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Open, Closed and Beyond: A Real Estate Pro’s Guide to Kitchen Design


The kitchen inside a charming ocean view ranch-style home in Montecito

If you’ve been pondering about the kitchen design of your dreams — perhaps like the one pictured above from my Charming Ocean View Ranch-style Home listing — you’re in luck. The internet is full of tools to make a homeowner’s life easier whether they plan on updating, building, remodeling, or renovating their home’s culinary center.

Online Kitchen Planning Tools

Take the free—an online 3D planner that can help Santa Barbara homeowners create the luxury trophy kitchen they’ve always wanted. Lowe’s also offers a virtual designer for the kitchen. But before you invest your precious time and money, it’s extremely important to take your time and make a plan. This post outlines the most important issues to consider when it comes to the heart of your home: your kitchen.


Prior to hiring anyone, or buying that new kitchen table you’ve been eyeing, decide if you’d prefer your kitchen to be open or closed. The trend of an open concept kitchen allows flow from adjoining rooms, while a closed kitchen offers privacy and separation between rooms. Let’s take a deep dive into both and see which one is right for you.

The living room with the kitchen in the background from inside a Montecito home

The Open Kitchen

The perfect example of an open kitchen can be found in my European-Inspired Montecito Contemporary Estate listing pictured here. As you can see, the kitchen and informal dining area of this property, the former home of comedian Johnathan Winters, are part of the “great room.” The entire estate follows a true open concept, curating an ambiance of spaciousness and light and solidifying a seamless transition from the interior spaces to the serene, beautifully landscaped grounds and expansive ocean view deck where alfresco dining and entertaining await.

The concept of the open kitchen started to become popular in the 1990s and has remained the favored choice of many Santa Barbara and Montecito homeowners ever since. This concept opens the culinary center to adjacent rooms, such as the family room and dining room. These kitchen designs are commonly “open” from more than one side, meaning they don’t have walls on more than one or two sides.

To get the look, walls have to be knocked down, unless you live in a newer build. It is increasingly rare to find newer houses that don’t have kitchens open to some kind of adjoining family room. Even The New York Times did a story on the new/old trend making a comeback.

Let’s see if this is the right choice for you by looking at some of the pros and cons:


  • Open kitchens tend to be naturally brighter and well-ventilated than closed ones.
  • The family chef who prepares a meal in an open kitchen can feel like a part of the fun in the adjoining room, making for better bonding with guests.
  • Guests can observe the magic if the meal is being prepared by a private chef or caterer.
  • Open kitchens lend an air of informality to the house.
  • With an open kitchen, it becomes possible for you to show off your luxurious cookware.
  • An open kitchen plan lends a sense of space to the house.
  • The scent and smell of your home can make it more inviting. Nothing can beat the aroma of fresh food floating all over the house.
  • If you have kids who need supervision, an open kitchen can help you keep an eye on them while you cook.


  • While an open kitchen layout showcases your top-of-the-line appliances, it also showcases your messes.
  • All the sounds of kitchen appliances – like the mixer or dishwasher – can be heard in adjacent rooms.

An example of a closed kitchen found inside the Casa Tramonto: Classic Montecito Contemporary home

The Closed Kitchen

A great example of a closed kitchen design is the image above from my Casa Tramonto: Classic Montecito Contemporary listing. The home’s recent update includes this gourmet kitchen complete with top-of-the-line appliances. Basically, a closed kitchen is just what the name suggests – “closed off” or isolated, from the rest of the house.

It’s a personal preference, but designers are saying homeowners are beginning to complain about the huge, open interiors that can be found in almost every home that’s been built in the last 10+ years. They say a big kitchen is great, but they don’t want this area open to the family room, or any other room in the house, for that matter. Let’s look at the pros and cons of a closed kitchen:


  • If you’re the type of person who thinks of the kitchen as your sanctuary, as your own place where you can sink into the cooking process without any interruption or distraction, a closed kitchen would be the perfect choice for you.
  • Smells and messes stay relatively confined inside the kitchen.
  • A closed kitchen lends an air of formality, perfect for those who prefer a formal cooking experience with silence and privacy included.
  • More walls mean more countertop space, more cabinets and shelves, and more storage space for appliances.
  • With a closed kitchen, not only are the smells of cooking confined (mostly, at least!), but the sounds are, too.


