Posted in Cabinets, Contemporary Kitchens, Managing Expectations, Maple Cabinets, Mineral Streaks, Style Notes

Critiquing Kitchen Design and Cabinetry



As a blogger who’s primary focus is that of all things kitchen and bath related, I get excited when I see a kitchen or a bath that has been carefully designed and executed with all the right design elements. Well, alright, maybe there are one or two things I would have done differently, but not by much. Overall I give this contemporary kitchen two thumbs up. Quiet elegance is what I call this. 

The home is located in Scottsdale Arizona. The neutral color palette and “tone on tone” scheme fits into it’s overall desert surroundings. What I mean is that the design is not contrived. They did not impose a Tuscan- themed design in a contemporary home. The kitchen is fairly large and the use of two islands is a stroke of ingenuity. They stayed away from the mistake of using one monster sized island and instead divided the space into two islands. The interior island, approx 6 1/2′ x 4′ is the workhorse island and includes the main clean up sink and dishwasher. (I wish they didn’t place that ridiculously over sized plant on the counter that blocks my view of the space). The opposite side of this island with 24″ deep cabinets allows for plenty of storage. This is a dream kitchen for entertaining. Who wouldn’t love this kitchen? 
The outer island is open to the living area and yet has a 42″ pony wall that prevents your eye level view landing directly onto the kitchen counters. Smart idea when company is over. You don’t want your guests focusing on the clutter in the kitchen. I like this, if I can hide clutter from view, I will do it. 
One of the most commonly overlooked elements in kitchen design is the ceiling. This kitchen added the drywall clad beams in the slightly  darker paint color. The addition of the beams adds an important element in the design. It prevents the large room from looking too generic and sterile. The one thing I see that I would have done differently is the placement of the microwave. Most kitchen designers have an opinion or two, or three about the microwave. If you are a tall person, let’s say 6 feet tall or so, placing a microwave 54″ above a finished floor is acceptable if you are this tall. But for the rest of us who are height challenged, 54″ a.f.f. is too high up for comfort. Actually, 54″ is the bottom of the wall cabinet. The bottom of the microwave starts at about 55 1/2″ the center of the microwave winds up at about 60″ tall. If the average height for women is 5′-6″ tall, the center height of a  microwave at 60″ is too high. You should never be pulling hot objects out in the direction of your face and above shoulder height. It is dangerous and can lead to severe burns if the container explodes in your hands as you are pulling it out. Argue with me if you insist, that you do not like a microwave lowered from the rest of the wall cabinets, but in the picture above, you can clearly see this microwave wall cabinet is located between two 24″ deep appliances and could have been lowered 6″ for the sake of comfort of shorter users, kids included. Actually, the microwave is usually a child’s first introduction to helping out in the kitchen, why not make it more convenient for the young set?  
I also like the use of 24″ stone floors. 12″or 13″ tiles would have been the wrong scale for this room. I wish there were more pictures of this kitchen to show the cook top section but sorry, this is it. 
The irregularities in maple wood is more noticeable on medium to dark stains.
Here is another important factor in the design. The cabinets shown here are maple in a medium tone and it looks like they they might be finished with a brown glaze wiped into the surface grooves in the door panels. Maple stained darker becomes more ruddy, more blotchy in appearance. You may look at this sample door shown and reject it for the blotchy appearance on face value alone. I picked apart this kitchen above with red circles the way a homeowner would before giving the cabinets a fair chance before the kitchen is completed. The number one sales call a cabinet sales reps receives has to do with the perception of what a finished cabinet should look like. Avoid over analyzing your cabinets with a clear grid sheet by picking apart the highs and lows in the graining and mineral steaks that are naturally occurring features in wood. This is not the problem of the wood itself but the problem of the sales person not properly explaining to the customer the inherent characteristics found in the wood species they selected. There is nothing wrong with the maple wood shown in this example and it should not  be considered a flaw requiring all the doors to be replaced. My intent with this example is to show  that when the maple is viewed in perspective in a completed design, the ruddiness becomes less of a factor. Look back at the first picture. Your eye is not focusing on the blotchiness of the cabinets, your eye is looking at the overall beauty in this kitchen design. If you look hard enough and close enough, you will find flaws in anything. Anyone who holds a 10x magnifying mirror to their own face can testify to that! Oh lord do I know that! Yikes! 

Mineral streaks found in wood cabinets are beauty marks not flaws. 
The most beautiful women in the world have beauty marks. 

