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Ask the Editor: Accent Walls

A kitchen with an accent walls

Photo courtesy of In Detail Kitchen and Bath

This kitchen's seating area features red accent walls that separate it from the kitchen, creating both a visual highlight and a cozy space.

How to Paint an Accent Wall


Question: "I'm thinking of painting my kitchen in Moroccan jewel tones like deep, rich purple; blue; and red/orange to match colorful, old glass bottles I've collected. I would like to paint one or a few select walls rather then the whole room. Right now, the walls are cream and my appliances are black. Since I rent and am on a budget, I cannot make major changes other than painting. How should I choose what wall or area in the kitchen to paint? Will I need to paint the other walls to complement the color I choose?" -Katie in Columbus, Ohio.

Answer: We think you're on the right track using wall color to spruce up your kitchen's design. Cheryl Kees Clendenon, designer and owner of In Detail Kitchen and Bath, agrees. "Good thinking to use cost-effective paint to change the atmosphere of your space," Clendenon wrote back when we e-mailed her about your color conundrum. "I would suggest first evaluating which wall has the most 'open' area.

Clendenon says that cabinets and appliances will break up your colorful wall's visual impact, so finding the right exposed space is the key to making your design effective. She recommends trying to single out an open area, like a clear wall or a seating area, as your color zone.

It sounds like you haven't chosen what color you want as an accent yet. While you're thinking of jewel tones, you might consider their muted shades instead. Clendenon explains that pulling toned-down shades from the same color family will help showcase your glass bottle collection without overpowering it.

Another consideration in choosing which color you'll highlight is cabinet color. If your cabinets are white, you'll want to avoid bright jewel tones and opt for their muted shades. "White is not rich enough to support jewel tones," explains Clendenon. But if you have wood cabinets, the bright saturation of the jewel tones will look fine with the warm finish of wood.Once you choose which wall you want to paint and what color you'll paint it, the neighboring walls might need a little attention too. "Perhaps choose a complementary shade to paint the rest of the walls so that the accent wall is not sitting alone," wrote Clendenon. She suggests that when choosing the other color, stick with the same tonality. In other words, find a complementary color that is the same "brightness" or "darkness" as your accent color.

For example, in the kitchen above, the muted yellow-green and navy blue cabinetry share a toned-down quality with the dining nook's dimmed red. "Don't try to play down the other walls if you opt for a deep purple for the accent color," says Clendenon. "The other walls need to support the drama of the purple." She suggests that if you opt for a jewel tone accent wall, you should use another jewel tone in a similar intensity around the cabinetry or appliances wall.

Should you opt for a muted shade for the accent wall, the neighboring walls can support a more neutral complementary color. If you take this route, Clendenon suggests finding a complex neutral tone with golden or gray tones to keep things interesting.For help finding complementary shades and more, check out our Color Basics. For more tips from Clendenon, check out her blog, Kitchen Details.


Ask the Editor: Sizing a Snack Bar

A snack bar with decorative corbels

Courtesy of Craft-Art Wood Countertops

A decorative corbel can help support a wooden counter.

How Should I Size a Snack Bar Countertop?


Question: "We are knocking out a wall between the kitchen and living room, leaving a 4-foot tall by 8-foot long wall so I can put a snack bar on top of it. The bar stools will be on the kitchen side. How wide of a bar should I put on? (This is going to be made out of maple.) I thought 8 inches, but my dad thought that would look too much like a surfboard. Should I go wider? Is there a standard? The wall that the new bar will be sitting on is 4 inches wide. My dad also thought to put a wood or a wrought-iron spindle on one end from the ceiling to the bar to offset the look."


Answer: Taking out part of the wall between the kitchen and living room is a great way to modernize your home, improve lighting and make better use of your existing square footage. However, you may want to take down a bit more wall than originally planned.

Eating surfaces come in three standard heights, as outlined in the National Kitchen & Bath Association guidelines. Most tables are 30 inches high. Standard countertop height is 36 inches. "Bar height," which is the tallest standard height, is 42 inches-6 inches short of the 4 feet you were planning. With a snack bar of this height, 30-inch stools work best. If you stick with installing the counter at 48 inches, you probably will have to purchase or build custom stools.

