How to Bring the Warmth of Your Den Into Your Kitchen

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Welcome to Day 5 of VERANDA’s 12 Days of Chicmas. In this series, our editors offer a dozen elegant, uncomplicated upgrades for all your favorite spaces, from front door to master bath (and nope, we didn’t forget the bar). Call it the happier hosting, sleep-like-you’re-on-holiday, serenity-first guide for the year ahead. And did we mention these projects are easy? Give the designer the day off—you’ve got this.


While our dens, dining rooms, and home offices have been the star recipients of pandemic-driven decorating makeovers, our kitchens stood patiently by. When fresh paint colors, wallpapers, fabrics and furnishings transformed tired living areas into exciting “new” gathering spots, our kitchens soldiered on as the unsung workhorses of our homes, pulling double duty as cookspaces and homework hubs, coffee shops and offices, laundry stations and storage units.

However, at long last, the kitchen is entering its golden era, where form and function are blending as harmoniously as the recipes prepared within them. “Kitchens have become the de facto family room—a space where everyone might be doing their own thing but can still be together,” says designer Anna Still of Birmingham, Alabama-based Still Johnson Interiors, which she owns alongside design partner Marguerite Johnson. These utilitarian rooms are as much mediums for expressing creativity and personality as any other space in our homes—but how do we begin thinking outside the plain white cabinetry box?

“The kitchen is truly a multifunctional room with many more activities than cooking and cleaning—it’s more a living room than the living room. And should be decorated as thus!” says Sophie Donelson, design expert and author of Uncommon Kitchens. “Treating the kitchen as a room first and a kitchen second will point you in the right direction.”

How to Make Your Kitchen Feel Cozy

Layer your lighting.

anna still kitchen birmingham

Courtesy of C.W. Newell

Natural light floods the Birmingham, Alabama, kitchen of Still Johnson Interiors’ Anna Still.

Harsh overhead lighting is, well, harsh. “The most inviting and hospitable kitchens often have terrific windows. We all naturally gravitate toward natural light, simple as that!” says Donelson. In Still’s Birmingham kitchen (above), installing a bank of tall, uninhibited windows allows sunlight to illuminate a workspace. Come nightfall, she hits the dimmer switch. “Make sure any recessed or decorative lights are on a dimmer—nothing makes for a more uninviting kitchen than overly bright lights,” she adds.

Architectural and interior designer David Frazier turns to decorative hanging fixtures for enhancing the look of a kitchen. “In a traditional kitchen we might use more contemporary lighting for an unexpected juxtaposition, and in a more modern space we might layer in vintage or antique lanterns to instantly transform its feeling,” he says.

Stephanie Sabbe, on the other hand, swears by lamps. “Wireless lamps are a very undiscovered treasure,” says the Nashville designer and proprietor of Heirloom Artifacts. “Dim those lights and throw some cordless lamps out, you could live in the coldest, most non-cozy apartment kitchen ever and people will swear they just left a cottage in the Cotswolds.” She swears by cordless lamps so much so, she designed a Scandinavian-inspired version of her own.

Not only do decorative lamps and light fixtures add a layer of personality, but they’re also functional for the home chef. Kitchen designer Caren Rideau says, “Adding a lamp on the counter creates breathing room and potential places to work.”

The Thompson Branch

The Thompson Branch

Add comfortable seating.

whitney mcgregor north carolina kitchen

Laurey W. Glenn. Styling by Lizzie Cox

Skirted stools beside a stainless steel island invite guests to keep the chef company in the North Carolina kitchen of designer Whitney McGregor.

Creature comforts like a pair of armchairs or even a sofa turn the kitchen into another enticing living space. “My favorite kitchens have places to sit, and the more options, the better,” says interior designer Whitney McGregor. In Halsted House, a rental home she renovated in North Carolina, she tucked barstools beside the kitchen’s stainless steel island in addition to setting a cozy banquette beside the room’s fireplace.

