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Uncommon Kitchens with Sophie Donelson

While this episode began as an interview based on a book about kitchens, it became something much more -  A treatise about how we live in our homes, how to make a kitchen your own in ways which acknowledge who you are, how you live and what you love. Sophie Donelson is a former Editor-in-Chief of House Beautiful Magazine. She is a design journalist, speaker, and strategist whose work celebrates the connection between people and their homes. Her 2023 book Uncommon Kitchens: A Revolutionary Approach to the Most Popular Room in the House is where our conversation starts. Sophie's humanistic and forgiving approach to design resonates. Packed with helpful ideas about how to consider your kitchen design she showcases tens of unique kitchens created by designers for themselves and their clients and by others as well.  When a conversation veers towards describing some colors as "the squeeze of lemon on a fishy pasta", compares matching  upper and lower kitchen cabinets to attaching one's blouse to their underwear and compares the size of some kitchen islands to Escalades you know you're in for a ride.


Amy:      Color is the foundation of great design. It can settle a building into its landscape. It can make an unattractive structural detail just disappear, and it can change your mood in a room instantly. Welcome to Let's Talk Color. I'm Amy Krane, Architectural Color Consultant at Amy Krane Color.

I'm a color expert and use color to transform spaces and products from the ordinary to the sublime. As a paint color specialist, realtor, and design writer, I've got my finger on the pulse of what's happening in the world of color. In each episode, I'll reveal best practices for choosing color by introducing you to Masters of Color for the Built World. So throw out those paint chips, taped to your walls, and let's get started.

When we launched this podcast in 2021, Kitchen Color was one of the first episodes my then co-host and I created. It's still one of the most downloaded episodes of all time. The kitchen is such a major player in the successful design and function of our homes.

I've been planning to do an update on kitchen color for this year, and to that end, my guest today is the perfect person to speak with. Sophie Donelson is a design journalist, speaker, and strategist whose work celebrates the connection between people and their homes. Previously editor-in-chief of House Beautiful magazine, Sophie has written for dozens of blue chip publications and authored several books, including 2023's Uncommon Kitchens: A Revolutionary Approach to the Most Popular Room in the House.

She's currently the lead expert on the Magnolia Network show Design Defined. I love that show. I've seen them all. And when not traveling to design industry events, she works from her home in Montreal. Welcome, Sophie.


Sophie:      Amy, thank you so much. So happy to be here.


Amy:         Our timing is perfect because you recently came back from KBiz, where you I think you were a speaker. And for anyone who doesn't know, that's North America's largest trade show dedicated to kitchen and bath design. So, what did you see?

What's new? What's interesting? Is it all the same as last year?


Sophie:      No, it's never the same. And it's funny, you know sometimes innovation in kitchen design is hard to show, but color isn't so color sort of can take a lead when you're looking at trends, even though there's, I don't know, something cool happening with convection, which is a little bit less sexy to talk about. Yellow, like a real canary yellow, egg yolk yellow, was something that I saw on ranges and outdoor grills, which was pretty interesting.

And then there were just really riotous displays of color. I would say that I looked at their cafe line of appliances. It just goes by Cafe. It was part of the GE family of brands alongside Monogram. They had the wonderful designer, Isabella Ladd, who is just exuberant and obsessed with color and had an absolutely riotous kitchen where they said that she was just allowed to you know do anything. And it was cheerful and wild.

And I'm sure a lot of people walked by and said, "What in the world?" I would never, but it's sort of not the point. The point is to open your mind and take a look at what's out there and what's possible and how does it make you feel when you see all that?


Amy:      It must have made you feel happy.


Sophie:  I was pretty blown away. I was happy it existed. You know I'm always happy to show that. And then, yeah, just beautiful to see people having fun. I mean, at a trade show, you have to kind of bring something that turns heads, and it's different than what we might want to live with every day, and both are okay.

Amy:      Yeah. Absolutely. Design defined. It's a tongue twister to say, I have to tell you. I don't know if it rolls off your tongue, but it doesn't roll off mine.


Sophie:   I did a lot of takes with that. Yeah.


Amy:       You know when HDTV started all those years ago, I just couldn't get into those shows. You know, it's my field, but I couldn't. And I come from a background in TV production anyway, so I wasn't thrilled with the production value. Too many of same, same, and all of that.

And I have to say that when Magnolia Network came on the scene, I think they do a really spectacular job showcasing those kind of shows. So you're a lead expert on. How is it different from all the other shows out there?


Sophie:    This is a cool show. The premise of it is to take an architectural or design style such as mid-century modern or even art deco or maybe broadly Southern style and explore what it is, where the origins came from, what are the materials that are used to get that style?

You know What is the nuance? What does it mean? And how do you do it? How do you do it for yourself? And so, it's this really a cool lens, a really educational show. So the B-roll images that play behind somebody like me talking are great. I joke and say you know feel the people want, which is these beautiful images and so delight people with the eyes, and then they're going to listen. They're going to listen to the history behind something.

