After reading many similar comments and messages over the years, you all gave me an idea for a new series… how to train your design eye! I love getting messages like, “It’s so interesting to see how you dissect a space,” or “I never would’ve noticed that detail, but I’m definitely going to start, now that you pointed it out!” I’m all about sharing educational design knowledge I’ve acquired over the years, and this felt like it could be such a fun opportunity for a monthly or quarterly series (depending on how you like it). My advice for those looking to improve their design skills has always been practice- or consider a mentorship or additional design classes (if you’re looking to practice on a professional level), so I thought this series would be a cool critique of sorts, that would be fun and beneficial for both interior design lovers and experts alike. Click through to dive in with me, and admire our first space together!
Alright- today’s image (drumroll)… we’ll be admiring and analyzing a space from one of my new design books that came in the mail this week… The Perfect Kitchen by Barbara Sallick. The kitchen on the cover immediately caught my attention because it feels very similar to my own kitchen. Did you notice that, too?! In fact, I had the book sitting on my desk and Emmett actually thought it was our kitchen (haha, I wish)! Anyway, it’s a beautiful space designed by the talented architect John B Murray, that will make a really exciting first “Design Eye Training” post.
Ready to read about my concept for the Design Eye Training posts? I want to keep it simple! I’m going to share an image or space, ask you some guided questions about it, and then I’ll share my own thoughts on the room. Within each post, we’ll analyze one image or room together. You’ll probably notice repeated design talking points throughout the series (the basics), and other items that are specific to a certain style, material, or space. By discussing these rooms in detail, you’ll begin to train your design eye, remember talking points, design fundamentals, and begin to apply them to your own home (in your own aesthetic). Ready? Let’s do it!
What are you observing in the above image? Is there anything specific that stands out to you? What do you like or dislike? Can you imagine how this room functions? Does it feel like a cohesive space? Why? Give yourself two fast minutes to jot down or consider your answers to these questions! I’ll copy my quick notes below…
- High contrast & color // deep blue cabinetry, bright carrara marble, pink peonies, yellow lemons, dark wood flooring, heavy black range hood, creamy warm ceiling color
- Organic materials // wood floor, marble backsplash and countertop, wood barstool legs, floral arrangement, linen window treatment, leather barstool upholstery, ceramic bowl filled with lemons
- Depth // coffered ceiling detail, countertop cabinets, built-in seating, millwork
- Mixed metals // nickel faucet, nickel & brass range, brass and black range hood, bronze lighting, brass lighting, brass cabinetry hardware
- Textiles / velvet bench seat cushions softens the space, two contrasting accent pillows (geometric & organic prints), leather bar stools, linen roman shade, … would a rug be a nice addition?
- Texture / within the organic graphic movement of the marble, within the countertop floral arrangement
- Finishes / glossy lacquered cabinets, polished and antiqued metals, patina-aged hardwood floors, polished marble countertops, flat ceiling paint
- Lighting / natural light from window, sconces at seating area, double pendants over the island… is this sufficient? Would like to see more (countertop lamp, recessed lights, range hood lighting)
- Details to note / built-in radiator or air vent cover behind bench seat, window hardware, piped edge on velvet seat cushion, nail heads on barstools, curved feminine shape of barstool back mimics the curved corbels beneath the island countertop, TONS of storage
- Balance / range is framed by bookend cabinets, island is centered in front of range, pendants and coffered ceiling center frame the entire vignette, bench seat balances bank of cabinets to the right, everything is paired (pendants, cabinets, bar stools, double knob hardware, etc)
My list may be longer than yours, but remember- I’ve been doing this for a long time and notice alllll the details. Whatever you can squeeze into your thoughts during those two minutes… analyze why you noticed those things. Do you like the way the room works together? I think it’s brilliant! Well done, Mr. Murray.
In the above image, I listed out some things to look for… the basics, if you will. I always like to observe scale & proportion, color, choice of finishes, use of materials, balance, texture, functionality, the overall aesthetic, and of course- the styling. If you can point out observations in the aforementioned design areas- you’re doing amazing! Maybe you already have a great design eye, you’re just looking to hone and refine it. Is there anything I didn’t talk about that you noted? In design school, we used to do this exercise and jot down our initial thoughts about a room in a “design notes” journal. I still practice this and it’s a really fun activity if you’re into design books, magazines, or even Pinterest images (that’s where my idea for the 10 pins series originated).
