As co-founder and senior vice president of design for the luxury fittings brand Waterworks, Barbara Sallick is responsible for some of the most beautiful faucets in the business. For her latest book, “The Perfect Kitchen,” she studied hundreds of photos from top designers to pinpoint that quality that makes a kitchen design resonate. She found that the best cookspaces aren’t the ones with an enviable range or a massive pantry; they’re the ones that feel the most personal. Here, Sallick talks about how to bring more character to this hardworking room.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What should you keep in mind when planning your dream kitchen?
A: A good design needs to hit the mark visually, emotionally and functionally. Unless you take the time to put it all together and make it truly personal, it’s never going to live up to your expectations.
Q: If you know exactly what you want, should you work with a general contractor, or do you need to hire a kitchen designer?
A: It’s tough to achieve the results you’re dreaming of unless you hire a pro. Contractors have a lot of practical experience, but an interior designer will make you think about what you want in a way that a contractor might not. It’s a designer’s job to ask questions about your lifestyle, family and preferences. The benefit to a kitchen designer is that they know how to draw plans to within an eighth of an inch of their life. The most important thing is to have a conversation with someone who truly understands interiors.
Q: How has kitchen design changed over the years?
A: After looking at about 700 kitchens for this book project, I realized I barely saw any that didn’t have an island. I think the work triangle has evolved into the racetrack oval because you are no longer in a direct line from the sink to the refrigerator to the oven and back again. The popularity of the island has truly changed the way traffic patterns work in the kitchen.
Q: Let’s talk money: High-end appliances or custom cabinets can be budget-busters. If you have one splurge in the kitchen, where should it be?
A: Hardware can be transformative. There are so many options for knobs and pulls; having beautiful hardware is like putting on your favorite piece of jewelry. You can change the feel of your kitchen from something that is rather ordinary to something very special.
Q: But most people probably choose hardware at the end of the process, almost as an afterthought.
A: Exactly, and that’s the problem. I think the second you choose your door style, you need to think about the hardware. It can be a significant investment, but it offers the biggest bang for your buck.
Q: You must have a lot of opinions about faucets. What should people look for?
A: Clearly, you want to love how it looks and how it feels in your hand. Turning on the faucet is a humanistic, tactile thing. If the parts aren’t great, it can feel like it jerks in place when you turn the lever. You want a kitchen faucet that works so intuitively that you never have to think about which way the handle turns. Then ask if the scale is right for the size of the sink. Make sure the faucet or fitting that you choose is big enough to swing from one sink to another. If it’s a gooseneck, it should be tall enough that it won’t hit your pots every time you clean them.
Q: You could spend $60 or $6,000 on a faucet. Why is there such a wide range of pricing, besides the obvious variations in finishes and design quality?
A: It’s hard to know what’s happening inside a faucet unless you slice it in half, so it helps to have questions ready when you go shopping. Ask where the valve is made and how you can get replacement parts. Above all, you want to make sure that your faucet is made of high-quality brass. You don’t want plastic parts inside your faucet. My advice is to always buy the best-quality kitchen faucet you can afford. It’s used hundreds of times a week by various members of your family, and it needs to last a long time.
Q: What should homeowners look for when choosing a kitchen sink?
A: Consider the size and depth. Think of your biggest pot: Is it a lobster stockpot? Then you’ll need a fairly deep sink. If you’re going with stainless steel, look at the quality. Twenty-gauge stainless steel makes a lot of noise because it’s very thin. Sixteen-gauge stainless steel is quieter because it has a backing that muffles the noise from the water. It’s also stronger and doesn’t dent as easily over time.
Q: Is there a particular finish that’s better at hiding fingerprints?
A: I have a matte nickel finish, and it’s really easy to care for. Generally, any finish that’s shiny, such as chrome, needs to be wiped down regularly. All water has some minerals; once the minerals get on the faucet, they interact with the finish, and you get spots. If you have a nickel finish, you can apply a coat of carnauba car wax, which puts a light coating over the finish and maintains it for a longer period of time. Doing so every six months, or even once a year, helps.
Q: What factors should homeowners consider when choosing a cabinet style?
A: Your cabinet style should have some relationship to the period of your house. If you are someone who has a traditional-style home, you’re going to want some kind of paneled door that nods to that, but the same kind of door might look silly in a more modern house. Thinking about the era of your home, even the style of your furniture, ensures that the cabinetry doesn’t become this jarring element that looks like it landed in your kitchen out of nowhere.
Q: How do you feel about the darker trend for cabinet colors?
A: All-white kitchens have had their moment and then some, so I love the idea that kitchens can be moody and dramatic. Also, it’s hard to distinguish one white kitchen from another. Once you introduce a color, it begins to feel much more personal.
Q: Any guidelines for coordinating the countertop with the cabinets?
A: Cabinets always have tops and bottoms, and the counter is the connector. The process of layering both the countertop and backsplash, which can be two completely different materials (and I often prefer them to be), is all about the way they talk to each other. It doesn’t matter if the countertop is an active marble or the backsplash is a tile with a crackle glaze. They should have a connection and a conversation with each other.
Q: Colorful encaustic-style tiles have been popular for a while. Is there a downside to going so bold with pattern?
A: If you love pattern and you want to bring multiple colors into your kitchen design, have at it. Personally, I love pattern, but I like it on someone else or in their kitchen. Your kitchen is a long-term investment, and there are ways of injecting pattern that are far less permanent. For instance, you can wallpaper a small corner of a breakfast nook.
Q: How do you hope this book will help people?
A: There are enough kitchen styles, materials and ideas represented that if you are thinking about remodeling, the images in the book might help to cement your vision. There’s even a bright red kitchen from Bunny Williams. If you’ve ever entertained the idea of having a red kitchen, I hope this book gives you the confidence to go for it.