Kitchen Cabinet Design, Part II: Which elements make a kitchen contemporary?

Kitchen Cabinet Design, Part II: Which elements make a kitchen contemporary?

May 05, 2015

Last week, we talked about how ornate details are a big part of what make up a traditional kitchen. On the complete other end of the spectrum, contemporary styles mean minimalism…simplicity…pretty much the exact opposite of traditional décor.

Minimal doesn’t necessarily mean stark. In fact, today’s contemporary kitchens are soft, earthy, and eclectic as much as they are sleek, funky and urban. They tend to be light and crisp with clean, squared-off shapes. They often contain a mix of materials that can range anywhere from wood and metal to stone and engineered surfaces. It’s the way that these elements are put together that gives contemporary kitchen styles a luxury all of their own.

A contemporary kitchen featuring honed Calacatta Marble designed by Venegas and Company. Photo via Houzz

When it comes down to the cabinets themselves, clean-lined and sleek “slab” door styles are a signature element of modern kitchen design. Slab doors are solid with no frame or panel, which keeps things very streamlined and minimal. Flat panels are another option, when stylized in a modern way (which would include edgy lighting, linear hardware, and maybe even a cool modern range hood). You might find a Shaker style cabinet door in a contemporary kitchen, though they typically fall into the “transitional” category (which we’ll talk more about next week.) Basically, contemporary door styles lack the detail and ornamentation of traditional styles. And while wood grains can be found on contemporary styled cabinet doors, they typically lack the texture one finds with the traditional style.

Sleek and simple hardware—if any at all-- is another example of a common contemporary kitchen detail. Many modern cabinets have integrated c-channel hardware, but those that have handles and pulls still keep things very streamlined. Tubular shaped, or even flat, linear pulls in metals like stainless steel are frequently found. Often, these hardware elements can be oversized or run the full length of the drawers and doors. This helps to accentuate the horizontal linearity of the kitchen cabinets—another common feature.

When it comes to countertops, contemporary kitchens tend to buck tradition. It’s not unheard of for modern kitchens to feature standard-thickness marble or granite countertops. However, variations on thickness help make a very modern, urban statement. Countertops can be extremely thin—less than half an inch—or extremely thick—up to four inches or so. Both extremes have a way of making a bold statement.

Sleek and sophisticated, Neolith answers today’s call for ultra-thin countertops, plus makes a great cabinet facing material, especially for super streamlined slab door styles. Photo by THESIZE.

As far as countertop materials go, manmade surfaces such as Neolith and ColorQuartz offer unique and modern choices. Neolith is an ultra-compact and virtually indestructible surfacing material that can be used inside and out on both vertical and horizontal surfaces. It comes in thicknesses as slim as 3mm (as well as 6mm and 12mm options) and is available in very large slabs, making it a great choice for long stretches of countertops with few seams. Neolith also makes a great option for cabinet facing, especially with “slab” styles.

Quartz countertops, such as ColorQuartz are the wave of the future. While technology has made it possible for these man-made surfaces to very closely resemble natural stone such as marble and granite, they offer durability unobtainable in natural stone. Quartz surfaces are scratch, stain, and heat resistant, not to mention non-porous, so they won’t harbor bacteria—plus they never require sealing!

Contemporary kitchens typically focus on sleek, streamlined, and even built-in appliances. Built-in coffee makers, induction cooktops, and powerful range hoods in variations of aluminum and stainless steel are common.

Contemporary kitchens push the boundaries of what’s familiar. For example, we’re comfortable with concrete sidewalks leading into our home, but concrete countertops (a modern kitchen element) make us look twice. The same is true with glass. We expect to see it in the windows, but what about as a bar top?

Whereas the details of traditional kitchens can be found in ornate moldings and islands standing on furniture-style legs, the details in contemporary kitchens include hidden outlets, LED lighting, and other high-tech features. Contemporary kitchens strive to use old materials in new ways. Contemporary kitchens are unadorned and simplistic, yet they can still create dramatic visual interest. If you enjoy using unique materials to reflect your personality, then the modern, contemporary style is right for you.

Next up, look for a spotlight on the most popular kitchen design style that’s somewhere in-between traditional and contemporary—transitional.


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