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Kitchen trends: An interview with a local designer

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Ceara Donnelley is a downtown Charleston interior designer who has worked on projects with clients from Charleston to the Berkshires. Donnelly’s philosophy is one of commitment to the “past, present and future – in equal measure.” Her designs incorporate preservation while “winking at the new.”

Here’s what she had to say about what’s in for 2020 and what’s timeless in kitchen designs.

Q: What are you seeing new in custom kitchens this year?

The most exciting kitchens I am seeing possess a luxurious simplicity, harkening to earlier, lower-tech eras. They are set apart by the use of beautiful materials and craftsmanship, and the peak of luxury is highly bespoke fittings of interiors—drawers, pullouts, cabinets, and pantries—that are as elegant and considered as the more visible elements of the kitchen.

Q: Do you, as a designer like to have a focal point or “wow” factor in your kitchen designs?

I like my kitchens, as I like all my rooms, to conjure a sense of familiarity and comfort but have at least one element that is pleasantly surprising or incongruous. This could be unconventional lighting, a painted floor, or cabinetry milled with unexpected profiles. It does not have to necessarily call attention to itself as a focal point or “wow” factor, but it should distinguish the space as personal and unique.

Q: What do clients request the most when it comes to building or renovating kitchens?

Highly bespoke cabinetry and interior fittings, distinct materials, and appliances that are as beautiful as they are functional.

Q: Is open shelving here to stay or is it a trend?

I believe it is here to stay, as it can powerfully open up the room and reduce some of the heaviness of a kitchen with too much closed storage. There is also a renewed interest in tabletop items, and open shelves are a great place to both display and store china and glassware.

Q: What about colored cabinets – trendy or timeless? What about a mix of upper one color and bottom another color?

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I think bringing color into the kitchen is here to stay. I embrace the use of contrasting colors on different cabinets and will rarely use the same color or material on perimeter cabinets and an island, or upper and lower cabinets, unless it is a smaller kitchen that has other distinguishing elements. Color can be tricky, however, and it is best to call in the experts when selecting a palette!

Q: Talk about finishes – brass, silver, any others that you are seeing in new construction or that your clients are wanting now?

My favorite materials for hardware are unlacquered brass and polished nickel—both have a warmth and develop a lovely patina over time. More critical to me than the finish of the hardware is its design and profile. I am very particular about the proportions and details of knobs and pulls and hinges. Beautiful hardware is often where you can elevate a kitchen the most, because too often people do not allocate enough of their budget for these elements and wind up settling for inexpensive pulls and knobs that tend to be clunky and poorly executed.

Q: What are the most popular countertop materials?

I favor natural materials and marble will always be my preferred countertop, despite—or because of—its tendency to wear over time. There are some very pretty quartzes out there too, and they tend to be more durable, but in either case—marble or quartz—I prefer them to be honed. Wood is a lovely option, too, provided it has a worn quality to it as well. I don’t want any countertop to look shiny and perfect.

Q: What’s changed (if anything) in kitchen design from five years ago?

The biggest change in kitchen design is the emergence of a few British companies—deVOL Kitchens and Plain English chief among them—that are churning out the most beautiful and tasteful designs in cabinetry, hardware, lighting, and tile, and constantly innovating in a way that is deeply classic but feels very current. They have inspired many lookalike kitchens in the United States, in part because of the impracticalities of having a kitchen made overseas, but with Plain English recently opening a showroom in New York, I expect the British kitchen invasion to continue unabated.

Q: Do your clients ask for sustainable materials?

I think most people have sustainability on their minds these days, but to me it does not necessarily mean recycled-glass countertops or reclaimed wood for cabinets; rather, it is about designing a timeless kitchen with quality materials and craftsmanship that anyone would be loath to rip out. Kitchens, done well, can and should last decades.

For more information about Ceara Donnelley and her designs visit her website at

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