We recently interviewed Kevin Martin, Developer of Inspiration and Innovation for Quality Custom Cabinetry Inc
. QCCI is a luxury custom cabinet manufacturer that has been producing our clients' kitchens for over 20 years.
In the mid 2000s, Kevin Martin, was professionally thriving in the kitchen design world. A knowledgeable and highly astute student of the industry, there was seemingly nothing going on in the world of custom kitchens that he didn’t know something (or a lot) about. Until one day, a couple dropped some terminology on Kevin that would forever change his approach to kitchen design and help him define the combination between time-honored and modern spacial design.
The word Kevin’s clients used was “Transitional.”
“Do you have a Transitional door?”
Kevin knew he was stumped, but instead of pretending, he dug a little deeper with the couple to get a better understanding of what this “Transitional” thing was all about.
It wasn’t long before someone else came in asking for “Transitional” Kitchen elements, and since then Kevin has been able to define this sensation that has been trending in the industry for over a decade.
Transitional Design, according to Kevin, is a blend and midway point of design. While it’s subjective, the approach to Transitional requires a series of conversations between a designer and his client in order to “come to life.”
Per Kevin, the early 2000s brought about a mindset that steered away from the grandiose and more towards building a smart layout that was usable, nice to look at, and ultimately – an improvement on lifestyle and quality of life.
Kevin’s exposure to what his clients were asking for made the approach to Transitional Design a challenge at first, but once he broke free from being steeped in strictly “Traditional” and “Contemporary” packaged details, the opportunities seemed endless.
While Traditional embodies a more architectural motif, it gives up function for form. And in regards to Contemporary, Kevin explains, “We see an integrated focus.”
“If you pull the elements the client needs from both styles to go into a kitchen design, you will then push forward into a broader spectrum of both Traditional and Contemporary
,” says Kevin. “People use Transitional style all the time today, but they don’t realize the verbiage, so overall knowledge of this term is not widely recognized.”
But what makes a Transitional Kitchen – transitional?
1. A focus on lighting
Swapping out traditional details like opting for square instead of circular recessed lighting is a nice example of transitional design, according to Kevin. “This is a beautiful kitchen and a very good example of a very high-end design. In addition to the can lighting, the usage of natural wood in the vicinity, but not part of the kitchen proper, plays its part in setting the mood and defines transitional.”
In this PB Kitchen Design project in Mequon, Wisconsin, the client stressed an importance of mixing styles using steal beams, stone, and wood – all which is highlighted by purposefully placed lighting.
[caption id="attachment_4439" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] 2014 NKBA Contest Winner by PB Kitchen Design in Mequon, Wisconsin.
“The phenomenal thing about this kitchen (below) is that there is no crown, but the space above the cabinets is lit in a subtle way to take the place of the crown,” observed Kevin. Using less materials by incorporating tech to emulate a subtle look, places the design in a transitional genre, and gets that perfectly gorgeous halo to boot.
[caption id="attachment_4442" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Transitional Kitchen by PB Kitchen Design in Wheaton, Illinois.
2. A mixture of elements
[caption id="attachment_4444" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Transitional Kitchen by PB Kitchen Design in St. Charles, Illinois.
The execution of the clean lined glass upper cabinets firmly plant this kitchen design (above) in the Transitional motif. “The choice of wood at the raised bar, and the end grain for that matter, brings a twist on making it less Traditional and more Transitional,” explains Kevin. This design is reinforced with the mosaic tile back splash, combined with the two-toned cabinets, painted uppers with stained wood lower cabinets. It defines the soft meld and mix of a Transitional kitchen.
3. Ask yourself, “What doesn’t make this design Contemporary or Traditional?”
Allow your mind to gravitate to the ends of the spectrum. What doesn’t make it Contemporary or Traditional? What isn’t here? “We see more flat doors in Contemporary, less hardware, more gloss – but in this kitchen, at first light it looks somewhat Traditional, but there are other elements that meld it back into the Transitional realm,” explains Kevin. "The simple vertical all wood lines are firmly placed in a Transitional mindset." The mix of elements are simple so they don’t attract too much attention, yet they are nicely scaled. Transitional kitchens are not overpowering nor are they undersized.
Transitional Kitchens are “just right.”
[caption id="attachment_4445" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Transitional Kitchen by PB Kitchen Design in Wheaton, Illinois.
4. Tile that doesn’t draw attention to itself
“Whatever the pattern is for the backsplash, geometric shapes and patterns should be in a smaller scale for a Transitional Design. Resist the urge to draw attention to the tile as when a Transitional mode comes into play the melding of materials happen in a gentler fashion.”
[caption id="attachment_4447" align="aligncenter" width="807"] Transitional Kitchen by PB Kitchen Design in Mequon, Wisconsin.
5. A need for natural light
A reoccurring theme of a Transitional Kitchen is this: when you have a choice to incorporate more window space or leave it out to house more cabinet space, the window space always wins. Kevin mentioned for Transitional Kitchens, “The more windows the better, but we need to remember that the design needs to function as well.”
