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posted: 5/3/2014 1:01 AM

Small-kitchen measures and countermeasures

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  • Iantha Carley

    Iantha Carley

The Washington Post

Designer Iantha Carley, who has participated in three DC Design Houses and whose aesthetic is known for its use of unexpected patterns, textures and colors, was the guest recently on The Washington Post staff writer Jura Koncius' Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt:

Q. I have a small, square kitchen with stainless-steel appliances. I am looking to replace the cabinet hardware and light fixture, and I am feeling constrained by the stainless steel, which is prominent given how small the kitchen is. Should we stick with something similar like brushed nickel, or is it cool now to mix metals?

A. You should definitely mix the metals. Stainless-steel hardware is usually a little more expensive. Try a polished chrome or nickel finishes. As far as the light fixture, consider a fixture with a painted finish.

Q. I recently replaced my old white kitchen appliances with newer stainless-steel ones. I have white cabinets and a wood floor in an open, sunny kitchen. I also have somewhat gross blue/gray Formica countertops. I plan to sell my house in a year and wonder whether I should invest in new countertops or leave that up to the buyer. If you think I should replace with granite, what color would you recommend? The rest of my house is beachy with lots of blues and greens and white furniture.

A. Sunny kitchens are nice! Replacing a countertop with granite or a solid surface is always a good idea for resale. Since your cabinets are white, you're open as far as color. Pick something neutral such as Carrara marble.

Q. I have a brick fireplace that is painted off-white, the same color as the walls and trim. I plan to paint the room a putty color and the trim white. I thought of painting the fireplace the putty color in semigloss, but my friend says it should be white like the trim. It is large, so I am afraid it will dominate the room in white.

A. If you want the fireplace to blend, then you're correct to paint it the same color as the walls. Without seeing it myself, my best answer is to trust your instincts.

Q. I have a galley kitchen. I'd love to redo the cabinets, countertops and more but hesitate to spend $50,000 on such a tiny space that can't be reconfigured. Is it possible to spend less than $30,000 just to update cabinets, countertops, etc., if you aren't knocking down walls and changing the layout?

A. If you have a challenging space, I would advise you to check with a designer. She can help you get the most bang for your buck and the most space, and prevent you from making costly mistakes. As far as your budget, consider not just the cosmetic changes but also what's not visible to the eye.

Q. I've been trying to find a good neutral paint color for our master bedroom and am having a difficult time because one side of the room is very light and the other side very dark. There is a bump-out seating area with very tall windows on two sides and skylights above, and colors that look good there look completely different in the dark corner on the other side of the room. I'm looking for a more beige/greige color with medium depth -- lots of honey-colored oak trim around all those windows and baseboards, so cool colors don't work as well.

A. It's natural for paint to look different on every wall in a room due to lighting and angles. To me, that's the wonderful thing about paint! Try Farrow & Ball's Skimming Stone. Paints that have more complex colors tend to not muddy out.

Q. I want to have white appliances with white kitchen cabinets, but white appliances are a lot whiter than the cabinets in the examples I have seen. I can't afford the built-in look with cabinet fronts. Any ideas?

A. White appliances are making a huge comeback. Don't be concerned about matching the colors. Varying shades add more interest to the room. Trust me.

Q. I'm buying a house that will need a kitchen renovation. This is my first house; I don't really know where to start looking for ideas. I'll be on a budget and probably can't afford a designer. I would appreciate any suggestions for resources and information.

A. Congratulations on your new home. I always advise my clients to live in their space for at least six months before making any major changes. In the meantime, set up a Pinterest board and check out to gather ideas. There are also plenty of specialty magazines on the newsstands that deal with kitchen and bath remodeling.

Q. I have redone part of the kitchen in our rental home. The cabinets are white, the counters are black granite with a hint of gold and white flakes. The appliances are black. Currently I have no backsplash. I want to put one in but can't decide what to do. I don't want to spend a ton of money since this is a rental, so a DIY would be perfect. I am pretty handy.

A. Try simple white subway tiles. They come in various sizes. If you're on a budget, try any home improvement store.

Q. Do you prefer using one large statement piece, or a collection of smaller artwork? How many of a room's four walls should have artwork?

A. It depends on the room. Oftentimes, it makes more sense to place a large piece in a smaller space. And collections can be arranged so that they connect by frame color, subject matter, etc. There's no steadfast rule as to how many walls should have artwork. Every space is unique.

Q. I have a 51-year-old house with a kitchen that's 11-square feet. The space is so small I hate to cook in it anymore. If you don't have the money to gut the whole thing, where would you start?

A. I hate to throw good money after bad. If your kitchen is not working for you, especially if you have a family, I'd suggest saving your money until you can make the kitchen more usable.

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