While no two kitchen designs are the same, many cater to the specific influences of the geographic area and the lifestyles of those who live there. Coastal influences are seen in seaside homes, while urban kitchen styles are often dictated by space constraints and a clean, minimalist aesthetic.
The vast region of the Midwest and the different lifestyles and architectures make it almost impossible to define a specific design style. Yet common elements are emerging, and Midwestern designers have learned to meet those demands and bring them to their full potential, while providing individual style for the homeowner.
“There are indeed design features that tend to reflect a geographic area,” points out Olivia Flicker, kitchen and bath designer, Studio M Kitchen & Bath in Plymouth, MN, “and our work as designers is to understand the client’s style preferences so that such design features can be featured, if desired.If a client’s project is in a coastal area, for example, we wish to take subtle nautical influences into account. For customers in the North or Midwest, we want to make sure their update maintains a cozy and warm feel.
While people may think the Midwest is leaning solidly toward transition, in reality, Flicker notes that clients come to her business with a wide variety of styles and design preferences.
“We’ve done historic, traditional, transitional, modern, contemporary and everything in between,” she says. “Each client is unique, and each home has unique characteristics that give us the opportunity to create a space that is perfect for our client.”
While contemporary designs and colorful painted cabinets may be all the rage, Midwesterners aren’t necessarily jumping on board in droves.
“In the Midwest, we’re still very conservative with our designs,” notes Stephanie Nelson, associate designer, Geneva Cabinet Company in Lake Geneva, WI. She says the trends seem to be hitting the coasts first and then slowly heading into the Midwest. “Most Midwesterners are still very much in love with stained cabinetry and are hesitant to go for a painted cabinet or something ultra contemporary,” she says.
“New trends take a long time to come to the Midwest, so I wouldn’t say being trendy is super important to most customers,” confirms Ashleigh Schroeder, NCIDQ, CKBD, Owner/Designer, NEST Kitchen, Bath and Home Design in Richmond Heights, MO. She notes that, more often than not, customers want a space that’s super functional, easy to clean, and retains as much of the style of the home as possible while getting a kitchen or bathroom that offers all the conveniences of new technology and modern living. design. “Most customers are looking for highly functional appliances and quartz countertops,” she adds.
“Most of our customers aren’t used to following popular trends,” offers Charles Tiber, ASID, NCIDQ, CKD, president, Studio 76 Kitchens & Baths, a division of 76 Supply Co. in Twinsburg, OH. “They don’t want to go in a direction that might ‘date’ their kitchen. Rather, it’s about using good design principles while maximizing their space for functionality and beauty. Still, he adds, it’s refreshing when a client makes a bold move and does something different, perhaps with color or style, that’s an artistic expression of themselves.
Although Schroeder says it takes time for design trends on the coasts to reach the Midwest, that doesn’t mean some midtown folks haven’t taken notice. In fact, over the past two years, she has seen a dramatic increase in the number of clients seeking transitional and contemporary spaces.
“The days of traditional kitchens and bathrooms with heavy crown molding and dark wood are over, and customers are now looking for simple, clean lines, textured laminates and high-gloss finishes. Clients are also starting to move away from the white and gray palette and are introducing more colors into their homes,” observes Schroeder.
“While bright white kitchens remain popular,” notes Flicker, “many customers are beginning to venture into two-tone kitchens that tastefully combine stained and painted finishes to add warmth to the space.”
“True Midwesterners are suddenly fascinated by painted cabinets,” Nelson adds.
“Maintaining a home’s style is always a concern, but most clients are now turning to the clean lines of a transitional/contemporary style, even in their traditional home,” reports Tiber. He adds that some design finesse is often required to make it work with the style of the home, but most of the time there are ways to incorporate a few traditional type elements into the design to make it work.
“For example, a raised grain wood floor in wide plank white oak could work well with a slab painted cabinet door and cascading countertops,” he notes. “Remembering the principles of art – contrast, balance (not necessarily symmetry) and movement – makes design enjoyable.”
Function is important to any style of kitchen, especially when it comes to layout flow, prep areas and storage. Lifestyle is paramount when designing a space, so designers need to know if their clients enjoy cooking, entertaining, family gatherings, or using their kitchens for a myriad of other tasks.
“In the Midwest, living and playing in all seasons must be taken into account. Entrance spaces, drop zones and buffer spaces are important when designing a kitchen,” Tiber points out. “Entering the house and the kitchen can present different challenges when it’s 90 degrees outside than when there are basements.
zero temperatures with the realities of snow on boots and shoes. The desired air movement through the kitchen would be very different in summer or winter, while the moderate climates of spring and fall may require certain other design expectations.
Flicker notes that customers in the Midwest often ask for products that are durable and
can withstand the wear and tear of a hectic family life. “Studio M’s cabinet lines all feature a commercial-grade catalyzed finish that dramatically reduces chipping and scratching,” she points out.
The trend toward transitional and contemporary kitchens not only offers functionality, but also allows for a lot of entertaining, reports Schroeder. “Since the start of COVID-19, people have been staying home and entertaining smaller groups at home instead of going to larger functions,” she observes.
Tiber agrees. “The most dominant change we’ve seen in our region is the desire for design that fosters relationships. The kitchen has long been the gathering place at home, but that significance runs deeper than it did before the pandemic and the distancing that accompanied it. Relationships that have close contact are even more important, and kitchen design can help keep them close.
“The kitchen should be welcoming, should attract people and can create interaction, avoiding isolation,” he says. One of the effective ways his company achieves this is through linear design. “In linear design, the work triangle is disrupted, and the goal is to make room for more bodies in the workspace without causing bottlenecks. Multiple cooks can work, even in a small kitchen , and cleaning can continue simultaneously.
One way Tiber achieves a linear design is to use a large workstation sink, big enough for two, in conjunction with a cleanup sink. “Now the workstation is in the island and a small cleaning sink is in the window,” he explains. “A good workstation does not reduce counter space, but rather expands workspace by providing multiple levels for prep, cooking and serving tools right at the workstation.
“We love seeing families get involved in the kitchen,” he continues. “A workstation brings people together, and as home entertainment returns, a workstation can help create opportunities for great meals and memories with family and friends.”
Although Geneva Cabinet Company is located in a resort area where many people design kitchens in their second homes, this desire to bring people together is still the same. Many homeowners come to the Lake Geneva region to escape their day-to-day working life in the city and embrace a more laid-back lifestyle, and that relaxing atmosphere is reflected in their living spaces, according to Nelson.
“We do a lot of open concept kitchens that open up to the living room, with big windows to take in the scenery. Families want to invite extended family and friends to their lakeside homes, so having a large, comfortable gathering space for a crowd is a must,” she notes. “Having enough space to accommodate all their friends and family is probably more important than where they’re going to store their Tupperware.” ▪