A Designer’s Guide to the Perfect Kitchen
Waterworks Founder Barbara Sallick dishes on all things kitchen
You may have heard of Barbara Sallick, but don’t be surprised if she’s been in your kitchen—at least via her massive aesthetic influence.
The Southport, Connecticut-based co-founder of Waterworks and Senior Vice President of Design for the hardware, fixtures, and cabinetry brand, has been improving the nation’s cook spaces for the past four decades, popularizing a yen for everything from Tuscan marble to fine wood finishes, so who better to write “The Perfect Kitchen” (Rizzoli, March 2020)?
“In 2016, I wrote a book called “The Perfect Bath,” and almost before my pencil was down it was like, ‘Oh yeah, and now we need to write about the perfect kitchen,” she recalls. “I mean, it was just sort of an extension of the sentence, to be honest.”
We chatted with Sallick about her recipe for an ideal kitchen—including everything you didn’t know you needed and her tips for creating a timeless space.
FIRST, TELL US ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN.
Our house looks very much like an English cottage. It has ivy all over it and settles into the land really well. The kitchen is fairly traditional, so it all feels really compatible. That was important to me: If I was going to build a new kitchen, it needed to feel great.
WHAT DID YOU DO TO ACHIEVE THAT GREAT FEELING?
We had lived in one house for 50 years, and the original kitchen was built out of 18th century wood. It was not very modern, and it was not convenient at all. When we found this house, which sits overlooking the harbor, I didn’t think I was ever going to “do” a kitchen, but I realized that I couldn’t really live with granite countertops, and the kitchen sink looked out on our breezeway.
So, while we did not change the size of the kitchen—and I promise you, it’s small—we changed the cabinetry, got some really important modern conveniences, and moved the kitchen sink so that it looks out onto the terrace, which is so pretty and green. Without a doubt, the kitchen sink and faucet are the most used and important appliances in the entire kitchen.
WHAT’S THE AESTHETIC?
I painted the bottom cabinets a dark navy blue, my favorite color. The top is a color that’s called Whisper [a Benjamin Moore color], which is barely gray. I chose an active marble countertop, because I think that’s the beauty of marble—all the veining and what happened when the earth was formed. It’s sort of a romantic notion.
And I tiled the entire thing, so it’s a ceramic box. It’s slightly off white, but what makes it special is that the tile is handmade, so there are little variances all along. And it has a crackle glaze, so every tile is a little bit different. All the beautiful imperfections become more apparent when you use cement-colored grout.
GIVEN WHAT WATERWORKS IS BEST KNOWN FOR, WE HAVE TO ASK: WHAT FAUCET DID YOU CHOOSE?
I have a Henry, single-hole faucet, in a matte nickel finish. I chose matte nickel because it’s a great companion to the stainless-steel sink. I have a pot filler, also a Henry, with a cross handle in this case. And you’re probably going to think I’m loony, but most of the [rest of the] hardware is brass. I didn’t want everything to feel like it was matched up.
WHAT’S YOUR OPINION OF ALL-WHITE KITCHENS?
In my dreams, I always imagined that I would have an all-white kitchen. And when it came down to it, it felt sort of bland to me. I’m not sure if I want to say that white kitchens have had their day, because people I know everywhere are doing them, but I sort of like the spirit of the dark bottom and the lighter top. I felt good about it not looking like everybody else’s.
WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR USING COLOR IN THE KITCHEN?
One of the first places I think you need to look before making decisions about color-anywhere in your house-is your closet. To be honest, if you only wear black and white, I’m going to say you probably aren’t going to love having color in your kitchen. But I just think there’s something so much more personal about having some color in your kitchen, and there’s no reason to fear it. It’s only paint-you can change it at will.
WHAT ARE FIVE MUST-HAVES IN ANY KITCHEN, BEYOND THE OBVIOUS?
These are things I didn’t know I had to have, but now I would never live without. One, a pullout for my garbage and my recycling, with a drawer over the top of it that holds the garbage bags so that when the garbage goes out, the new garbage bag goes in, and the next day you’re not saying, ‘Oh, where’s the garbage bag?’
I call this our ‘aging in place’ house, and I have this wonderful pullout for my pots (at my old house, literally, I had to get on my knees to find anything). This just pulls right out and presents itself to me. ‘What pot do you want, my dear?’
The next essential is having all dishes close to the dishwasher. I can put everything away in literally 30 seconds. The dishes go in the dish drawer. I don’t need to take a step. Glasses go in the glass cabinet. No steps. The silverware goes away, and I’m done.
Fourth, I love my pot filler. And I must admit, I cannot live without my instant hot water dispenser.
WHAT DOES ART ADD TO A KITCHEN?
I have three very favorite black and white photographs in my kitchen, which I just love. I also have a glass-fronted cabinet, and over a gazillion years, I’ve collected Mochaware, which is decorated and colorful pottery [from the 18th and 19th century].
And so, by having this glass-fronted cabinet, I have put all of it in there, and it’s always visible, and it’s art in its own right. Having this visual of beautiful things all around feels incredible. And every day I go in there and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I am so lucky to have this.’
WHAT DO GREAT KITCHEN ISLANDS REQUIRE?
Mine is merely practical. It’s got the dishwasher, the garbage, a sink. And once again, there are no steps. It would be nice to have stools, but I don’t have room for them. But there always needs to be an extra sink somewhere.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE KITCHEN CHAIRS?
I don’t have a favorite, but we have vintage Windsor chairs, and they’re tall enough so they add a kind of dimension to the kitchen table at that end of the kitchen. I like that they have a pretty profile. Because you look at them from both the back and the front-they need to be beautiful both ways.
WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR PROPERLY LIGHTING A KITCHEN?
It applies to the bathroom, as well: Over-light your kitchen and put it all on a dimmer. Since we took the kitchen apart, we were able to put in these new recessed lights that are very, very small—they don’t have the funny ring around the outside. They’re truly recessed.
Then I have used pendant lights over the island, which are really decorative, and some unlacquered brass sconce lights on either side of the range hood. And then a really special light over the kitchen table.
This time of year, we don’t have to turn the lights on, but when it starts getting dark at 4:30, it’s just great—it warms the kitchen!
THOUGHTS ON THE BEST FLOORING?
We left the wood floor that I’d had before, but in my old house, I had some really wonderful limestone that had some age to it, and I loved it. I really did. So, my recommendation is, don’t just put wood in there because it’s available. The kitchen’s a great place to think about something other than wood.