Unfussy and Spare Surfaces
Sleek cabinets with flat doors and clean lines will be the first visual clue that you're in a modern kitchen. They might have simple hardware or no hardware at all to preserve a flat plane of cabinetry. Countertops are likewise simple, with blunt corners and square edges—no fancy bullnose or ogee edge designs. Cabinetry in a modern kitchen can exhibit a range of wood tones from very light, such as natural-finish maple, to very dark, such as an espresso finish, but they will rarely be a midtone hue, such as golden oak. Sometimes, too, the cabinets will be painted or stained a color.
Geometry at Play
The second thing you will notice in a modern kitchen is the use of strong geometric elements. For example, the lighting might be an exaggerated S-shape track or large teardrop pendants; the island might be shaped like a square or rectangle with a waterfall countertop that drops to the floor. You might see repeated patterns, such as grids, lines, or circles in the wall coverings, tilework, or window treatment fabric. Though these elements have a graphic quality, they are designed to work as part of the whole, so the entire look in the kitchen is one of structured harmony.
The original movement toward modern style in architecture and decorating occurred during the middle of the 20th century. Today, we often refer to the look as retro, and it dovetails naturally with a contemporary-style kitchen. Its iconic colors (orange, turquoise, and avocado green), pale blond wood tones, and swooping shapes, such as boomerang tables and butterfly chairs, still look bright and bold. You can easily incorporate these touches in a modern kitchen through vintage collectibles or reproductions.
Another offshoot of modern style that works well in a kitchen is the industrial look, an aesthetic that brings commercial elements into a softer environment. You don't have to live in a warehouse loft to enjoy a restaurant-style six-burner range or spray nozzle for the sink. Because modern kitchens typically don't have frivolous details, the hardworking aspects of industrial design fit in well. Dishware and cookware is kept handy on open shelves. Metal stools pull up to a bar that is topped with stainless steel or soapstone, like that in a science lab. Lighting will also have an industrial look, such as factory lights or large outdoor-style lanterns.
The Elements of Modern Design
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