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Today's kitchens remain the family gathering spot
By Sherry Giewald | Daily Herald Correspondent

A trend toward multiple colors in the kitchen is seen in the Diversey townhouse model at Shelburne Crossing in Winfield.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Cabinetry, the dominant feature in the kitchen, sets the mood and style of the space. White cabinets create a formal feel in this Samuels Homes model.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Palm Springs model at Carillon at Cambridge Lakes


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Carnegie model, Carillon Club, Cambridge Homes


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Birmingham model by Pulte Homes


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/1/2010 12:03 AM

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The recipe for today's kitchens is simple: Create a space where your family will love to hang out - because today's kitchens are for living.

The kitchen is no longer a place to just prepare and cook food. It's a space that combines cooking with living and entertaining. It's the gathering hub of the home where owners interact with family and friends. It's a well-designed space that fits the lifestyle of its homeowners.

Although there are trends, nothing is set in stone because people want their kitchens to reflect what they're all about. They want the flexibility of choice, said Chris Naatz, vice president of sales and marketing for the Illinois division of Pulte Homes. "The joyful, fun part of buying a new home is putting your signature on it."

Naatz believes the trend is eclectic. With more choices in kitchen products than ever before, buyers can create the kitchen that fits their lifestyle.

Yes, today's kitchens are all about lifestyles, said Cheryl Bonk, sales manager for M/I Homes, which offers several active townhouse communities.

"We have a lot of first-time homebuyers, and with their fast-paced lifestyle, we really try to make our kitchens multifunctional," Bonk said. "People want to sip their morning coffee and catch the stock report, the news, or whatever they're catching on a built-in plasma TV while sitting at the island."

For comfort and convenience, you might see e-space, tech niches, built-in TVs and bookcases or an adjacent sitting area where homeowners can play video games. Young buyers are into that, and they like to spend more time living in their kitchens, Bonk said.

With people spending more time at home with their families and entertaining, they want to be in a nice environment. Multiple colors in a kitchen are trendy as people use fresh, inventive ways of mixing colors, finishes and woods. For example, you might see a light-colored free-standing china cabinet placed next to dark cabinets or various colors of granite - one topping the cabinets and another the island.

Cabinetry, often the dominant feature in the kitchen, sets the mood and style of the space. Although anything goes, most people choose the darker browns and brown-black combos along with two popular woods - cherry with a dark stain and maple mostly painted with an off-white and glazed, said Dave Kunzweiler, co-owner of Cabinets Plus in Palatine. "Grey is the newest glaze out, which is still neutral, and it blends well with a lot of colors."

At Pulte Homes' communities, customers also select cabinetry with rich, deep tones, dark brown with dark flooring, Naatz said. "Things you didn't see a few years ago have become very popular." Pulte also offers white cabinets for a contrast with the darker floors for a different look.

Buyers have an opportunity to differentiate their cabinetry with a variety of crown moldings, choosing different heights of cabinets, and staggering the depth of cabinets, said Andy Konovodoff, president of Town & Country Homes.

Many buyers select under-cabinet lighting for a brighter work surface and as a decorative element to leave on when the kitchen is not in use in the evenings. Or they select strip lighting above the cabinets (if there is no dropped soffit), again for a decorative presentation, Konovodoff said.

Customizing cabinets is also a consideration. For example, pullout shelves and pullout spice drawers add convenience and easy access for busy homeowners, and with lazy susans in corner cabinets, everything is visible.

What about countertops? Does granite still reign? Builders say yes, granite is king.

At Town & Country Homes, granite tops are popular and have been for a while. Zodiac is also popular, but in second place, Konovodoff said. Bonk says M/I Homes sees the same trend at its communities with granite the top choice among homebuyers. And granite is still number one at Cabinets Plus, although there's more and more interest in the quartz tops, Kunzweiler said.

With so many options out there to give kitchens some pizazz, consider some decorative touches such as customized edges and corners for a finished look to counters - bevel, bull nose, triple pencil edges.

Another decorative option is the backsplash. While at one time a backsplash was simply utilitarian used behind the stove and sink to protect from grease and moisture, today it is a decorative focal point that comes in concrete, natural stone, metals, mosaics, glass and ceramics. Cabinets Plus uses a lot of glass inserts into specific tile patterns to make the backsplash really stand out.

Islands are a hot item in kitchens today and a must-have for most homebuyers. As the kitchen has become multifunctional, so has the island. It's not just another eating area. People read and do homework at the island. The laptop follows people around the house. People are sitting at the island, not in a den; so oversized islands are a popular feature for Pulte Homes, Naatz said.

The Island also offers an opportunity to personalize a home. You can use a darker stain on the island than on wall cabinets for a custom look or use decorative feet for something different. A two-tiered countertop is great for a buffet. Island countertops are used more than any surface in the kitchen.

The island is also a great place for wine racks. M/I Homes at Church Street Station shows a unique island design with wine rack in its Belmont model. You can add a small sink, garbage disposal or second dishwasher.

If someone wants to remodel a kitchen, they always want an island, not only for prep work but also as a serving space for a buffet, seating, coffee and conversation, Kunzweiler said.

As for the jewelry in your kitchen, brushed nickel is popular in light fixtures, faucets and knobs. "We see a lot of brushed nickel," Kunzweiler said. Other choices are stainless steel, brass, oil-rubbed bronze and chrome.

Add a stylish finish with wood floors and stainless steel appliances. Black and white appliances are available, but stainless steel is still No. 1 with homebuyers.

Looking for something really unique? What about a themed or ethnic kitchen such as farmhouse style or a French bistro look. West Point Gardens in Elgin features The Tuscan Garden, an outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven ready to serve up a fabulous meal - Italian style.