This series is already really fun for me because it’s more of a two-sided discussion and another way to connect with you and share my knowledge! Often times I feel like I’m rambling since I’m the one doing all of the writing and talking on here, but I love chatting in the comment section. I can’t wait to hear what you noticed or what things were new discoveries that you might begin noticing in the future. What do you think? Are you into this series idea? Does it feel helpful? Next time, would you like me to elaborate more on my thoughts outside of the two minute timer? I hope as a design professional, I can offer some solid advice, educational content, and feedback within this series. Tell me everything below, and have a wonderful weekend!
PeggiSeptember 18, 2020 at 4:48 am
I guess I will still be in school, after all!😉 I love this idea! Poring over images and noting details is a favorite pastime, but I never thought to search by category…or to keep notes. Hello, new obsession. So. The first thing I noted was those pendants?! The bronze color and the shape of the shade made me faint. Then I saw that the same two shapes were repeated in the brass sconce. My eye definitely spies shapes and colors. I also noted the cabinets (form and color) so like yours! The symmetry of the countertop cabinets is sweet; am I boring if I really like symmetry? The cabinetry and millwork extends along the ceiling around the window nook. I’d love to see how it terminates on the left. I’d actually love a very pulled back shot; I’m distracted by the reflective strip at the top of the last image.
The coffer. It seems like a big fancy hole in the ceiling. I did note the flat finish on the ceiling and the floor. I also wondered about a rug… As to function, the space is huge, but I couldn’t spot the fridge! I imagine it’s paneled like yours. I’d also love a clear shot of the range…just because I bet it’s divine. What I need to work on is noting what you call texture. And styling. Honestly, how could I hang out with you and still be so terrible at styling? Guess I’ve got some studying to do. I’ll try to work on this before our next lesson.
Happy Pizza Friday! I may even enjoy a little prosecco with mine.🍾
Anne HSeptember 18, 2020 at 4:52 pm
As always, Peggi you truly have me ROTFL over here!! Cheers!
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:44 pm
You teach me, I teach you… that’s how this friendship works. We’re forever going to be in school, Peggi :) I wouldn’t have it any other way. haha! I had a feeling you would love those pendants- they’re stunning and you have an incredible eye. It’s interesting to me that you spy color and shape first- I’m the exact same way. You are not boring if you like symmetry (again- me too), it just means balance is your jam. I also wish I could’ve found more photos and angles of this beautiful kitchen- especially of the range. A big fancy hole in the ceiling… LOL!! I kind of think that placement and shape works really well (rather than a grid coffered ceiling). I feel like a rug would be beautiful and functional- I’m definitely missing that, too. As for the fridge- it’s on the far right (you’re right… it’s paneled). You know the range has to be incredible! I’m willing to bet you are far from terrible at styling, my friend. Happy pizza and prosecco Friday! I hope you’re celebrating this weekend!! xo
JANA MCLEANSeptember 18, 2020 at 5:14 am
Loved this exercise, can’t wait for another post about design eye!!!
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:36 pm
I am so glad to hear this, Jana!! :)
LexieSeptember 18, 2020 at 6:01 am
I love this idea. What I realized after reading your responses was that I missed a lot of texture and surface finishes. While I like the space overall, it’s a little dark and cold for me. I would swap the chairs for some warm brown leather ones. This was fun!
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:36 pm
I love hearing that you learned something about the way you observed, Lexie! In design school, I would ALWAYS miss pattern when observing. These days it’s one of the first things I notice. I’m digging your idea of incorporating some warm brown, organic hues- like leather seating. For me, I want the wood flooring to be more of a warm, medium tone (perhaps herringbone) HAHA… halfway joking, because that’s my actual kitchen. I love the warmth the flooring adds to the same color cabinets. I’m happy you had fun with this one. Thanks for chatting with me! Have a wonderful weekend. xo
MollySeptember 18, 2020 at 6:09 am
Hello! Your eye for detail and talent for clear, accessible communication makes this a slam dunk for a new series idea-love it!