  • Consider you might have to spend huge amounts of money to tear walls down to create an open kitchen, you might want to invest that money in newer and better kitchen appliances and fixtures instead.
  • A closed kitchen plan allows for lesser access to the natural light and air circulation available in the house when compared to an open kitchen.
  • Private chefs and caterers tend to prefer closed kitchens, where they can do their work in private and without distractions.


Santa Barbara and Montecito homeowners looking for the benefits of both an open and closed kitchen design should follow these simple tips to have it all:

    • Incorporate sliding doors or metal mesh curtains. Both options make it easy to open or close off your kitchen whenever you want it to.
    • Add a table or other seating venue inside your large kitchen to allow loved ones to keep you company as you cook.
    • Adding a glass partition to separate the kitchen and the other parts of the house is a good trick that allows natural light to flood the kitchen area while the sounds and smells stay in the room. This modern kitchen idea also proves worthy when you don’t want to feel completely isolated from the rest of the house.
    • For those who you want an open kitchen but can’t bear the thought of the cooking smells spreading to the rest of the house, experts suggest they install vents. High-quality, high-powered vents can carry the smells outdoors, so that they don’t linger on and spread throughout your home.
    • Those who have an open kitchen should plan to invest in noise-free appliances.
  • Make a partition out of your inside garden. Living walls are hugely popular today.

A virtually enhanced image illustrating kitchen design

Open or Closed, Make it a Trophy Kitchen

Nowadays you need a trophy kitchen to sell your house. Why? Because today’s home buyers are looking for high-end appliances, custom-designed cabinets, and stone countertops. That’s right, data proves that the kitchen is the most important room when it comes to home buying and selling. So important, in fact, that the sellers of my Premier Mediterranean-style Ennisbrook Estate felt the need to offer a virtually enhanced image, posted here, of their luxury kitchen redesigned, just to give potential buyers an idea of what can be done with the room.

A recent survey shows that 69% of homes for sale tout the kitchen as a selling point in their descriptions, compared to 49% that mention the bedrooms and 21% that mention the living room. Homes that have a luxury kitchen design tend to sell 8% more quickly than similar homes in the same ZIP code. If your kitchen is looking a bit dated, consider a remodel to upgrade its efficiency and looks.


  • Plan it out
    What do you want your finished kitchen to look like? Whether you draw your designs, get ideas from magazines, or use software like the links I shared above, understanding the finished look of your kitchen is an essential first step.
  • Measure your space
    How much space do you have to work with? Record the dimensions of your entire kitchen and use your measurements to plan your project.
  • Choose storage options
    Consider adding more space through storage options: from standalone shelving to built-in turntables.

Contemporary Montecito kitchen design with ochre walls, sea green counter and hardwood floor

  • Pick a color scheme
    Do you want your kitchen to stand out from the rest of your home, or blend in? Your color scheme will impact the appliance-and flooring-related aspects of your remodel. Don’t forget statement flooring: a big trend today. The owners of this Elegant Birnam Wood French Country Manor pictured above went bold with color in their kitchen design. Besides the red walls, they added gourmet stainless appliances, rich wood floors, and a polished mahogany breakfast bar.
  • Set your budget
    Remember to factor in the cost of permits and contract labor.
  • Find a remodeling pro
    Unless you’re an expert, you’ll probably need to hire a remodeler to update your kitchen. Always research local designers and contractors, check their references and interview at least three pros before deciding. 

