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A Matter of Taste

As published in the Napa Valley Register.


Dear Readers,

This column is just for you. Once a month, I’ll answer one of your interior design questions. Just send me an email with your question and I’ll reply right here. Today’s question:

My brother and sister-in-law are remodeling their kitchen and I’m worried. They are doing this on their own and my brother says his wife has great taste. She is a wonderful person but has horrible taste. It’s really old-fashion and she doesn’t know what things go together. My brother doesn’t have a clue about good taste. They live out of state. How can I help them long distance before they spend a lot of money for something that won’t look great in the end? This is a tricky situation but a common one. What is good taste, anyway? And, if your brother has bad taste, can he recognize good taste? Is it good because it’s done in a style that he likes or with colors he likes? Does he conflate expensive taste with good taste? By the way, good taste does not automatically translate to good design, which is an involved and multi-layered matter. A well-designed space is recognized by its overall composition and the order in which it is viewed. That is, it is first seen as a whole, then seen for its mid-size elements and then lastly seen for its details. It is balanced in every way from its architectural attributes, furnishings, textures, and palette to its accessorized appointments. Every piece within the space makes sense and connects with every other piece. Good design is then elevated when originality and imagination are also incorporated.


Good taste comes into play when choosing the materials and contents for a space. Quality is usually a factor but not always. It doesn’t require a hefty budget, but the tighter the budget, the more discerning one’s eye needs to be. That eye also needs a discriminating sense of texture, color, and scale, as well as a barometer to detect how much is too much and how little is too little. It’s difficult to define good taste but choosing classical elements rather than trendy ones is a reliable rule to follow. “Less is more” is another.

As with all good design, a kitchen remodel should start with a balanced and functional configuration that makes the best use of the square footage and natural light. The cabinetry style and finish, as well as the countertop and backsplash, are usually the most noticeable elements in the room. Lately, decorative floors have become the main attraction. They should all relate to one another and only one of these things should be the super star. The others then take on supporting roles. You are a kind and thoughtful sister who does not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. You also care enough to address a potentially uncomfortable situation in order to ensure money is well-spent. A kitchen remodel is not only a costly undertaking but is weeks of disruption, microwave cooking and searching for things that are buried in boxes piled high. If your brother and sister-in-law are going to go through this process, you want it to be worth it, and then some.

You can help them only to the degree in which they are open-minded and receptive. If you have an idea of the style they like, and one that also suits their home, send them pictures of well-designed kitchens. Be sure to point out the elements that work and those that miss the mark. Since you wrote that your sister-in-law is picking out old-fashioned materials, show them current alternatives. You can do all of this without referencing the things they’ve already started to choose. If your brother and sister-in-law feel your sincerity and good intentions, they’ll at least listen to you and look at your pictures. You don’t have to mention good taste or bad but just point out what makes a room work and, perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t.


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