Sleek kitchen makeovers

Modern can be warm and inviting

Special to the Packet and the GazetteSeptember 15, 2013 

You will have to excuse the state of our kitchen," my hostess bashfully told me as we toured her home last weekend. "We have not renovated it yet and it is not very pretty." Her husband and my partner are both professors at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and this was my first time visiting her exceptional 1840s Greek Revival-style townhouse in downtown Savannah. Having just learned what I do for a living, I think she was having second thoughts about offering to show me their home before we headed out to her courtyard for an al fresco dinner by the pool. "I promise I will not be critical," I assured her with a smile.

And what a great space it was, with soaring ceilings, two generous sets of south-facing French doors filling it with light and offering a commanding view of the enormous courtyard outside. These are coveted attributes in any house and especially difficult to find in an older home in downtown Savannah. I barely even noticed the dated 1960s-era cabinetry, the older appliances, and the awkward layout of the work surfaces. What I saw was lots of potential. Lots.

"We have done the bathrooms and laundry room already. I am just not sure what to do in here, but I have ideas. I want modern, clean, minimal. Is that wrong to do in an old house like this?" she asked.

"Not at all. In fact, several recent clients have opted for more contemporary kitchens in historic houses in Savannah and new construction on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton."

Streamlined, modern kitchens do not have to appear stark or sterile. The trick is to employ rich finishes and materials. Glass, man-made engineered stone, and stainless steel might seem cold and uninviting at first, but when combined with rich wood tones and subtly patterned travertine and other natural materials, the effect is alluring.

An example of an inviting modern kitchen is a remodel project I completed in Wexford Plantation for a young couple relocating from New York City. For this project I collaborated with kitchen designer Gregg McLain of Advanced Kitchen Design to reinvent the kitchen. The clients desired a contemporary, open, loft-like feel that would extend to the adjacent family room. Sleek, stylish, functional and not too fussy were the adjectives they kept repeating.

To keep the slab-fronted cabinetry doors from being too stark, we decided to use two shades of gray stain, a lighter one for the upper wall cabinets and a darker one for the base cabinet doors. Stainless steel framed glass doors, two of them opening garage style, frame the sculptural exhaust hood. Gregg cleverly designed a Parsons-style "table" extension on the island for interest, and suggested using Wenge wood. The rich wood grain and warm color serves as a welcoming buffet.

A simple, flat molding on the top of the wall cabinets caps the doors yet does not compete with the larger, more traditional crown molding of the room at the ceiling. And to offer a patterned relief to the solid white Caesar-Stone countertops, I used a mosaic tile backsplash in a brick pattern of white and stainless steel.

The clients are thrilled with their new kitchen. They may be living in the Lowcountry, nearly 1,000 miles away from Manhattan, but their slick and modern space would be right at home in a chic, urban loft in Chelsea.

Gregory Vaughan is an interior designer with Kelley Designs. Contact him at 843-785-6911 or

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