Question: does that gorgeous vent hood seem short to anyone but me? Not by a lot, maybe just a few inches?
I love nearly all the design elements shown but my eye kept bumping up against all that expanse of white between the hood and the cooktop. Am I reading it as short because of that color contrast? Could my perception be based on the fact that this is a straight on, 2‐D image and I’m not getting the benefit of seeing it from another angle which, I’m sure, would show off the hood’s gorgeous fullness and depth?
When I compared it to your current kitchen (perfect in every regard, btw!), I see your hood is longer and sleeker than this one and seems to fill the 2-D, visual space better. Is this just a case of the personal preference we all bring to our evaluations? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts :)
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:31 pm
Hi Molly! Thank you :) This idea came to me and I thought it would be so much fun chatting design details with everyone. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. You are correct about the range hood… it feels squatty, in my opinion. I’m guessing it was an intentional decision based on clearance for cooking (the ceiling height seems standard). I think given the ceiling height and the extra long professional French range, the overall shape ended up a bit oblong. It’s not my favorite, but I understand functionality in a kitchen takes precedent. I think you’re right- it probably feels better and more proportionate in person. In comparison to my kitchen, our range isn’t nearly as wide and our ceiling height seems taller. All of that to say, your observations were wonderful! I think it boiled down to functionality in this case. What a fun chat- thank you. Happy Friday! xo
LaurenSeptember 18, 2020 at 7:34 am
The first things that grabbed my attention immediately were the built in radiator in the bench seat, and the built in air returns in the negative space above the countertop cabinets…such a wonderful use of what could have been wasted space; however I don’t care for the placement of the air returns. I wish they weren’t a part of that front and center view. However, given the layout, I would imagine they’re utilized for cooling more than that room, considering the millwork framing the picture; it opens to another space…so function over beauty it is. I was drawn to the symmetry of the shapes as well. I didn’t notice the shape of the island corbels matching the shape of the barstools until you mentioned it, but I noticed everything else, and I think that kind of symmetry is what makes or breaks spaces like a kitchen. Often when a room doesn’t sit right to me, I’ve noticed there’s a lack of symmetry somewhere that I desire. To me, that’s how a room matches without being “matchy”. Lol. In my untrained opinion, what works best for me about this space is the different balances of scale. There is symmetry in the bulky and the delicate. For instance, the size of the range hood visually pairs well with the size of the island and overhead coffer. The pair of pendants (which are stunning), serve as the medium scale in the room, while the delicate lighting and window hardware match the delicacy of the cabinetry hardware. In terms of styling I love the minimal functionality of the space: the way the floral arrangement provides both a pop of color and a delicate texture against the cabinetry; the symmetry of textures in the Roman shade and the bench cushion; the balance of organic smooth materials like the hardwoods with the marble…it all allows that gorgeous stone backsplash to stand out. This is going to be a fun series, and I would love to hear your thoughts beyond the two minutes. Would this be considered a traditional kitchen? I hope you have a lovely weekend Sarah! Thanks for such a wonderful post and thoughtful topic to kick off the day!
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:19 pm
You’re GOOD, Lauren! Really good! I also noticed the air returns and was not into that placement. I would rather see them in the toe kick of the lower cabinets, near the floor. Sometimes we do have to choose function over beauty- and I can respect that. I’ve found most people to prefer symmetrical spaces… I certainly do! It brings a peaceful balance to a room. I loved your observation of balanced feminine and masculine elements (or bulky and delicate). You hit the nail on the head with all of your points. I would consider this a traditional kitchen… but the color makes it feel very sophisticated and less predictable, in my opinion. Then again- you know I love that color. Haha! Happiest Friday and weekend to you and your fam :) xo
LaurenSeptember 22, 2020 at 7:21 pm
Well thank you! You’re probably the reason I can recognize those features! Of all the designers I follow, and blogs I check in with, yours is the one I find to be the most insightful. I know that I can come here and search anything, and pull off a renovation, furniture flip, or seasonal update that will feel cohesive with what’s existing. I love that. So thank you for training me!! Xo
SarahSeptember 23, 2020 at 12:27 pm
Ahhh you are making my day today, Lauren! It makes me so happy to hear that you’ve learned a thing or two from my posts :)
Margaret ShieldsSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:08 am
I love the finished feel of this room, so warm and deep. How to get there is truly a process! The cabinet color and dark floors are gorgeous & I suppose the starting point for all the other items?!? Question: most of us can’t go the extra ‘mile’ to bring cabinetry to the ceiling for that beautiful finished look. Just the expense alone. How would we remedy that? I get tempted to put decorative ‘things’ between the ceiling and cabinet top….uuugh!
