Transitional Kitchen Design: A Collision of Design Styles?

by Kevin Gilday & Tom Gilday

The "transitional" style kitchen by any other name would be what?  A mash up traditional and contemporary?  A haphazard collision of styles?  Could be.  But in the hands of a clever interior designer, it would be... something new and different.

Not Just Jargon

It's annoying, isn't it?  We are bombarded by industry and marketing speak that often does nothing more than dress up the same old same old to stir up sales.  The kitchen design industry is no exception.  But sometimes it is necessary to re-examine and define terms to account for developments in the kitchen design industry because designers and creative people are constantly pushing boundaries. They find new ways to combine familiar style elements to make something new and unexpected.  At that point, we need to name it.  So: transitional style kitchen design is the word.

Transitional Kitchen Design Style

The kitchen design community has settled on the term transitional to describe an eclectic design style that has become quite popular.  Kitchen designers at Gilday Renovations have been referring to this as a "classic modern" style, one that avoids trendiness and aspires to a timeless look.  The Gilday classic is what the NKBA (National Kitchen & Bath Association) calls transitional, a visual style that draws from both contemporary and traditional kitchens.

The contemporary style kitchen design has a sleek, cool look.  Style elements include flat surface (slab style) cabinet doors, horizontal lines, little or no decorative trim molding.  The traditional style kitchen design embodies old world charm and warmth.  It features multi-layered crown molding and raised panel cabinet doors. Cabinetry overall has the heft and detailing of fine furniture.  The look can get quite elaborate with details such as fluted molding, rope moldings and corbels.

We'll close out with one example of each kitchen design style so you can get a sense of how elements of both are co-opted in the transitional kitchen style.  Here's a good example of a grand traditional kitchen design style by Sarah Kahn Turner:

traditional kitchen style by sarah kahn turner in washington dc

 A traditional kitchen design style in AU Park DC.

 Here's a contemporary kitchen design by Leslie Roosevelt for clients who live in Tenleytown DC:

contemporary kitchen design style by leslie roosevelt in washington dc

 A contemporary kitchen design style in Tenleytown DC.

And, in closing, here is a transitional kitchen designed by Ellen Gilday Witts.  This look was developed for a kitchen addition project in Chevy Chase Maryland: 

transitional kitchen design style in gray by ellen gilday witts

 A transitional kitchen design style in Chevy Chase, Maryland

Bringing It All Together

In the image above, note the simplicity of the Shaker style cabinets.  Spare but not severely so.  The "furniture" look of the lathe turned legs at the island points to the more decorative traditional kitchen style.  The minimalist color scheme is shades of gray for cabinets, walls and trim.  That might be perceived as a contemporary touch. There is a crown molding finishing the tops of the wall cabinets, but it is fairly sleek and low key compared to the crown you see in the traditional style kitchen design (first photo above).  Also, note the 8-panel divided light windows that look out to the yard.  Definitely a traditional detail.

This could have turned out to be visually confusing.  Instead, it is remarkable.  The interior designer's sensibility and tasteful arrangement of the space  brings it all tastefully together.

Learn about how to approach a kitchen design and remodeling project by downloading The Definitive Guide to Kitchen Design & Remodeling Success

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