STEPHEN THOMPSON: Today's well-designed kitchens have come a long way, baby

To realize just how far we've come, it is often good to look back to see where we've been. Let's take a not-so-nostalgic look at where kitchen design was a few decades ago and where well-designed kitchens are today.

Then: Appliances came in Harvest Gold, Avocado, Coppertone, White, Ivory – and if you were lucky/unlucky enough to have bought appliances in the early 1960s – Turquoise. As for cabinet finishes, you had two choices – painted or stained.

Now: Intelligent cabinet makers are concealing dishwashers and compactors and even the refrigerator is likely to be built in and flush with adjoining cabinets. Where appliances are still visible, their finishes are durable, textured and easy to clean, most often in a classic white, ivory or stainless steel.

Now: Cabinet finishes are multiple layers – created with combinations of paint, stain, and glaze to bring depth and richness to the wood. How? According to Neita Dillard, decorator for Pierce Cabinet's local showroom, “One of our most popular is our glazed finish. To give a worn, lived-in and used look our workmen scrape away the surface paint to reveal the stained or natural wood underneath … then we finish the cabinet with a darkening glaze that accents grooves, embellishments and brings out fine cabinetry detail elements.”

Now: It's classic inspirations from the past that add beauty to modern cabinetry. Islands with under-counter corbels, decorative feet, columns, an arched opening and a stone top add a classic style to cabinetry design.

Now: “Solid tops of granite, marble, Corian and tile give both style and inherent longevity to counter top surfaces,” Neita says. “What is very popular now is using a painted island surrounded by wood-tone or white cabinets. As a color accent it adds excitement to the kitchen design and actually becomes a central design element.”

Then: Identical locker-room style cabinets were all lined up in a row. Throw in a row of drawers, pay homage to the triangle formula of sink/stove/refrigerator and your kitchen looked pretty much like your next door neighbor's.

Now: Disregard the old straight-line formula. Stagger cabinets, both in-and-out and up and down. Wine racks, open shelving and glass doors above lift your spirit in a break from the past's static cabinetry, while cabinet inserts and appliance garages below reduce the drudgery of food preparation and cleanup.

Now: Custom-made, stand alone cabinets – with similar lines to a hutch or buffet – are finished with complementary moldings, and architectural embellishments to coordinate with built-in cabinetry nearby.

Then: With the exception of canister sets, display of ceramics, stoneware or china was impossible – there simply wasn't any room. Kitchens were thought to be luxurious if they had a built-in spice rack, a pantry and a lazy Susan.

Now: Kitchens have an abundance of pull-out storage options. Roll-out trays, bread boxes, pull-out doors attached to shelves for pots and pans, holders for recycling and garbage bins and racks for canned and dry goods mean no more struggling with hard-to-reach items in the back of the cabinet.

Finally: Computer assisted 3D design has raised kitchen cabinet building and remodeling to an art form that is easy to appreciate for anyone who has ever struggled with blueprints. Says Neita, “It's great for us to be able to hand the homeowner computer drawings that show them exactly what their cabinets will look like from any spot in the room.”

Now, baby, that is really coming a long way!

Stephen Thompson is an Allied Member of the American Society of Interior Designers. Questions and comments may be addressed to Designer Connection, P.O. Box 361, Tupelo, MS 38802 or e-mailed to: Thompson@CatHymns.com