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The average price for a 200-square-foot kitchen remodel in 2017 is more than $37,000. (Here’s a fun/scary calculator where you can play with the numbers.) That’s the average. So before you begin ripping out cabinets, it makes sense to know what you’re in for. And who better to ask for kitchen remodel tips and features to keep in mind, than the global winners of the Sub-Zero and Wolf 2015-2016 Kitchen Design Contest? Ten global winners were selected out of more than 1,500 entries and with cash prizes totaling $113,000; competition was fierce. We asked a few of our favorite winners for their tips and tricks for creating a beautiful, modern kitchen that also functions for your family.

The design phase for this San Francisco kitchen by David Armour began only after serious planning. “Kitchens are a lot like fingerprints, no two are the same, just as no two clients are the same,” said David.

1. Work the Plan
Not the sexiest of tips but the adage of “measure twice, cut once” seems to be a kitchen designer motto. David Armour, who won the Second Place Transitional Kitchen award, with Scott Schneider, always begins his projects with in depth planning. He starts the process by sitting down with clients, “getting to know their wants and aspirations; their daily routines and stresses. We think collectively about what they have and what inspires them, imagining the spaces they’d like to live in within the constraints of the site and city requirements, which usually requires added creativity,” said David. And for any budget, planning is critical. Consider how often you entertain, how many people the kitchen should seat on an average night, how many cooks there are in the house. The more carefully you plan about how you use the space, the better the outcome.

This kitchen by David Armour incorporates every type of lighting from daylight pouring in through windows to dimmable under-cabinet LED lights for evening ambiance.

2. Consider Different Types of Lighting 
The kitchen can be demanding when it comes to lighting. “One common feature of kitchens today: all good parties end up there,” said David Armour. This means that while great task lighting is a must for mincing garlic, you also need mood lighting for that champagne toast. You’ll want to try to maximize natural lighting for the day, consider adequate task lighting and then ambient lighting for when all the work is done.

Small Brooklyn kitchen designed by Idan Naor and Shuji Suzumori that feels more expansive than its 150 square feet. (Note how the designers played with ways to run wood grains.)

3. Go for Open Shelving (or Minimal Upper Cabinets)
Kitchen designer Idan Naor is an expert at small space kitchens (after all, he and colleague Shuji Suzumori did win best Small Spaces Kitchen). He says that the biggest kitchen design mishap is filling every surface with upper cabinets. “Upper cabinets in corners and areas close to the ceiling are hard to use and make the kitchen feel dark and small,” he explained. For his winning design, he wanted the kitchen to feel like it was part of the living/dining area. “We also tried to maintain a sense of openness by floating the upper cabinet box on the wall and using open shelving in the corner.” Costco shoppers: never fear. If you love the look of open shelving but worry about storage, look to your kitchen island to handle some of the load. For a big storage punch, Naor often goes so far as to create island storage that can be accessed from both sides.

The minimal materials palette and attention to detail extends to the careful integration of the Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances in Fergus Scott’s Australian kitchen.

4. Choose intuitive appliances
First Place Contemporary Kitchen winner Fergus Scott focuses on appliances that are easy to understand at first glance, rather than those that require “having to learn a new series of symbols in order to operate them effectively.” David Armour also gravitates toward the aesthetics of Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances. The clients for his award winning kitchen design are in the food industry, which explained David, “elevated their interest in top-of-the-line performance features. The Wolf 60” dual fuel range has precise flame control, really enhancing their cooking ability; and the Sub-Zero Pro 48 refrigerator makes it easy to open a drawer one-handed to grab a few vegetables while cooking, or spy on a particular item through the glass doors.”

Australian kitchen outdoors

Fergus Scott’s winning kitchen design takes in stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from Australia’s south coast.

5. Find a Way to Connect to the Outdoors
For Fergus Scott’s contemporary kitchen win, finding a way to bring the outdoors-in was mission critical. The clients wanted the kitchen to incorporate the site’s breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding grasslands. Building that link to the outdoors is a critical piece of all Fergus Scott’s kitchen designs, “Budget or cold climate may limit the opportunity for physical openings but a sense of the outdoors can still be created in the use of glass and in the architecture of the house,” he said.

For more kitchen inspiration, view the rest of the winners of the Sub Zero and Wolf Kitchen Design Contest. You won’t even need the scent of food cooking, to get you design salivating.

Images courtesy of Sub-Zero Group, Inc.

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Amy Azzarito is the author of "Nest: The Secret History of Things that Make a House a Home" forthcoming in 2020.