By Adrienne Breaux

Eclectic choices of colors and fixtures -- natural and painted wood, marble and wood countertops, open shelves and more conventional cabinets -- make a kitchen more interesting

Eclectic choices of colors and fixtures -- natural and painted wood, marble and wood countertops, open shelves and more conventional cabinets -- make a kitchen more interesting

Frustrated with your kitchen? Know the space could be better? We asked a design expert for her advice on what you can do today to improve your kitchen, how to work around the most common kitchen design mistakes, her favorite small space ideas and more.

Cindy Black, an architect in Austin, Texas, is behind the great kitchen transformations at Hello Kitchen Design ( Along with her husband, architect Rick Black, Cindy tackles a number of residential and restaurant kitchens, working with clients to maximize space and beauty in kitchens within reasonable budgets. Cindy answered questions about some of the most pressing kitchen design issues affecting homeowners and renters today.

Q. Where do you suggest clients start when they are about to tackle a kitchen they are unhappy with?

A. A lot of clients start by visiting showrooms or collecting images from magazines, and some start by shopping for a designer or architect. The second step is to analyze how you cook and understand what you are lacking. If someone can be specific about their needs, then it makes the design process a bit smoother and more efficient.

Q. What are the most common mistakes that clients make with their kitchen design?

A. Poor lighting: Task lighting is more important than overhead lighting in a kitchen. Top priority is a warm light that adequately illuminates the work surface.

Too much of any one color: A lot of finish materials are available in natural tones, which can be great on their own, but not so great in combination. Try to balance out warm with cool, or introduce a bright white or vivid color to balance things out. Using one cabinet finish throughout a large kitchen can be pretty relentless.

Bad proportions: My pet peeve is to see a kitchen with upper cabinets that stop 10 inches short of the ceiling, or too much variety in door sizes, or chamfered corners.

Q. What could a homeowner do today to improve their kitchen space?

A. Take stock of what you own and make sure your problem is not just about storage (or lack thereof).

Invest in an appliance that is currently giving you trouble (an old electric range, a noisy, water-wasting dishwasher, or an ancient refrigerator).

Replace light fixtures. IKEA has a great, fun selection of affordable fixtures.

Replace window coverings, or just remove them altogether. Go with something easy to clean and operate. Don't forget to open the window and let the fresh air in once in a while!

Q. What can renters do to improve the look of their kitchen without causing any permanent changes?

A. Start with the first step above!

To open up space (since a cramped kitchen is usually a problem for renters), you can remove the doors of the upper cabinets, store them in a safe place, and rearrange your items to make a pleasant display on your 'new' open shelves.

Focus on accessories that you can take with you later: a wall clock, tea towels, utensil jar and other countertop storage. Try to find these items in colors that excite you and show off your personality, and hopefully these will overshadow the dingy cabinets or bad wall color!

Q. What are the best things to improve on when you've got a tiny kitchen? What are your favorite small space solutions?

A. Twenty-four-inch refrigerators are perfectly functional, and save a lot of space for a teeny kitchen.

Single bowl sinks are smart, especially because there is usually 'wasted' cabinet space below any kitchen sink because of plumbing and disposal parts.

Eliminate the dishwasher altogether, which will save cost as well as 24 inches of lower cabinet.

Designate a space for the trash in the lower cabinets, as a large trash can overwhelm a tiny kitchen.

Bring in natural daylight and try to capture an expansive view to the outside.

Q. What are some secret tips that don't cost a lot to implement?

A. Get organized! For a relatively small amount of money, cabinets and walls can be outfitted with metal racks, pull-out shelves, drawer organizers, hooks and towel bars like IKEA's Grundtal Collection. For good-looking storage I like: Square Canisters from Target, Rösle Utensil Rails from Sur La Table, the Wustoff Knife Holder from Crate and Barrel, Orla Kiley Stoneware Canisters from Target, and cabinet accessories from Blum's Orga-Line.

Q. Finally, what's your favorite tip, idea, trend or color palette?

A. I like a mixture of color palettes in a kitchen -- a combination of natural and painted wood, marble and wood countertops and bronze hardware. I like copper and want to use more of it! I like an open shelf designated for cookbooks. I like a lounge area in the kitchen, for a little loveseat or 'coffee' chair. I love banks of windows right at counter-height -- forget those upper cabinets! I like simple, low tech details -- like a slab of wood dropped onto a stuccoed base. I think we've gotten trended out of all the machined products out there, and it would be refreshing to get closer to the materials as they're found in nature.

Adrienne Breaux is a writer for, a nationally known blog about home design and modern living.


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