And there was one on sort of like rustic or cabin style, and it was just unbelievable. There's obviously a great genre out there right now celebrating that style, and it's come more to light with websites and books like Cabin Porn, which was really popular. But you know the fact that this style came after this time where the trains of America were taking people out west, and the national park system was building these lodges, and people would vacation like this, which is often where people get ideas, and then they come back to their own home and say, I want this in the Adirondacks, or I want this in the Pacific Northwest.

Homesteading started with these log cabin homes, which of course have a great history in Europe and in Scandinavia. So, I learned so much. The producers were incredible. And yeah, did an amazing amount of homework for me. And then I was able to add my own point of view to that. I think you're right about Magnolia. The streaming allows for many, many more shows and for shorter shows and they're not as dependent on the same ad format. And so more is being brought to light.

There's a greater diversity of programming. And it's really interesting and in stark contrast to what's happening in print publication, maybe. So these things they're never static and there's some forms of media that are just going to come to light because we have the technology for it. So podcasting, now we can do this from our bedrooms and our own home’s. And so we see more of that. And streaming has changed the format of TV, instead of being just linear TV, although it plays on both. It plays on traditional TV as well.


Amy:      Let's talk about your book, Uncommon Kitchens.

It's so unique in so many ways. The kitchens we see in the book are completely atypical. The people you interviewed and whose kitchens were in it were homeowners, were designers who showed their own kitchens, were people from different walks of life and different professions, and they offered very individual points of view. I told you when we spoke earlier, one thing I loved about the book was how contradictory many people were. I mean, why not show that?

If anything, that's almost the point of your book. Have your own personal point of view and go with it. And don't go for just the “uniform” idea of a kitchen today. It was conversational. It was witty. I laughed a few times, which is great. I mean, there were so many memorable quotes, great metaphors, points of view, and helpful tips for everyone. Lastly, I want to say that it showed so many kitchens from my region, upstate New York / Hudson Valley, that I said, "Yay," because we have such a treasure trove of great homes here.

Amy:        So who's it for?


Sophie:   Well, it's for homeowner and design professional, undoubtedly. I mean, that said, it’s for anyone who's lucky enough to have a kitchen. I mean, truly. The wisdom that I was looking for in this isn't just about individuality, but about freeing ourselves from this room that's gotten unnecessarily challenging, I think, for a lot of people.

Whether you are renovating or you're building from scratch and you're saved, you're ready to spend a lot and do it, go for it. Or people that are in a kitchen that they've had for a lot of years and maybe feel fine about it but could probably use something that lifts their spirits, or somebody that's really wrestling with their space and is like, "God, I wish I could gut this and that maybe I can't right now," or, "I'm going to and I don't know how." Or me, like a kitchen that constantly evolves and I'm always looking for ways to tinker with it.

The point of it was really that I felt that we have represented very clearly these sort of what I call PWKs, Perfect White Kitchens, that we've got this down. And you know listen, a lot of them are beautiful and there's designers and homeowners that do them incredibly well. And I also say that any kitchen that you spend time in, that if you have friends or family that you enjoy being in the kitchen that spend time with you, where you're making food and things are happening, is a great kitchen. Just period.

There's no right or wrong kitchen of that. If you're using it and enjoying it for the most part, great. It doesn't mean you don't need the book. Of course, you need the book still, but that works. But it felt like there was this real pattern that had been perfected and partially because of the media that we've seen, and partially because even though it feels expensive to sort of build and renovate, these materials and the breadth of what is offered is just light years from what it was even five, 10, 20 years ago.

So you can do a really, really good kitchen at IKEA, and they're good at it, and they're beautiful, and they've got all the bells and whistles that you want. And by the way, that's not even the bottom of the barrel. There's probably even cheaper ways to go because that's actually become a good kitchen. But that image of what that looks like with the Carrera marble and the white subway backslash, maybe, statement lighting, the big hood and the much bigger island with the bar stools and kind of the white on white…..

And that white-on-white aesthetic, there's a lot of places to go for that.  So many that it's overwhelming. But what I didn't feel like was represented was everything else. All of these family kitchens and quirky individual people’s kitchens that are out there. There wasn't a body of work that is a place to go and say, "I know the white one. What else you got?" You know?

It's not like the red and green one is meant for you, but maybe something that they did there or maybe a point of view is going to open your mind and give you more options. That's really what it was. I feel like the kitchen has so much weight associated with it because the decisions are expensive and the materials are, you know, you're making a kind of a one-time decision. And that can start to feel super heavy and stressful. And I wanted to remind people that this is still a room.

There's a lot of ways to address this that aren't just it's going to have to be ripping out the counters or the cabinets or a gut.


Amy:       How did you come up with these people and their kitchens? Did you know some of them? Did you see them on social media or they were recommended?


Sophies:   Yeah. So there were a handful of designers who I just thought were doing really good work that I reached out to. A handful of photographers that seemed to keep shooting really great kitchens.

