Monday, October 10, 2011

Design Differences: California vs. B.C. - Guest Post

My name is Kelly Morisseau, and I’m a designer working in Northern California. I also moved from B.C. 12 years ago. For my stint as Arne's guest, it might be fun to discuss some differences as I see them between B.C. and California design -- and you might be surprised!

#1 - B.C. is ahead in terms of kitchen design.

Surprised? Don't be. The entire Bay Area, which includes San Francisco to Cupertino to Walnut Creek, is an interesting mix of extremes.

When I first moved in 1999, I discovered that the trend of maple cabinets and dark granite that was finally winding down in B.C. was just winding up in Silicon Valley.  Californians can be avant-garde yet also surprisingly conservative. U-shaped kitchens were (and still are) a large part of kitchen design here. When I tried a few times to redesign kitchens by kicking out the "u" and adding a multi-level table at the end, I was informed that the clients wanted something new, but not "that new". 

Yet at the other extreme, there is some West Coast design with Japanese influences that many of you would find familiar. It’s just that what we might consider “standard” Canadian design is considered very contemporary here.

Not that we don’t have some interesting design work – far from it. With California’s population ten times the population of the whole of Canada, it’s impossible to blanket the entire state with one design aesthetic. There are televisions popping up from under counter locations, sliding island tops, suspended cherry canopies, stainless columns, flyover panels, and communication centers.

But they’re not the norm in all areas.

#2 - I'd like to design an angled island again.

Islands are square. Square, square, square. Oh, okay. They can be rectangular, with multi-levels of glass, wood and stone counters...but they're still square. No canting the end of the island, no interesting little bump-outs off the back end. I've tried, but people simply point to their magazines and say, "No go." (Disclaimer: I have, in fact, canted exactly two peninsulas. One was due to a last-minute structural post that need to be added; the second was because...I was lucky?)

This isn't to say the homeowners here aren’t the first to agree we should raise the ceiling and add a 2-tiered edge detail, which leads us to...

#3- Californians are more apt to try something new

Doesn't seem to make sense after the last two, does it? But in spite of not being willing to accept ideas we think of as standard in B.C. design, Californians are very accepting of interesting design ideas -- and willing to pay for it. As many of my clients have said, "I'm only going to do this once, and I want what I want."

That means interesting flooring and ceiling treatments, altering traffic flow and openings, adding innovative home and lighting electronics, and being open to the latest in material innovations.

The best part of designing in California is having access to a staggering amount of materials, trades, manufacturing, and other design professionals that isn't simply available in Canada. The level of catering and attentiveness by the above groups to our madness has helped create it.

When I was in B.C., I remember grinning with other professionals about the "crazy Californian designers" who specified the most custom, out-there designs. Now I'm one of them. Quelle surprise.

While I laugh at myself, I'd still like to design a two-level angled island canted off a 46" high oven tower at least once before I end my career...

Kelly Morisseau, CMKBD, CID, is a Canadian-born California residential designer with confused spelling and a really strange accent. You can find her on her website: Kelly's Kitchen Sync or look for her book of insider kitchen design tips on


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