Q and A with Rebecca Reynolds

July 16, 2014

By Paula M. Bodah

All kitchens have certain things in common. After all, you couldn’t call a space a kitchen if it didn’t have appliances, work surfaces, and places to store dishes, pans, and utensils. Beyond that, every kitchen is a unique expression of the people who use it. After some two decades as a designer, Rebecca Reynolds, of New Canaan Kitchens, still feels passionate about all the things that make a beautiful, functional kitchen. We featured one of her favorites, from a home on Shippan Point in Stamford, Connecticut, in the summer edition of New England Home Connecticut.

fairfield county kitchen

Photograph by Laura Moss

What are your favorite elements in this kitchen, and why?

I have to say my favorite elements were my clients! We had fun, they were good decision makers, and the home’s view was spectacular. The house is on Long Island Sound, and the kitchen has views of the Manhattan skyline on a clear day.

Regarding the materials, I love how all the elements came together in this project, but I’m in love with the mahogany, the various metals used, and the stone. I pride myself on finding my clients the most perfect stone. It’s often the catalyst for inspiration in a kitchen. Using the furniture-quality mahogany, as in the island, helped connect the space to the adjacent family room, where floor-to-ceiling paneling makes you feel like you’re in the salon of a luxury yacht.

What is the number one problem people can avoid by hiring a professional to help with their kitchen design?

Mistakes! In over twenty years of designing kitchens I’ve heard a lot of “kitchen nightmare stories.” People love to share their personal war stories about the mistakes they made trying to do their kitchen themselves. No matter what the budget is for your project, it is always smart to build an allowance for an experienced designer. Kitchens are complex; good design is everything in a kitchen.With creativity you can do a lot on a small budget but at the end of the day the kitchen has to be laid out well and function for your needs. I’ve done hundreds of kitchen over twenty years and I still learn something new on every job. Home improvement shows can be a great source of inspiration, but they tend to lead people to believe they can go it alone. An experienced team, or simply an experienced contractor and designer who work well as a team, will be your best advisers and advocates throughout the entire renovation process.

What is the most unusual request you’ve had from a client whose kitchen you were working on? How were you able to accommodate the request?

Would you consider a built-in three-foot-by-seven-foot saltwater aquarium unusual? Aquariums are common enough in homes, but not when they involve the re-engineering of an entire section of a new home and are the focal point of the kitchen and family room. When my clients told me they were thinking about incorporating this into the design I knew I was up for the challenge. As a kitchen designer, the most valuable skill I have is that of being a good problem solver. I had never designed any room with a built-in aquarium; it was an invaluable learning experience and really quite fun to have in my portfolio. After you get over the panic of the unknown, a good designer takes unusual requests and turn them into opportunities to learn.

Kitchens these days, no matter their style, seem to have one thing in common—lots of white. Do you see white as remaining popular, or do you anticipate a trend toward bolder color?

My own first kitchen was when I was a young mother in 1984. I worked for an architectural firm in New Haven at the time, which shaped some of my design ideas, and I was convinced I had to have a handcrafted white kitchen from a local shop. People thought I was nuts. I did white and I never looked back. I don’t see white kitchens going away ever. They’re timeless, easy to live with, and easy change with the introduction of some color. White is the perfect canvas. The real trick to creating a special white kitchen is to introduce unique elements and materials that convey personality.

What do you think is the next big thing in kitchen design?

I’ve never been big on trends in kitchen design. Kitchens are simply too costly an investment for most homeowners. An average consumer only changes a kitchen two, maybe three times during their life. At the recent trade shows, I’ve seen the most significant changes coming in the way of technology. Baby boomers—many now empty nesters or retirees—are finally designing their dream kitchens, and they want state-of-the-art cooking technology with ease of use. I see manufacturers responding to this with wonderful new products. And while white kitchens will remain a constant, I am seeing a renewed interest in warm mid-toned woods, as well as new sources for reclaimed and environmentally friendly reforested woods.