When the economy is bad, the kitchen offers us comfort. It’s the cozy zone where cookies are baked and chicken soup simmers. It's where homework gets done and couples unwind with a glass of wine at the end of a long day. And, during family celebrations and challenging times alike, it's the spot where people reconnect.

And so, just in time for the holidays, we bring you our latest batch of delicious culinary spaces for American homeowners who are dining out less, cooking more, and putting their kitchen to use.

Got a kitchen you want to show off? Don’t be shy. Enter the 2010 Watermark Awards, our annual kitchen and bath competition. The entry deadline has been extended to Nov. 23, 2009.

Photos: Image courtesy Maxwell MacKenzie ©2008

Tasty Tomato

It’s a common request from remodeling clients: Open up this cramped kitchen space, please. And while you’re at it, give it some punch.

The problem with this project was that the wall separating kitchen and dining room was load-bearing. Knocking it out and leaving only a structural column in its place would have been awkward and visually distracting. Plus, moving the plumbing and HVAC runs inside that wall to another spot would have increased the project's costs substantially.

So the designers at Carnemark systems + design came up with a clever compromise. They removed most of that obtrusive wall, but stopped short of taking to the bare minimum. Instead, they maintained a substantial slice (mechanicals and all) to read as an accent wall, which they painted tomato red. Then they painted a coordinating wall on the opposite side of the kitchen galley the same color so the scheme looks intentional and balanced.

Photos: Image courtesy Maxwell MacKenzie ©2008

From there, the designers deployed stark visual contrasts to keep those fiery walls from overpowering the space. Rich brown lacquer cabinets by SieMatic provide plenty of storage with deep pull-out drawers, and their integrated handles create a seamless look when everything is closed up. The 12-foot island (perfect for food prep, homework, and hanging out) is topped with a creamy Caesarstone counter that plays nicely against the darker perimeter countertops and cabinets.

But wait, there’s even more functionality. Not wanting an inch of that small space to go to waste, the design team tucked an office cubby behind the bright red TV wall--with room for a computer and communication center.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Austin, TX.