Like Laura Juliet is one of them, and she shoots a lot for AD, and she works with a lot of designers that I love, like Wreath Design and Stephen Kent Johnson, who shot the cover. There was just a handful of photographers that I think a lot of creative designers who were doing good kitchens turned to. So going to their portfolios and contacting them individually is one way. So maybe one shot ended up in a magazine, but they have six or eight more that didn't.  I wanted to put that body of work together. Definitely Instagram.

Just you know enter that rabbit hole……And then from there, I commissioned a lot of work. So maybe there was one shot of a kitchen, but that was it. So at least half the book is commissioned. Typically when a designer is shooting for their portfolio or you're shooting for a magazine, you're getting no more than one to three images of a kitchen. And I needed about 12 to 15 to carry a chapter.

So they don't come from nowhere. So that was the challenge with it. People ask, “what about uncommon bathrooms?” I'm like, “tough to find 12 great images of a bathroom,” or you'd have to change the format and do something quite different. Instagram. And then, once a handful of people heard that I was writing it, people would shoot me a DM or an email or call me and say, "What's up with this kitchen's book?" And so I slipped a few in at the end.

Amy:       For those who haven't seen the book yet, the cover shows a kitchen with a wood floor, white shaker cabinets, upper and lower, a red range, three different square backsplash color tiles, white, cornflower blue, and navy blue, a deep green work table playing the role of an island, and a lighter green kitchen table. Can you picture it? Probably, probably not. Why this one for the cover?

Sophie:    So this was done by Rodman Primack, R.P. Miller design, and it felt like it represented so many of the ideas that I wanted to convey in one image. It was also quite striking and quite modern. Picking a cover is really hard. And in this book, impossible to represent what's inside. And I will say, Amy, as a person that's interested in marketing and branding, this was a really big challenge.

This is potentially a book that should have been written without images because the wisdom in it is very clear and quite universal. And once you see a color, an aesthetic, an image that you do or do not like, you have an immediate judgment and you stop listening. It's really challenging. If you can't see that design is filled with ideas and storytelling, and the way we experience home is something that we carry in our heart and in our mind. We don't carry a flipbook of images. We can talk about this and share ideas and nuance.

Anyway, I find the limitation of images really, really frustrating because our experience of home is not to look at an image, it's to be inside a space. Back to the cover. This is a kitchen in a home that had really beautiful art and had certainly budget to spend. But the homeowners and the designers did what I would say is a light refresh. There are definitely some spendy parts. It's a beautiful Bertazzoni range that's red, but it's not a 36 or a 72-inch range.

You know, it's a right-sized range for the space. The lights are custom. There's a couple of telltale signs of fine design in there, but they're also the existing cabinets which are a bit imperfect. They're touching the frame of the window, which is kind of unconventional and I would say probably frowned upon in design. The framework of the kitchen is not so different than a lot of kitchens that some of us live in.

And to distract and entertain the eye, a bunch of punchy color was chosen to move your eye around the space. And then the work table….you know an island, but petite. We say work table when sometimes it's on legs so it's not flush to the floor and it has often a butcher block countertop. So, it's not kind of that stone and that monolith that sits on the floor and feels really immovable. A lot of work tables can and are moved.

And then what butts up to it is a drop leaf table like a lot of us probably grew up with where you put the sides up when you need to fit more people and they go down when you need a more petite profile. And that's pushed up against there. And why is that? Because the house is just a couple sometimes. And sometimes they grow with their family when kids are home and they need more space. And so these things are kind of pushed together. But ultimately, this is kitchen furniture. These are things that can be moved around, changed from room to room, emptied out of it if you want to change the function of the space.

And what it shows is really flexibility, looseness, flexibility, and playfulness. And that I think is just missing. It's just missing when everything you choose is going to be built in, where, like I said, the weight of choosing whatever the backsplash color is, is like, well, that's what you're going to have, and that's it forever. And it's like, you're not just staring at the backsplash alone. There's probably a bowl of fruit in front of it. You know there's going to be humans and dogs moving in and out of the space. These are very lively rooms, and they just don't have to feel so stricken by design decisions.

Amy:       Wow, that's so well said. I mean, you've actually covered in your answer the four principles that you laid out for a great personal kitchen. And that's what I was going to talk about next, but you just naturally went there. So the first of them is employ color and pattern. Boy, do I agree with you.


Sophie:    Well, I'd love to hear your take on that because that, I mean, that to me is really just to say, we do this in the other rooms in the house.

There is no reason why the kitchen should be exempt from this. It's like I always say there's homes you go through all the time and you visit a friend and they have interesting art and collectibles and rooms that have chosen paint colors. And then you get to the kitchen and it's like “wah, wah” the record stops and it's more anesthetized and void of not personality, but the playfulness, the movement, the interest that other rooms have.

We're not all jarring jams and needing a professional bakery in here. It doesn't need to be a commercial kind of style workspace. Most people, honestly, like in their kitchen, they spend a lot of time scrolling their phone, calling friends, paying bills, sitting and having coffee.

