Ever since the design gods decreed that our kitchens should become our new family rooms, they’ve been plotting to render the two indistinguishable. Wasn’t it just yesterday when we were showing off our gleaming new Sub-Zeros? Now we must do everything in our power to ensure that our appliances look like furniture or somehow disappear. The results, as evidenced by the following three "living kitchens," are worth it-no matter what your style.

Counter Intelligence
designer: Aaron Wilson, Arclinea

chicago kitchen remodel
Photograph: Kate Roth

Back Story: As owners of a high-end real estate development company that specializes in modern architecture, Bob and Karen Ranquist build themselves new houses more often than most of us change light bulbs. Even as they live in their second home, in Bucktown, with a kitchen from the sleek Italian line Arclinea, their third is already under construction. Wilson describes their current kitchen (Arclinea’s Convivium) as an "Italian-style social kitchen"-perfect for a couple with two boisterous boys (and two dogs) who rarely used the dining room in their former home.

chicago kitchen
Photograph: Kate Roth

Elements: The "closet" concept. The kitchen is divided into two parts: The social realm is composed of a stainless steel island (with a range and prep sink) that’s attached directly to a planked gray oak dining table; the private realm-home to the sink, two ovens, two refrigerators, and a dishwasher-can be hidden behind sliding gray oak doors. "The beauty of this design is that you can have this pristine, ultramodern presentation for the public, and in private be a real person, have a toaster oven," Wilson says. Range hood. Invented by Arclinea’s head designer, Antonio Citterio, the Ranquists’ eight-foot-long suspended range hood provides extra-powerful air circulation. And, of course, it anchors the kitchen’s industrial chic look. Exterior doors. The glass doors, from NanaWall Systems, fold completely flat and out of the way when opened, creating a sprawling, continuous space between the kitchen and the 750-square-foot deck.

Resources: Arclinea, Chicago, 312-335-3855, arclinea.it. Dishwasher, oven, and microwave: Gaggenau. Five-burner cooktop: Arclinea. Refrigerator: Sub-Zero. Doors: NanaWall Systems doors, nanawallsystems.com

Warming Trend
designer: Jim Dase, Abruzzo Kitchens

Back Story: As empty nesters who always seem to have a full house, Don and Pam Jeanes, who own a construction company, wanted a traditional kitchen that would be "as comfortable for two people as it is for 22." And with their front door opening right into the room, they needed an unabashed statement-maker. Working with Dase and interior designer Kathy Dickinson, they created a library-like space filled with all sorts of ingenious bells and whistles in their Palos Park home.

Elements: Woodwork. Abruzzo specializes in "unfitted" kitchens, in which the cabinetry resembles freestanding furniture. An armoire conceals the Jeaneses’ Sub-Zero fridge and freezer. Most of the cabinets look like old-fashioned dressers, complete with valance-style cutouts at the bases. The crown jewel, a spin on a traditional hearth, is a custom-built wall unit that houses cabinets, the range, and a plasma TV in high, almost Baroque, style. To take the furniture theme a step further, different finishes are used on the various pieces. As Dickinson sees it, "Life’s too short to have a one-tone kitchen." Storage space. Dase positioned a slender rollout storage unit between the refrigerator and freezer and put pullout spice racks within the turned columns on either side of the range. Ergonomics. The Jeaneses’ ovens are waist-high and side-by-side, not stacked; no bending required. And instead of cabinets, most of the storage under the granite countertops is in the form of drawers, so "we don’t have to get down on our hands and knees to dig for pots," Don says.

Resources: Abruzzo Kitchens, Schaumburg, 847-885-0500, abruzzokitchens.com. Kathy Dickinson Designs, Oak Brook, 630-218-2000, kathydickinsondesigns.com. Stove: Wolf. Refrigerator: Sub-Zero. Oven: Dacor. Backsplash: Bisazza glass tile, at Armor Tile & Supply, 13700 Cicero Ave., Crestwood, 708-385-3500. Cabinetry: Brookhaven by Wood-Mode

Bold and Beautiful
designer: Bonnie Smith, BCSmith Design

  chicago kitchen
Photograph: Kate Roth

Back Story: This Bucktown couple first hired Smith 11 years ago to open up a closed-off kitchen in their one-bedroom starter condo-actually giving them a view. In their second home, a townhouse, she created a central island that contained an entertainment center on one side and the kitchen on the other, thus maximizing their space. Now on their third "Bonnie kitchen"-this time in a large house-the couple are still enjoying the same essential design of their last kitchen. Only this time, it is an arresting vision in black, red, and stainless steel.

chicago kitchen
Photograph: Kate Roth

Elements: The island. Not only does the island contain a sink; a dishwasher; a raised, mess-containing wraparound counter; and,
on the family room side, a high-definition TV, stereo, and shelving, but it also possesses a delicate touch that shows Smith’s attention to detail. Between the red Palladio granite counter and the black cabinets is a thin band of stainless steel that ties in with the appliances. "And as the counter curves, it also echoes the stainless monorail lighting on the ceiling," she points out. Hardware. While Smith encouraged her clients to splurge on the custom cabinets-made of stained, vertically raked ash-she purposely held back on the hardware. "I don’t like those tall handles that are everywhere," she says. "I wanted to be more unique." The barely visible pulls she used cost less than $4 each. The stove. The professional, 48-inch stainless steel Viking stove with six burners, a griddle, a shelf, and a massive hood is further enhanced by a backsplash of Epro ceramic tiles that "have a black chrome look, so that they look stainless without being stainless," explains Smith. A nifty pot filler just to the right of the range punctuates the overall utilitarian-sleek look. As Smith puts it, "This is a kitchen for people who cook."

Resources: BCSmith Design, 312-527-5501, bcsmithdesign.com. Stove: Viking Professional Series. Wall oven/microwave and warming drawer: KitchenAid. Lighting: Monorail, at Lightology, 215 W. Chicago Ave., 312-944-1000. Cabinetry: Rose Custom Cabinets, Mundelein, 847-816-4800. Cabinet hardware: Epco.

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  Photographs: Kate Roth
Smith’s design allows multiple utilitarian elements- from a professional stove to a TV to a wine cooler-to coexist sleekly in one open, user-friendly space.