Kitchen Design Expert: Susan Serra, CKD
Susan Serra is a CKD (Certified Kitchen Designer), CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist), USGBC (United States Green Building Council) member and NKBA. Susan is an award winning designer and the principal of Susan Serra Associates, Inc., for nearly 20 years.
Her design work is widely published in online and print shelter publications and she is a frequent source for the media on kitchen design issues.
Susan’s blog “The Kitchen Designer” is the most read blog authored by a professional kitchen designer.
Susan represents Hansen Kitchen, purveyors of eco-friendly functional kitchen furniture.
What do you see as the top Kitchen and Bath design trends for 2009?
I think there are both behavioral trends to watch for that are significant as well as fashion trends that we enjoy looking for. I do see fashion trends, in general, trending down (so to speak) in significance as confidence in one’s personal aesthetic grows. This confidence is a direct result of the consumers’ access to and interaction in a world of kitchen design online, as blogs and design communities have grown. My top three behavioral trends for 2009 are:
The Sustainable Kitchen – Green design makes sense on so many levels. Who among us, does not wish to be more healthy if one can simply make certain choices in products, or to be more practical in other green ways? A new back to basics/practical mentality is currently coinciding with a renewed, and enhanced desire to exist in a green home environment. As more green products enter the design mainstream, it is much easier to interpret one’s design vision via a great selection of green products. There are several common threads connecting the green movement and the Aging-In-Place movement, another strong behavioral trend. Both trends include a desire for materials with longevity, for example.
Comfort/Open Floor plans – I have previously noted that comfort in the kitchen was an emerging trend prior to the financial crisis, and perhaps it was a natural evolution which coincides with consumers’ overall design confidence that I noted above as well as being a result of the fearsome financial crisis. I do feel the kitchen as a viable living area is taking a major step forward this year. More activities are taking place in the kitchen, multi-generations are together more, and I feel the desire for more social connectedness is being felt very strongly at this moment. As a result, the kitchen is being designed in a less obvious utilitarian way than previously, in many (not all) cases. Examples are larger “living room like” windows, fireplaces, larger TVs, less cabinetry in general, more soft furnishings, accent lighting such as sconces, “living room” artwork, neutral colors and a transition to surrounding spaces that is more seamless.
2009 Kitchen Design Elements – Clearly, buying a kitchen today is very much about quality and value over the long term which now translates into basics and classics in terms of color and design. Cleaner lines in kitchen design are apparent, even in kitchens with a traditional design. The foundation of the kitchen, flooring, walls, and cabinetry, is a study in neutrals. White is ever classic, and wood finishes are darker, more serious, more transitional to surrounding spaces beyond the kitchen. Engineered stone with its often quiet patterns is on the upswing for countertops. Tile is either natural/earthy textured or more high tech/vibrant colored. In a high design look, countertops often blend in color with wall surfaces. Appliances are ever more built-in with more sizes available for design flexibility and are strong on energy efficiency. Today’s homeowner understands decorative “layers” in the kitchen and are looking more closely at the big picture of the kitchen and how it relates to beyond the kitchen.
At the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show this year, many sophisticated, innovative new appliances and products were unveiled. How do you see the increase in smart kitchen and bath appliances making life easier for homeowners?
Smart appliances can absolutely enhance our lives, giving us a little bit more efficiency, even luxury, on a daily basis. From mirrors that hide a TV screen, as seen in the incredible Seura product, to ventilation hoods that periodically clean the air in the kitchen and sense heat, automatically turning on the hood, to “scrubbing” air clean in a refrigerator, to advanced sensor cooking features, appliances are very exciting right now. Appliances are doing two significant jobs – they are saving energy and helping to make our lives more efficient. Taking the guess work out of cooking processes and the use of ventilation is welcome relief for the busy cook.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I have always been open to fresh ideas and new thinking on kitchen design. I have always been a collector of design magazines from around the globe in search of an alternative point of view. One of my strongest design inspirations comes from Scandinavian design. Scandinavians have an innate knowledge and gift for the creative, yet simple, juxtaposition of old and new, so prevalent in their environment. Their design philosophy is based in the belief that function determines design in the most simple, obvious, and most attractive way possible…perfect inspiration for today’s focus on Universal and Aging-In-Place design. To that end, Danish Architect Knud Kapper, a specialist in kitchen design, inspires me. Connected to this design philosophy, the individual lives of my clients inspire me to create original design solutions that feel right to them, make sense, and speak to them aesthetically at a high level. If they “feel it” in a meaningful and positive way, we’re in a good place.
