Fact: Mediocre meals come out of mediocre spaces. While we’d like to think that all you need is the perfect recipe and the right tools to succeed in the kitchen, you’ll never nail a dish if your space isn’t primed for ultimate efficiency—and, ergo, great food. One thing you’ll never find a big-name chef cooking without? A well-designed kitchen.
While layout and aesthetic often determine a kitchen’s own individual identity, there are certain key elements that chef-worthy spaces always have in common. Enviable utensil organization, access to natural light, and smart appliances are three basics your favorite Food Network stars and other dedicated foodies swear by when it comes to the design of a kitchen. But if there’s one underlying rule of thumb to remember, it’s that function always comes first.
“Just like with our restaurant projects, the priority and ultimate goal is always meeting the operational and functional needs before design and aesthetics, and making sure the client has everything they need, in its place,” says Philadelphia-based designer, Kate Rohrer, who designed the Center City loft of acclaimed restaurateurs, Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney. “With that foundation, we can confidently move forward knowing we have a solid base for the design features.”
Since we’ve already unpacked the anatomy of a celebrity home, it’s time to break down the essential makings of a celebrity kitchen—well, really, a celebrity chef’s kitchen. Thoughtful, unwaveringly practical, and essentially indestructible, their flawless cookhouses’ might just inspire your own. Ahead, we asked a handful of designers and chefs to tell us what makes a great chef’s kitchen. Here’s what they had to say.
When you’ve spent a small fortune on your Calacatta marble countertops only to hide their beauty under a mess of miscellaneous kitchen clutter, you’re doing both your wallet and your kitchen a major disservice. Not only is it distracting to look at, but even the smallest of messes can make it harder to work—especially when you’re cooking on the fly. Think of organization as your secret sauce. Without it, your food is guaranteed to taste as bad as your kitchen looks.
“For me, the countertop or backsplash doesn’t matter—though, I would say to stay away from anything with open cement lines, as food and drink particles will stain and the color will change. The key thing to having a fabulous kitchen that always makes cooking easier is to be organized,” says celebrity chef, event planner, and lifestyle/travel expert, Travis London. “Have everything lined up and in its proper place. If you’re organized, cooking with one hand and looking for a spice with your free hand will be easy. If everything is a mess, good luck.”
Start by identifying your weakest link: Do you need a rack to keep your spices from going astray? What about a pegboard to house your spatulas?) and toss anything you know you don’t need or use. Aside from daily messes, even everyday countertop appliances (think, your coffee maker and toaster) can start to look like clutter.
“In my ’50s-style ranch home, I have no room for clutter so I have a shelf that keeps the countertop appliances hidden. There’s also glass on my top cabinets to help make it look a lot more spacious,” says Claudette Zepeda Wilkins, the executive chef and partner behind El Jardín in San Diego, CA.
“The key thing to having a fabulous kitchen that always makes cooking easier is to be organized!”
Proper Cookbook Storage
When we approach kitchen storage, we typically only think about pots, pans, and pantry staples. But have you ever given your cookbooks a second thought? After all, this is where the magic begins. Instead of relegating your go-to reads and recipes to a lonely corner, give them a proper place to live where the action happens.
“Marcie and Val wanted lots of storage not only plates, glasses and flatware, but for their cookbooks,” shares Rohrer. “They have the most incredible collection of inspiring cookbooks. I love that they’re not using their phones or iPads when cooking. They are opening up those books and diving in, old school-style. These cookbooks tell stories of their travels and cooking aspirations.”
From a sheerly functional standpoint, it’s best to keep the books you reference the most on display. If you have enough room to show off other reads, sneak in a few of your brightest books to add an extra dose of life and color to your space.
“I have no room for clutter so I have a shelf that keeps the countertop appliances hidden.”
Appliances in Disguise
While we can all agree that there’s something very human and inherent about working with the bare minimum, most chefs will probably admit they’d rather do their job over a proper stovetop than slaving over a fire in the woods, caveman style. Appliances matter. That said, bulky eyesores are often in need of creative camouflage.
“Another wish-list item (both chef and designer-driven) are hidden appliances,” reveals Rohrer. “No one wants to see your toaster or coffee maker. In fact, we didn’t even include outlets in the backsplash—we used a hidden plug mold below the upper cabinets instead. It gives a clean and modern look and doesn’t disrupt the beautiful marble mosaic tile pattern. We even hid the microwave below the island countertop. They use it minimally, so we were able to take it out of plain sight. You barely notice it’s there!”
