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The Right Answer
By Tracy Dickinson | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
KITCHENS & BATHS October/November 2018
home :: home & garden :: kitchen & bath

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Creating the perfect lower-level kitchen.

Creating the perfect lower-level kitchen.

The emphasis in home design these days seems to be on efficiency—in energy use, materials, and even floor plans. Rather than buying bigger, homeowners often opt to find ways to get the most out of every square foot they already have.

One way to do that is to maximize the home’s lower level by incorporating a kitchenette or bar area. And asking the right questions now will ensure the finished space is the answer you were looking for.

How do you currently use your lower level?

Evaluate how you use your lower level—and how you would like to use it—to help you plan your space accordingly.

Moehl Millwork’s Tina Noel says, “Lower-level kitchens have many functions today. Some are used for parties or large gatherings, possibly with easy access to a patio or pool area.”

Others uses are primarily for family areas with additional bedrooms and space for games, movies, and other activities.

Corey Gersdorf of AIM Kitchen & Bath says, “Whether it’s the main kitchen or a lower- level kitchen, the questions to ask are the same. How do you use the space? Do you entertain? Do you plan to use the space on a fairly regular basis? Are you planning the project for resale purposes?”

Also consider whether your use of the lower level will change with the addition of a kitchen area. “Most lower-level kitchens are really more of a snack area,” says Beisser’s Barb Hyde. But for families looking for ways to make the lower level even more functional, a more extensive kitchen project could transform the space and its popularity, too.

How do you want to use the kitchen?

Noel says, “Asking the right questions can help the homeowner get the best use of that space to fit their needs. Will the area be used as a social gathering spot or a backup kitchen for guests or possibly a secondary kitchen for canning and other projects?”

Gersdorf agrees. “Even though lower-level kitchens tend to be a bar or counter eating area, more and more homeowners are looking to create a family space, even including a separate eating area with a table and chairs.”

Look at the existing space and evaluate everything from size and layout to mechanicals.

Sunderland Brothers’ Sarah Young advises, “Start planning how much space you want to use and how to have an open concept to be able to entertain. Look at where the plumbing is and the area that makes the most sense as far as flow and accessibility.”

If your lower level is a walkout, consider this in your design as well. Shelby Silvers of Sunderland Brothers suggests, “Walkouts can allow you to continue your entertaining space from the basement into the patio or pool area, utilizing outdoor grilling and dining space, too.”

What do you want your kitchen to say?

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, the fun begins.

“We’ve done some fun designs in lower-level bar areas,” says Silvers. “This stems from having the freedom to go more trendy in a smaller space like this.”

She says in addition to typical appliances like microwaves, coffee machines, and even dishwashers, some specialized appliances are worth the investment if you plan to entertain often. “We’ve seen wine and beer fridges, a separate refrigerated area for kegs with taps placed on the bar area, and easily accessible sinks. These are important, too.”

Products and materials that may seem extreme in the main kitchen can add pizzazz to an area that’s designed for fun.

Noel says, “Many homeowners are adding fun accents to this casual area—barn-board walls or islands, stand-alone taller islands for a conversation area, corrugated steel as a wall accent or island siding.”

“Homeowners are a little more willing to take a risk in this space. I’ve seen lower-level kitchenettes with a carnival setting, complete with popcorn machine and hot dog warmer,” Gersdorf says with a chuckle.

But you don’t have to go that far to create an entertaining space that fits your style.

“Most of our lower-level kitchens feature bar seating,” says Hyde. “Floating shelves, open shelves, undercounter appliances—homeowners like the space to feel more casual. Rustic features like butcher-block countertops and barn wood are really popular.”

Elaine Thomas of Rowat Cut Stone & Marble says, “Material choices trend toward granite, but typically darker colors with more-exotic patterns, especially teamed up with natural stone for the backsplash or on columns or feature walls.”

Another element that Gersdorf believes is especially important is lighting. “Because the lower level, even in a walkout, doesn’t get as much natural light, the lighting is key to the design. You can backlight the cabinets, use undercounter lighting, even backlight toe kicks and structural pillars. LED lighting is available in so many products now that it makes it easy to customize the lighting throughout the space.”

A lower-level kitchen can be the ultimate entertaining space with pizza oven, neon signs, and a dedicated beverage refrigerator. Or it can be a bar area with a sink and a mini fridge and microwave so the kids have a place to prepare snacks.

What do you want from your space? How you answer that question determines every other question to ask in planning your lower-level kitchen.


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