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Gorgeous Kitchen Renovation by Mick De Giulio

From utility to a social hub—how our kitchens have evolved

Written by Amy Elbert
  • Werner Straube

    When Mick De Giulio launched his kitchen design business 30 years ago, his customers peppered him with questions about cabinets: Do I want full face or frame construction? Will I have enough to store everything? Not these days. “It’s really been an evolution, going from a conversation about a space for products to a space for people,” the Chicago-based designer says. “We used to talk about door style, now we talk about lifestyle.”

    Traditional Home has featured dozens of kitchens designed by De Giulio in our 25 years, so we asked him to share his reflections on how kitchen design has changed in the past three decades. “There have been some amazing transformations,” he says—from floor plans to appliance choices and, probably most dramatically, the cultural shift in the purpose of the room.

    The family room topped the house hierarchy 25 years ago, generally scoring the best views, outdoor access, and often a central location. Now the kitchen frequently claims those benefits, De Giulio says. Today’s kitchen often is a home’s centerpiece, with living and family rooms, dining and outdoor spaces branching off from it.

    Stainless steel has “stood the test of time,” says designer Mick De Giulio who combines it here with painted white and dark-stained cabinets. 

    Photography: Werner Straube
    Produced by Hilary Rose

    Interior design: Mick De Giulio, de Giulio Kitchen Design, 1121 Central Ave., Wilmette, IL 60091; 847/256-8833,  

  • Werner Straube

    Hub of the Home

    Kitchens are designed with attention to details once associated with living and dining rooms. “There is more emphasis on design and appointments—making sure the ceilings, the moldings, the flooring are considered,” De Giulio says. “We’re approaching kitchens more like you would have designed a living room. We’re mixing pieces together—not everything comes out of the same catalog."

    De Giulio calls today’s culture “kitchen-centric,” and he designs spaces where people can work together. “The kitchen is still about utility, but it has evolved from pure utility to a beautiful space where people want to be.”

    Cabinetry on cooking wall  (brushed stainless steel with polished stainless steel trim and polished stainless steel hardware, de Giulio Collection); island cabinetry (“SieMatic BeauxArts.02” in Lotus White Gloss with polished nickel hardware); cabinetry on storage wall (hand-scraped ebonized walnut with polished stainless-steel hardware, de Giulio Collection); marble countertops (white statuary polished marble); brushed stainless steel countertops (de Giulio Collection): de Giulio Kitchen Design,
    Induction range, griddle and wok: CookTek,
    Sink (custom stainless sink, sliding wood cutting board, sliding cradle for colander); refrigerator armoire, at right (custom hand-scraped ebonized walnut with antique-mirror panels): de Giulio Kitchen Design,
    Refrigerator: Sub-Zero,
    Faucets (“One Pull-Down Kitchen Faucet”/Nickel Silver #P25200-00): Kallista,
    Wall ovens: Wolf,
    Light fixtures over island (discontinued): Circa Lighting,

  • Werner Straube

    Big and Bigger Islands

    Bigger islands, such as the 14-foot-long one De Giulio installed in this suburban kitchen, create a central spot for people to congregate. They provide undercounter storage space, too, which is vital in an open-plan kitchen where there are fewer walls for cabinets.

    Painted white cabinets are forever favorites, the designer says, and he often pairs them with dark-stained wood cabinets and wood floors. “Minimalism is going away—people want simple, but not stiff and architectural,” he says. “The kitchen is just as functional as before, but people want kitchens that speak to them emotionally.”

    The island is the center of the kitchen, and as kitchens get larger, so do the islands. “This 14-foot-long island is fantastic to gather around,” De Giulio says. Islands also “protect cooks,” allowing them to move unhampered in the work zone while guests gather at other sides of the island. De Giulio detailed the island’s marble top with an anvil edge and a mitered stone frame.

  • Werner Straube

    More Cooks

    Men are increasingly involved in preparing meals—and not just at the grill, De Giulio says. Guests often help with prep when families entertain, too, so De Giulio puts at least two sinks in a kitchen to allow for multiple cooks. He says that people don’t necessarily want to stand around a sink in the island, however, so he “softens” its utilitarian look by trimming upper side walls with marble.

