Anatomy of a Kitchen Style

What defines a style of kitchen?

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You’ve probably heard words like transitional or modern tossed around a lot. These design and decorating styles are helpful for grouping types of cabinets, fixtures, and finishes. If you know that you gravitate toward modern, for example, focusing on the collections tagged as modern helps you winnow down your choices. In that way, understanding the different kinds of kitchen styles helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

On the other hand, most of us are simply drawn to what we like, irrespective of what the label is. You simply like the tuft of a chair, the look of a light fixture, the shape of a cabinet door, or the texture of a type of wood. 

In addition to noticing the visuals we like, we are also influenced by how a space makes us feel. While one space makes us feel calm, understood, or inspired, another might cause us to feel irritated, anxious, or overwhelmed. Tuning into the feelings you get when you look at different images of rooms can help guide you to your style.

Finally, claiming a style can be a way to communicate your point of view. For example, if you believe in the authenticity of handcrafted materials, a craftsman-style room may help you communicate that. Or if you cherish memories of lively family dinners after a day of swimming at the lake, perhaps cottage style brings that value to life for you.




To help you define your style, we’re drilling down on some of the signature elements behind each style.

Modern and Contemporary

Modern and contemporary spaces tend to feature clean lines and smooth surfaces. For example, imagine a picture frame for a piece of art. Whereas a traditional picture frame might have an ornate design with elaborate moldings, a modern-style frame is likely to be simple and clean, without moldings or other designs carved into the wood. 

People tend to use the terms “modern” and “contemporary” interchangeably. In reality, modern refers to a specific period of time, from 1900 to roughly the 1960s. Contemporary is today’s take on modern design, which can include styles like Art Deco as well as global inspiration.

  • Distinct cabinet style: Modern kitchens often feature unadorned cabinet doors and simple hardware.
  • Minimalist tendencies: Each decision feels purposeful. The layers are simple. There’s no excess. Interesting geometric forms pop in these spaces and become statement pieces.
  • Neutral, often contrasting, palette: While modern and contemporary kitchens may be all-white or all-dark, it’s also common to mix light and dark for an interesting contrast. 


Traditional and Transitional

The idea of “traditional” style is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more about resisting fads and gravitating toward a style that feels timeless. Traditional may be in the eye of the beholder, but at its heart, it’s about classic style, from color palettes to cabinet style.

A transitional kitchen builds on that notion, but takes a more eclectic approach. Transitional kitchens feature a wonderful “in between” style (that’s where the term “transitional” comes from). They mix classic elements with contemporary ones. Transitional works in an urban loft and a suburban ranch. It feels both current and classic.

Classic cabinet door style: Transitional kitchens usually start with a simple, streamlined cabinet style, such as Shaker. You may choose to use a finish that accentuates the look of natural wood. Or you might opt for painted or glazed cabinets. Whatever you choose becomes a kind of backdrop for the kitchen.

  • Mix of contemporary and classic elements: Mix modern hardware and lighting with a more classic backsplash. Or blend sleek stainless steel appliances with a beautiful collection of glassware or antique vases. 
  • Rich use of textures: Transitional kitchens use a blend of natural materials, such as stone, wood, and metal. They are less minimalist than a purely modern kitchen, and feel multi-layered and multi-dimensional.


Craftsman and Industrial

A Craftsman-style kitchen is warm, inviting, and focused on the beauty of wood and natural materials. Though inspired by the Arts & Crafts Movement, Craftsman is a modern interpretation of that style. It’s vintage, without feeling dated. Elegant, without feeling overdone.

Industrial commonly overlaps with Craftsman, though it tends to feature elements like exposed beams and ductwork. It’s a cleaner style that gravitates toward rough and textured materials, like brick, concrete, and iron. The two styles can stand on their own, or can blend in interesting ways. 

  • Shaker style cabinets: The cabinets are the star in a Craftsman kitchen. A Shaker style is a classic choice because of its classic lines and easy elegance. Many Craftsman-style kitchens honor the look of natural wood, but you can also use painted finishes. Industrial kitchens often feature open shelving.
  • Copper hardware and other accents: So much of Craftsman character is in the details, such as vintage-look copper hardware, unique backsplashes, and distinctive light fixtures. This is true for industrial as well, but the hardware and accents lean more modern.
  • Heavy use of natural materials: From wood beams to natural countertops and natural flooring, Craftsman and industrial-style kitchens are a celebration of natural materials.


Farmhouse and Cottage

Modern farmhouse and cottage style are all about the marriage of good design and relaxed living. These overlapping styles represent a fresh, modern take on the family farm or vacation cottage house. They are less rustic and more polished, full of both quaint, vintage touches and modern lines and styling.

Both cottage and farmhouse celebrate natural light and aim to incorporate as much of the outdoors as possible. These styles feel light, vibrant, gracious, and welcoming.

  • Farm sink: A deep, generous farm sink is a hallmark of farmhouse style and also popular in cottage kitchens.
  • Heavy on the charm: Farmhouse and cottage often feature cabinetry with beadboard and shiplap. Clean, crisp Shaker-style doors can work beautifully as well.  
  • Not your grandmother’s kitchen: While cottage and farmhouse are inspired by the look of generations past, they make full use of modern elements, from stainless steel appliances and contemporary light fixtures to materials like stone and engineered countertops.
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