The room has so many other functions that to strip it of that and just make it like, "Well, it has to be clean and it has to work." I'm like, "Yeah, but a lot of things are clean and can work." Having art on the wall is not going to keep it from being clean and working, I promise. You know


Amy:       Yeah. I think, you know for me, people get scared. Fear, unfortunately, drives so many decisions. And if you couple that with (fear of affecting) resale value…..  I can hear someone saying “I would never have red cabinets or pink cabinets…”

All the kind of colors I am starting to see trickle into the zeitgeist, my favorite being ochre, you know and ochre yellow. You know Fear of resale value and just the cost of a gut reno. People seem to treat their choices differently. And I think it's really a lost opportunity because I agree with everything you have to say.


Sophie:     You can choose the wrong ochre, but you can also choose the wrong gray. The funny thing is, it's like there's no non-choice.

White or pale gray is a choice. It's not like there's a blank sheet of paper and then there's things on it. It's like you're making a choice every time you choose anything. Secondly, you don't have to renovate. You do not have to gut your kitchen. You don't have to renovate it. You literally don't have to. If things are working pretty well and you can come up with ideas that distract the eye where you say, yes, we're going to do the counters because I literally cannot live another day with these disgusting counters, do the counters.

But you don't also have to do the backsplash. You do not have to do the floor at the same time. You do not have to find new appliances. And they don't have to match. You can get a new refrigerator without getting a new range. This does not have to be like never in the history of the world did somebody 50 years ago say, well, we're gutting. That wasn't even a thing.

And it wasn't a thing until yeah, until these forces of the market, which were like Zillow putting zestimates on our houses where all of a sudden we were assigning a monetary value to aesthetic and personal choices. We were talking about resale in homes that we were never going to resell.


Amy:       Good point.


Sophie:   And it's okay to make incremental changes because there's so many joyful ways to update a kitchen, which we will get to. And one of them is color.

And it doesn't have to be your counters or your cabinets. You can bring in beautifully colored tea towels. You can make a point of having great fruit or flowers always on your counter. If the counter is a sea of white stone or maybe gross formica that you don't want to look at, show us something you want to look at, right? You don't have to change the thing itself. It's like you have to change your gaze. And you have to change your relationship with the kitchen where you start to appreciate the joyful parts.

It was a really labor-intensive project but in my utensil drawer, which is open and shut 500 times a day, I put bright red, fire engine red contact paper. Like 1980s contact paper on the inside. So it's just more cheerful. Instead of looking at the crumbs and the mess, it's like it gives you this pop of color when you open the drawer. And it's a drawer that we open all the time. And you know the project took an hour. And honestly, I'm not going to do the other ones.

It was too hard to do the other ones, but that's the drawer that opens a lot. You know, that's color in the kitchen!


Amy:       Your kitchen cabinets, am I not correct are in the book, and they're sort of a burgundy- cranberry?


Sophie:   Yeah, they are oxblood. That is, admittedly, my old home, and I am in a very different home now. Yeah, I know. Interesting, but they were oxblood and they're beautiful.

Amy:       Absolutely. 30 years ago, possibly, I visited some friends in the Cotswolds in England. It might have been the first English country house I had been to. The house was old, of course. The gardens were beautiful….Fields of daffodils. And I walked into this homey old kitchen that had really worn surfaces that might have had a stone floor. Don't even remember the color.

I was a TV commercial producer then. This is 30 years ago. And there in the corner of one counter was a small table lamp. It blew my mind. I know that's so silly. That sounds so silly. It was like a table lamp, not overhead lighting. It was way before the pendant light thing. And I was like, "Ah!" you know I'd hit my head right now if it wouldn't mess up our sound here. It was a light bulb moment for me, an epiphany.

And ever since then, I have had small lamps in my kitchen because it brings so much warmth into the room. I'm not talking about the quality of the light. It's a piece of furniture. Even if you're not lucky enough, and this might surprise people, I say, lucky enough to have an unfitted kitchen because I moved into a 15, 20-year-old house when I bought this house. You know built in 2002. It has maple built-ins cabinets- upper and lower cabinets.

And I've done what you've done. I've just said, "Oh, God, counters. I'll change them. Backsplash, I'll change them." Same cabinets and a little lamp with an adorable fabric shade, which I had made by someone on Etsy. Gave her the fabric and said, please make the shade. I mean, it brings so much personality to a room.


Sophie:    No, it's a revolution. And you know it's so easy to do.

It's like you know anybody listening to this right now could probably find some forlorn little lamp in their house. I move lamps all the time. Lamps are amazing. Designers love lamps for that reason. They're little sculptures. You know they're really easy to get at vintage shops. They're cheap to have rewired, which I recommend. And yeah, I swapped them out all the time. I just moved one from my son's room that was a dinky little bedside lamp. It took up less space than the cool vintage one I had on my kitchen counter.

And the cheerfulness of having lighting there, there's a lot of design reasons why that works, but it's just a good example to remind you that this is still a room. And I take issue with the idea that everyone is deep frying tempura or fried chicken every night of the week, and there's going to be some layer of grease or film that's going to cover everything. It's like, no, you're not. Yeah You're not doing that. Don’t talk to me about how your kitchen needs to have wear and tear. You have a family and it needs to take a beating.