When it comes to width, good design calls for about 24 inches of space per person, providing for plenty of elbow room. Your 8-foot-long snack bar will seat four people comfortably.

What you haven't addressed, however, is where your family and friends will put their knees. Table-height surfaces should be at least 18 inches deep, because your knees are bent at right angle. Taller chairs require less bend in the knees. The NKBA recommends a depth of 15 inches for a counter-height surface and 12 inches for a bar-height surface. Your 8-inch "surfboard" isn't going to cut it.

Because the counter will be resting on a narrow 4-inch wall, you'll want to engineer the installation carefully. Ken Williamson, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Craft-Art Wood Countertops, has some advice:

"There are two ways to accomplish this: Assuming that the wall is a standard 3½ inches plus Sheetrock, the countertop would lip over the [living room] side approximately 1 inch past the vertical surface. Approximately 4½ inches will sit on top of the wall, which should be as flat as possible. Apply at least a tube of clear GE Silicone II evenly to the top of the wall and set the countertop down. Push down hard and move the countertop slightly back and forth to assure a tight seal. If the wall is open when the countertop is installed, the countertop can also be screwed from below through the capping plate.

"Next, install two corbels or 'L' brackets on the seating side of the countertop, 10 to 15 inches in from the ends. Make sure they are mounted on a vertical stud. The combination of the silicone and the corbels or brackets will support the top. Everything will be surface mounted, so the corbels or brackets should be decorative.

"A variation on the brackets is to have the countertop maker route out ¼" x 3" on the bottom side of the countertop. The steel brackets are recessed into the mortise. The Sheetrock is then removed from the wall where the brackets will be installed, and the down leg of the bracket is screwed to the stud. The back of the Sheetrock is notched out so that it fits flush over the bracket leg. The countertop will appear to 'float' and people will not hit their knees on corbels."



Ask the Editor: Measuring the Kitchen

Tape measure and pen on plans.

Get Accurate Dimensions for my Kitchen Remodel


Question: "How do I get accurate dimensions for choosing products and purchasing materials? Some of the designers I've talked to have also said I should bring my kitchen measurements into their offices."


Answer: Pull out a pencil and measuring tape, and get ready to draw! Here are the basic steps. For a detailed explanation and illustrations, read our How to Measure article.

  1. Draw an outline of the kitchen, noting openings for doors and windows (including which way the door swings). 

  2. Draw in any obstructions (heating, plumbing, etc.), that you cannot or do not want to move.

  3. Beginning at the top left corner of your drawing measure to the first window, door or wall. Continue clockwise around the room. Include trim when measuring doors and windows. Measure the ceiling height and write it in the center of your drawing. Measure from the floor to the bottom of each window and also measure the overall window height. Write these numbers down.

  4. Beginning at the top left of your drawing and moving clockwise, label the windows and doors "Window #1," "Door #1," etc. Next to each wall, write the name of the adjacent room or "exterior wall."

  5. Measure any obstructions (heating, plumbing, etc.), that you cannot or do not want to move. Measure from the two closest walls to the edges of the obstruction. Measure the height of the obstruction.

  6. Check your numbers by adding the measurements of the parallel walls to be sure they match


Ask the Editor: Lighting a Kitchen Island

Kitchen with white island and three pendant lighting fixtures.

Two to three pendant lighting fixtures are appropriate for most kitchen islands. Other options include a chandelier or recessed lights.

Options for Lighting a Kitchen Island


Question: "We are remodeling our kitchen and adding an island. How should we light it? We need task lighting, and pendants are popular, but my husband is tall and I am short. What height would we hang them at? We get a lot of natural light during the day, too." —Amanda C., Birmingham, Ala.


Answer: Let's address the easy part first, shall we? No matter how much natural light you get in the kitchen, you still need plenty of artificial lighting. How else to prepare a midnight snack or keep a dinner party running smoothly?

