High Style in a High-End Kitchen

It's all about elegance in David McNulty's kitchen design for a sophisticated and expensive Chicago kitchen, from hand-carved friezes to fabulous freezers.

Most aspects of large-scale, luxury kitchen design are not something a layman should take on, says certified kitchen designer David McNulty, who has designed and produced kitchens for 16 years.

"I still run into trouble on some technicalities, 400 kitchen designs later," he says. "When you're working with dramatic carvings, custom stove hoods and other items you can't buy pre-fab, it's really beneficial to work with the experts who can do the work for you, people who specialize in kitchen design."

David worked with any number of those experts when designing this elegant kitchen for clients in this Chicago North Shore neighborhood, adding luxury touches such as a hand-carved frieze, hand-brushed glaze and crystal knobs on the cabinetry. He recommends having specialists do the work, but only after the client and the designer set the tone.

"On this job, I worked so closely with the clients to really personalize the space that we became friends," he says. "Now my wife and I go out with them every couple of months and I've done many more projects for them since that kitchen because I've gotten to know them so well."

David has these tips for those approaching (or just dreaming about) a luxury design:

Think Luxury, Hire Locally

"The idea behind hand carvings like the molding I used in this kitchen is to employ an art form that you like or enjoy. It's not something you can find at a mass merchandiser," says David. "You can browse carvers from all over the globe on the Internet, but you really want someone in your area to do your work, a local craftsperson who is up to the challenge. I recommend calling five or six designers near you to get their recommendation and soon you'll start hearing the same names over and over and you can narrow the choice that way."

Safety First with Stove Hoods

David executed a lavish frieze right on the stove hood in the kitchen, but he emphasizes that even the most creative kitchen implements have to be mechanically safe and sound. "The biggest thing with a decorative hood is making sure you have the right type of blower, the proper ventilation source," he says. "It also needs a liner big enough to support it. I tend to have the stove hood made first and then hire VentaHood to fabricate a custom liner and lighting for it. I would only rely on a company like VentaHood that specializes in that type of design."

You Can't Outdo Mother Nature

"I have never done a linoleum floor and rarely have I specified it," says David. "Instead I recommend mostly stone products, or wood because it's so seamless -- anything that comes from God's green earth. Natural products are the key to creating an enjoyable space ... tranquil, no two pieces alike. I'm a believer in raw goods. Man-made patterns on the floor? I don't get it."

"You can do pretty amazing things with backsplashes these days; they're like a work of art," says David. "The trends I'm seeing are more metals and a lot more glass: tumbled, hand-painted, even crackle. You can really personalize. The clients for this kitchen weren't married yet when we completed the design and we did a Cupid tile for them in the backsplash in the butler's pantry."

You can also personalize by having an opening carved in the backsplash to insert an artifact or collector's item, notes David. "One of our clients had a brass bull's head they really liked, and we inserted that to make it look like the bull is coming out of the wall," he says. "The design took first place in a Chicago-Midwest chapter National Kitchen & Bath Association design contest."

One Caution

Since it is an "artist thing," leave yourself the opportunity to change the backsplash design in the future, he says. "If you don't spend $5,000 personalizing the backsplash, you can do a new one in three or four years if you feel like it."

Meet the Designer

David McNulty is president and owner of McNulty Design Group, based in Glencoe, Ill. A certified kitchen designer who has designed and produced more than 400 kitchens and 300 bathrooms in the past 12 years, McNulty has completed three projects for HGTV's New Spaces and is a guest speaker on a syndicated radio show called Home Improvements.

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