What advice would you give to homeowners considering a kitchen or bathroom remodel?
Where do I begin!? Here is the best advice I can give. Write up a list of questions to use to interview professional kitchen/bath designers. Have that list of questions in front of you at each interview. Listen and talk equally. Do not talk more than listen in your interviews. In my blog I’ve done a post on specific questions to ask a designer. Selecting a designer is the single most important choice you will make and adequate time should be allowed for this initial process to evolve naturally and fruitfully. Consider not only the answers, helpful for comparison, but the connection you feel to the designer, his/her enthusiasm for your project, important factors as well. Understand that people, processes, and products are not perfect. If you choose the right professional, you will receive “near perfect.”
Tell us about your favorite kitchen and/or bathroom design project.
I don’t want to be coy, but I honestly do not have a favorite. My work reflects my clients’ needs, and if they are happy and satisfied with their new kitchens, often after an extensive design process with multitudes of design and product choices, then I’m happy! I think, if pressed, however, the one I am most excited about, coincidentally, is one I am working on now. This client was brave enough NOT to use one long wall in the kitchen, logically for cabinetry, but instead, to follow one lone plan (as part of a number of other more traditional plans I presented) which situates a huge island as the main kitchen (cooktop and sink therein.) Supplementary cabinetry and tall appliances are on two 5′ short walls on either end of the space. This is a social kitchen. There are countless lifestyle scenarios for social interaction in this kitchen. I am a strong advocate for the benefits of designing a more social kitchen, and I cannot be more pleased that my client chose this plan. As a result, there is increased function as well, especially for multiple chefs/assistants.
In your personal kitchen or bath – what is the product(s) that you can’t imagine living without?
I just moved a few months ago, and I must say I seriously miss my wine refrigerator! My husband and I enjoy a glass of wine when cooking and dining most evenings. When I redo the kitchen in this new home we are in, I know that appliance will be included. Now that I think of it, I also miss my Gaggenau grill from my other kitchen. We grilled constantly.
Imagine designing your dream kitchen or bath. What style would it be? What products would you use ?
There is no question that my next kitchen will be a walnut Hansen kitchen. The simple elegance of this freestanding collection of functional kitchen furniture speaks to me. The eco-friendly materials and finish are made to last decades. I like that. This is kitchen furniture which will transition beautifully with my surrounding spaces. The style could be categorized in several ways…organic modernism, a warm modern, a natural kitchen environment, a “living room kitchen” all express the feeling I’m looking for. I think I would use the 27″ Sub Zero separate refrigerator/freezers. I love the aesthetic of Gaggenau ovens and cooktops. My default dishwasher is usually a Miele, and I will search for a wine refrigerator for sure! Countertops…very possibly walnut. Lighting may be ceiling pendants by Le Klint. I will not have upper wall cabinets, but I may have a pantry in an adjoining space. I will include art in the kitchen. And, a sofa as part of the kitchen dining table, which I’ve done for a number of years. It’s heaven.
Green design is an important consideration for many homeowners. Do you have advice for homeowners who want to “green” their kitchen or bathroom?
My most important piece of advice is to sample new products and finishes, such as countertops as one example. What you are looking to achieve is the combination of both green materials AND longevity in those green materials. Green materials without longevity are not green. Look to also design a healthy kitchen – one that is easy to clean and cleans the air via helpful appliances. Select energy star appliances. Use energy efficient lighting, LED or CFL. Consult a design professional to determine the positive or negative impact on home heating issues when increasing the size of your windows. Greening your kitchen feels good. You are doing good on many levels.
We’d like to thank Susan Serra, CKD, CAPS of Susan Serra Associates, Inc for generously sharing her expertise and design advice.
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