Home Decor

How to make a classic kitchen design look contemporary

Traditional twist! Designer John Barnwell punctuates classic design elements with a sprinkling of contemporary accents to create a light and bright family kitchen.
By Christy Wright
Photo, Roberto Caruso. Glass act: An original 1800s stained glass window illuminates a new-build china cabinet John Barwell designed. "Typically a china cabinet has glass solely on the front. I wanted this one to have glass on the sides as well so you could view the dishes and stemware as you enter the kitchen." (Photo, Roberto Caruso.)

For Alison Harnick, her husband, Blair Trudell, and their two-year-old son, Ben, the best seat in the house is definitely in the kitchen.

“The window bench transformed our kitchen, creating a nook where we can hang out as well as a functional space for entertaining,” says Alison. “We can prep food while guests relax here. I don’t have to run to the living room to refresh drinks, and, besides, everyone loves a good kitchen party!”

Photo, Roberto Caruso. Eye for detail: Even the hood above the gas range is panelled. “My vision was to keep the cabinetry as seamless as possible,” says John. “This allows the space to appear larger and less broken up.” The pale-grey cabinetry is set off by accessories in bursts of yellow that provide a sunny touch. (Photo, Roberto Caruso.)

Designer John Barnwell, the previous owner of the century-old home and the man behind its transformation, is thrilled to hear this, having seen the kitchen in its pre-makeover state.

“It was a typical reno done in the ’80s,” he says, “with tired cabinetry, dated appliances and well-worn finishes. I wanted to enhance its functionality and esthetics by creating a modern layout within a traditional framework.”

Photo, Roberto Caruso. Cabinetry class: “Flat-panelled cabinetry would have been too contemporary here,” says John. “I chose a moulded style that was a nod to the home’s traditional exterior and bones, but opted for a slimmer moulding that it isn’t too traditional. I like to call it ‘soft contemporary.’ ” (Photo, Roberto Caruso.)

Some of the biggest changes included removing a drop ceiling to increase the room’s height by over a foot, adding a gas line for the cooktop and installing plenty of cabinets for practical storage. John, who sold the house in 2009, says, “It was a beautiful, functional space that was a pleasure to cook in.” Alison agrees.

Photo, Roberto Caruso. Apron sink: John used stainless steel to turn a traditional apron sink on its head. “These are normally made out of enamelled cast iron. I used the steel to add a contemporary balance to the room and to tie the sink in with the stainless steel cooktop.” (Photo, Roberto Caruso.)

“Whether it’s whole grilled fish for a crowd or homemade blueberry pancakes on the weekend, we love cooking here.”

How to make a classic kitchen design look contemporary Floor plan: The kitchen fills the front of this traditional Victorian row house. A picture window is fitted with a built-in bench, providing a casual spot for family and friends to hang out.

“When renovating a kitchen, always think long term. When done right, a kitchen can be a major selling feature," says John.

Interested in a more farmhouse industrial look for your kitchen? Take a peek at our how-to. 


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