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:12 pm
Such a great point, Margaret… it’s definitely a process! It’s easier to “undo” a design plan by dissecting it, but when you do it enough- you begin to make sense of how exactly to put things together. At least that was my experience :) I’m working some reverse psychology on everyone. Ha! I love your question on closing the gap between upper cabinets and the ceiling. A budget-friendly way to remedy that is to build and trim out a basic bulkhead. We actually did this in our first kitchen renovation and it was an easy way to balance the negative space. Of course the space was not functional (storage), but it looked so much better and more customized. Hope this helps! Let me know if you need me to find a link example for you. xo
bethSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:20 am
LOVE this new series!! I am wanting to get into design and would like to take some online classes, but am not interested in a full bachelors degree. Will you please continue educating your audience with this series and would you care to recommend any online classes that you feel are helpful? (Either through colleges/certificate programs or simply professionals sharing their craft). It’s hard to sort out ones which ones are worth the time and money.
Thanks. LOVE your blog and look forward to it every day.
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:09 pm
Yay! I’m happy to hear it, Beth. This series sounds like a keeper, so I’ll continue sharing :) For course recommendations, I always suggest design basics that can be applied to a variety of mediums- color theory, composition (floor planning, scale, etc)… classes like that. Another way to gain valuable experience is by finding an apprenticeship- I gained so much from a hands-on experience. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Have a lovely weekend! xo
MelissaSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:27 am
I love this idea for a new series! It’s always so interesting to me to see how other people see and process things. Also, I’m terrible at describing or defining design elements – so being able to read your descriptions and put into words what I recognize in the photo is really informative and fascinating!
The first things I noticed in the photo was the dark and moody colors accented by the white marble backsplash (I never would have come up with the idea that this is “high contrast” but I can definitely see that now). Second was the symmetry in the kitchen (man am I a sucker for beautiful symmetric spaces) and countertop cabinets like those flanking the range are seriously one of my kitchen obsessions. Next I noticed that amazing range hood! OMG, between that and those cabinets – all the heart eyes over here. I also really love that little moment of the built in window seat. Last thing I noted was the contrast layered into the styling, like those light colored barstools with the dark cabinets, and the brightness of the floral arrangement.
All in all, it’s a beautiful kitchen! It really does remind me a lot of yours also (still one of my most favorite spaces). Every time I see a kitchen with those deep blue cabinets, it makes me want to try it out. We recently started renovating a 125-year-old house and are planning to do a little paint refresh on the god-awful kitchen in the next couple weekends (currently with yellow-beige walls and rusty red cabinets)… I think I might channel a little of your inspiration and go moody blue. Hope you have a great weekend!
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 8:03 pm
Isn’t this so much fun?! As I’m reading all of these wonderful comments, this is MAKING my Friday night :) Seriously. I beg to differ that you aren’t good at describing a space- I think your points are perfect! Isn’t that symmetry beautiful? I’m also a person who craves balance in design. The mint green bar stools were a total surprise to me (love that you pointed those out)… having a similar color palette in my own kitchen, I never would’ve thought to add that color- and it totally works. Beautiful observation! Congratulations on your renovation, Melissa! I know it will be beautiful. We used to have a kitchen with rusty metal cabinets and I can relate more than you know. Of course I’m voting for a moody blue. Happy Friday!! xo
JasoSeptember 18, 2020 at 9:31 am
Thank you so much for this series. I continue to read your blog because you are a wonderful writer and a generous mentor. You are always sharing your ideas and tips. I have even using photos of your house to help “train” my eyes. Please keep doing these posts.
