The kitchen is the hub of family life. Here's how to create a great one.

Selecting a Favorite
Designing a kitchen can be an overwhelming process for even the most seasoned of home experts. Unlike other rooms in the house, which have essentially four walls, a ceiling, and a floor, the kitchen has cabinets, appliances, countertops, sinks, and many other elements.

To find a worthy project, we looked to Cyndy Cantley, a certified kitchen designer in Birmingham, who is known for her realistic approach. "A kitchen is a place to prepare food, but more than that, it is a place where people want to remain after the meal is done. Kitchens really are the living room of the home today," she says.

Cyndy showed us snapshots of her projects, and one jumped right out. It features traditional and contemporary elements, stained and painted cabinets, a great mix of materials, and savvy storage ideas--all to wonderful effect. Here's how Cyndy worked with homeowners Ginger and Charles Clark to create their winning kitchen.

Time To Build
When the Clarks purchased their home in 1998, they knew they would redo the kitchen. But before making quick fixes and potential mistakes, they decided to live in the house awhile. Then, about nine months after moving in, they tackled the kitchen renovation.

Like many other homes in the neighborhood, their house had been built in the 1920s, when kitchens were often small and uninviting utility spaces. Ginger, a fantastic cook, wanted more room and better appliances. "The kitchen wasn't my style," she says. "It was a galley. It had been updated in the wrong ways. For one, the lighting was horrible, creating lots of shadows."

The first idea called for adding 11 feet to the back of the house, but as they began getting bids, the Clarks became discouraged at the expense. They turned to Cyndy for advice. "She suggested taking three small existing rooms and combining them into one kitchen," remembers Ginger. "I thought they had a nice space to work with inside the old house, and removing a wall or two is so much easier than adding on to the house," Cyndy adds.A Design Revealed

The Clarks' new kitchen is carved out of a breakfast room, butler's pantry, and the old kitchen. Placing the appliances was the first step. "Space determined the location of the appliances," says Ginger. "I wanted the sink to stay where it was because I loved looking out." Plus, keeping plumbing in place when doing this type of project is often the most cost-effective and simple option. "We started by dividing the kitchen into different functions," says Cyndy. "A cooking area, a vegetable prep area, and a cleanup space. The cooking area is anchored by the stove, vegetable prep with a small sink near the refrigerator, and finally the cleanup area is between the two with a large sink and dishwasher."

Ginger knew the look she wanted. "It was important for the renovation to stay in character with our house," she says. "I wanted a kitchen that reminded me of my childhood home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We had lots of stainless steel and drain boards on either side of a big sink. This house dictated the cabinet color. Dark cabinets didn't feel right to me, so we went with white. But I love pretty wood, and that's why we added the cypress island. I wanted it to look like furniture."

Even though the objective was to blend old and new seamlessly, Ginger also looked to the future. She incorporated elements that would never be found in a 1920s-era home, yet they don't seem out of place at all. The modern light fixtures bring a bit of whimsy as well as great task lighting. She found lightweight, stackable chairs for the breakfast room and knew they were just offbeat enough to work. Finally, she hung a dramatic French art poster that enlivens the space.

The kitchen is the heart of the Southern home. As Ginger and Cyndy have proven, you can combine form and function to create a great room for living.