What is it about kitchens that draws people in and so holds them? Perhaps it is the childhood memories, forged with mom or grandma—or yes, dad or grandpa—hard at work over the stove. Perhaps it’s the first taste of a fresh-baked cookie or a home-cooked meal that transports us back to simpler times spent with family and friends. Whatever the reason, it has been said time and again that the kitchen is the heart of the home.
For more than three decades, Kiki and Wayne Suggs, and the rest of the Classic New Mexico Homes crew, have been helping folks design and build their Southwestern dream homes. Kiki Suggs, a design expert, has a few tips when it comes to making the kitchen the standout room of any home.
To Triangle or Not to Triangle?
A typical rule of thumb when it comes to kitchen layout is an efficient triangle between the stove, the sink and the refrigerator. “The idea, generally, is to never have to take more than a few steps between them,” Kiki says. A proximate, three-pointed layout of the cook’s primary appliances helps limits the steps between them, saving precious time and energy as well as cutting down on inevitable drips, slips, spills, and splatters.
However, as with any rule, there are exceptions, and Kiki is the first to admit her own kitchen doesn’t follow this one chapter and verse. “Obviously some kitchen layouts won’t allow that triangle,” she adds, noting that in some smaller kitchens it simply does not make sense.
Bottom line: Keep the triangle in mind when you’re planning, but don’t marry yourself to it if it isn’t ideal for the space.
The Beauty of Form over Function
After layout, of course, come the aesthetics, which are near and dear to the designer in Kiki. “With me, it’s form over function, and that’s not a good thing in some cases, but if I have to sacrifice just a little bit of efficiency for the look and feel of things, I do that,” she admits.
Natural light is one area Kiki says is key, and in her own home, she was willing to do away with the convenience of overhead cabinets for the beauty of natural morning light.
“It’s not the most efficient kitchen in the world but I would never in a million years trade those windows for overhead cabinets,” she explains.
Color is another important consideration when designing an inviting kitchen space. In her own kitchen, Kiki opted for a palette of fiery reds and golds with a few green and blue accents. Incorporating a softer, cooler color scheme of greens and blues can elevate many kitchens to everyone’s favorite room in the house. “I believe that reds make people hungry, warmer colors like that feel more cozy and more kitchen-y—after all, you cook in the kitchen, so fire colors make sense,” Suggs says. “I’ve also designed many kitchens with soft greens, blues and whites, which tend to have a breezier, airier feel.”
A primary-white color palette, which has stayed trendy for some time, is especially effective in “opening up” a smaller kitchen—a design element Kiki has known since childhood. “I grew up in an old house from the 1800s in Kingston, New Mexico. It was a rock house with walls 30-inches thick, and the kitchen was so tiny, but everything was painted white—countertops, cabinets, everything—and it absolutely worked in that space. If it wouldn’t have been like that, it would have seemed so much smaller.”
Kiki used an all-white palette in the kitchen of a recent remodel of a 1920s home in the Alameda Historic District, but designing New Mexican homes also allows earthy colors that complement our rich Southwestern vistas. “Other kitchens I’ve designed here that I love, used earthy, natural colors: soft, sandy color tile with olive greens and terracottas and wood… It’s really hard to get tired of colors like that in a kitchen,” she notes.
Forget the Formalities
While a formal dining area is nice, it can be so…well, formal, and since people also end up congregating in the kitchen, Kiki recommends any kitchen feature some type of seating. “It seems like no matter how small the kitchen and no matter how comfortable the living room, people always end up in the kitchen,” she says.
Island seating is a great option for many kitchens, as is the ever-cozy nook. “I’m a fan of the nook because most people I know of, myself included, never use their dining room unless they have company over,” she adds. “We have a little table in our home kitchen, and we’ve built a lot of homes with breakfast nooks or seating areas in them. On a daily basis, people use that area much more. It’s convenient and a little cozier than eating in a formal dining room.”
But Don’t Forget the Fire
Another tip Kiki offers for making the kitchen the heart of the home is adding a fireplace or other heat source. In her own home, she and Wayne have a wood-burning stove from the 1800s, taken from an old Santa Fe Railroad car and passed down from her grandfather, whose same Kingston home it once warmed. “It’s the one thing that’s come with us from every home we’ve sold,” Suggs said. “We have a little seating area in front of it and every night when I get home from work, the first thing I do is put wood in that stove and it’s like the rest of the house doesn’t exist—everyone just gathers around it.”
How’s that for cozy?