Cutting Edge Contemporary
In a Thesaurus, “modern” and “contemporary” are considered synonymous. But in the architecture and design worlds, these are two distinct styles. “Modern” generally refers to a specific time period, tracing its roots from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. The period is thought to originate from the German Bauhaus and Scandinavian schools of design, through the beloved mid-century modern era. Modern style is mostly characterized by clean, often linear lines, with a preference for warm, earthy colors and wood tones.
“Contemporary”, on the other hand, describes what is popular now. It is thought to have started with postmodernism of the 70’s, where bold colors and shapes dominated, and form became more important than function. Though you can find the influence of Art Deco and other contemporary trends, its defining feature is that it’s always changing; it’s not tied to a specific time period as “modern” is. Contemporary still emphasizes clean lines and uncluttered spaces, but you’ll see the inclusion of curves, mixed materials, and greater variety of colors.
We’ve asked three of our designers to comment on what’s trending in contemporary design: Dulcie Acompora and senior designers RitaLuisa Garces and Randy O’Kane, CKD. The first consideration is door style. All three agree that the slab, or flat panel door, is still the most frequently requested. But gaining in popularity is the narrow-framed Shaker door, which is a slab door with thin applied perimeter trim. In this first image, the trim is the same color as the door, yielding depth and definition to the doors.
The next image offers subtle contrast due to the tonal difference between the natural walnut veneer drawer faces and the walnut solid stock that frames them.
On the subject of hardware, the three women strongly prefer no handles at all for wall cabinets, employing either touch latches or extending the doors down below the cabinet box. For base cabinets, they prefer integrated channel or horizontal grooves to maintain a sleek look with minimal projection. Handles would generally be reserved for appliances. They will also use edge, or tab pulls, executed here in brass, and extending the full width of the drawers. More recently, Randy tends to limit her use of conventional handles in designs that lean more towards the transitional.
But when it comes to color and materials, individuality reigns. Yes, Randy and Rita say classic white contemporary kitchen remains a top request, but now it’s tempered to avoid a monochromatic cold esthetic. (As a designer once told me, “We’re not doing brain surgery in here.”) In this kitchen, the reflectivity of high gloss lacquer enlivens the space, while the vibrant painting, honed black countertops, and green-toned glass backsplash tiles add points of interest without being distracting.
Both designers affirm that gray is still holding its own, as seen in the gray-stained white oak cabinets of this NY high-rise.
But gaining fast on those favorites are warmer tones such as off-white, taupe and “greige” (somewhere between grey and beige). In this condo kitchen, the neutral tone is light yet rich.
Two-tone kitchens are also a favorite. Dulcie loves this in a contemporary kitchen because it adds both warmth and interest to a room with all slab doors. Here both color and texture are used to great effect: while the perimeter is glossy white paint, the island and wet bar counterbalance it with soft matte gray.
All three of our designers indicate that darker colors and woods are making a strong comeback, most likely as backlash to years of all-white rooms. Dark-stained wood as well as black are not only being used as accents to white cabinets, but are also taking center stage. And contemporary design is the perfect environment for incorporating innovative materials.
Rita notes that the combination of white and dark wood or laminate is still in demand. A dark island is a grounding element in an otherwise monochromatic room. Here the walnut veneer island almost feels like a traditional punctuation mark in the high-gloss white space.
Dulcie suggests using horizontal grain for a fresher look, and likes when a group of cabinets is enclosed by an accent material. A great example of this is this mélange of sleek high gloss white with sustainable matte bamboo veneer. The showpiece of the kitchen is the tall wall surrounded by a 3” frame of the warm caramel-stained horizontal bamboo.
Flaunting the conventions of pairing high gloss white with matte wood, this kitchen does exactly the opposite: matte white paint with high-gloss walnut-look laminate. But why stop there when you can introduce a softly pearlized textured chocolate laminate for even more interest? Here the dark textured uppers and horizontal gloss backsplash pop against the surrounding white cabinetry.
Still fearful of combining three different colors? This might ease your hesitation. While the uppers are white-gloss, the bases and back of the island are a high-gloss dark teak-patterned laminate that echo the wood-lined ceiling. The front of the island, tall cabinets and refrigerator panels are a gray-toned rift-cut patterned laminate. Aluminum channel pulls add a highlight to the dark laminate fronts.
Of course, there are brave homeowners who fearlessly embrace dark, moody interiors and bold materials. This dramatic NY apartment features black-stained horizontal rift cut oak bases with a wire-brushed effect. But the star is the patinated stainless steel uppers whose variegated surfaces have golden undertones. Not one to shy away from the dark esthetic, the client chose honed black granite countertops and leathered limestone backsplash tiles.
Though most wouldn’t place dark cabinets atop a dark wood floor, these homeowners wanted a unique look. They chose a dark-stained vividly grained veneer for base and tall cabinets and oriented it horizontally to emphasize its linear characteristics. The surprise is the brushed stainless steel wall cabinets with glass doors. Metallic ceramic tiles are a focal point above the range.
Dazzling and glamorous would definitely describe this downtown kitchen. Highly figured and exotic olivewood was treated with a slick high-gloss topcoat, which serves to intensify the natural grain. Tempered luster is added with alumasteel (a metallic laminate) on the island’s doors and panels. In what appears to be on optical effect, the under-cabinet LED lights create undulating waves reflected off the stainless steel backsplash. No ordinary countertop material would do justice to this kitchen; ceramic-glazed lava stone in “Nero Scintillante” was chosen for its quiet texture and depth of color.
When it comes to layouts in contemporary kitchens, the impact of modern lifestyles on the configuration of cabinetry is no different whether your style is traditional or contemporary. But there are certain design details that figure into contemporary kitchens.
Dulcie favors lift-up wall cabinets. For a greater sense of openness. Both Dulcie and Randy have noticed more windows, fewer wall cabinets, and more tall cabinets. Dulcie likes symmetry, and often takes the cabinets all the way to the ceiling. Rita, on the other hand, prefers a more European look where cabinets stop short of the ceiling. For all three designers, no crown or just a small fascia are the norm, and large islands are a must-have. Randy and Rita note that, if space allows, two islands are a clear trend. Randy states that the multi-purpose areas that became a necessity during COVID lockdown are now here to stay.
There are often requests for coffee or breakfast areas with retractable doors that may also function as bars. Rita believes available space and appliance selections drive the layout, and cooking and entertaining habits also exert a formidable influence. All three women note a greater interest in paneled appliances to achieve seamless congruity. As for countertops, marble is back, and not just for counters: backsplashes, hoods and floating shelves are all being fabricated from this stone. Another feature is waterfall ends; and tops are either very thick or, conversely, thinner than normal. Randy states that standard vent hoods are no longer trending in contemporary kitchens. It’s either an eye catching focal point, or made to totally disappear; no in-between. Randy also notes that lighting plays an important role in contemporary design. Of course, undercabinet lighting is a given, but now there’s toekick lighting as well, and a preference for statement-making pendants, multi and linear lights.
And in case you’re wondering, open plan kitchens and living spaces are still a high priority.
This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 28 years.