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updated: 5/15/2017 3:15 PM

Sharp design skills critical to compact kitchen

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  • The use of blackboard paint as a backsplash is not only economical, but adds a bit of whimsy to the kitchen.

    The use of blackboard paint as a backsplash is not only economical, but adds a bit of whimsy to the kitchen.

By Christine Brun

Designing your dream kitchen within budget or space confines is challenging. And when you must contend with both of these constraints at one time, sharp design skills become critical, and clever manipulation of affordable key features make the difference between a passable result and a stunning design.

If you want the finest result, I heartily recommend you seek out the services of a professional. There are kitchen designers well-versed in the latest trends, but you also need someone with good listening skills, creativity and the willingness to massage your design until it is just right for you.

This kitchen incorporates some subtle space-saving elements. The prep sink, or auxiliary sink, is long and narrow and perpendicular to the counter top. Such an under-mount style saves counter space. Kohler offers a range of bar-type secondary sinks that are only 8¼ inches wide by 22 inches long. Another intelligent design feature is the position of the microwave up and off the counter, snuggled into one of the upper cabinets.

As a cost-conscious choice of materials, this kitchen also has natural stone. Only two sections of the elevated island feature marble with an exotic grain pattern (known as "rainforest"). This particular marble generally runs on the costly side, so by limiting the amount used, dollars were conserved.

In your own design, consider using a remnant instead of an entire slab of stone. In order to find interesting stone remnants, phone around to local stone yards or stone fabricators. You are more likely to locate a usable remnant by contacting a fabricator, as these are the people who handle natural stone and make them into kitchen countertops.

The balance of the counters in this particular kitchen comes from a man-made solid surface material. If you are interested in something simple, contact Corian, Caesarstone, Avonite or Wilsonart. Solid surfaces are made from a variety of materials; some are crushed natural stone like quartz, and others are composites of recycled materials and man-made ingredients.

This kitchen introduces a bit of whimsy with walls that are painted with blackboard treatment instead of a costly granite or ceramic tile backsplash. Not only is this economical; it is both refreshing and unique! And you can clean the surface with soap and water.

Look for Chalk Board Brush-On by Rust-Oleum, Valspar Black Chalkboard paint or Benjamin Moore's Latex Chalkboard paint. These paints apply to metal, wood, masonry, drywall, plaster, glass, concrete, unglazed ceramics and hardboard. Follow the instructions for best results.

If you want glass upper cabinets in a tiny kitchen, the introduction of two narrow ones, as you see here, will do the trick. You don't have to introduce an entire wall of lighted glass-front cabinets in order to get the look. Remember that glass doors reveal everything stored within the cabinet.

Before you embark on any kitchen design, sit down and analyze those things that are most important to you, such as the minimum size of a range or cooktop. How many ovens do you want? Can you accept one oven and a combination convection/microwave oven? Also, do research on the minimum size refrigerator. Consider a French door refrigerator with a freezer drawer below, so opening won't present congestion.

• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at

© 2017, Creators Syndicate

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