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Wish List for a Covetable Cookspace

Oversize pendants, open shelves, pro-style ranges, patterned cement tile. One look at, and you'll find page after page fueling these cook-space trends and more. They look great in pictures, sure, but will they work for you? Read on for our advice.

Must-Have: Statement Light Fixture

Photo by Michael Graydon for House & Home Media

A high-profile pendant can do more than provide task lighting: It can inject drama and style into any workspace.

Keep in mind:

• Size: No wider than the surface it's illuminating, designers say, but large enough to make an impact. A too-small single pendant can look dinky. Carol Kurth, an architect in Bedford, New York, hangs cardboard templates to give clients a sense of scale and proportion.

• Support: If it weighs 50-plus pounds, a standard electrical box won't hold it; you'll need to install a fan brace.

Statement Light Fixture: Things to Consider

Photo by Michael Graydon for House & Home Media

• Height: "Never hovering above the top of the cabinets—that off-balances the room," says Charlie Dumais, a lighting pro in New York City. But not too low, either. April Powers, an interior designer in San Francisco who works with YLighting, recommends 40 inches above the island so that the fixture won't block the sight line of anyone standing. For the sake of those who sit, bulbs should not be visible from below.

• Wattage: To add a layer of functional light while also allowing a mood-altering glow, Dumais recommends a potent but diffused light. Along with lending character to the space, the fixture should be able to handle 120 watts and dim down for intimate meals.

The look for less:

Trawl Ballard Designs and Shades of Light for indoor lantern fixtures that offer high style for under $300. Or shop the outdoor lighting section at home centers, such as Lowe's, where a similar style can be had for just $135.

Must-Have: Warm Wood Floors

Photo by Donna Griffith/CollinStock

With their rich look and timeless appeal, they're as easy on the eyes as they are on your back—and they may just save your dropped crockery, too.

Keep in mind:

• Durability: Unlike tile, wood floorboards expand and contract with the weather. Soft woods like pine are especially vulnerable to water and foot traffic; hard woods with bold grain, like red oak, are less likely to show dings.

• Options: They include solid wood, either factory finished—prized for its durability and priced accordingly—or finished after installation. A pro can help weave in new planks and finish them so that they look less, well, new. The best DIY option is factory-finished engineered flooring with a real-wood veneer. And if you love the look of aged planks, know you'll pay a premium for extra-long, random-width, or wide boards.

Warm Wood Floors: Things to Consider

Photo by Donna Griffith/CollinStock; inset by Wendell T. Webber

• Finishes: If you're refinishing an existing floor, go for a penetrating matte finish in a light to medium color; it's less shiny and easier to touch up than polyurethane. We like Rubio Monocoat's Natural Oil, which is VOC-free, from $126 per gallon. Keep in mind that fashionably dark stains are more likely to show dirt and scratches.

• Protection: "A runner in front of the sink will catch water and prolong the finish," says Jon Sarkesian, an architect in Royal Oak, Michigan. Your best bet: a small indoor/outdoor area rug; it's meant to get wet and easy to pick up, and spots wash off under the tap.

The look for less:

Textured, plank-style vinyl flooring is so convincing that it has even won over some wood snobs. The sticky-backed "boards" are waterproof and resilient, and are repositionable for easy DIY. Luxe Plank Collection, from $4 per square foot.

Must-Have: Airy Open Shelves

Photo by Diana Gray

Restaurant-style shelves lighten up a room and provide easy access for items you use every day. And no small thing: They cost less than cabinets.

Keep in mind:

• Style: Marry the look to the space. If you're going for a farmhouse vibe, try salvaged planks and iron-look brackets, as seen here. Floating shelves have a contemporary look, while wood corbels can make open shelves feel more traditional.

• Display: "I like the look of kitchen things. They add color and texture," says Annie Mathot, an architect in Staunton, Virginia. But others see a potential problem. "If stuff sits there it gets dusty," says Kurth. "In a restaurant, the turnover is huge, but it's a little different at home." That's a cue to edit your collections, rotate often, and consider keeping a duster close at hand.