“No one wants to see your toaster or coffee maker. In fact, we didn’t even include outlets in the backsplash—we used a hidden plug mold below the upper cabinets instead.”
A Gas Stove That Makes a Statement
The focal point of any true, celebrity chef-approved cookhouse? A rockstar range. “This is where they spend most of their time and are willing to invest in the product,” says Rohrer of the pros. Sure, they have the financial capacity to shell out the big bucks for a premier range, but ask them and they’ll tell you the splurge was worth it. And, no, not just any standard stainless steel stovetop will make the cut. Today, serious foodies are opting for more colorful, more complex gas ranges that make a strong visual statement—and get the job done with dual or triple ovens, removable griddle plates, and smart tops with simmer burners.
The one thing Wilkins loves most about her kitchen? “I love that it is a space for my family to spend time together and create memories. But also my trusty La Cornue stove,” says the chef.
A Central Hub for Show and Tell
From palatial kitchen islands to farmhouse tables, like most creatives, chefs want—nay, need—a place to show off their work. This not only means having a central space with enough surface area to lay out plates but also plenty of room for friends and apprentices to gather ‘round.
“I love the gorgeous geometric marble tile backsplash, custom warm walnut slab cabinets, and antique brass accents, but the thing I love the most about their kitchen is the large, navy blue island accentuated by three large pendant lights, representing the hub and heart of not only the kitchen, but the living room space,” says Rohrer of Safran and Turney’s sun-drenched kitchen. “The layout supports conversation and chef exhibition. Knowing that Marcie cooks for friends and family while they huddle around nearby with cocktails to watch, learn, and support her next creation is the ultimate success of a kitchen design.”
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Functional (and Beautiful) Cookware
If there’s one place you should be showcasing your eye for metallics, it’s in the kitchen. No matter how small or large your cookware collection is, don’t banish your favorite pieces to a lonely drawer or the pantry closet. Instead, parade your pots where everyone can see. Food Network icon Ina Garten’s hanging solution not only makes for an eye-catching display, but it also keeps her essentials close at hand.
“I love all my copper cookware,” London tells Domino. “I only have copper cookware in my house. When you see such a beautiful piece of cookware on the countertop or stove it just adds to the design appeal of your kitchen.”
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“I only have copper cookware in my house. When you see such a beautiful piece of cookware on the countertop or stove it just adds to the design appeal of your kitchen.”
We love open kitchen shelving for a plethora of reasons. If you’re an organized cook and an organized decorator, flaunt your tidying skills (and your most beautiful kitchenware) by leaving it all out in the open. Whether you veer toward the eclectic or a more minimalistic display, beautifully-styled shelves will always wow.
“I love to combine white china and old hotel silver on the kitchen shelves. It’s not just lovely to look at, but I use it all!” Garten dishes on Instagram.
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Access to Natural Light
Good cooking stems from feeling inspired, and it’s certainly hard to feel energized when you feel like you’re working in a dungeon. Candace Nelson, co-founder and pastry chef at Pizzana lives for natural light in the kitchen—and, apparently, so does Padma Lakshmi. The cookbook author and television host’s NYC kitchen is a haven for sunlight—making washing dishes at the kitchen sink or prepping hors d’oeuvres a much happier experience.
There are a number of brands out there making high-tech appliances. From touch-screen refrigerators that can sync with your Spotify to double-duty, single-door ovens, companies like Samsung and GE are making the basics savvier than ever. The one kitchen item Nelson can’t live without? “My Gaggenau ovens! They’re the perfect example of form and function.”
“I love my honed marble countertop. It makes working with pastry and rolling out pie dough a breeze.”
Countertops Made for Working
If you’ve taken a thorough look through our countertop guide, then you already know that not all surface materials are created equal. Soapstone, concrete, butcher block, and some marbles will show wear and tear over time. Quartz, non-shiny marble, and stainless steel are a few great options for chefs who plan on pushing their counters to the max.
“I love my honed marble countertop. It makes working with pastry and rolling out pie dough a breeze,” shares Nelson.
For Wilkins, “Stone countertops that are easy to clean and maintain, with backsplash stone to match” are the best material bet for frequent cooks who want a simplified space that won’t break down over time.
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A Wall-Mounted Pot Filler
Award-winning cookbook author, TV personality, and restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian’s kitchen was seemingly crafted for effortless cooking. Known for his meal prep mastery, the culinary genius’s mounted pot filler above the stove comes in extra handy for bulk meals. When you’re as busy as Zakarian, you simply don’t have the time to watch water boil—let alone run over to the sink to fill up your pot.
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