"Lighting design should be based on worst-case conditions, which means that you should make your selections based on nighttime conditions with no natural light," explains Joe Rey-Barreau, AIA, an architect, lighting designer, and consulting director of education for the American Lighting Association. He adds, "I strongly recommend that you use dimmers on your fixtures so that you can modulate the level of lighting depending on need and time of day."



Now onto deciding on a type of lighting fixture. Both attractive and in fashion, pendants come in a wide range of styles, shapes, sizes and finishes. In addition to pendants with traditional incandescent light bulbs, you can also find models that use incandescent/halogen, fluorescent or LED light sources. Talk it over with a designer or with a local lighting showroom, but two or three pendants should be sufficient unless your island is extra large.

In terms of how high to hang pendant fixtures, Rey-Barreau says 30 to 36 inches above the counter is the normal recommendation. With standard kitchen counter height at 3 feet, that would put the bottom of the pendants between 5 feet, 6 inches, and 6 feet high. He typically recommends the 6-foot height, especially for households with one or more tall members.

"At the lower mounting height, a person who is 5 feet, 9 inches, or taller would have their view blocked by the pendants when looking across the room," he explains. If too much glare presents a problem at this height for shorter people, look for pendants with longer shades that do a better job of shielding the bulb.



Other options for lighting your kitchen island include a chandelier or recessed "can" lights. Chandeliers should be mounted so that the bottom is at least 6 feet, 6 inches, from the floor, so Rey-Barreau recommends using them only in kitchens with 9 foot or higher ceilings. He also cautions homewners to choose carefully to make sure the chandelier offers adequate task lighting in addition to looking good.

"Chandeliers without shades, such as traditional fixtures that use candelabra bulbs to simulate the look of candles, are very glaring and do not direct the light adequately down to the island counter," he explains.


Recessed Lighting

Though not decorative, recessed lighting is effective. "I generally recommend at least two recessed fixtures with 75-watt halogen reflector lamps using a 'flood' or 'narrow flood' distribution when lighting a kitchen island," Rey-Barreau says.

In terms of placement, consider putting the fixtures closer to the ends of the island than the middle if you have a highly reflective countertop, such as polished granite. That way the light is not reflected into your eyes, but the edges of the beams still overlap to provide efficient lighting.



Ask the Editor: Adding an Island

Kitchen with dark wood cabinetry and an island.

Do I Have Room in My Kitchen for an Island?


Question: "We are looking at putting an island in our kitchen. What is the least amount of distance that should be from the sink, oven and refrigerator to an island? I'm not sure if we have enough room for one." —B. Sliauter


Answer: You'll want at least 36 inches between an appliance, sink or cabinet and an island, although 42 to 48 inches would be ideal. Without knowing the layout and dimensions of your kitchen, or what elements you plan to place on the island, I can't make a specific recommendation; but I can tell you what factors should guide your decision.


1. Appliance doors. You need to be able to open your oven, refrigerator and dishwasher doors all the way so that you can fully utilize the interior space and, in the case of the oven, use it safely.

"A minimum of 36 inches in front of a range," says Janice Poletto, a kitchen and bath designer with Cheryl D. & Company in LaGrange, IL. "With a dishwasher, 36 again, minimum. With these fully integrated dishwashers, the door is actually 30 inches. So when you pull that dishwasher down you want to make sure you have enough room to put your hand in front of it and grab it and pull it back up."

As for refrigerators, the required distance will depend on the width of the refrigerator and whether it has a single door or double doors. "If it's a 36-inch-wide refrigerator you're obviously going to need more than 36 inches of clearance in front of it, because the door is going to be 36 inches," Poletto explains. "So in that case, probably 42."

2. Don't block the work triangle. The work triangle is the path from the primary sink to the refrigerator to the cooktop or range. According to National Kitchen & Bath Association guidelines, an island should not intersect this triangle by more than 12 inches. If you break this rule, you're just making it awkward, inconvenient, and potentially unsafe to get around in the kitchen.

3. Range or cooktop placement. If you plan to incorporate your cooking surface into the island, the countertop's depth should extend an extra 9 inches past the cooktop for safety's sake, according to the NKBA.

