By Carolyn Weber and Nigel F. Maynard. Just as a watermark indicates a fine piece of paper, made from the finest materials with exquisite craftsmanship, our new contest recognizes the best in kitchens and baths. The winners were chosen from production homes, custom homes, and remodeling projects. These wet rooms may range the gamut in taste and sensibility, but they all possess thoughtful planning, a creative use of materials, and exceptional aesthetic qualities.

Sea World

Gillespie Residence Kitchen, Kiawah Island, S.C.

Best kitchen in a custom home--over 5,000 square feet

Linda McLain's clients knew exactly what they wanted in the kitchen of their resort home on picturesque Kiawah Island in South Carolina. The English couple instructed her to bring the island's tranquil colors indoors, to create a palette that would reflect the ocean-side setting of blue sea and sky, and green marshland.

McLain, a designer with Signature Kitchens & Baths of Charleston, was up to the challenge. She mixed bright blue and seafoam green cabinets and topped them with Blue King granite in this modern but user-friendly space. "The clients wanted 'soft contemporary'," she says. "Clean, but not stark."

Seafoam green cabinetry, royal blue islands, and a frosty glass countertop are the perfect recipe for this award-winning custom kitchen in Kiawah Island, S.C.
Courtesy John McManus Photography Seafoam green cabinetry, royal blue islands, and a frosty glass countertop are the perfect recipe for this award-winning custom kitchen in Kiawah Island, S.C.

The many kitchen windows, designed to maximize views of the island landscape, limited options for wall cabinets. McLain compensated by placing extra storage beneath the kitchen's two islands. The outside island, with a small prep sink on top, serves as a small bar, with an under-counter refrigerator and deep drawers partitioned inside for bottle storage. The large main island houses the cooking unit on top with ample shelves and drawer storage below.

Raised glass on the main island and pendant lights, done in a watery blue Murano glass, punctuate the bright, airy room. The glass-top eating surface is anchored by metal supports that extend to the floor.

McLain mixed diverse materials and colors, including porcelain tile and ash wood flooring, crisp stainless steel appliances, Heritage custom cabinetry in a plain Shaker style with custom-glazed colors, and contemporary stainless steel cabinet hardware. "There are about five sizes of pulls that vary with the height and width of the drawers and doors," she notes.

Dickson Dunlap Studios

Like most of McLain's clients, the owners of this barrier island getaway went all out on the kitchen trimmings, with top-of-the-line finishes and products including Fisher & Paykel dishwasher drawers. "There are so many choices out there and rather than cutting back, they decided to go for it," McLain says. "The baby boomers insist on getting exactly what they want and making a lasting investment in quality."

Entrant/Kitchen designer: Signature Kitchens & Baths of Charleston, Charleston, S.C.; Builder: Steven J. Koenig Construction, Johns Island, S.C.; Architect: Wayne Windham Architects, Charleston; Interior designer: KDM Interiors, Wando, S.C.

Real Simple

River House Kitchen, Bath Springs, Tenn.

Best kitchen in a custom home--less than 3,000 square feet

When designing a vacation cabin on the Tennessee River for his family, architect Carson Looney had to make some tough choices. The 1,544-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom rustic rural retreat didn't have room for the spacious kitchens Looney is used to designing. Function was important, but because the living space would be one open room, image was critical.

Looney's first instinct was to put double-stacked cabinets from one end of the space to the other. "Then I realized that you would walk into the house and see nothing but cabinets," he says. So he began to edit. He took off the top row and most of the other cabinets in favor of more discreet storage and a minimalist look. "You can't let what you've always done dictate what you do in a small space," he explains. "You have to rethink everything."

Looney, whose firm, Looney Ricks Kiss, is based in Memphis, Tenn., went with clean lines and a palette that would read neutral. The challenge was what to do with the refrigerator, which always stands out. Because of storage arrangements, it couldn't be recessed under the stairs. So Looney invested in a Sub-Zero 700 series. It is counter-depth with concealed components. "I had the cabinetmaker create a matching enclosure and cabinets in a warm-toned gray/brown laminate that blends in with floor and wall."

Another big space saver was the AGA Companion stove. It's compact at 24 inches but has four burners and two ovens. And instead of speccing the double sink most people require in their primary homes, Looney convinced his wife to go with an oversized single-bowl, square-edged model that was extra deep.

The tiny kitchen functions amazingly well, with three defined work areas--the sink/island, the range area, and the storage prep area under the stairs. Looney carved out every last inch of storage. He recessed a microwave under the back of the stairs and drew drawers into the side of the stairs. The island, raised a few inches, hides the sink and dishes from the family room.

Sweeney South Commercial Photography

Knowing extended family and friends would also be using the cabin, Looney wanted to make it indestructible. He used maintenance-free elements throughout--laminate cabinets, granite countertops, a cast iron stove, and a pine island coated in gunmetal gray paint. Also, 18-by-18-inch porcelain floor tiles, in a dirty hue, will sustain heavy use.

The cabin was built for just $110 per square foot. But neutral tones, a Miele stainless steel exhaust hood, Bosch dishwasher, and modern open shelving, give it a high-end architectural look. "If you want to add a bit of sophistication, the kitchen is one area to do it," notes the architect.

Entrant/Architect: Looney Ricks Kiss Architects, Memphis, Tenn.; Builder: Stricklin Construction, Decaturville, Tenn.; Interior designer: Julie Nicholson Design, Memphis

Part II

Part III

Part IV