It's like are kids today super different than the ones 30, 50 years ago? No. There's the same level of kind of destruction or decay. You can still just wash your walls with you know now we have Magic Eraser. They didn't used to have Magic Eraser. So you know let go of the fallacy that somehow this kitchen needs to be bulletproof. It's like it can take a little beating and be beautiful and be enjoyable and should because that means that people are using it.

But anyway, point being, yes, hanging art, adding an indoor/outdoor rug, which means you can throw them in the washer or even just take them outside and spot clean them. There’s a lot of ways to take care of them. They also just don't get that dirty. A runner in the kitchen is so cheerful. And this is the funny thing about having ugly cabinets, which I admit to in my current home. Yeah, a ton of us do, replacing is expensive. You can just paint them. It's hard, and at least a little bit expensive and a little bit labor intensive.

Avert your eye. Find a great rug. Find a great lamp. You're going to walk in the space and you're not going to see the cabinets. You're going to go, "Oh, that lamp is so cheerful. I'm so happy." Or, "Oh, my fern is doing really well," or it isn't doing well. Let's get some fresh flowers or find the things that make you happy. It's just like dressing, right? It's like you know we get older and we come up with statement glasses because we don't want to look at our eye wrinkles or a great red lip or a cool necklace or just a beautiful color that's like, wow, that's a beautiful, cheerful color.

And people react to the color and they're not looking at your boobs! It's like, find the things that are fun and joyful and make you happy and just go there and you don't have to address everything. Not everything needs to be fixed. Right?


Amy:        Right. Absolutely. I talk about distraction also. People talk to me all the time about, "Oh my God, this room is so small. Should we paint it white?" No.

A small room, bad light, dishwater gray, ick, unintentionally gray walls. Embrace it. I mean, I know that's become really trite, too, but I really believe in it.


Sophie:    It is so much about perception. If you want to obsess about the smallness of the room, do it. But there's a bunch of other conversations to have.


Amy:        I say distract with color.


Sophie:    Tell me something else about your kitchen.

Amy:       Absolutely. So, right. So you already talked about the second tenet, treat your kitchen as a room first.

So practical.


Sophie:     Absolutely. Yeah. It is a kitchen that has to function, but also, you do so much more than cooking in that kitchen, I bet you. And so also think about addressing those needs. A chair doesn't need to be an upholstered chair that's British style, but I brought in two of my dining chairs, which are kind of comfy to this tiny cafe table. It's wedged in there. It's not perfect, but boy, now my kids eat breakfast while I make their lunch and cook. And previously, they'd been in another room.

And that has changed my life. They're by a window. I have to move the chair to get in the lower cabinet to the recycling. There is some awkwardness there, but hanging out with my kids for an extra 20 minutes is great. Yes, please.


Amy:       More important. Right. Design with flexibility in mind and work around existing imperfections, right?


Sophie:    Yeah. And the flexibility is… if you are renovating…..I'm anti banquette. I don't love built-ins.

I learned this from a designer, Lee Schwartz, a while back when I was working in an apartment in Queens. And she said, “once we build this in, there's no out.” You won't get to move something around anymore. You don't get to change anything. You know, some houses call for it, and they need the intimacy, and maybe you can drop the ceiling there or make it feel cozy. Houses come in all shapes and forms? But I would say that the trend that I see in renovation is so often about making it bigger, raising the ceiling.

“It's a room that I love, so I want more of it.” But the truth is that a lot of the reason that we love the room is because of the intimacy of it. People gather in the kitchen, not because that's where food is, because that's where people are. And typically, people want to be close to people. And when you add an island the size of an Escalade, you don't even get to touch hands across the table. You can't even pass a dish. I see islands like that all the time. That's crazy. You're cooking something in the kitchen and you can literally not be able to slide it across this huge “dance floor.”

It's so strange to me.


Amy:       It's funny. I grew up in a 1965 New York suburban house. Shortly after we moved in, my parents, room by room ,when they could afford it, did their decorating. And the kitchen that stands out to me over all the incarnations, from somewhere in the '70s, was wallpapered walls.

A combination of matte and shiny, white glossy background with yellow and black flowers and a plaid over it. Yeah. And then we sat around a formica table with a black banquette with white piping. There were six people in my family, so you know we’d slide all the kids in the banquet. It was what people were doing then, and it worked for a relatively big family. But I was surprised to see it come back so strongly, the banquet.

Sophie:       At my time at House Beautiful, the banquette was like our Playboy centerfold. We just absolutely dined off of that and people couldn't get enough of them. We did them on covers along with breakfast rooms. I will say I understand the impulse for it because there's intimacy in there and there's memories. It's like a diner, you know like a little booth in a diner or a bench back seat of a car or a love seat. These really were intimate spaces.