4. Seating. If you want seating at the island, first, leave room for everyone's knees: 18 inches deep for a table height (30 inches) surface; 15 inches deep for a counter height (36 inches) surface; and 12 inches deep for a bar height (42 inches) surface. Then, allow another 32 inches if there's a wall behind the seats, or 36 to 44 inches if people will be walking behind the diners.

5. Work station placement. Having an island creates aisles in the kitchen. According to NKBA guidelines, areas such as the range or cooktop, the sink, and the counter where you do most of your chopping and food prep should be in an aisle 42 inches wide. For two or more cooks, the NKBA recommends work aisles be 48 inches wide.

Whether or not you enjoyed geometry class, translating dimensions from paper to your home can be challenging. Once you have a layout or sketch you think is going to work, many designers recommend marking off the proposed changes on the floor with masking tape. You could also simulate the planned island with a table or boxes of similar size and shape, and try maneuvering around them for a few days to see how it would work.


Ask the Editor: Professional Style

A GE Profile oven

Courtesy of GE Profile

Is Professional Style on the Way Out?


Question: "We are in the process of replacing our 20-year-old double wall oven. We had selected a Pro-Style model by Jenn-Air with the heavy handles. Is this styling on the way out? I hate to replace and then find out that we are already outdated."

"Part of my concern is the trend toward integrating I see happening. The controls on dishwashers are now hidden. Refrigerators look like wardrobes. Islands are designed like furniture. Wolf has a double wall oven that rotates the controls to hide them completely from view. Everything with appliances is concealed or integrated with wood panels to disguise the 'kitchen' and make it more an entertaining room with 'Oh, by the way, where are the appliances?'"


Answer: Professional style remains popular, but has been softened. For example, the electric range pictured above has the stainless-steel finish and thick handles, but the handles are sleek and curved. It's a less industrial look for homeowners who prefer a more elegant, traditional design.

Many manufacturers are taking a similar approach to handles and other appliance fittings, including Jenn-Air. Its Euro-Style line offers similar performance to the Pro-Style line but has the more contoured styling.

Another trend to watch for: color in "showcase" or "featured" appliances, whether a stylish island hood, French range or undercounter wine chiller. Look for metallic bronzes, champagnes and purples; deep reds, blues and greens; and retro pastels and primaries.

Using cabinet panels to hide appliances continues to be popular in traditional and Old World kitchens; after all, no one had a dishwasher in 17th-century Siena. Concealing appliances isn't necessary in a modern or transitional kitchen. Besides, when you've spend as much on appliances as you have on cabinets, you don't necessarily want to hide them.

Ask the Editor: Baking Centers

A kitchen with a baking center.

Kitchen designed by Pegasus Design.

How Do I Create a Baking Center?


Question: "I would like to make a baking center in my kitchen. As I am 5 feet tall, what height would you recommend my countertops be? And out of what materials? I am also having a problem with where to put all the trays when they come out of the oven. What type of cooling rack do I incorporate into a tiny kitchen?"

Answer: The standard counter height is 36 inches. In a baking center, it is common to drop the countertop where you roll dough, mix and chop to 32 or 33 inches, or even to standard table height, which is 30 inches.


We don't recommend having all your surfaces installed at that lower height for a few reasons:

  • Taller cooks and bakers (perhaps a spouse or older children) will be uncomfortable.

  • It might limit the number of potential buyers when you sell the home.

  • Standard dishwashers are about 35 inches tall and won't fit under a dropped counter.


Having a mix of work-surface heights should ensure that everyone's needs are met. The lower baking surface can be part of either a perimeter countertop or part of an island countertop. To make the most out of the reduced cabinet space underneath, consider installing deep drawers with full-extension slides instead of base cabinets. Drawers hold more than vertical cabinets, and the items stored inside will be easier to access.

As far as surface materials go, natural stone and quartz both tend to be smooth and cool to the touch, which is good for working with dough. Because baking involves a number of ingredients that can stain or corrode (think vanilla extract and lemon juice), if you want stone you should choose granite, use a sealant, and clean up promptly. Marble is a traditional favorite of many bakers, but it does stain easily and need more maintenance than granite. Engineered quartz surfacing offers the same benefits as marble or granite, but without the maintenance requirements.

