A Primer on the Integrated Kitchen

How to created a seamless, stylish cook space

sweeten_kavi_kitchen_bathroom-03 (Above) Seamless system of cabinetry in Kavi and David’s Brooklyn kitchen renovation

As the heart of the home, the kitchen is the room that gets a great deal of attention when the time comes to remodel it. However, even with cabinetry filled with organizational bells and whistles, this busy hub can quickly descend into clutter and chaos. If you find managing the mess a chore, or if your kitchen is part of another room, or can be seen from adjoining areas of the house, you might want to find features that blend in rather than stand out. This is what we call the integrated, or concealed, kitchen.

Set the design

As with any home project, before you shop, develop a plan for your kitchen layout. For this topic, we’re not talking about a kitchen hidden behind folding doors. And there’s more to it than choosing appliances and cabinets (though those are key factors). The integrated kitchen is a work space with a near-seamless appearance.

This style will work for any floor plan—galley, L-shape, U-shape, great room. However, if you want to introduce an island, you might want to add a raised shelf that faces the public area of the kitchen. This will help hide all the pans and tools on the counter that you don’t have time to clean up before sitting down to eat. You’ll also want to think about smaller details, like concealing hinges and outlets, that don’t necessarily pop into the picture, but will still impact the look as a whole.

Choose a color and material scheme that is tonal, with clean lines and smooth surfaces, so the different areas blend into each other or at least transition quietly, to create a harmonious living space.

If you do have room for a dining table, try a banquette on the wall or in a corner if it’s available. Limiting the number of chairs will enhance the minimal effect.

Downplay the appliances

To some extent, appliances cannot be hidden completely, but certain features make them less noticeable. Take, for instance, the refrigerator. Counter-depth versions that are “panel ready” are available from a vast range of companies including Sub-Zero, GE, Frigidaire, and KitchenAid. Replace the enamel or stainless steel front with a panel kit from your cabinet supplier, and the fridge, which no longer juts past the countertop, will almost disappear. Note that counter-depth fridges come as side-by-sides or top- or bottom-mounts, but they won’t have quite the cubic foot capacity of the freestanding or built-in models—as much as 2 to 5 cubic feet and up—so you could, if you have the room, add a refrigerator or freezer drawer that tucks discreetly under the counter.

Many dishwashers can also be fitted with a matching panel, or opt for an “architectural” version like those offered by manufacturers such as Whirlpool and Miele, which have controls concealed on the inside top of the door.

Panels can’t disguise stoves, cooktops, and ovens, but you can make choices that make these indispensable appliances less prominent. Go for induction cooktops that use a smooth, single surface with the heating elements concealed underneath. Digital controls (instead of knobs) also disappear when not in use. As for the vent hood, if you have a cooktop, you can get a downdraft that sits below the counter and pops up only when in use.

sweeten_lia_kitchen_bathroom-07 (Above) Seamless kitchen project with one-piece handles by Lia and Chris in Brooklyn

Cabinets, uninterrupted

As the feature that typically takes up the most real estate in the kitchen, cabinets make or break the concealed look. European-style units, available from companies ranging from Kobenhavn Designs and HenryBuilt to Home Depot, open with gentle pressure applied to the outside of the door, making them a sensible choice for function and style. And hydraulic hinges on upper cabinets cause the doors to lift up and away with next to no effort. This type of sophistication comes at a price, however, so you might consider frameless doors and drawers, which completely cover the cabinet box, to suggest a seamless look. And where you can, take the cabinets up to the ceiling, to visually expand the appearance of the wall.

Before you commit, research whether matching panels are available to fit your fridge and dishwasher. Your contractor can replace the existing panels easily. If you must add hardware, choose handles molded from one piece of metal, or doors and drawers that come with built-in channels that you can grab and pull.

Add outlets to the inside of some cabinets to create small appliance garages, with sturdy hinges that can raise heavy tools like mixers up and out.

Staging the sink

The sink will never disappear. However, if you choose an undermount, it will be less noticeable. An alternative: an integrated solid surface sink and countertop—virtually seam free! The deeper the sink, the better it hides dirty dishes, of course. Some come with a cutting board accessory that tops the sink and creates an unbroken run of countertop. Pair the sink with a touchless faucet for fewer visible details.

Masking the outlets

If you use any small appliances or electronics in the kitchen (who doesn’t?), outlets are unavoidable. Minimize their appearance choosing outlets that match the material or wall color—like with Lutron; when that isn’t possible, try grouping switches and outlets together to diminish their overall presence. Another strategy: tuck an outlet under an overhang of a countertop, or low on a wall near the top of the counter, where it can hardly be noticed.

Minimize lighting

Probably the easiest feature to conceal, lighting nevertheless deserves a little design attention. Use cans in the ceiling for ambient light, and hide those task lights by using LED strips below your upper cabinets. Do have some fun, however, with pendants over the sink or island and a chandelier above the dining table. This is the place to introduce some wit and individual style—essential ingredients for any successful room.

For inspiration on how to conceal the larger appliances in your kitchen design, take a look at these 6 kitchens with hidden fridges and freezers.

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