Yeah, and like I said, for some houses, they're totally right because they can add intimacy where there is none if you're already in kind of a petite space. I honestly think a club chair does better. You may end up just spending more time there by yourself or reading or enjoying a room that has a lot of work to do in it.


Amy:       Yeah, yeah. There were a lot of memorable quotes and ideas from different people in the book. When I reread the book, I wrote down so many that I know I can't mention them all here.

So I'm just going to I'm going to start with the biggest hits. I mean, the ones that really, really got me. Okay, maybe because I read it first in the book, it ends up first on my list, and I laughed out loud. If your kitchen makes your heart sing, you don't need to hang a sign that says, "Live, love, laugh." I laughed out loud when I saw that. Immediately in my mind's eye were those stupid signs, "I'm sorry if you have them, listeners." People hang in their kitchen or over their fireplaces that say exactly that.

Because if you're living and you're loving and you're laughing, you don't need a sign to tell you that, right? I hate them.


Sophie:    Yeah. I think it's also filed under the impulse to buy a thing to have an experience. And I think that 9 times out of 10, it doesn't work. It has to be experience-led. Design can help make experiences, but you can't reshape culture from scratch by buying stuff.

You just can't tell your family to laugh more. It's just like try harder and do it in the ways that are human-based. You know, spend more time. Yeah.


Amy:       Well said. Well said. Meta Coleman's client said they want their kitchen to be a workhorse and a show pony. I mean, that's so clever, isn't it?


Sophie:    It's brilliant. It's so brilliant. It's one of the best things I've heard. It's incredible. Yeah, that's our hope. That's your hope. Beautiful.

Amy:       Liz McPhail said, "Some people read, some travel, some work out. I do house. It's never finished." That's me, baby. I don't know about you, but I tinker forever.


Sophie:    It does represent me too. And I often think about Charlotte Moss, who was the ultimate tinkerer. And I remember this conversation with her, I'd love to revisit it here, where she kind of explained maybe like a Saturday, Sunday morning at her house and what she does. And it's just so beautiful.

And I do it too, which is you kind of walk around the space and you take one thing from a mantle, and you move it, and you bring it to another table, or you know it wasn't cleaning so much as like tinkering, or you're getting fresh flowers, and you're putting a bunch in a vase, and maybe you have like a tulipiere or a little bud vase, and you're adding a couple of those, and you're adding them to a different part of the house, or you're readjusting a chair maybe to face somewhere else.

But Charlotte's style is legendary, and we sort of see it as static, right? It's like it gets photographed and you're like, "Oh, it's perfect, exactly the way it is." But no, she moves things all the time. You know I think it's so important to say out loud. Really, people that love and live well change things. They're not like there's one right answer. There's a lot of right ways, or there's a lot of good ways to do it. And so anyway, I love that idea of doing house.

Yeah. And it's totally that. Sometimes it's mending broken things. I move the furniture constantly. I take up rugs when I'm like, "Ugh, just too much stuff." And I want to roll the rugs up and heave them in the closet where they're jammed in. There's no good place for storing a rug, but it opens up the space for a little bit or, yeah, just have an active relationship with your house. I wrote about this a lot during the pandemic because people were forced to live in their houses and work from home where they never had.

And we were really, really actively touching our house for the first time. I remember talking to people who said, "I have never known where the sun crosses my living room because I have gone to an office five days a week."

Amy:       That's beautiful.


Sophie:     And on weekends, I’ve been out with friends. They were getting to know their houses for the first time in ways that they were like, "Whoa. You know I didn't know my apartment was like this at a certain time." And I would say everyone's desk in the basement or desk tucked away in a bedroom needs to come out to the light.

Maybe you needed the privacy when your kids were home, but maybe you're still working from home and it's time to bring that desk to the light. It's just everyone works better near the light. And that's ultimately also what color tries to do is manipulate light to feel a certain way. And that doesn't have to be bright, airy. It can feel cosseted and cozy and warm. Yellow can feel more like the lamp glow than the color yellow.

You're not like, "Ooh, wow, what a great yellow." It's like, "Oh my gosh, this room just makes me feel so good," or, "It feels so cozy."


Amy:       Right. What's the effect of it? What's the effect of the color more than what's the hue itself? I love that. I love that concept of coming downstairs and walking from room to room and tinkering because it's really about seeing your environment. I mean, there; so much we take for granted in our lives, because there are other things to think about, worry about, experience, plan, blah, blah, blah.

But start the day just walking around, looking, seeing, and seeing how you want to iterate it for that moment. That’s fantastic. I love that. It's so great.


Sophie:    Honestly, Amy, there's some people that see things and they're very intimately in tune with that. And there are other people that are pretty happy in their environment or unhappy in their environment. And they are not going to want environmental changes. They're just not as sensitive to that.

You know, there are people that smell things very acutely and others for whom that will never be a function of how they experience life. And I believe that house is the same way. And for those of us who care about our home, it matters a lot.


Amy:       Victoria Sass said the best colors take more than three words to describe. Well, you might be surprised as a colorist that I'm a little bit more forgiving.

