Q: I'm ready to redo a kitchen that has recently been integrated with our family room. Can you suggest a simple and casual design that isn't too slick or contemporary-looking? The room has high ceilings, but it doesn't get a lot of daylight.
A: Even though so-called Southwest styling is not my favorite -- mainly because so often it is poorly interpreted -- this look does include some elements that might be just right for your situation. The photograph illustrates them and highlights their charm and practicality.
Natural clay tiles, when properly sealed, can be a smart choice for kitchen flooring. They also make a good-looking background for rugs in an adjacent space, which in your case would be the family room.
Ordinary whitewashed wallboard, skim-coated and troweled, will simulate the soft corners of the adobe interior while also adding warmth and brightness to a dark room. In keeping with that motif, you could apply decorative ceramic tiles on the counter top, backsplash and other surfaces that require frequent cleaning. These easily maintained tiles also make a colorful addition to bulkheads and borders at the ceiling line -- or to any area that may need an accented design.
You could further enhance the Southwestern look by installing wooden beams and wrought-iron accessories for hanging pots and pans and garlands of dried spices and garlic. Besides reinforcing the kitchen's design direction, such accouterments may inspire you to cook more creatively.
As you have no doubt gathered, natural materials are an intrinsic part of this style. And while that doesn't mean you must forgo contemporary kitchen appliances, care must be taken to minimize intrusions by 21st century gadgetry in this kind of casual and not so high-tech environment.
The setting shown in the photo includes new full-featured appliances from General Electric's Monogram line. White-fronted double ovens were flush-mounted in an inconspicuous way. And the commercial look of the stove was diminished by installing the range-top cooking elements in a space-saving, lower-level counter top. The refrigerator has also been wall-mounted in order to give it a more architectural appearance.
It's easy to see how this type of treatment can lend itself to a family room-kitchen combination. Pottery, sunny colors and homespun fabrics with large geometric patterns would be appropriate decorations for your adjoining family room. Designed this fashion, both parts of the integrated space will become comfortable gathering places for family and friends.