Finally, we can suggest a few solutions for cooling multiple trays of cookies at once. The first idea is to look for stackable cooling racks, sold singly or in sets. They can be stacked two or three high-maybe more, depending on how accident-prone you are. Makers include Wilton, Nordic Ware, Danesco and Pampered Chef. Our second idea is to purchase a folding or collapsible baker's rack that can be stored in the basement or a closet and pulled out when needed. Jonas Baker's Mate has four tiers, can sit on a countertop or table, and could be stored in a cabinet.

Ask the Editor: Blending Wood Finishes

This open rustic kitchen has wooden cabinets, flooring, beams and millwork.

Photo: Ruettgers Photography

This Oregon kitchen mixes rustic cherry hardwood flooring with alder cabinets with a clear finish. Their light tones-similar to wooden beams and millwork-allow the bar top with chocolate stain to be a striking focal element, says designer Kit Tosello.

What Should I Keep in Mind When Choosing Cabinets and Flooring?

Question: "I am planning a remodel of my small, one-wall kitchen. The plan is to extend the new wood kitchen flooring into the dining room and replace the snack bar with an island to make the space feel bigger. I'm looking at a honey-colored maple for the cabinets and some sort of bamboo flooring."

"Do I pick flooring that is in the same family but a few shades darker, or do I go for total contrast and go really dark? If I go really dark, will it affect how big the room feels? Then, what do I do with furniture like shelving or a pre-made island? What do I need to keep in mind when blending wood finishes?" -S. Rice, email


Answer: This is one of those common but challenging questions with more than one answer, so we asked a couple of kitchen designers for their opinion. First up: Kit Tosello of Cocina Designs in Sisters, Oregon. "Here in the Northwest we see high demand for wood cabinetry, often paired with wood flooring and wood ceilings or beams," she says. "I think a homeowner could combine two or three wood species without a designer by following some basic principles."

She recommends homeowners start by choosing the element most important to them. Get a sample of that item-in your case, that might be a honey-colored maple cabinet door-to take with you when selecting other items, such as the flooring and furniture. Cabinets and flooring should be either quite close or quite distinct in color tone, Tosello recommends.

"You could pair a light wood like maple with natural select cherry, oak, or bamboo with some tone variation" for a similar look, she suggests. For a striking difference, contrast the maple with dark or dramatic wood grains or patterns such as rustic hickory, rustic cherry, walnut, mahogany, or bamboo with dark striping.

If the cabinetry and flooring are similar, then the third element-your shelves or your island-can stand out. Conversely, if you choose dramatically different cabinetry and flooring, keep the furniture similar to one of the other two.

"Think in terms of a focal point, so there aren't competing elements," Tosello explains. "If the island wood/finish is going to be different than the rest of the cabinetry, it will likely be attention-getting so you wouldn't want the dining table to compete."

In general, lighter colors and a monochromatic color scheme help to open up a small space, so keep two of your three wood finishes light. Carrying the flooring into the adjoining dining room also helps to make a small kitchen look bigger, according to both Tosello and Florida designer Ann Porter of Kitchen Studio of Naples, Inc. Porter also suggests going with reflective or glossy finishes rather than flat or matte finishes that "suck up the light."

For the island, Porter recommends finding a furniture-look one with legs or feet. "Being able to see more flooring makes a space feel bigger," she explains

Another idea that may not have occurred to you: lighten up your upper cabinets with glass doors or with open shelving. "White, open shelves are very popular right now so I suggest go for it," says Porter.



Ask the Editor: Adjust Your Kitchen's Height

A kitchen with a separate cooktop and two singe wall ovens placed at same convenient height.

This kitchen features a separate cooktop and two single wall ovens placed at the same convenient height. Base cabinets with drawers add more storage than those with doors and shelves, and eliminate the need for some wall cabinets.

What Design Would You Recommend for a 4' 7" Person?


