Color. It abounds in nature, remains an endless source of inspiration for artists and style-setters, and yet can be daunting for many of us, especially when it comes to the choices we make for decorating our homes. Our lives are filled with color, from the toothbrush we use in the morning to the sheets we climb underneath at night, but when given the chance to make a colorful statement in the kitchen, playing it safe typically trumps playing with paint.
In the following pages, three Marin design firms explain how color-confident clients made their kitchens both personal and vibrant.
Euro in Orange and Blue
Jennifer Hershon and JoAnn Hartley, partners in the San Anselmo firm Hershon-Hartley Design, faced a challenge when asked to design a kitchen in a Marinwood California modern–style home.
The clients “wanted a sleek, high-end Snaidero type of kitchen, but had a moderate budget,” Hershon says. Also, appliances purchased a year earlier needed to be included.
Hershon and Hartley’s solution was an affordable Italian-style room. “We guided our clients with colors that they could both agree on,” Hershon says, “and worked with them, over time, to get an unusual mix” so the result would be “that European look, but one that would suit the architecture.”
Color is the single most frightening decision for clients, Hershon says. Even though paint is just about the least expensive design tool there is—and the easiest to change—“it still stops most people in their tracks.”
Not these clients, though. “They actually had a bright cobalt blue in mind when we started,” Hershon says. “They weren’t afraid of anything far-out.”
In the end, they settled on a combination of gray-blue and burnt orange for the cabinet doors and chose a practical matte-finish laminate rather than the high-gloss painted finish they’d originally envisioned.
A cushiony cork floor in charcoal gray was selected for comfort and compatibility with the existing black appliances. For consistency, the kitchen colors were repeated in the adjacent family room with a burnt orange wall, charcoal sofa and teal accent pillows.
Big-ticket items were judicious decisions. “We tried to pick and choose where to spend the money to get as much bang for their buck as possible and to spend the money on the materials that were important,” says Hershon.
That meant using Abet Laminati, an expensive Italian laminate, and a brushed aluminum toe kick from Móz Designs, but only in small amounts. “The Abet Laminati is not widely known in design circles,” says Hartley, “but it has an amazing number of colors and textures that you can’t find in American-made laminates and we didn’t need a lot to get the look. The toe kick was pricey, but we only needed one sheet, and with its concentric circles, it just makes the floor pop.”
They compromised on the lighting, too, choosing a cobalt-blue glass pendant that contributed a contemporary Italian look but didn’t break the bank. They spent more on the recessed lighting to illuminate an etched-glass backsplash custom-designed by San Rafael glass artist David Arnone, who also created the glass fronts for the upper maple cabinets.
Now, says Hartley, “there’s a certain exuberance you feel when you walk into this kitchen and see this striking color. It’s not what you’d normally find in a house of this type.”
Image 1: Gray-blue and burnt orange cabinets create an inviting environment.
Image 2: Jennifer Herson and Joann Hartley, Hershon-Hartley Design
Taking a Caribbean Cue
Janine Peck of Design Orendain in Mill Valley thought she had died and gone to heaven when client Adrienne Simms Borge specified Caribbean colors for her Tiburon kitchen and emphasized that orange was her favorite color. “I said, ‘Yes! There is a God,’” says Peck.
It’s true, says Borge: “Orange calls me by name and frankly looks good to me and on me.” She can’t decide, however, if her favorite shade “is the inside of a perfectly ripe East Indian mango that my grandmother would sneak back from the Caribbean or that of the orange, lavender and turquoise sunsets in Haiti where [husband] David and I met.”
Borge’s bold color sensibility is evident in the fireplace in her living room. “Not many people have a Caribbean blue fireplace 12 feet high,” she says. It actually happened on a lark: “The painter had some blue left over from another job and we just started playing, using different techniques to apply it to a 1970s brick fireplace,” she says. “I loved it. It jumped into the room and became a piece of art.”