You should never expect perfection in wood graining just as you can never achieve true perfection in your own skin’s pores. Before your cabinets were…”cabinets”, before the lumber from which your cabinets were built, they were once upon a time trees in a forest. How much light the trees received, the natural elements in which the trees grew are a forever reminder that your cabinets were once a living, breathing part of our natural environment. The demarcations on your cabinets tell a story of your cabinets history or pedigree. These natural characteristics cannot be air brushed away, cannot be removed with lasers or bleach lightening agents. What should not be accepted are burn marks from over sanding, thumb prints in the stain, mars in the finish, and rough finishes are not acceptable and should be brought to the attention of your sales person for replacement. Mineral streaks and mineral flecks are naturally occurring in wood and should be considered beauty marks not flaws. If you can not accept this fact, you need to look at thermofoil and plastic laminate that will provide you more consistency and repeat pattern in graining. But then again, if this kitchen was done in either, I would not consider it as beautiful as it is, would you? 

When all is said and done, this kitchen is really a beautiful example in elegant simplicity. 


Laurie Burke, connected to the design and construction industry since 1996. A seasoned residential kitchen and bath design specialist , Laurie has designed thousands of kitchens & baths as well as other cabinetry projects requiring technical precision in design drafting utilizing state of the art 2020 software for creating accurate plans and elevations. Through on- going product knowledge training and a desire to always stay current with an evolving marketplace, Laurie Burke maintains a strong command of knowing the appropriate Fit & Finish materials required for a residential remodel to meet the budget, the timeline of a project and a client's need for a finished product that meets their satisfaction. Kitchen Designer by trade, foodie, techie, weekend traveler for fun. For more information contact me at

8 thoughts on “Critiquing Kitchen Design and Cabinetry

  1. Actually, maple is the most difficult wood to stain without blotching. There are those who seem to have it down to a science, and a lot more who can never get the results they’re looking for. I personally do not like to stain wood at all. I believe that each wood has its own glory that comes through best with a clear finish. Whenever I can I use a hand-rubbed oil finish because it gives such a glorious finish to the wood. When a more durable finish is needed, there are a number of varnishes and polyurethanes that do well. But staining, to me, is the sort of thing you do before you learn the difference between birch with a walnut stain and walnut with an oil finish–night and day, pretty much!


  2. Joe, spoken like a true wood worker. I figured you as an 'au natural purist. Mahogany natural, now I am with you. But maple goes mellow yellow if left natural. No bueno!


  3. Well… you say mellow yellow es no bueno. I say patina is the thinga. You’re right about the change in color. The walnut and maple vanity I made for my wife some fourteen years ago is no longer stark white and dark brown, but we like it. In fact my wife is at the vanity at this moment putting on her makeup. I went in to check the color and asked what she thought about the color change. She said she liked it, and when I asked if it bothered her that it had yellowed a bit, she said, “I don’t think of it as yellow. To me it’s a golden hue. And I LIKE gold!”On the other hand I have a desk I refinished close to forty years ago, my first project. I used the wrong kind of varnish because I didn’t know any better, and it has yellowed, and yellowed badly. It looks a bit like the yellowing you get on a kitchen floor that’s been waxed too many times. Really, to me, it just depends on the type of finish that is applied. Wood does change color over time if you don’t stain it. But that’s what it’s supposed to do. I am surrounded by floor-to-ceiling bookcases in my study that are made of clear-finished red oak and redwood. When I first installed them, they were fairly close in color, and I was disappointed because I wanted a contrast. But over the years the red oak has changed very slightly, and the redwood has deepened in hue quite a bit. For a long time now there has been the wonderful contrast I had in mind when I designed the project.It’s difficult to get people to buy into that sort of thing because manufacturers these days are too eager for a buck to take the time to educate the general public to the color changes that occur in wood that has not been stained to “make it more consistent.” All staining does is rob wood of its glory. The clear-varnished cherry dresser you buy today will not look like the clear-varnished cherry desk you bought ten years ago, because the older one will have deepened its hue. But that’s what wood’s all about!


  4. Hi All,I love this kitchen. Not only that, I love the whole room and how the living area and kitchen are combined in a subtle way. I have a kitchen website here in Ireland and I love coming on to American sites and looking at the difference between Irish/European design and American design. I love how you guys do kitchens. Maybe I should move over!Keep up the good work and i'll be back soon.


  5. This kitchen is wonderful! I am currently in the process of remodeling my home and am paying particular attention to the design of the kitchen as i feel it is the heart and soul of the house. I have been working with some local Arizona kitchen designers called EuroDream Kitchens. They have been absolutely wonderful and very helpful at making my very big kitchen dreams a reality! I will definitely take this article into consideration when thinking about my cabinets! Thanks for the great advice!


  6. Matters, I agree.

    Kitchens, thanks for stopping in.The fact that I am part Irish, and never been to Ireland, I would love to hear from you what you see is in demand from the Irish consumer. It would be interesting to see what the differences are from the American consumer.

    Kevin, glad you enjoyed the article. Good luck with your remodel.


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