Airy Open Shelves: Things to Consider

Illustration by Jason Lee

• Alternative: To get the look without getting rid of your uppers altogether, Mathot favors removing the doors, which you can do in an afternoon. "You could paint the backs to make them stand out," she says, "and if you change your mind later, you can put the doors back on them." Before removing doors on existing upper cabinets, she adds, it's wise to look inside: The interior may not be as well finished as the frame.

• Support: Like cabinets, open shelves, which are generally about 12 inches deep, require serious support: brackets rated to hold the weight, anchored to studs, every 16 inches.

The look for less:

Make chunky floating shelves and save the cost of brackets. Cut a 25-inch-wide butcher-block slab to desired lengths and install them onto threaded steel rods anchored to the wall framing. Find the how-to details here.

Must-Have: High-End Pro-Style Range

Photo by Frances Zera/Hometica

With their fat knobs, peg legs, and gleaming finishes, these showstopping appliances can make even non-cooks envious.

Keep in mind:

• Power: Pro-style means gas, and these fire-breathers can generate more heat than the average family needs. "One high-Btu burner is a good thing," says Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything. "But six? That's crazy—who uses six?"

• Ventilation: For every 10,000 Btus, you have to be able to move 100 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of hot, smoky air. When moving 400 or more cfm, makeup air must be brought in from outside.

• Speed: More Btus don't guarantee that water will come to a boil more quickly, say independent tests. If speed is of the essence—and your pots aren't all copper—you'll do better with high-end induction, especially if you're not piped for gas. Keep in mind that it may require a 240-volt line and a dedicated circuit.

High-End Pro-Style Range: Things to Consider

Photo by Frances Zera/Hometica

• Placement: Pro-style ranges look great against the wall, creating a stunning focal point, but you may be better off with a cooktop. For one, says Sarkesian, you can put a big drawer underneath it so your pots and pans are at hand. Kurth would also move that cooktop to an island. "You don't want to turn your back to your guests. With an island cooktop, you can communicate." She suggests adding a state-of-the-art downdraft vent and parking the noisy blower in the basement.

• Weight: It's smart to sound out the joists. Some SUV-esque ranges can weigh more than 500 pounds.

• Cleanup: Some high-end ranges lack self-cleaning ovens. And those heavy cast-iron grates have to be babied—no abrasive cleansers. But think of it this way: If you want to own a Rolls-Royce range, you have keep it buffed to a glorious shine and show it off.

The look for less:

Skip the gorgeous colored enamel and you won't risk tiring of the color. Go for a midsize, stainless-steel range with a single high-Btu burner—like Kenmore's 30-inch Elite at about $1,750—and save thousands.

Must-Have: Cement-Tile Backsplash

Photo by Matthew Hranek

Designed to create colorful allover patterns, these matte-finish tiles deliver a major style punch.

Keep in mind:

• Weight: They are heavier than their ceramic cousins. A typical 8-by-8-inch tile is ⅝ inch thick and weighs 3 pounds.

• Surface: Because cement is not fired, it's porous. Applying a specialized sealant before and after installation protects the face from grout and olive-oil stains.

• Shipping: Cement tiles are usually handmade, so colors and dimensions can vary. Ordering online? Consider buying 15 percent extra, since tiles can chip during shipping. The bottom line: It'll run about $1,000 to $1,500 to buy and ship tile for a 40- to 50-square-foot backsplash.

Cement-Tile Backsplash: Things to Consider

Photo by Matthew Hranek; inset by Wendell T. Webber

• Installation: This job is best done by a pro. But if you want to DIY, check the height of your cabinets or shelves, as you may be able to map out the tile to avoid having to trim (except along sides and around outlets). Measure out from the center, allowing for 1/16-inch grout lines. Any holes in the tile should be drilled at least 1 inch from an edge. Finish exposed edges at the end of a run with solid-color tile or wood trim, or paint them the same color as the wall. You can always keep costs down by tiling only behind the stove or doing a single accent wall.