  • Werner Straube

    Let in the Light

    Natural light and outdoor connections are now so important that when De Giulio recently renovated this suburban Chicago kitchen and family room, it was the yard that inspired his design. “It was a beautiful backyard with a pergola and a stream, but the kitchen was closed off to that,” he says. “The first thought was to liberate the space, open those windows, open up the back wall, and let the outside in.”

    Windows and sliding doors were added along the wall, with space allotted for a dining table with backyard views. De Giulio reoriented the kitchen’s layout, too, making sure that anyone working at the sinks or other stations had outdoor vistas.

    Details on the next slide

    Chandelier (“Danieli”): Niermann Weeks,
    Dining table (custom polished stainless-steel base with cottopesto top, de Giulio Collection); fireplace mantel and surround (Nero Portero marble): de Giulio Kitchen Design,
    Leather chairs: Room and Board,
    Television: Samsung,

  • Werner Straube

    Custom Touches

    Personalization is a growing trend, De Giulio says, and he often orders custom pieces such as this table with a cottopesto top (a fired and colored terra-cotta). “People don’t just order from catalogs anymore,” he says.

  • Werner Straube

    Flowing Floor Plan

    Comfort is a priority, too-, and that means kitchens are furnished with upholstered armchairs, generous-sized bar stools, even a fireplace where people can read the paper and chat with the cook. “These are the things that make a room warmer and make people feel more comfortable,” De Giulio says. 

    He removed a wall that divided the kitchen from the family room and replaced it with a two-sided fireplace that allows traffic to flow easily between the rooms and adds a cozy ambience in both areas.

    The fireplace, a comfortable dining area, elegant lighting, and outdoor views encourage gatherings.

  • Werner Straube

    Built for Entertaining

    “What’s really happening over the years is that people are realizing how much they enjoy a great kitchen, and how much they actually use it and live in it,” the designer says.

    A wine refrigerator in the family room bar area has a cabinet door with faux drawers.

    Cabinetry (hand-scraped ebonized walnut with polished stainless-steel pulls, de Giulio Collection); countertop (Prada Quartzite): de Giulio Kitchen Design,
    Cabinet knobs (“Talbot”): Katonah Hardware,
    Wine refrigerator: Sub-Zero,

  • Werner Straube

    Personal Touches

    The Web has given consumers tremendous access to products and design ideas, sparking homeowners’ imaginations and greater interest in creating spaces that reflect their personalities. “Thirty years ago, people were looking at catalog brands. Today they’re open to doing a kitchen that is very unique,” says De Giulio, who often custom-designs vent hoods, tabletops, edging for countertops, and refrigerator door panels.

    Personal touches, comfort, and floor plans that foster together times are the big takeaways from the past 25 years, De Giulio says. “Today, people don’t want bigger kitchens so they can have more cabinets. They want bigger kitchens to have more space to live.”

    Hood (custom): de Giulio Kitchen Design,
    Backsplash tile (Archive Series White Glossy solid glazed field tile): Waterworks,
    Bar stools (“Madigan Backless Counter Stool”/Kohl finish #5750-07); fabric (“Echo Limestone Leather,” with chrome nailheads): Hickory Chair,
    Lid drawer (“Metal Boy,” custom): de Giulio Kitchen Design,

  • Werner Straube

    Casual Simplicity

    Cabinet and hood designs are simpler, with little of the ornamentation popular in the ’80s and ’90s. Tile installations are simpler, too, such as the sliding backsplash with pass-through space to the dining room. “We didn’t want a space that felt too elegant. We wanted it to be more comfortable,” he says. Floors are hand-scraped walnut planks in varying widths.

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    “Put-away” Kitchen

    A glass-front cabinet for hanging pots and pans with a drawer for lids is built in next to the wall ovens, keeping cookware organized and accessible but without clutter. “Because the kitchen is so open to other living spaces, the homeowners didn’t want to see things on the countertops,” De Giulio says.

  • Werner Straube