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Meet the Designer Whose Kitchens
Feel Like Living Rooms

By: Reagan Miller
Photos courtesy Susan Serra

The first thing you’ll notice about Susan Serra’s designs is that her kitchens feel remarkably like living rooms. She creates spaces filled with light, dotted with art, full of comfortable seating. As we increasingly use our kitchens for more than just cooking and eating, Serra’s work finds its place at the intersection of culinary and social functions. Her ability to create kitchens that invite more than just work—whether that’s work over the stove or homework at a kitchen island—comes at a time when our lives are starved for domestic design that facilitates connection in all of its settings.

On becoming a kitchen designer

Kitchen design is and always has been a natural interest for me, as designing kitchens involves both the right and the left brain, which I find challenging, creative, and exciting. I’ve often said that “the kitchen is where all five senses reside,” which means to me that it is an exceptionally soulful place within the home.

Photos courtesy Susan Serra
Photos courtesy Susan Serra

On the designer–client relationship

I have always felt that it is my primary goal as designer to not “yes” the client, and conversely, not “push” the client, to know when to nudge the client toward better ideas but to also know when to back off. With this approach, the client is engaged in a positive way. For clients to get the most out of their design professional, there must be trust, respect, and openness to new ideas. That’s all they need to bring to the table!

On the place of artwork in the kitchen

I strongly feel that good artwork (the living room art) deserves a place in the kitchen for a number of reasons. I have collected the vast majority of artwork on display in my home on travels in Scandinavia, in Denmark mostly. I love the warm, modern feeling of Scandinavian art, which goes back to the early part of the 20th century to today. It’s called a classic modern style.

We do not usually see the “living room” artwork in the kitchen because homeowners do not feel it belongs in the kitchen. Homeowners prefer to use available space for storage rather than art in the kitchen. Also, I would imagine homeowners are fearful of cooking spills, fumes, and so on that could make their way onto artwork and objects.

Photos courtesy Susan Serra

On common mistakes in kitchen design

Designing in continuous cabinetry to cover as much of the kitchen as possible may add storage but the sacrifice of doing so is a feeling of being surrounded by hard surfaces, which often results in an uninspired design. A common mistake I’ve seen is to not allocate adequate space for the dining area. Allowing adequate space means an enhanced feeling of comfort rather than confinement. In my past three personal kitchens, I’ve even used an actual sofa as part of the kitchen table, raised to the proper height. It is a magnet for people who visit! Rushing the process is a common mistake which can lead to a design with a lack of creativity.

Photos courtesy Susan Serra
Photos courtesy Susan Serra

The kitchen is where all five senses reside.”

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On missed opportunities in kitchen design

The most important missed opportunity is to choose the wrong kitchen design professional. It is important to take time to view a designer’s body of work, not just see brochure pictures of brands they represent. Being presented with only one or two designs for the kitchen will not come close to showing the potential for the space. There are always multiple design solutions possible. The design process should not be rushed. Another missed opportunity is to follow trends rather than following one’s own personal aesthetic.

Photos courtesy Susan Serra

On hidden details in her work

Custom-designed short leg supports for a featured cabinet evokes a sense of originality plus adds a furniture look. Adding in vintage elements such as lighting, perhaps a bar cart designed to hold small appliances, enhances the feeling of the kitchen. Mixing materials with a designer’s eye is both challenging and rewarding and makes the design more personal to the client. An elongated shelf for a tall plant that sits alongside wall cabinets is a lovely touch. One of my most favorite details is to fit the bottom of the window as close to the countertop as possible.

Photos courtesy Susan Serra

On kitchen trends for 2019

I’m cautious about following trends since the kitchen is such a long term investment, but one can incorporate one or two trends into their kitchen design without it looking dated so quickly. The warm, modern look will continue its popularity in 2019, which makes for a lovely but casual feeling in the kitchen. The focus on wellness in kitchen design and technology adds soul and interest into the kitchen, inspiring developments.

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