Kitchen Confidential

A Designer Dishes on the Trendy and Timeless at the Heart of the Home

When it comes to choosing an expert in kitchen design and renovation, there’s a crucial attribute many homeowners probably don’t consider, says Neil Orwick, owner/designer at Kitchen Traditions.

Is it experience? Yeah, Neil’s got decades of that – from art dealing to construction to design.

Is it an eye for fresh new trends that will stand the test of time? He’s savvy on that count, too, having completed stunning work from Manhattan to Martha’s Vineyard.

Give up?

“I cook. I like to cook,” Neil says. “So I design a kitchen to work.”

And it’s that ability to see what each culinary customer needs to succeed that has made Kitchen Traditions a mainstay of the design and construction scene since 2003.

“I love solving problems. And I like building relationships. Who cooks in the house? Who doesn’t?” Neil asks. “Design is the elegant solution to problems.”

An art major at Trinity University in Texas, Neil spent 15 years in construction before becoming a designer in 2013. He bought Kitchen Traditions in 2019, in large part because of its premium cabinet lines, including Shiloh and WoodMode, brands that deliver high quality and style within an appropriate budget.

Under his leadership, the team offers everything from traditional design to jazzy pops of color for a custom look for the kitchen, bath – even the living room. Since the company has kitchen in its name, though, Neil offered us a few thoughts on what’s new and now in the hub of every home.

“Stone countertops are still, far and away, the most popular option for new kitchens,” he says. “But the term ‘stone’ encompasses a myriad of surfaces, all with different pros and cons.”

Natural stone options include granite, marble, limestone, soapstone and more. While marble is beautiful, it can etch and stain and is, in Neil’s opinion, “a generally terrible choice for kitchen countertops.”

Granite counters are among the hardest and most durable and provide a budget-friendly option. Popular quartzites offer a winning combo of durability and color range, with Taj Mahal and Mont Blanc featuring beautiful veining and calming patterns.

And then there’s ‘engineered’ stone or quartz. “They are a bit softer than granite and don’t take heat as well, but they have a myriad of color options that can look natural,” Neil says. “And, because they’re manufactured, they have less variability between slabs.”

The placement of appliances can mean the difference between a pretty kitchen and one that’s both attractive and functional. In addition to the familiar ‘work triangle’ between the refrigerator, range and sink, Neil and his team consider visual balance, traffic patterns and seating in a kitchen to find the best arrangement.

“Appliances need to be specified before we order the cabinets,” he says. “The cabinets are ordered to fit around the appliances, usually with very tight tolerances. Getting everything together in the right order and understanding how and when information is needed is a big part of what we do.”

As for cabinets, he is using a lot of light-stained wood with interesting graining, such as Alder and Poplar, to accent the slightly off-white cabinets that are trending now. And forget about all those countertop garages for your food processor or blender. Neil says walk-in pantries are the place to sleekly store those smaller appliances.

When it comes to heat, gas is still king, though gas range companies are seeing lengthy wait times for products. Hungry now? Neil recommends induction cooking as an alternative.

Another pro tip? “If you have the space, double ovens are the way to go. They sit higher and are easier to reach into.”

If fresh-baked cookies and weekday roasts are a staple in your home, that second oven may come in handy. If it’s only going to be used at Thanksgiving, you might want to leave that option on the back burner.

Adding a steam oven – even swapping the tried-and-true microwave for one – might be a wise move. They reheat food quickly without rendering it dry or rubbery and are champs when it comes to baking bread, he says.

In the end, thoughtful planning is the key to building a kitchen where family and friends relax. Knowing so many people are enjoying the spaces they’ve all worked together to create is what inspires him to keep growing and learning.

“It’s very satisfying,” he says.

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