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Inside the mind of kitchen designer

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Today’s article is a guest post from Susan Serra, a certified kitchen designer and contributor to an astonishing number of publications and websites. She’s also a certified aging-in-place specialist. Learn more about her work, follow her blog, be a Facebook fan or follow her on Twitter.


Having been a kitchen designer for many years — working on renovations from small to whole-house gut renovations and new construction projects — the specification of the windows in the kitchen is of critical interest and importance to me. The contribution of windows and doors to the design of interiors, as well as exteriors, goes without saying.

I may have a different philosophy than my allied (non-kitchen) building professionals when I consider the type of window to specify in the kitchen. I will heartily admit to being biased toward the aesthetic and functional role a window must play within the confines of my clients’ kitchens — a role that is different for every client.

Here are common design issues I come across in my kitchens, for which I seek to find the perfect solutions:

  • First and foremost, windows for light: The quality of light and specific time-of-day exposure (preference for morning or afternoon light) will help determine location.
  • Directional exposure for energy saving reasons: Windows positioned for heating or cooling can save money and add comfort.
  • Ventilation: Preference for window ventilation may be near the cooking area, sink, or prep area, or on two walls, where possible, for cross ventilation purposes which (note) could cause havoc with an island hood or downdraft in the plans.
  • Fixed: For a clean, modern, look, with unobstructed view, where ventilation may not be required.
  • Sight I: Families with children may wish for a line of sight toward the children’s play area.
  • Sight II: A beautiful outdoor view from the kitchen, whether of a garden, courtyard or other lovely connection to the outdoors, can be a powerful draw for those working in the kitchen who need a dose of nature designed into the kitchen. I added 15 feet of windows to the renovation of my previous kitchen to view my garden of 200 roses — an emotional viewing experience at times!
  • Sight III: On occasion, windows are required to serve a specific purpose and need not be large — in a recent renovation, two small windows on either side of a cooktop look out to the driveway for the homeowner’s ability to see who arrives.
  • Expanding the feeling of the interior space: A smart kitchen designer can add storage even while expanding a window size.
  • Replicate surrounding living areas: The kitchen is increasingly serving as a living space. I have recently designed numerous long windows (12-24″ off the floor) into a kitchen for the purpose of the kitchen transitioning seamlessly into surrounding living areas.
  • Relating to outdoor living spaces: In another recent renovation I’ve done for a client, the same stone flooring is used outside and inside the home, creating a visual flow between both areas. Windows play an important role in terms of size and position for indoor/outdoor spaces which are meant to closely connect to one another.
  • An interesting design element in and of itself, which relates to the interior design of the home: Polygon windows, cottage style, a simple and sleek window or other window sizes and designs should play a complementary role to the interior (as well as the exterior).
  • Where windows may not be easy to include in a kitchen, a horizontal line of short windows, close to the ceiling or used as a backsplash, will add an abundance of light.

On occasion, we professionals have a challenge to plan windows for the exterior aesthetic which also must work perfectly for the interiors. Which should take precedence? I believe there is no “should.” Often, an acceptable middle ground is found, one that serves both interior needs and exterior aesthetics. That said, my clients’ needs and desires for windows that solve their interior design and lifestyle issues, to me, are equal in importance compared to the aesthetic considerations of the exterior.

I find that, as kitchens continue to become even more social spaces than ever before, the size, shape, and location of windows are changing as a result. The kitchen window, in my design practice, is striking a new pose! The kitchen window design of today is a close companion to the movement toward ever more personal design in the home.

Allied professionals — such as architects or builders specifying the details of the window construction and adding their opinions on design issues, coupled with the professional kitchen designer who sees the kitchen in a more “micro” way aesthetically and functionally — must work closely together to work through the issues each professional brings to the table. A productive team approach always produces the best results for the client. I happen to love teamwork, and when laughter is in the mix, there is nothing better! A collection of good ideas propels the project to the best it can be.

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