The kitchen is the heart of the home: trite, but true. It is the room where everyone gathers, both family and friends. From small and cozy to enormous and state of the art, every kitchen draws people to chat, laugh—and, of course, to eat! Because kitchens attract the crowds, their decor has transitioned from simply useful to simply amazing.

With most appliances now black, white or stainless steel, bursts of color appear on countertops, walls and even ceilings. Some like it bright: eye-opening reds, oranges and apricots are said to be appetite stimulators. As is true elsewhere in the home, cool tones suggest serenity. Unusual shades and combinations and flashes of accent colors are now the norm.

Every room requires proper lighting, but nowhere is it as important as in the kitchen. With larger and larger kitchens taking on the purposes of living rooms, dining areas, game rooms and bars, designers suggest a blend of four layers of indoor lighting: task, ambient, accent and decorative.

Task lighting provides the illumination needed to prepare food, and includes direct lighting both overhead and under the cabinets. Ambient is indirect lighting that softens lines and creates a warm glow from track lights, pendants over islands and flush-mounted ceiling fixtures. Any distinctive focal point in the kitchen, such as a piece of artwork, a collection of china or glassware, or even the contents of a glass-finished cabinet, requires accent lighting. Decorative lighting is itself a piece of artwork: a chandelier or other eye-catching fixture. Of course, nothing is lovelier than beautiful windows, preferably overlooking the Lake.

Cabinets offer endless options for creativity, and over the years the quality of stock cabinetry has improved dramatically. Now frequently made from solid wood, they come in a vast array of tones and colors. Custom cabinets are truly pieces of fine furniture built into the home. Materials may vary from hardwood to glass. Many homeowners have integrated antiques—or the look of classic pieces—into kitchen built-ins. No longer are all cabinets required to match, and kitchens might show dark-stained wood cabinets in one area with lighter-toned or painted cabinets in another work space. Drawer pulls and door knobs are available in so many shapes and materials that their selection can be a project in itself.

Topping the lower cabinets are countertops, which can be created from myriad materials. The most popular continues to be granite, praised for its stain and scratch resistance and near maintenance-free beauty. Available in a rainbow of hues, a granite countertop can complement the decor or can be the kitchen’s unique focal point, with dramatic patterns and artistically carved edges.

Another favorite is engineered quartz, which is created by combining crushed quartz with resins and pigments to produce a vast variety of colors without the patterns and veining of granite. Quartz countertops are durable and nonporous and do not require polishing or sealing.

Marble countertops are expensive, but some homeowners consider them priceless for their classic appeal and the beautiful patina that develops as it ages. Because it is porous and stains are a concern, marble is better used in an area where it receives little abuse, and a stronger material can be used in heavy-duty cooking areas.

Wood counters are created from many tree species, as well as from salvaged or reclaimed materials, and results may vary from elegant to rustic. A butcher block is an excellent choice to top a kitchen island for a serious cook. Ceramic tile, stainless steel—and most recently concrete—are also popular choices. Colored glass, seashells, even small pebbles can be added to the latter to create a totally customized piece. Concrete is made from sand, rock and cement, so it is extremely durable, but it’s also very heavy so it needs an adequate base.

Some homeowners prefer to continue the material used for their countertops to include the backsplash. For others, the opportunity for creativity is irresistible. Glass has recently become the material of choice for imaginative designs. From tiny mosaics to sticks to larger pieces, glass backsplashes have been continued to create entire walls of color. Ceramic tile with contrasting or coordinating borders set in imaginative patterns remains popular, as do painted tiles as accents.

And don’t forget what’s down below—fabulous flooring is a must! Hardwood is known for its durability and warmth, and coordinates with most decorating schemes. Planks come as wide as 8 inches and as narrow as 11⁄2 inches. Hand-scraped hardwoods eliminate concerns with nicks and scratches, as they have already been added to enhance the wood’s natural beauty. Coatings on prefinished wood make for very tough, user-friendly surfaces.

Purchase an issue to read more and view pictures of L•O PROFILE’s favorite kitchens.