Known for her clean and elegant style, interior designer Jill Wolff shares kitchen advice and design tips to gear us up for a season of entertaining.
Interviewed by Marina Chetner
Photography by Adam Latham and Everett Fenton Gidley
The kitchen is the beating heart of the home. It’s where the art of meal creation happens; it’s a gathering spot for family and friends. For many home cooks, the kitchen is their place of refuge, while for others, this space functions as a multi-purpose area. To meet the needs of the household and to complement the feel of the home, a keen eye for design is definitely desirable.
To gain expert kitchen advice, we turned to Southern California-based interior designer Jill Wolff. Having run her eponymous business for nearly three decades, Jill is a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. Since 1985, she’s choreographed the architectural design and interiors of nearly 350 homes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. When we spoke to Jill, she was in the midst of nine full construction projects, some of which include a modern home in Sunset Plaza, a condominium in Brentwood, and four new properties in the Pacific Palisades.
Jill, we love the Oceano Kitchen (featured in the opening image) – its open design is so inviting. Can you tell us a little about this project?
The design of this kitchen was driven by the needs of a very busy young family. They entertain regularly and their son Noah, who is 6, loves to help cook. The huge island is the hub of activity — we found a wonderful huge slab of honed black absolute granite with a gorgeous antiqued texture. It masks fingerprints and is impervious to stains, scratches, and general wear and tear. We fitted the island with a large farmhouse sink and enough room to roll out cookie dough while still allowing 3 or 4 people to sit around and interact. As for the aesthetic, we were able to create a pass-through to the seating area with a large tower and upper cabinets that have glass on both sides. This lets the light flood through the rest of the kitchen while providing a division of space. Add some beautiful Waterworks tile to the backsplash, and you have a kitchen that is not only beautiful, but functions really well!
What makes for an ideal kitchen space?
The ideal kitchen should suit the individual and the family. The basics are: great lighting, both task and decorative; enough space for two people to be working at the same time; and a good amount of space for storage — open, and behind doors — to keep all of the kitchen tools handy.
What is the most important consideration when designing a kitchen?
The layout — it’s everything. The ideal situation would be if you are starting from scratch and have a good budget. That way, you can seek help from a professional! Ensure that the appliances you have selected are proportionate in size to the space of the kitchen. Stainless is still king but companies are coming out with amazing colors. Check out BlueStar appliances — they match the range to any paint color selected. Red, by the way, is a knock out in a grey and white kitchen!
Cabinetry comes next, and whether it is custom or store-bought, the sky’s the limit. Remember that although it is a separate space, the kitchen should reflect the feeling of the rest of the house.
What are some design elements that you think really make kitchens work?
Pot fillers by the cooktop are great for pasta and soups… they save backs. I also encourage spice/olive oil pull-outs on either side of the cooktop to keep the necessities handy.
If space allows, an island is fantastic as it functions not only as great storage but as a social area in the kitchen. I try to put some appliances in the island that are difficult to place in other areas – juicers, blenders, coffee makers – as well as microwave drawers, refrigerator drawers, or wine centers. I am a big fan of painted cabinets on the island and use not only white, which always looks clean and fresh, but a contrasting color to the island’s top to give it personality. In addition, we use a different cabinet door style and add legs or posts to give it a furniture feel. Right now, my favorite colors to use on islands are navy blue, charcoal grey, and black.
Do you think pantries are a good use of space and worth the investment, even in relatively small homes?
A walk-in pantry is not necessary for a well-designed kitchen, although it is a fantastic element that we try to incorporate in our new construction projects. In older homes that just don’t have the space, I love creating open shelving and putting dry goods in either mason jars or some kind of glass storage — the food becomes part of the design!
What are some fairly easy things people can do that require limited or no construction that will improve their kitchens?
There are a number of things I recommend:
1. Paint is the old standby. Try an interesting color: grey instead of white; or, paint the exterior one color and the interior a contrasting color.
2. Remove the doors from a set of upper cabinets to create open shelving. Use wallpaper behind the shelves, and display your glasses or dishes.
3. Cabinet hardware is the easiest and quickest way to change and update your kitchen. Liz’s Hardware in Los Angeles is my favorite source.
4. Change your countertops from either tile or ‘dated’ granite to a sleek quartz material, such as Caesarstone, which instantly provides dollar value and beauty to the kitchen. It’s a great investment.
What are your must-have kitchen items?
I have a few. They include:
· A great faucet with a pull-out spout for cleaning.
· Instant hot water, while not the latest innovation, is something I love.
· Gas burners and an electric oven.
· Great refrigeration: I love the refrigerator drawers that can be placed anywhere in the kitchen like the ones made by U-Line.
· A Vitamix blender for smoothies, sauces, soups ….a great tool!
What other tips can you offer our readers?
When designing your kitchen, take a good look at your personal style of cooking and keep true to yourself. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the myriad of choices, so the best idea is to hire a design professional to help you. Even if it is for just a few hours of consultation, that is the best investment that you can make. You’ll save time, energy and money in the long run.
Thank you, Jill!
Marina Chetner is the Managing Editor of Find Bliss Los Angeles. She is also a freelance writer across national magazines and websites. marinachetner.com @mchetner