10 Secrets of Award-Winning Kitchen Designs

Designer tips for taking your kitchen from functional to fabulous

By Sharon Johnson

What transforms a kitchen from perfectly fine to all-out perfect? Four top international designers share their secrets for the details small and large that make their kitchens stand out from the pack.

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Kitchen design firms Culimaat High End Kitchens of the Netherlands, St. Charles of New York, Design First Interiors of Ottawa, and Philosophy of Design, Moscow, were the top global award winners at the Sub-Zero and Wolf's 2010-2012 Kitchen Design Contest. Each firm brings its own unique sensibility to a project, of course, but they all adhere to certain principles that would benefit everyone's kitchen design.

See more Sub-Zero and Wolf award winning kitchens.

Whether you are building a brand-new kitchen, renovating an existing one, or simply updating your current space, follow these ten "can't miss" design principles to achieve your very own, award-worthy kitchen of distinction.

Design with the rest of the home in mind

The kitchen is the heart of the home. When designing and then decorating your kitchen, look outside the room's footprint to see which elements, features, or colors from adjoining rooms can be integrated into the kitchen. Is there a unifying palette you might stick with? Can you integrate tile or wood from a neighboring space?

Be sure to consider the outdoors as an adjoining room. If the kitchen enjoys a great view of a garden space or water feature, use those hues to inform the kitchen colors. When the eye connects colors in the kitchen to those seen outside the windows, it expands the view and, by extension, makes the kitchen feel larger. 

Find other ways to maximize a small kitchen here.

Respect family needs and space constraints

A kitchen designed for a household with a growing family will be decidedly different from one designed with urban-dwelling empty nesters in mind. Your ultimate satisfaction will come when you honor the way the kitchen will truly be used. This may require some soul searching or, at the least, a certain frankness about your needs. If the budget or space doesn't allow for every appliance on the market, choose those that you know will get the most use and fit your kitchen layout best.

Use these appliance-buying guidelines.

When it comes to choosing appliances and the configuration of your kitchen, consider your current cooking style, as well as your ideal culinary prowess. Davy Swanenberg of Culimaat High End Kitchens worked with clients who were very specific about their needs. "The clients' requirements with respect to the appliances were very clear," says Swanenberg. "They had to be as professional as possible." He chose the Wolf range, known for its iconic red knobs and heavy, cast iron grates, and designed the shape of the worktop, as well as the overall kitchen measurements, off of its dimensions.

When Karen Williams of St. Charles of New York was tasked with designing a space for a busy executive and her family, she took into account the desires of the owner's thirteen-year-old daughter—an aspiring pastry chef—and positioned one section of the marble countertop at a lower height to work as a baking station.

Karen Williams

Add one bold element

One of the many benefits of a kitchen designed in mostly neutral tones is the opportunity to feature one impressive item—whether it be a painting hung on the wall, a sculpture displayed on a pedestal, or an item incorporated into the very fabric of the kitchen itself. Such was the case with the kitchen Karen Williams designed for a working mother and her young brood, shown above. The spacious kitchen has an overall white and pale gray palette, with the key "pop" of interest provided by an agate quartz countertop on the island, which Karen says looks like something out of the Museum of Natural History. Her particularly inspiring touch was to under-light the countertop, creating a soft glow at night and keeping the owner's young children occupied looking for fossils while their mom gets on with the cooking.

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