Designers Weigh In on Seriously Upgrading Your Kitchen and Bath

We talk to experts about how to beautify your bathroom, choose the right faucet, and kit out your tiny kitchen.
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Kitchen and bathrooms are some of the hardest working spaces in our homes, so why not promote them with some glitzy new updates? Three industry experts—a designer, an architect, and a marketer—share how to select the best bath fixtures, smarten up your dressing area, and outfit even the tiniest of kitchens. See their advice below, and also check out our picks for the best new kitchen and bath fixtures, appliances, and finishes.

How To Kit Out Your Tiny Kitchen

According to Kate Oliver, cofounder of The Modern Caravan and Airstream renovator extraordinaire

It’s really important to think about how you cook. Are you a messy or clean cook? There’s a common misconception that we’ll change our behavior when we live in a tiny space, but it’s just not true—so create a design that reflects how you live now.

And do not underestimate prep space. One thing I’ve noticed about poorly designed kitchens is inadequate prep space. Take things vertical as much as possible to get things off the counter. Something I really like is a tall and skinny pantry—about 15 inches wide— with 25-inch-deep, full-extension drawers. It’s a little bit of a luxury, but it’s also very practical to see everything you have without having to dig inside.

If endless stainless steel is starting to feel a little institutional, try a pop of color to give your kitchen some personality. It’s even better when it comes from an unexpected place, like an accessory you won’t want to hide away in a cabinet. We've rounded up our favorites—including these gadgets and others—in our annual look at new products for kitchen and bath (linked at the top and bottom of this page).

Utilize the triangular workflow of a traditional kitchen, with the sink, stove, and fridge on each point so you can easily turn around to shift from place to place. When you open cabinets, make sure they don’t block access to other cabinets or appliances. It’ll feel even tinier if you can’t get to the things you need.

And get a good-size fridge if you love to cook. Our Airstream has an 8.1-cubic-foot fridge. I also prefer an oven/stove combo and a sink with access to hot water for adequate cleanup. I don’t see microwaves as essential—I’d much rather allocate space for storage, food, or dishes.

How To Glam Up Your "Getting-Ready" Space

According to Babba Rivera, marketing phenom and founder of hair-care brand Ceremonia

I feel like the products are what should shine in a beauty space. I don’t think you need a designated vanity with a chair. When I think about how I live my life, I do my morning and night beauty rituals when I wash my face and brush my teeth, so it makes sense in a bathroom setting.

I like bathrooms to feel very tidy and clean. The bathroom design is there to support the products. I can’t stress enough the importance of organization. If you have drawers in your bathroom, there’s so much you can do. Dividers or plexiglass boxes inside them go a long way toward organizing beauty products. I love little glass shelves too. They look very chic. Products are really beautiful as long as you have a place for them, so they can look intentional and inviting.

I also like the bathroom because you usually have the best light there. I love warm lighting in my home, but in the bathroom I think it’s the one place you can go a little cooler for lighting. I have two lights: one directly by the mirror and another that’s a ceiling light.

How to Pick Out Bath Fixtures

According to Michael Hsu, architect of homes, hotels, and other spaces with memorable bathrooms

Fixtures are like the jewelry of a space—they’re usually bright and shiny, and your eye goes directly to them. So even though they’re not the first thing we choose in a bathroom—we start with a design vision and fixtures are just one part of that—they’re really important pieces that you come in direct contact with on a daily basis. That’s why we always want to touch and feel fixtures in person when we select them. You don’t quite understand the quality of the finish and size until you see it.

When choosing fixtures, think about the job of the bathroom. Primary bathrooms need to be utilitarian and functional, so we’ll stay with classic finishes like polished stainless steel, unlacquered brass, and polished nickel. But take more risks in secondary bathrooms and powder rooms, where we’ll experiment with different finishes like blackened stainless steel and even mixing metals. Those are the areas where we may even use a vintage fixture or an antique, since it gets lower use.

Sometimes the fixtures need to be aligned with the bathroom design vision, but other times they can be a bit of a foil. In hospitality, where I think a lot of residential design is finding inspiration now, we sometimes choose faucets with a historic look, even though the rest of the bathroom might be modern.  

Related Reading: The Best New Products to Jazz Up Your Kitchen and Bath

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