Tips and Tricks to Brighten Your Northwest Kitchen

Crucial elements for sprucing up a gray space
The right ingredients: Custom walnut cabinetry contrasts with the blue Lacanche range, simple backsplash and calacatta marble countertops, which together create a kitchen that’s beautiful and functional.

For home cooks—both budding and brilliant—a functional kitchen that’s stocked with modern updates and top-notch appliances takes the scratch-made cake. But when you reside in the Pacific Northwest, there are a few extras beyond functionality that are worth considering. 

“Given our gray skies and evergreens, Northwest light tends to bring out the green and blue tones in a color,” says Diane Foreman, interior designer and consultant for the Seattle office of design and remodeling company Neil Kelly ( “To balance this, I use softer, warmer whites and grays in cabinetry and wall colors. In developing a color palette, I contrast cool tones with warm tones.” 

Above: A French Lacanche range in the West Seattle kitchen of Distinctive Kitchens’ founder Allison Scheff. Below: A cozy breakfast nook creates a sweet spot for mealtimes. Photographs by Wynne H. Earle Photography


Our wet weather also mandates more thought with any renovation. “When planning a kitchen layout, it can be tempting for a designer to maximize space with French doors that swing out to a patio or deck. In the Northwest, this should only be done when the outdoor space is covered and protected from the elements.” 

Flow is also important, says Allison Scheff, founder of Distinctive Kitchens ( and former Seattle magazine food and dining editor. She draws on her 20 years in the culinary industry to inform the custom designs she creates for her clients’ kitchens. 

Open shelving stores and showcases ceramic serveware and cookbooks. Image credit: Wynne H. Earle Photography 

“Spending a lot of time in restaurants gives you a real idea for flow,” Scheff says. “You can tell when something was put somewhere for a visual effect, but it’s actually getting in the way. The same goes for home kitchens. There’s the aesthetic needs and the functional needs [of the space], and they should work together for the way people cook in their kitchens.” 

Scheff evaluates everything from where her clients like to stand while they’re prepping (e.g., at an island or next to the range), to where they’ll need to walk to rinse produce, to whether they do a lot of baking. “We then design a functional and beautiful work space to suit the homeowner’s personal style,” she says. “That could translate to a built-in butcher block next to the range, or a marble counter top on the island for making pastry.”  

The wide farmhouse sink makes it easy to clean large pots and pans with minimal splashing. Image credit: Wynne H. Earle Photography



Nowadays, Scheff is seeing this attention to flow having an increasing influence on modern kitchen design in the Pacific Northwest. “People want to take down walls between the kitchen and dining spaces, more eat-in kitchens…they just want a space where they can entertain and enjoy.” She notes that PNW kitchens are also used as something of an informal dining room. “For many Seattle homeowners, the formal dining room is utilized only on holidays or for more formal dinner parties,” Scheff says. “The cliché of casual entertaining is a reality here; everyone gathers in the kitchen, glass in hand, to chat during parties. Which means our kitchens need to do double duty as functional working spaces and comfortable entertaining spaces.”

Above: A dining table flanks a kitchen island with counter-height bar stools providing plenty of spaces to eat and entertain in this modern kitchen designed by Neil Kelly. 

Below: White subway tile backsplashes, white countertops and windows with sweeping views give this Tacoma kitchen a big and bright outlook. Photographs by Roger Turk. 

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