninsula that extends into an underutilized portion of the great room further opened up the kitchen and enlarged the workspace, while also allowing for a small island. Kelly wasn’t sure she needed an island, but it contains a lift for her often-used stand mixer and storage for kitchen gadgets that has proven to be especially convenient. She also likes the fact that the island finish coordinates with the custom fireplace surround and office bookshelves that River Oak crafted for adjacent rooms.

In addition to the improved function, elements like the mix of painted and stained finishes on the custom Amish cabinets and distinctive range hood, the quartz countertops, the brushed-gold hardware and light fixtures and the crackle-brick porcelain backsplash tile with glass accents give the room a warm, elegant look.

The Hopps couldn’t be more pleased with the way the project turned out. “I think my kitchen is stunningly beautiful, and the functionality is off the charts,” Kelly says. “Sometimes I walk into my kitchen and can’t believe it’s mine.”

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What They Wanted:

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Nick and Morgan Scalabrino knew that the home they bought needed an update, as it hadn’t seen change since being built in 2006. In particular, the kitchen felt a bit heavy, with stained cherry cabinetry and dark granite countertops. “We knew it had great bones, but we needed to put our touch on it,” Morgan says. “I just needed to make it feel light and bright and airy.”

How They Achieved It:

Having worked with owner Lisa Sleckman and designer Amy Sandak from Liam Brex on several prior projects, Morgan reached out to them for help with the kitchen remodel. They were able to keep the same basic floor plain but with a few tweaks to make it work for a busy family of five. Morgan, who recently started her own design business, KEW Design, was involved in many of the material selections and design choices, including the counter-tops and lighting.

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One change they made to the space involved creating a hidden walk-in pantry between the refrigerator and freezer. To do this, they moved the wall behind appliances forward and replaced the old pantry door with one that is mounted flush with the appliance doors and swings inward.

They incorporated two different cabinet finishes, including stained walnut on the large five-seat island and the two cabinets flanking the pantry wall. Those cabinets and some of the upper perimeter cabinets contain reeded glass insets in the doors to provide additional texture. The counters and backsplash are quartzite and the range hood is Venetian plaster. Brushed brass caps on the island legs, honey bronze hardware and gold light fixtures further warm the space.

“It was a fun transformation — it went from so dark to light and airy, and it has a lot more function,” observes Sandak. Morgan agrees, noting the team helped her plan out placement for everything from spices to pots and pans to electrical outlets. She says that the room is also great for entertaining. “Our house seems to be the hub of the neighborhood and everyone is able to sit and hang out in the kitchen.”

The new design also provides a place where Morgan feels centered. “Other areas of my home have lots of color and funky stuff, but I needed the kitchen to be my Zen space,” she says. “It feels very peaceful and calming.”

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