My kitchen was the first room I wanted to redecorate when Dan and I moved into our Money Pit historic fixer-upper. But it was the last room I actually got to tackle. The cost of a complete kitchen renovation, which is what this poor space needed, isn’t cheap. As I discovered, there is a lot you can do to make your kitchen look sensational short of remodeling. In fact, by focusing your decorating energies on five key spots, you can make your kitchen a visual treat. 

1. Kitchen Island

In most homes, the kitchen island is the hub of family life. This is the place you grab a quick bite, do food prep, toss all your stuff when you walk in the door and fill with food and beverage services when you entertain.  Like a fireplace in the living room, it’s also a natural focal point in the room. So you need to decorate the island with a display that is minimal enough to accommodate the real life that happens around it, but also fetching enough to give this important spot its decorating due.

I advise building a stunning by shorter display on top of a tray. When the accents are contained in a tray, they won’t get spread out into the hubbub of the island. And the display will be portable, so when you need every inch of the island for homework or a sewing project, you can easily remove it without having to take it apart.

Setting your island for daily life can also be a display in itself. Case in point: my friend Lisa’s lovely kitchen island, pictured above. With three young girls, Lisa’s house is an active one. The space has to be free for meals and other daily tasks. So instead of sacrificing beauty for function, she made her table setting beautiful, using inventive serving pieces like a garden urn to hold apples, ready for snack time, and rustic trays to hold fixings for breakfast. The transferware dishes steal the show here, adding a little bit of color and patterns, and a lot of class.


2. Above the Stove

Your oven and stove can take up a huge chunk of your kitchen, so make this utilitarian spot as fetching as possible. When my friend Anne designed her dream kitchen, she knew she wanted a big stove that could keep up with the mealtime demands of her busy family. She figured out a masterful way to make the stove a lovely addition by incorporating a few interesting features into the blueprint.  The ledge above holds a set of mugs from a family collection and serves as a base for a simple but sensational artwork display.

I have to confess that my oven rarely gets used. I’m just not a cook, unless you count microwave popcorn. As a result, I get to treat my oven more like a display area. To camouflage the griddle on the cooktop, I showcased beautiful silver buffet lids. The built-in shelf holds some serving pieces. Displays flank the stove top. And the arch, which I thought was just screaming for a creative artwork display, is filled with a crazy mix of platters, trays, plates and framed art.


3. Behind the Sink

Think of the space behind your kitchen sink as a surplus spot where you can add a little decorating flair. It doesn’t have to be much – just an accent or two that brings in a touch of color or interest.  Anne lined up a few petite blue vases behind her sink. She can fill them with blooms from her garden, snips of fresh herbs or seasonal accents. Love it!

Like me, my friend Marsee has a window smack dab behind her sink. And just like she does, I always put something lovely to look at on the sill, like an ivy topiary. Her petite bud vases are the perfect touch – sweet and simple but full of cheer.

Here’s another fun idea: Find an attractive tray and fill it with all your sink-side essentials, like dish soap, hand soap, hand lotion and scrubbers. Suddenly, that unattractive stuff becomes a design feature.


4. Ledges and Shelves

Oh my goodness but you can have some fun decorating the ledges, shelves and niches in your kitchen.  One of my favorite looks is to cluster together cream, white, silver and glass serving pieces and dishes, as my friend Julie did in the cubby above this cabinet in her kitchen. If your display is high up, like on top of kitchen cabinets, be sure to pick larger pieces so they don’t get lost.

Lisa showcased her collection of old silver teapots on a ledge above her stove. Interesting transferware platters propped up in easels provide a nice backdrop for this intriguing assortment.

My friend Jean’s kitchen had an unusual oven built into the wall. So when she renovated, she turned it into an adorable fireplace, complete with a hearth ready to decorate. The décor around this unusual focal point is simple and perfect and oozing with charm.


5. Countertops

Break up the planes of solid, hard surfaces on your kitchen counters by accenting them with a fetching display, like this well-constructed tableau in my friend Julie’s kitchen.  To recreate this look, lean a piece of artwork against the backsplash. Place a tray holding some accents in front of it. Then add balance with a heavier piece on the left, like this ceramic bucket.


In spots where you don’t have a backsplash, build a few freestanding displays. Jean dressed up an empty corner of her counter by using a stack of her beloved cookbooks as an art element. For seasonal flair, add some fresh flowers from your garden.

Like Lisa’s gorgeous countertop collection pictured here, my favorite countertop displays mix in a variety of heights, shapes and finishes.

Next Week … Summer is such a dreamy time of year. I’ll have some ways you can spoil yourself with a bit of romance.


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10 Responses to “5 Spots to Dress up in Your Kitchen”

  1. Jill Monticue Says:

    After many years of wishing, we are finally having our mid-60′s kitchen remodeled. Of course, any book or magazine that has the word “kitchen” on it has been plucked up for years. Love the blog today on clever kitchen decorating ideas, and will be incorporating a few, hopefully before long. As always, ideas streaming from Nell Hill’s do not disappoint! XO

  2. Margo Says:

    Who doesn’t love a window view from the kitchen sink, but, did you mean to say this?

    “Like me, my friend Marsee has a window smack dab behind her sink. And lust like she does,,,,”

  3. franki Says:

    Very nice as I’ve used “most” of these same ideas…especially, the trays…they are holders of treasurers!! franki

  4. Mary Carol Says:

    Margo, oh my goodness, great catch!!! I’m not sure if Marsee is “lusting” but I am sure that type-o didn’t get caught in proofreading. So sorry, all (especially you, Marsee!). I’ll clean off the reading glasses and try to not let that happen again. :)
    Jill, enjoy your new kitchen!!!

  5. Pam Miller Says:

    Love all the ideas but especially the trays, they are becoming my fave decorating tool. There are so many to choose from and so fun and helpful to use. I always look forward to your updates. My husband And I visited your store for the first time this past December. I was so sorry I missed your Christmas Open House. Loved the store and I can not wait to go back. Thanks for everything.

  6. Marge Bentz Says:

    Does Nell Hill carry and white. Stone birds or bird vases?

  7. Mary Carol Says:

    Marge, yes we do! They are one of my favorite tools this season and I’m using them everywhere!

  8. Lauren Drake Says:

    Mary Carol,
    Your posts never disappoint! I love the mixing and matching, the element tips that give arrangements depth and interest, and the pop of surprise that always makes your designs so wonderful. Have you thought about writing another book? I still study your previous books and would love to add another to my collection! I am off to change up some of the decor in my kitchen! Till next time…
    Lauren Drake

  9. Martha Amacker Says:

    Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow…. 5 times! LOL!
    My favorite is first pic….black counter island is so gorgeous. I Iive in a beautiful resort area of AL…please vacation (work) come do my entire house! Would challenge you, as never before. You never dissappoint. OMGosh, at the ideas.



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