Mirroring Kevin's thoughts on creating an outdoor feeling inside
, the Global Winner in the Transitional category with the 2013/2014 Sub Zero-Wolf Kitchen Design Contest, Michael Otten of Exquisite Kitchen Design in Denver, Colorado, reflects on his winning kitchen, "Mountain Bliss
." Michael states Transitional design has a connection with natural light. "You may have noticed, there are no wall cabinets in the entire "Mountain Bliss" kitchen, which frees up the natural light to flow. So the base cabinets have to provide the most functional storage possible."
[caption id="attachment_4448" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Transitional Kitchen by PB Kitchen Design in Sugar Grove, Illinois.
6. Quiet down the contrast of materials
In addition to staying away from flashy details and prominent movement in counter tops, to achieve a Transitional Kitchen Design, “You ultimately want to quiet down the contrast of materials,” states Kevin. In the Lakeview kitchen below, the counters are all of a darker solid counter top, which softens and warms the kitchen design.
[caption id="attachment_4450" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Transitional Kitchen by PB Kitchen Design in Sugar Grove, Illinois.
7. You don’t have to paint the cabinets to be Transitional
Transitional Kitchens don’t always mean selecting painted cabinetry. Take, for example, what Kevin calls the “wood-centric transitional mode kitchen” below. The five-piece cabinet frame with a recessed panel and the simple drawer front, are features that Kevin defines as “Transitional."
[caption id="attachment_4451" align="aligncenter" width="882"] Transitional Kitchen by PB Kitchen Design in Wheaton, Illinois.
The Client – bringing ultimate clarity to Transitional
Designers have a delicate balance to walk when creating a Transitional kitchen, according to Kevin, which is exactly why a great listening ear and the acute attention to the nuances of the client is key.
“The midway point between Traditional
and Contemporary is where we find the style, and it’s a unique skill to be able to boil down the client’s personality and needs so they find ownership in the design.” Pulling pieces off both sides of the classic and modern spectrum, Kevin speaks of the “a-ha moment” during the design process when the marriage of elements reinforces that it’s right for the client.
“It’s all about them,” says Kevin. “With Transitional, it's less about copying or repurposing old ideas and past projects; this kind of design literally assigns worth and an overall feeling of “correctness” in what you are doing.”
In the very near future, Kevin predicts Transitional will dominate 50% of the market, followed by Traditional and Contemporary with 25% of the market respectively.
“Once Transitional is pushed into the limelight, it will have the opportunity to thrive in this market and take on a life of its own.”
Transitional and the young homeowner
The younger generation of homeowners resonates with Transitional Kitchen design because it fits the context of what the kitchen is all about. “The usage of appliances is out in the open because that’s what you do in a kitchen, you cook!” says Kevin of his younger clientele. “There’s no need to hide anything behind panels, as late Gen Xers and Milennials resonate with the phrase, “It is what it is.””
[caption id="attachment_4452" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] PB Kitchen Design, 2014 NKBA Contest Winner in Mequon, Wisconsin.
Is “Transitional” just an American thing?
At EuroCucina 2016 in Milan, Contemporary was positioned front and center as Europe continues to be a big market for modern design. “Transitional is a stronger phenomenon in the United States,” comments Kevin. “However on a global scale, the US doesn’t follow the rest of the world. We are truly a melting pot here when it comes to kitchen design.”
Kevin also predicts that Transitional approach is not on its way out, rather, the design is getting stronger.
“Every 10 years there is a distinctive design motif, and while the early 2000s was predominately a classic Traditional motif with white paint and architectural lines, because of transitional, the white trend has held on.”
Transitional in the design community
Kevin says once the design community gives Transitional credibility and its own language, they can start to identify it for their specific clients, and it will take off.
‘We need to educate our peers of this subjective approach to design,” says Kevin. “We’re getting closer and I know this has staying power, which is why we as a community need to resist being scared of taking a position defining Transitional.”
Once the industry truly embraces Transitional, it will allow designers to bring authority and a positive inclusiveness to client projects.
Kevin is looking to define a safe middle ground for Transitional as more and more of the cabinet manufacturers and designers now specifically have all three design classifications: Traditional, Contemporary, and Transitional.
Even heavy hitters like Sub-Zero and Wolf have recognized Transitional noteworthy enough to add a category specific to this design in their recent 2013/2014 kitchen design contest.
Looking around at various home design publications and industry pros, we are seeing an influx of buy-in when it comes to the idea of Transitional Design. Googling “Transitional Kitchens” brought about almost half a million results. So how could the kitchen design industry not define this as a category that’s here to stay?
Kevin’s definition of Transitional is clear – “It’s a melding of previous styles that lives and breathes based on the personality of the client,” says Kevin. “And a little bit of brilliance on the designer’s part too…”