I would say a minimum of two. Like never say I love blue. Say I love dusty blue. If you could just give it one adjective with the noun, that really, really helps. But I love that she said that. I love it.


Sophie:    Yeah. That's a great one. And she also talked about colors fighting.

This idea where this is a little advanced, but obviously you know how to do this, where maybe you're taking the same tone of two colors, and one of them becomes dusty, but the other one is more pure and anodyne. And so it's this like push and pull. There's energy that's created from, let's say, let's take that egg yolk yellow and a blue that has more of a gray blue, like a historic blue quality to it.

Maybe in the day, we would call this clashing. Let's say the room is saturated in that blue and there's beautiful furnishings that are kind of like on the neutral side, adding a yellow lampshade is like an exclamation point in the room. You know black does the same thing, like having this punch of something unexpected, and it doesn't have to be an equal. You're not doing a 50/50 room of these two colors.

But it's just like eyeliner we can use as an example of just highlighting something. You almost don't see it, but you feel it. Right?


Amy:        Right. Well, listen, you're talking my talk here. I mean, I spent way too much time on one episode of the podcast, which was about interior color talking about power clashing. And my co-host had to reel me in. It’s a topic I love..

You know the first person who I noticed did it a lot and by no means is she the first person who did it. The first person I noticed who did it was Heidi Caillier. Yes, she's a clashing maven and she talks about the tension created by clashing colors. I agree. Again, this is so personal. For some people, you know they would say one of two things. “They don't go or they don't match.”

I mean, my big thing is we don't talk match in my world. There's no matchy-matchy. You're never trying to match.


Sophie:    Yeah. And people have different thresholds. I mean, honestly, I really respect some people just don't have it in them to be brave with color in their home. It doesn't make them feel good. It makes them feel ungood. And you know what? Totally valid. The best power clash I did, my friend Karl Lohnes, who's an editor here in Montreal and Toronto at Style At Home, and a longtime designer and a just smart guy.

We were sitting at the breakfast table in the breakfast room of my old home. And I had lovingly shelled out for this incredible Venetian plaster treatment in a color very similar to Monticello Rose by Benjamin Moore, a dusty pink, let's say. And it was very beautiful. And everything was coming together really nicely. And it was very pretty. But to me, kind of soft.

I was like, this is nice. But it didn't really carry an energy for me. In that room, you know the kitchen, it's like I had kids underfoot. And I asked, what? What should I do? He said paint the inside of the window wells.  Like the inside of the window. Not the molding on the outside, but the inside where you could sit. In older houses they often deep, which is really lucky. But even the shallow ones work.

And we had the Benjamin Moore deck in front of us as often we do. And he fanned it out and he said he found this color. I think it is actually called split pea. And he was like, “this is like the lemon zest for the room. It's like the hit of acid. It's like the squeeze of lemon on a fishy pasta or like lime shaved on a baked good.”

Amy:       Yeah. You need the acid.


Sophie:    Acid. I was like, "We got the fat. We got the salt. Where's the acid?" And I tested it because it was a bold move. And it was beautiful. And also, the light comes in there and the way light plays on color,  it often just washes it out, right? When you have a gloss color, it's kind of washing over it. It doesn't heat it up.

So you can be pretty bold in that. But the inside of the window well is something.  And now that I'm saying it, I'm like, "Ooh, where's the paintbrush?" What can I do today? Because that's a pretty quick project with some painter's tape and yeah.


Amy:       Was it semi-gloss or was it matte?


Sophie: It was gloss. Yeah. And the walls are quite, you know, actually they're like velvet. They're a matte Venetian plaster, so they're super.

And that hit of gloss and matte is so classic. You can take the same color in gloss and matte and talk about chic. I mean, my God. Yeah. So chic.


Amy:       And this is in the room, adjacent part of the kitchen that had the oxblood cabinets? Katie Rosenfeld. She said white cabinets need contrast or else it's a snooze fest. I totally agree. But I just want to mention also, Katie's kitchen, which was very beautiful, she went for aesthetics over function.

She gave up storage for the look of her kitchen. As a person with a kitchen that's pretty small, all of my baking pans and things are in a giant Tupperware in the garage. When I saw she gave up storage, I was aghast, but she did, right?


Sophie:    She did a bunch of things that you know are right for her because that is how she's going to enjoy her kitchen. But she wanted the uppers gone.

The kitchen is petite and those uppers feel like you know they can feel like rain clouds, storm clouds over your head. It's just when you remove them and you have new space at eye level, you gain so much extra it really is like headspace, headroom. It opens up so much more than almost any other decision. And so that's why designers do it. That's why you see the uppers coming down. And that's why in a lot of older kitchens, you never saw uppers.

Amy:       James Coviello said unfitted kitchens are the most flexible. I just love them because I have such a love of that DeVol British kitchen. I can't help myself. I love those country kitchens. And I love when the parts don't all look like they were built together. They weren't fit together.


Sophie:    Yeah. So what that means, and I write that you know in mid-century, we created a bodysuit of a kitchen.

