Tips from Kitchen Designer Sandra Fairbank:

Consider solid surfacing "It doesn't stain, is often cheaper than stone, and comes in a palette of earthy colors—I used Corian├»┬┐½s Flint. Square eased edges give it a slab look."

Customize the height of one work surface
"If you're short or tall, drop or raise a butcher block several inches so you can bear down with your weight while chopping. But don't alter your entire kitchen—it could affect resale value."

Forego window treatments if possible.
"Tiling right up to a window, eliminating the molding, creates a large, open vista of the yard."

The Details
Down–to–earth design solutions with materials inspired by nature.

1. A window seat, custom–made by the homeowner and stained to match the kitchen's cherry cabinetry, fills the existing window bay.

2. The 30-inch appliance garage sits in the corner next to the double–bowl Oliveri stainless steel sink. The roll–down door shuts away the blender, food processor, and coffee–bean grinder, which are all plugged into electrical outlets hidden inside.

3. Slate backsplash tiles were cut down from standard 12–by–12–inch squares to 6–by–12s, a custom size that would have cost Fairbank three times as much. They were laid in a running–bond pattern and run up to the ceiling behind the range to make it look as if it's sitting against a stone wall.

4. Lazy susan shelves built into corner cabinets max out storage in hard–to–reach spots.

5. Cork floors are soft and warm on bare feet and provide added protection against breakage. The sustainably harvested natural material doesn't require a separate subfloor (it went right over sheet vinyl here) and, once coated with an acrylic sealer, needs only soap–and–water cleanup. Available in rolls or as 1–by–3–foot tongue–and–groove tiles, the cost, at $3 to $10 per square foot, matches ceramic and wood flooring. The cork continues into the adjacent dining room.

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