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 7:59 pm
Thank you so much for joining the conversation here, Jaso! I really appreciate your kind words and am really happy you find these posts helpful :) More to come!
BethSeptember 18, 2020 at 9:41 am
Gosh I love love love this series! I just had a baby and am planning to quit my finance job and eventually take classes and go to work in a design related job. However for now I’ll satisfy my craving for design here!
I loved the dark color of the cabinets and that they were floor to ceiling (along with the backsplash going all the way up to the ceiling) and the laquered finish on them. I noted that there’s not a ton of contrast between the hood vent, floors, and cabinets – I personally usually go for more contrast and noted here that it does work without a ton of contrast too! I think your idea of a rug could be a great addition to bring in more visual interest and texture? I too noted that the range hood seemed a little squatty to me – but then I thought, does this work because the coffered ceiling continues to bring the eye up? Noted the mix of metals as well.
For me, I think this kitchen is so beautiful, but I think I would need more lightness in it.
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 7:58 pm
I’m so excited to hear that, Beth! Congratulations on your leap to make a career change- that takes courage and is so inspiring… and congratulations are also in order for your newest family member :) What a sweet time! Your observations were spot on. To chat about the range hood- my guess is functionality came into play (it does have a squatty appearance that isn’t ideal, in my opinion). The ceiling height doesn’t seem to be exceptionally tall (no double upper cabinetry), so I’m guessing the short hood is a result of proper clearance for cooking. Since you prefer a brighter space, I’m imagining what the island would look like in a similar shade as the ceiling? Creamy white or warm gray? That would really brighten the space. Happy Friday :) Thank you for joining the discussion. xo
Anne HSeptember 18, 2020 at 4:50 pm
Another winning series, Sarah. Love this idea! Things I noticed right off included the window & hardware (swoon), the coffered ceiling (jury’s out), the softness the window seat and textiles add and of course, the cabinet color (pretty obvious-lol!). I also noticed and love how the cabinets go all the way to the ceiling; probably because ours here don’t and it drives me batty! (Side note on that: I’m thinking of having somebody make a second row of cabinets up there to store some of the stuff we use so rarely, but that take up a TON of room in our main cabinets-roasting pan, large serving dishes, ice cream maker, etc. I love, love, love the look of the higher row of cabinets in your kitchen, but not sure we have enough room. From top of cabinet to ceiling is 9 1/4″ and assuming space for cabinet surrounds and hinges, etc. we’d probably have about 7″ in actuality and yours look like a good bit higher than that. Do you think we’d have room?)
I think the kitchen looks extremely high end and luxurious, but overall I, find it too dark and cold for my tastes. I MUCH prefer your moody kitchen in almost every way. I feel that to make all the dark cabinets and flooring work , there needs to be more natural light than just what the one window is providing. But just my opinion, of course! That flower arrangement is perfection! #damnilovepeonies
Hope you have a wonderful weekend and cheers to starting it off right w/ Prosecco (great idea, Peggy) or your cocktail of choice. T minus 22 mins to 5 o’clock in Denver. (I’m falsely implying that the time actually matters to me. ;-D)
Thank you, Sarah! Your wealth of knowledge is truly endless. 💗
SarahSeptember 18, 2020 at 7:37 pm
Thanks Anne! I love your observations! I’m convinced you already have a great design eye. Great question on your cabinetry. Your negative space is probably not enough for a full (small) upper cabinet, BUT- you could have a contractor build a bulkhead or faux cabinet, and trim it out. You could still use it as storage, too! Perhaps a sliding panel that opens and closes, or one that opens to the ceiling. You have options. I vote for using every square inch of space and closing in the gap…especially if it bothers you. All of that to say- you have room for something. It just depends what design and storage option you’re leaning toward. You just made my day with the kitchen compliments! Thank you so much :) I really do love our kitchen and it never feels dark or gloomy. I’m also loving the floral arrangement- peonies forever. Confession- I had prosecco last night, so tonight it’s a whiskey smash tonight (Emmett is playing bartender, YAY). Haha! Hope you have the most wonderful weekend! I bet Denver is beginning to look like fall. xo
Anne HSeptember 28, 2020 at 2:14 pm
Gah, I hadn’t seen the email that you had replied, so sorry for the delay, Sarah! That’s wonderful news that we have options. We have a GC whose going to be some work for us in the next couple of months, so I’ll get his opinion on what he could do, as well. I really don’t understand why kitchen cabinets don’t go all the way to the top of the ceiling, unless you have a super high ceiling. In past homes that have had the gap, I’ve often put plants up there, but they’re such a pain to water and dust, etc. I’d definitely rather have the storage space, even if it’s small. Thank you for the suggestions and I’ll let you know what we come up with!