Question: "My husband and I are planning to build a home. What design would you recommend for a person who is 4' 7" tall? I have never been able to reach overhead cabinets without a stool. I hate to admit it, but my balance is not what it used to be. I find myself falling off the stool or falling over it. I love to cook and spend most of my time in the kitchen. I want a kitchen built for me." —Karen M., W. Va.


Answer: This situation calls for a designer trained in universal design, an approach that considers the physical abilities and needs of people of all ages and heights. A few immediate thoughts come to mind:

  • 36 inches is normal counter height, but it's not uncommon for some sections of counter to be lower (down to 28 inches) for a baking center or higher (up to 42 inches) for a breakfast bar. You say you want a kitchen designed just for you, so you could lower all the work surfaces. However, if you plan to sell the house within a few years, be aware that this could hurt resale value.

  • Stock base cabinets are all 34.5 inches tall, so you'll probably need to go with a semi-custom or custom line. Another option would be to go with KraftMaid's Passport Series of universal design cabinetry or Merillat's Universal Access cabinets. Both lines are 32.5 inches tall.

  • You could design it so that most of the storage is in the lower (base) cabinets instead of the upper (wall) cabinets. Using pullout drawers instead of cabinets with fixed shelves and drawers will not only make better use of the space but make it more accessible to you. And it's a design trend, too.

  • Get a cooktop and wall oven(s) instead of a range so you can position your cooking appliances at a good height for you. I also see a lot of people purchasing two separate wall ovens and placing them side by side rather than buying a stacked double oven. It's more expensive, of course, but both are easily accessible that way.


A kitchen design specialist who is familiar with the National Kitchen & Bath Association Planning Guidelines also will have a good working knowledge of ergonomics and be able to come up with suggestions that work for you and still look beautiful. Especially because you love to cook and spend so much time in the kitchen, the money spent will be well worth it.


Ask the Editor: Warm Paint Colors

A kitchen painted in warm colors

Photo: Dana Wheelock Photography

Designed by DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide.

What Paint Colors Will Achieve a Warm Look?


Question: "I have oak cabinets along with white floor tiles, white countertops and white walls. I'm not planning on changing the counters, the flooring or the cabinets, but I want to paint the walls to give the kitchen a warm and inviting look. What should I consider?"


Answer: Most designers agree that reds, yellows and oranges are generally considered to be the warm colors.

"Warm colors are inviting and appeal to the senses," says Doty Horn, the Director of Color and Design at Benjamin Moore says. "Usually the red- and yellow-based tones are selected for kitchens, since they convey a hospitality element."

Even by limiting yourself to reds, yellows and oranges, you'll still be opening up a Pandora's box of color options. To get started, Becky Ralich Spak, senior interior designer with the color marketing and design department at Sherwin-Williams, suggests looking for "mid-tone values — the colors in the middle of the strips — in warm color families."

Your oak cabinets will play a large role when trying to pinpoint specific colors.

"Oak cabinets usually have a yellow-based tone, unless stained," explains Horn. She and Ralich Spak both recommended looking at terra cotta reds, cork-colored yellows and yellow-based greens for your walls. Ralich Spak also suggested Sherman-Williams' Anjou pear color, as well as gold and copper hues.

Whatever colors you decide to investigate, picking up trial size paints is a good way to see how different shades will look in your home. Most paint companies sell sample packs of their colors that, after the application of primer, can easily be brushed over a small area.

For accent colors, remember that they don't necessarily have to come in the form of paint. Window treatments, placemats, hardware and other kitchen accessories can often be found in colors that can complement to your kitchen.

If you're planning to update your appliances, choosing a warm color instead of the standard white, black or stainless also can make your kitchen more inviting.

"The trend toward warm, bronzed metallic colors is adding flair in kitchen appliances," says Horn. "This will give consumers an opportunity to mix warm and cool colors. The warm metallic mixed with a medium to charcoal gray wall color and oak cabinets can provide a real contemporary twist."

One final point to consider: not all whites are the same. Many have undertones of another color. Glossy, matte or textured finishes also can differentiate white surfaces.

"People think anything goes with white, and for the most part it does, but don't forget to look at your existing finishes for help in determining color selection," says Ralich Spak.