K&B Design: Creating a Theme Environment

Establishing a historical theme for the kitchen or bathroom is a way to assist the designer in organizing the project.

April 25, 2014
A French country style kitchen designed by Richard Ourso, CKD, CAPS. Co-designers included Vickie Mire, CKD, CAPS, Michelle Livings, AKBD, CAPS, LEED.

A French country style kitchen designed by Richard Ourso, CKD, CAPS. Co-designers included Vickie Mire, CKD, CAPS, Michelle Livings, AKBD, CAPS, LEED.

Once a kitchen and bath designer has an understanding of the elements and principles of design, the next step in adapting generic design training to a specific kitchen and bathroom planning situation is to understand how to create rooms that follow a style or theme. For example, a historical or specific cultural theme or perhaps incorporating key elements of current modern interiors into the design.

While not all clients may want to follow a specific historical or cultural theme, it has become more common since World War II for those with homes from a specific historical architectural style—either new construction, renovation, or a remodel—to want to follow that style throughout the interior, including in the design of the kitchen and bathroom.

A client may show the kitchen and bath designer a picture that is reminiscent of a historical or historically influenced structure—a cottage in the English, French, or American Victorian countryside, a sleek apartment in New York, an early 20th century bungalow, or mid-20th century ranch home—as inspiration for the design.

One does not need to be an expert in each of these design styles, but ideally the kitchen and bath designer should have a good working knowledge of the history behind these styles and a basic understanding of the significant attributes of such spaces, which are transferable to rooms created in the 21st century.

Defining the theme and style

Establishing a historical theme for the kitchen or bathroom is a way to assist the designer in organizing the project. Once a definite style or influence is identified, many possibilities are automatically eliminated and a more manageable range of choices can be presented to the client. This is important and can ultimately save time during the planning process. If the client is unsure of the style (or its name) they would like to use, showing them picture examples of different historic styles—general interiors as well as kitchens and bathrooms reflecting a variety of historic styles—can assist them in narrowing choices.

Often clients will already have their own set of pictures of interior spaces, including kitchens and bathrooms, they like (often reflecting specific period style or several styles) which is helpful to the designer in this process.

Kitchen and bath designers and clients sometimes wonder, “How do I know what is appropriate for a specific architectural style?”

This question can be difficult to answer. Most architectural style periods have distinctive furniture and interior (as well as exterior) architectural styles, but they had few or no designed kitchens or bathrooms to study or use as a guideline until the late-19th or early-20th century.

Therefore, the designer usually adapts a furniture or architectural style (or some elements) to cabinetry then uses characteristic colors, materials, motifs, and/or accessories associated with the period to give a feeling of the style. The kitchen and bath designer must also contend with the functional requirements of modern appliances, kitchen and bath fixtures and fittings, and current building code and space requirements.

Fortunately in recent years, cabinet, fixture, and appliance manufacturers developed product lines that are reminiscent of or blend with a variety of different historic style periods. These product lines make it easier for both the designer and client to create the look and feel desired—following a particular theme—yet with all the modern technology and conveniences desired.

The most practical recommendation to successfully create a room reminiscent of the past is to strive for the feeling of the requested style or styles rather than an actual reproduction of the design and products of the period. The latter can be difficult, if not impossible to achieve, as well as not being functional or practical for today’s life styles.

To accomplish this, the kitchen and bath designer needs to understand the various architectural and historical interior styles; become familiar with the furniture styles, colors, motifs, materials, and fashions associated with each era; and then be able to translate this information successfully into a functional modern kitchen or bathroom with the appropriate period motifs and ambiance.

Understanding context and style

As kitchen and bathroom planners draw inspiration from a variety of sources to view interiors that are highly stylized, they should realize that Western architecture, throughout its history, has been identified with the character of Western civilization as well as being a reflection of the style. It is important for the designer to understand the context of the style and what it represents.

When one begins to study the history of architecture and understand the homes in the U.S., the specific periods of design, styles of architecture, and furniture need to be identified. These eras are commonly called period styles. Depending on the source, these can be named and organized differently, crossing over several or being included in more than one style category, which can be confusing to designer and client alike. Each source has its own set of definitions, interpretations, and organization that can be conflicting, adding to the confusion.

Most styles, with a few exceptions, evolve slowly, reach a height in popularity, and then gradually begin to wane, being replaced by yet another style. Some go away and others do not, enjoying a consistent or renewed popularity.

It is also worth noting that a majority of the architectural, interior, and furniture design styles mentioned in this article were for centuries the purview of the wealthy, nobility, and clergy, rather than the masses or what would be considered by current standards as the average person.

It wasn’t until the 18th century that architectural and design styles—along with the beginnings of what is now considered the middle class—began to emerge for that middle-class sector, becoming the majority of the population. Their design styles for architecture, furniture, and materials were typically a simpler version of what the wealthy owned. These go by several names, including country, provincial, use of a regional vernacular term, or a religious or specific sect name.

Knowing about and being able to apply knowledge to create a historical (or inspired by history) style to the design of kitchens and bathrooms is important for the designer. The knowledge of historical architectural and furniture styles is the basis for the design. Successive design styles build on what has gone on before, yet each with their own unique interpretation and innovations.





The kitchen and bath designer also needs to keep in mind the aesthetic design of kitchens and bathrooms was not a significant consideration in home design until the 20th century; therefore, much of what needs to be followed is based on architectural and interior elements as well as furnishing styles. PR
This article is excerpted from the NKBA Professional Resource Library volume, Kitchen & Bath Design Principles, Second Edition by Nancy Wolford, Ph.D. to be published by John Wiley & Sons Inc. in 2014. This material is reproduced with the permission of John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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