SarahSeptember 29, 2020 at 10:36 am
No problem at all! And yes- I’d love to hear what you end up doing :) Happy Tuesday, Anne! xo
KJSeptember 19, 2020 at 7:24 am
I did not have the time to read the entire post- yet. What jumped out at me in the kitchen were “classic” and “trendy.” I love the tile back splash. I love the architecture of the cabinets. Classic components. Mixed metals and dark blue cabinets are trendy components. I love both. I re-did my kitchen about 4 years ago and opted for a huge custom cabinet, shaker inset doors, and other really helpful bits. I also opted for navy blue, but had a pewter wash hand painted on, so I have visible brush strokes. I still love it but now wonder if in 10 years it is going to look dated?
I want something that is timeless and functional.
SarahSeptember 21, 2020 at 9:24 am
Awesome notes, KJ! I actually think that mixed metals and navy cabinetry are classic elements in kitchen design. I’d say some of the more trendy design items in this kitchen are: the sconces, the range hood (although that could even be argued as classic), and the cabinetry finish (lacquered). Your kitchen sounds beautiful! The great news about color is paint is a relatively easy and inexpensive update… as long as the shape of your cabinetry is timeless, you’ll love it for years to come.
KristinaSeptember 20, 2020 at 7:39 pm
What jumped out at me was the lighting in this kitchen. It’s dark and moody and relies on natural light which actually creates a really cool affect of lighter blue to darker blue cabinets from left to right and then the reflection on the door knobs- they really pop in the photo. I also love the pendants matching the shape and aesthetic of the range hood.
SarahSeptember 21, 2020 at 9:20 am
Great observation, Kristina! I’d like to see this space at night, actually… with the lights on. I’m wondering if the two pendants and sconce in the seating area is sufficient. I do love the natural light from the window!
Cici HausSeptember 21, 2020 at 10:40 am
I love this series! This is wonderful. My mind is clearly more oriented toward “hard” design (i.e. functional elements, not styling). I brain ignored the peonies and styling items because they don’t feel permanent. I did however think more about function – where is the fridge? I assume it’s built-in on the far right of the back wall, but is there enough space to comfortably walk? Does that work with the kitchen “work triangle”?
Balance was the first thing I noticed (colors, open/closed space, weight, all the pairs), then the lack of fridge, then the walking space, then the scale, then the lack of lighting, then the exposed hinges which I hate but at least they coordinate, then the mixed metals and design details (ceiling, cabinet details, bench seat, etc). I’m going to start doing this now with every picture I heart eyes at – I’m so excited about this series! Thanks
SarahSeptember 21, 2020 at 11:52 am
I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it, Cici! I love your points on functionality. I feel like to make those determinations, we need a pulled out view or wide shot. I wish there were more images for us to admire and analyze! It’s definitely a very balanced space. You’re not into the exposed hinges? I don’t mind them, but would be equally as happy if they were hidden. I suppose I don’t have a preference for or against them. Thanks for the fun design chat this morning :) xo
SarahFebruary 12, 2023 at 7:40 pm
Love this series! Working my way through all that you have out so far…thanks for all that you share!
SarahFebruary 14, 2023 at 8:15 am
I’m so happy you’re enjoying it, Sarah! Thanks for reading!