• Alternatives: Ceramic and porcelain look-alikes now offer consistent color and no need to seal, and are DIY-friendly. We like Porcelanosa's Antique collection, about $13 per square foot.

The look for less:

For a big impact with no commitment, try peel-and-stick wallpaper in colorful, tile-like patterns. With DIY installation, it's about $5 per square foot, and it wipes clean with soap and water. Parliment (left) and Eastern Tile (right), by WallSkins, about $79 for a 24-by-96-inch panel.

Must-Have: Marble Countertops

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

This natural stone is prized for its cool touch, luminous look, and warm patina—no wonder it's a staple of bakeries and churches.

Keep in mind:

• Color: Consider the Carrara you'll find at many home centers. It's about one-third the cost of purer-white varieties, so you may worry less about wear and tear.

• Care: Four times a year, seal the porous surface by rubbing in a silicone impregnator with a white cotton cloth. Mop up acidic spills (vinegar, wine, citrus) immediately. Clean with soapy water.

• Natural alternatives: Some varieties of quartzite feature marble-like veining while offering the durability of granite. But expect to pay as much—or more—as for a comparable-look marble.

Marble Countertops: Things to Consider

Photo by Anthony Tieuli; inset by Wendell T. Webber

• Man-made alternatives: Quartz, an engineered stone made of stone dust and resin, can be a convincing stand-in and starts at $60 per square foot. Options include Haida, from Wilsonart; Calacatta Nuvo, from Caesarstone; and Cashmere Carrara, from M S International, Inc..

• Coverage: If you're set on marble but don't have a big budget, be strategic, says Mathot. Top a small baking station if you like its function; crown just the island if you want it to have center stage.

The look for less:

Along with new, more convincing marble-look laminates, Formica offers edges with the ogee and bullnose treatments you can get with real stone. Carrara Bianco (left) and Calacatta (right) countertops with IdealEdge, from $22 per square foot, installed; Formica

Must-Have: A Multifunctional island

Photo by Peter Estersohn/Beateworks/Corbis

This central area for meal prep and socializing is the new hearth of the home.

Keep in mind:

• Base: Function will dictate the size of the base to a degree, but don't go too wide: You want to be able to reach across the island. A 36-inch counter height is standard, but 30 inches is ideal for kneading or rolling out dough, and a breakfast bar is higher, around 42 inches. A storage island can have an extension for seating, as shown.

• Top: Before deciding on dimensions, factor in materials. "If you want a natural stone top, a real limiting factor is slab width," says Kurth. "Otherwise you may have noticeable seams." Pay attention to slab length as well. Ditto for engineered stone.

• Clearance: You need room around the island. Four feet is ideal for two cooks, but "I like 5 feet between seating and the fridge so you don't have to scooch in or get up when someone goes for a drink," says Sarkesian. Kurth watches for swinging dishwasher doors and adds, "If the island is too far from the perimeter it won't be efficient to use both." To help clients get a sense of the flow, she marks out island dimensions on the floor with painter's tape."An hour or two spent doing this saves you a lot of grief," she says. "We do this all the time with pianos."

A Multifunctional island: Things to Consider

Photo by Peter Estersohn/Beateworks/Corbis

• Seating: Allow 20 inches between a stool or chair and the island top so that legs don't get squeezed. It's nice to have facing seats, Sarkesian says, so you don't have everyone lined up on one side staring at the back of the cook's head. To further the cause of the family dinner, he once narrowed an island to 3½ feet, or just wide enough for an 18-inch base cabinet and two 12-inch overhangs."You need 12 inches," he adds, not only for comfort, but so you can slide the stools in when not in use.

• Style: In an open plan, consider concentrating function on one side and decorative elements, such as brackets, paneling, and open shelves, on the side facing the living space.

The look for less:

DIY it! Place stock cabinets back-to-back, shim them level, and screw together. Top with a slab of wood or butcher block, cantilevered to form a table. Add a closed X-brace made from stock lumber for stylish support.