Part 2 of our Kitchen Fashion series is all about surfaces. We're not talking about some boring granite or pretty 4x4 white tile. We're talking about some real pizzazz! Interior designers have such a range of options available to us in the kitchen design world that it becomes a challenge to find just the right material for the right project. In kitchen design, there are 5 basic elements (again, some will disagree with my simplification): flooring, cabinetry, counter tops, backsplash and walls - we'll talk about fabric next week, so don't fret, I didn't forget about it. These are the surfaces on which we focus most of our attention. Getting the combination just right is a task the JBi designers relish. Keep in mind, we've designed nearly 60 kitchens to date and each one is it's own puzzle. Here are the simple rules we used in getting the combination just right.

Proportion. I counted six different main materials used in the first kitchen below - cabinetry (2 kinds), fireplace wall, ceiling, stainless counter, backsplash. What makes this kitchen so incredible is how the designer selected just the right proportion of each material so that no one material overwhelms the space. The materials play off each other in interesting ways. Rough fireplace stone against stainless counter top; contemporary wood mixed with simple white painted cabinetry; light texture on backsplash with heavy texture of fireplace stone; and so on. When right, it just sings.

In the second picture below, we see a completely different example of proportion in the three main surfaces used in this contemporary kitchen - two different counter top materials and the cabinetry (I left the floor out because it's intended to not be a factor in this design). It is the simplification of the combination that creates an elegant space that is more about subtle details than anything else.

Beautiful combination of materials in kitchen as discussed by interior designers at Jason Ball Interiors

Portland interior designers discuss importance of surfaces in kitchen design

Creating a theme. Sometimes interior design requires us to be a little cliche, especially when we're creating a very strong look in a space. Take this first kitchen below for example. The use of reclaimed wood, river rock, rough sawn wood flooring, antiqued cabinetry leaves us with no doubt that this space resides in a rustic (yet grand) home. It is the selection of each of the materials in combination that helps define the overall aesthetic. In the second picture, we have a very different theme. Less about textures and more about contrast, this contemporary kitchen shows off the interconnection of shapes and materials in the same space. The simple ceiling treatment helps define the kitchen area, while the interruption of the raised bar spanning the island and peninsula is a detail that may not be noticed by many, but definitely shows the creativity of the architect.

Rustic kitchen design with beams and vaulted ceiling

contemporary kitchen design in different wood tones

Use the floor wisely. As with so many other surfaces, the number of different flooring options available to us is immense - tile, wood, laminate, and all the various incarnations of each. Flooring can play such an important role in creating the overall aesthetic and as a balance to other surfaces in the space. In both spaces below, the floor is used to great effect and adds to the overall aesthetics of the space. In the first example, an amazing hand-scraped floor adds instant age to this contemporary kitchen in a traditional style. The dark floor also balances out the dark tin ceiling above the island. In the second kitchen below, the checkered marble floor adds instant character to the space. Notice the various modern elements sprinkled throughout this clearly aged kitchen - simple light over the table, contemporary open shelving on the far wall, modern appliances. And, that puppy is just too cute!

Traditional kitchen design in whites, grays with a hand scraped floor

kitchen design in a rustic, european style

Play with contrast. When I look back at the kitchens we've designed, I'm surprised by how much we've used contrast as a design element. In fact, looking at the pictures above, contrast is a common theme. So, what is the role of contrast in kitchen design? First, contrast can take many forms - textures, colors, styles and so on. I've always been of the mind set that contrast in a space allows the eye to notice each of the design components and respect the differences. Take the first kitchen below, for example. The use of a bold red contrasts nicely with the softness of  the other materials. You certainly notice it!

Working with contrast in other ways can add just as much interest to a space. In the second kitchen below, take note of the differences in surface textures. A rough brick wall contrasts with polished stone counter top. The raw, industrial feel of the entire room plays off the sleek, contemporary surfaces used throughout. This use of contrast, while more subtle, is just as important in creating an overall pleasing space.

Kitchen design with bold cabinetry colors

interior designers in Portland talk about contemporary kitchen design

So, which of the kitchens above are you most attracted to? The ones with high contrast in colors or materials, or the ones with more subtle differences? Whichever type you like, the role of each individual surface in your kitchen design is important in creating the overall feel, so choose wisely.

About JASON BALL interiors. We are a team of interior designers based in Portland, Oregon serving residential clients throughout Oregon and Washington and beyond. To see examples of our design work, visit the Portfolio page. For an evaluation of your upcoming projects, contact Jason Ball at (503) 267-2352 or via e-mail at We look forward to being your interior design team.