A stunning view of the landscape and mountain in the distance through the picture window of a Montecito kitchen

Everyone Wants a Pinterest Worthy Kitchen

The amazing view from the kitchen window of my Elegant Riviera Contemporary Home makes this kitchen Pinterest worthy. Is your home’s culinary center a luxury Pinterest kitchen? I don’t know about you, but I can sit for hours on Pinterest in a sea of gorgeous, envy-inducing homes. Especially those with high-end, chef-worthy kitchens. The following tips will help Santa Barbara and Montecito homeowners on a quest to get likes and re-pins of your luxury kitchen images on Pinterest:

  • Open-Shelving
    You adore that new set of dishes you just bought, right? Show them off! Just add open shelving and highlight your excellent taste.
  • Invest in Smart Appliances
    Your time is valuable. Are you taking full advantage of the great new smart appliances on the market today? One can cook like a top chef with smart gadgets that add high-tech convenience to your culinary repertoire. With smart appliances, everything is app-connected, so you don’t even have to be in the kitchen to monitor what’s in the oven. Appliances can be integrated with Alexa, Google Assistant, Google Home, and Nest.
  • Add Life to the Space
    Think about the air-purifying benefits of plants. Just one live plant can make all the difference in a kitchen. Put them on countertops, hang them from baskets or set ’em on the floor.
  • Plenty of Seating
    This is especially important for all you entertainers out there. The seating challenge is usually easy to solve. Just use portable barstools around a kitchen island or lined up along a wall.
  • Statement Lighting
    Say goodbye to strictly recessed lighting. All gorgeous kitchens have a head-turning pendant light in common.
  • Tile Backsplash
    Instantly elevate your space with a tile or stone backsplash. Since this is a permanent fix, make sure you choose a style you won’t regret. I say classic subway tile is always a good choice (although hand-painted Mexican, Spanish or Italian tile is popular here in Montecito and Santa Barbara as well).
  • Utility Cart
    This is something that always comes in handy, whether you use it for storing bar equipment or spice jars. It’s a must-have for your Pinterest kitchen.
  • Simple Yet Striking Hardware
    Your cabinet hardware shouldn’t scream for attention but do find something that makes your guests take a second glance.
  • Displayable Serving Ware
    It seems like every Pinterest worthy luxury kitchen has some sort of fashionable serving ware left on the counter.

Golden Retriever dog inside a kitchen with his food bowl in front of him  

The Pet-Friendly Kitchen

Today’s homeowners are looking for stylish ways to accommodate furry family members, too, especially in the place where they eat. Yes, even the kitchen can be a dog- and cat-friendly zone by following these tips:

  • No to wood floors
    Wood floors and dogs don’t always mix. Canine nails can leave scratches or gouge the floor’s sealer, creating long, shallow dents. But there are many alternatives in flooring today that will give dog and cat lovers the look they want. In fact, the best floor for a home with dogs is not wood at all. Take your pick of any alternative: vinyl, laminate, tile, or stone. All might be better than wood in a house with a dog.
  • Add Roll Out Bins
    Keep kibble easy-to-access but still out of sight with roll-out bins. You can even organize a specific pet cabinet to hold medicines and vitamins, toothbrushes and paste, flea and tick medicines, waste bags, grooming tools, treats, food, and even your pet’s medical records.
  • Put Trash inside a Closed Cabinet
    Moving the trash to a closed cabinet is also a good idea as items in the trash, such as chicken bones, plastic wrappers, sponges, Brillo pads, and more can be hazardous to your pet. Ideally, install a base cabinet with a trash pull-out accessory that will conveniently fit below the sink. A two-can model will hold both recyclables and trash.
  • Change from Gas and Electric
    A simple change from gas or electric cooking to induction can prevent serious injury. An induction burner will only heat up when there’s a pot covering it. It will also cool faster than an electric or gas burner. If changing your range or cooktop is not an option right now, and you have a curious cat, keep the burners covered when they’re not in use.

I hope reading this post gives you some food for thought about kitchen design destined to create the kitchen of your dreams. If you’re ready to update, build, remodel or renovate, I can help by putting you in contact with my extensive list of resources that include the best architects, designers, and building contractors in the area. On the other hand, if you prefer to find a new home that already has a world-class kitchen design – such as one of my listings above, or others in my portfolio, you can always reach me by phone at +1 (805) 886-9378, or email me at



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