But why does the blouse have to connect to the underwear? When was that a good idea? When has that ever been, "Oh, I'm so glad that this blouse is connected to my underwear." Kitchens became where if you're going to touch one thing, you had touch another thing, you had to touch all the things, right? Because the cabinets are fit to the counters are fit to the this, to the fit to the that. And unfitted kitchens is how kitchens used to be, which is that there was a Hoosier cabinet that was a cupboard before the cupboards were mounted and there was a table instead of an island and there were chairs, not banquettes.

And yeah, there would be just a small table next to your range. These are parts. You know it is unconventional now. There are ways to “halfway it” that are quite clever. And you know this is an elevated thought for people that are building and want to think about it. In Europe, they're common because people move with their appliances. When you rent and own, you bring your stove with you. That is how that goes. And so that is why those British kitchens look all kind of quirky and like haphazard.

It's like, well, yeah, this table was here and the previous owners left it. We brought the range because we spent on the range. And you know it's all kind of a jumble.


Amy:       Nate McBride said older kitchens are episodic and evolve over time. That's so sweet.


Sophie:    True. I love that. Nate McBride was an incredible interview, and his contributions to the book are unbelievable. And his point was, as we age, so should our kitchens, as we evolve, so should they.

And that doesn't mean that things just get old and chipped. It means that our needs are different. You know there's some talk about bar stools in there. And I stand by the fact that bar stools are great for people aged 14 to 44, and they're really bad for everybody on either side of it. Older people can't get up and they feel uneasy getting up onto a bar stool. And kids can't. They fall off. They twist around. It's not fun and it's not cool.

It's not an inclusive seating. It just isn't. If you're going to have over an older neighbor, you're not sitting at a bar stool. Just a hard stop. And so anyway, I think about that as somebody that likes to host and somebody that likes to make people feel at home. And kitchens should evolve with age in the way that you look at your needs and say, "Oh my gosh, we finally only have 14 to 44-year-olds. Great. Let's do it. You know, for the next 20 years, the people that are going to be sitting around are that. Yeah, and I want to do it that way, or I like the way it looks and I want it.

But the point is that there's just so many factors to take in. It's not just what resells, what have you seen in pictures, but there can be a lot of reasons to make the decision for function or for, "I just like it. I just want it." I'm like, "You know what? Then do it. Totally do it.” If you've been thinking about this forever and fantasizing, I'm not going to stop you. It sounds great. You know?

Amy:       The book ends with a list of small additions to your kitchen to make it your own. They were all great. They were common sense.

They weren't revolutionary. They were just ……think about it. Yeah, of course. I wrote down just a few of them because they were probably the ones that I employ. The small table lamp, a piece of art, a collection of vases on a ledge or a shelf, cookbooks, and dish towels. Well, I collect them. But there's so many more.  Sophie, Thank you.


Sophie:    First of all, Amy, I'm such a fan! I love the post…... It's so funny because I talk about this all the time.

You did a post on Instagram about an exterior color, and it was this beautiful, I think it was like a blue-gray, or a deeper color for a house. And the client wanted to keep the contrast of white trim. But he wanted the gutters and the downspouts white too. And the number one thing I tell people all the time is like, no, paint it all the same. If you have trim or a weird ceiling or whatever, just know that if something is color and then something is white, you're going to go look at the contrast between the two.

It's the number one thing that is both kind of obvious but essential to say out loud. I say it all the time to friends. I just think that you've handled it so beautifully in so many of your projects. And there's so many of these tiny little nudges that can make a project better.  You're already doing this thing. You can just make this tiny little iteration. And those are my favorite kind of design moves, which are basically just think with an open mind for a second, look at the images, read a book like mine or other ones that are addressing it from kind of an unconventional standpoint and understand that minor adjustments can make big life changes.

You know I really am like before you gut and before you just spend the next six months of your life fighting with your spouse and spending all of your money and agonizing over decisions. What could just be a minor adjustment that could bring joy and levity into that realm? And that's the kind of lens which I want. And you know ideally, the book is just filled with that for people, where they look and go, "God, what a relief. I didn't realize that just doing this would be an option."


Amy:       Absolutely, Sophie.

I mean, just your description of what happened with your friend and painting the jambs of your windows, right? That big color in that small space changed the whole space. It changed the kitchen. It was that eyeliner. It was that accent. I mean, I always tell my clients, "Yes, you like this blue. No, you don't like this blue." We'll talk about putting that blue on your walls. But remember, colors are perceived in combination only, just how they work together.

It's the whole shebang.


Sophie: Yeah, and in symphony with life. That's the other thing. It's like you make all these decisions. And like I said, then people walk through and things are cooked and they smell a certain way and life goes on and you're not staring at a chip. You know you're not staring at a color sample. You're not staring at the tile. It's all part of this big, beautiful working organism. So just relax a little.


Amy:       Absolutely. Thank you, Sophie. This was so much fun.

Sophie:  Thank you, Amy, so much. Everybody go buy the book or check out Instagram, where I share different tips on kitchens and more, kitchen and living, right?



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