“We always have extra chairs floating around, and despite my best efforts to move everyone to the dining room, we end up eating in the kitchen more often than not,” she says. Similarly, Rideau incorporates a banquette into many of her designs, too, often using it as the anchor for a relaxing dining nook.

“To encourage lingering: comfortable seats! I’m a fan of chairs versus bar stools. Even the comfiest stools aren’t quite as welcoming as a good chair,” says Donelson. To keep her guests from running to the living room, Sabbe relies on her favorite wooden spindle-backed counter stools from Williams-Sonoma Home. “We can go through stools in my house between having kids and hosting, but I have had these for two years. The back is sturdy, the finish looks great, and they’re easy to clean,” she says.

Q & A Ton Ironica Dining Counter Stool

Ton Ironica Dining Counter Stool

Q & A Ton Ironica Dining Counter Stool

Incorporate antique and vintage finds.

david frazier kitchen

Gieves Anderson

In a TriBeCa kitchen, designer David Frazier created custom lighting anchored off an original cast iron column, honoring the loft’s past life as an industrial space, with a refined parchment shade that casts a warm, soft glow across the marble-topped island.

Antique and vintage pieces are no longer reserved for the front of house. Layer in an aged breakfast table or rug and vintage accessories like glassware or artwork. “Antique furniture can give a sense of warmth that is impossible to transcribe with new millwork,” Frazier notes. Still agrees: “We love to add an antique worktable as an island or a runner at the sink. These elements bring personality and warmth but also nod to the fact that kitchens really are the new living rooms.”

McGregor repurposes furniture that’s typically associated with other rooms. “For example, using an old dining room hutch as a pantry or pulling up comfortable upholstered chairs to a kitchen table,” she says.

Antique 1800s Pine Hutch

Antique 1800s Pine Hutch

Don’t be afraid of imaginative colors, patterns, and materials.

for the breakfast room and kitchen an animated wall pattern first developed in the early 20th century with graphic black and white flooring true to american farmhouse vernacular

Alison Gootee
This Arkansas farmhouse designed by Heather Chadduck contrasts graphic black and white flooring in the kitchen with an animated wall pattern.

White kitchens are timeless. However, incorporating a diversity of materials within them—like brass hardware, soapstone countertops, a patterned backsplash, or Bunny Mellon-esque geometric flooring—helps prevent a crisp scheme from skewing too sterile. “Layering patterns and texture are tools I use in other spaces to create coziness and depth,” says McGregor. “Texture on the walls—whether it be grasscloth, wood paneling, or a brick fireplace—can warm up some of the colder textures that are often necessary for functionality in a kitchen.”

Sabbe suggests re-tiling a backsplash (she recently scored Delft tile replicas on Etsy), to transform a client’s space, or installing a pot hanger over the range. Still reaches for paint. “Try an unexpected color that harmonizes with the rest of the house but allows the kitchen to have a dramatic moment,” she says. “Or try selecting an unusual countertop material like stainless steel or an interestingly veined marble.”

Infuse your kitchen with personality.

caren rideau kitchen

Courtesy of Meghan Beierle O’Brien

Kitchen designer Caren Rideau relies on materials like wood and seating nooks to bring warmth into cookspaces.

Our gathering spaces should be filled with pieces we love—and the kitchen is no different. The touches can be as small as replacing old cabinetry hardware, notes Rideau, or placing a potted houseplant or two beside a window, suggests Donelson.

Peperomia Obtusifolia

Peperomia Obtusifolia

“Find a cool old piece of pottery for your wooden spoons by the side of the range. Invest in gorgeous colorful linen tea towels for hanging over the stove rail or on a peg,” she adds. Art can add another layer of personality while also elevating the kitchen to the level of other rooms, notes Still. Displaying sentimental pieces (photos, a stack of cookbooks, glassware collections) softens a kitchen’s industrial side.

“So much life happens in the kitchen, so it’s a natural place to show evidence of that,” Donelson says.

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