Color has that inherent emotional resonance, says Peck. “For the Borges, who have gone from an all-white-walled home to multicolor in each room, it has provided the chance to become more creative,” she says. “They change the colors of their walls more frequently [now] and have added all kinds of detail to their home.”
The kitchen and family room’s dramatic splashes of aqua and orange aniline dye, edged in an ebony finish, are found in the asymmetrically lined maple cabinetry, designed by Peck, who figured the angled lines wouldn’t be too much for the Borges to handle.
“Moving those colors around the kitchen and choosing which cabinets to leave natural maple was so much fun,” she says. “The ideas took off from there. Nothing was static from that point on.” Even the breakfast table repeats the angles.
The emerald-green countertops, cobalt-blue faucetry and blue granite backsplash in the kitchen complement but do not compete with the cabinets. Colorful ceiling pendants from 2000 Degrees that remind Peck of bright Sputnik spaceships serve as hanging art over the peninsula and breakfast table.
The Borges were so pleased with their rainbow-hued kitchen that they used a free hand with colors in all their rooms, and David Borge, a physician and lead glass artist, has even incorporated many of the home’s new hues into his artwork.
If that isn’t enough of a color conversion, consider this: the Borges have house-swapped with European families who confessed that they too expanded their own household palettes on returning home.
“I never thought of orange as bold,” says Borges. “I think of it as warm and giggly. When I walk into my kitchen it is like pointing my face toward the sun. I am enveloped in a radiating warmth and light that sweetens my soul.”
Image 1: The Borges new rainbow-hued kitchen.
Image 2: Janine Peck, Design Orendain
Capitalizing on Color Cabinetry
Designer-contractor Sandra Bird knew color would play an important role in the recent kitchen remodel of a hillside home in Mill Valley because her client kept pushing for it.
“People are surprised at how good color makes them feel,” Bird says. “When you walk into this kitchen with the morning sun coming through the window, you feel fabulous.”
Bird’s client had two design directives. First, respect the heritage of the 100-year-old home, which originally served as the physician’s residence for a sanatorium that had stood on the property. Today, the home retains its Victorian design in the back, but a Craftstman-style look in front.
The second desire was to infuse the kitchen with color. “The client wanted to have lots of contrast and saturated, or what I’d call gutsy, color,” Bird says. “I knew from the beginning that there would be several different colors.”
The process started with a shade of spring green pulled from decorative tiles found by the homeowner during an East Coast vacation. That became the paint choice for the sink and stove cabinetry. Those same tiles became a design element in a field of pale yellow tiles behind the stove and also formed all of the sink’s backsplash.
Finding the granite for the countertop surrounding the sink was the next step. “I never expected to use a black granite but this one, Absolute Black Granite, worked so well,” says project designer Heidi Kertel.“It’s neutral and really grounded the colors.”
It was the surprise discovery of Rosso Fiorentino, a dark red granite resembling marble, that gave the kitchen hutch both its dramatic countertop and its paint color, which was matched to one of the granite’s lighter tones.
Goldenrod, for the walls, was the last color chosen. “I love yellow [and] I was picturing a soft butter yellow, but our client, who has a very sophisticated sense of color, kept going darker,” Kertel says. “Everybody was hesitant about that goldenrod wall but once it was up, it [clearly] was exactly what the room should have had.”
“Good design needs to unfold along the way,” she adds, “and fortunately, the client understood that. Each color selection played off another important element in the room.”
Just as color was used to highlight certain traditional elements in the space, it also minimized the more contemporary ones, such as the refrigerator and the oven. Painted the same color as the wall, they visually receded. “That suggests that they had always been there and that the kitchen progressed over time,” Kertel says.
Building color confidence takes time, even for designers. “I’ve become much more daring after years of working with color,” Bird says. “My designs of 30 years ago are not near the level of saturation that I do today.”
Image 1: Kitchen colors evolved with the purchased of decorative tiles the owners purchased while on a trip to the East Coast.
Image 2: Heidi Kertel and Sandra Bird