Learn how to give your kitchen an elevated new look and improve its functionality from a Portland-area designer

Is your kitchen living up to its potential? Designer Gina Loewer says you may be overlooking ways to give it a better look and feel while also making it far more functional, even if you don’t have room to add on. “You need to rethink how you are using the room,” the co-owner and lead designer at Sherwood-based Northland Design & Build says.

Construction-based design. Northland Design & Build is a family business that was started in the 1990s, but Loewer became more involved in design in the 2000s as the business grew. “I went to technical school, but a lot of what I learned was from working on projects,” she says. She and her fellow designers remain an integral part of the entire construction team throughout the building process.

Old and new. Loewer starts every remodel by focusing on the pros and cons of the existing space. “You have to look around at what’s not being used,” she says. This often means giving existing cabinets, ceilings and wall finishes a new look or keeping a one-of-a-kind fixture that’s a nod to the home’s architectural style. As for new elements? “We always ask people if they want a wine or coffee spot,” Loewer says.

Looking for ways to turn your existing kitchen into a more beautiful and functional space? Loewer provides some tips below.

1. Think Layout First

Relocate appliances to improve functionality. “Flipping the location of the sink and stove in this Beaverton kitchen improved the layout,” Loewer says. The homeowners wanted a clean and cohesive update with room for more than one cook in the kitchen. Moving the stove out of the island gave them more working room around it and made it easier to maneuver around the hot surface.

“We made sure there was 4 feet of space between the island and counter so two people could work there,” Loewer says. The sink now anchors the island, which has added storage below the counter. Other upgrades included sconces above the stove, along with lights above and in the cabinets and over the island, which has room for seating.

2. Raise the Roof

Open up the ceiling to create more volume in a smaller kitchen. A vaulted ceiling, open shelving and white accents give this Raleigh Hills kitchen remodel a spacious feel within the same footprint. A white ledge above the stove and open shelves with lighting underneath keep things handy without overpowering the space.

Removing the drop ceiling and painting the tongue and groove on the ceiling white help lighten the space, as does the marble island with a waterfall design on both sides. The finishing touch is the flooring, terra-cotta tiles that are reproductions of traditional Flemish black tiles. “The clay is mixed by hand so no two pieces are alike,” Loewer says.

3. Make It Last

Choose finishes that can stand both the design test of time and day-to-day use. Loewer convinced the owners of this Sherwood home that keeping the existing oak flooring made more sense than replacing it with engineered wood. “It’s a 100-year floor,” Loewer says of the oak’s longevity.

Loewer finished the flooring with a white stain to lighten it up. The rip-cut oak and hickory cabinets are equally durable, able to withstand dings and nicks. Expanding the original cramped kitchen into the adjacent dining room allowed Loewer to install additional cabinets and counter surfaces, along with two side-by-side islands. “We left an opening between the islands so people in the kitchen can access the refrigerator without going around,” Loewer says.