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Happy Kitchen, Happy Home

It's a place for conversation and coffee. Budding artists, as well as homework-laden teens find comfort and inspiration within its confines. Games (from Monopoly to Texas Hold 'Em) are won and lost around the table. Pencil-drawn, horizontal lines measuring a child's growth reach higher and higher along the wall in the corner behind a door. Birthday candles are extinguished. Permission slips signed. Secrets are whispered. Laughter erupts. Mealtimes are shared. Memories are made. And it all happens in the kitchen.

What is it about the kitchen? Why do most people spend more of their waking hours there than other rooms in the house? Do they want to be close to the refrigerator? Possibly, but I think there's more to it than that. The hub of a home is its kitchen. Even for non-cooks. There is something special about the room created with the specific purpose of providing us with sustenance.

So, I assert that this very important space should be a happy one. It stands to reason that if your kitchen is a happy place, it is more likely that your home and your family will be smiling as well. Happiness is a good thing.

What can you do to create a happy space? According to Linda Beeman, interior design decorative manager for Floor to Ceiling in Duluth, it doesn't have to be over-the-top and complicated, although a complete kitchen re-do could serve the purpose quite nicely. Beeman realizes that most of us aren't looking to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new kitchen. That's OK. You can make great strides in creating a positive environment by making smaller, more financially palatable changes that will make everyone want to congregate in one spot: your kitchen.

Beeman advises that sometimes a room's rejuvenation can be created by simply reducing rather than adding. "We often have lots of things in the kitchen," she says. "Full counters tend to look messy. To go for a cleaner, less cluttered look, evaluate what you use daily. If you don't use something every day, store it out of sight."

Color sets the mood

The colors that surround you (on the walls, the floor and even the ceiling) affect your mood. Different colors cause different reactions from different people, so there isn't one perfect color for the kitchen. It's as individual as our recipes for potato salad or baked beans.

There are, however, some general characteristics associated with certain colors, and you might want to consider them when choosing the palate for your kitchen (see sidebar).

To complicate matters, colors come in an infinite number of tones and shades. Take blue - there's a huge difference between navy and baby blue. They each create a completely different feel in a room. And then there's green and its range - from forest to chartreuse. Now combine the two to come up with turquoise, aqua and teal and you can see that the possibilities are endless.

The color information I found came from three Internet sites:, and Their advice wasn't always the same. Freshome listed yellow as a perfect color choice for the kitchen. Darleen's interiors said it makes people argue so it should be avoided. Bottom line? Pick what works for you. One online expert even recommended looking in your closet for clues about the colors that you tend to prefer. This approach sounds logical. Especially if you want to avoid a color clash with your own kitchen.

Incorporating color

Beeman advocates adding color to a kitchen whenever possible. "When you enter a room, your eye is drawn to color," she says. "And, beige is not a color," she reminded me with a smile.

Paint is the first thing that most people think of when they decide to add color to a room. Beeman's philosophy is dare to be bold. "Because of cabinetry, there really isn't much wall space in most kitchens," she notes. "Go for a color, even if it's just on one wall."

If the walls are too big a step, Beeman suggests painting an island a different color from the rest of the cabinets. For kitchens with glass cabinets, the back wall of the cabinet can be painted. "The color will pop out."

Other opportunities for paint: baseboards, window trim, doors, cabinets and even the ceiling. My grandma is still known for a bright red kitchen ceiling. It's become legendary in my family. Color experts say that painting the ceiling a darker color can make a space feel more intimate and inviting.

If painting your cabinets sounds a bit intimidating, you might want to spruce them up with new hardware. It's amazing how cabinet pulls can date your kitchen. "New handles can help create a clean, contemporary look," Beeman advises.

Backsplashes are another opportunity for adding color and creating a focal point. "The trend right now is to do a backsplash right behind the counter (vs. having the backsplash be a part of the counter itself)," Beeman says.

She explains that the availability of numerous ceramic and glass tile choices make the options endless. "There are a lot of creative things you can do with regular tiles," she explains. "You can put them on a diagonal (so they look like diamonds instead of squares) or you can break the tiles and lay them in a mosaic pattern."

A fresh set of kitchen towels, placemats, napkins or a tablecloth can make a room feel new without breaking the bank. Greenery or flowers also make welcome additions. "It would be great to have fresh flowers every day, but this is Minnesota," says Beeman. "Silk or dried arrangements are fine as long as you try to get things that look natural. Flowers and greenery add another layer to your décor." Beeman recommends fabric window treatments for kitchens. The fabric absorbs sound, and is another opportunity to add a layer of color. Beeman offers a good tip for maximizing natural light in the kitchen. "Mount valances above the window, so that only the bottom edge of the fabric hangs down over the glass to let in as much natural light as possible."

Area rugs can serve to soften the hard surface of the floor and add color at the same time. "Choose a nicer rug with decent backing, something that's nylon or wool," Beeman advised. "You can maintain it simply by vacuuming."

If you're looking at a little more extensive rejuvenation, you might consider flooring or countertops. Splashy, flashy flooring is available in any number of colors and the choices are practically endless. Beeman points out vinyl that looks like wood as well as wood that is encased in vinyl. There is an environmentally friendly wood product that looks like vintage vinyl. And of course there's laminate, real wood, ceramic and everything in between.

Similarly, these choices are available for countertops. There is real stone, and then a quartz product that resembles real stone and the laminates that do their darndest to make us think they're real stone.

Flooring and countertops are more permanent than a new set of towels, however, so think carefully before laying the eggplant-colored vinyl under your feet. "Keep the more expensive items neutral," Beeman advises. "Unless you can afford to change them often."

My visit with Linda Beeman at Floor to Ceiling taught me that options for making your kitchen happy are definitely out there, and they can be overwhelming. If you're not sure, seek help from the experts or a friend who has great decorating taste.

What is it about a happy kitchen? I can spend the day cleaning the rest of the house in preparation for a dinner party, but it's likely that none of my guests will venture beyond the four walls of the kitchen. It's where people congregate - sometimes to eat, other times just to be together. It's hard not to get nostalgic about the room that provides us with sustenance in ways that go well beyond food.

There's an undeniable magic in that.