You don't have to go for a complete overhaul, but a few key elements can transform your current kitchen into a space that fits you like a glove.

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Kitchen featuring KitchenAid commercial style range
Credit: Courtesy of KitchenAid

My kitchen is the sensory centerpiece of my home. All noise emanates from it: the metallic clang of pots against the grates of the stove, the constant opening and closing of the oven door, the dishwasher door, the faucets. All aromas waft from it, too: the commingled scents of cooking rice, constantly-boiling bones which will become broth, roasting chickens. My kitchen also happens to be physically situated at the heart of my house, on the second floor of my three-story townhome.

My kitchen is a sanctuary and one that I can navigate with my eyes closed, yet always find what I am looking for. It is completely open, flanked by a large deck and the dining room, so there is no barrier between host and guest at dinner parties. A fellow chef once told me that to cook in someone else's space is like wearing someone else's shoes. And so, I stepped into the kitchen clogs of a few stylish culinarians and designers, to find out what design elements they integrated into their kitchens.

"My mom's name is Yola, which makes me think of the color yellow. She taught me most of what I know. She had a lemon-yellow KitchenAid stand mixer and now, so do I. And I made lemons my key decorative element in my kitchen theatre," Kristina Brodie, a culinary consultant and brand ambassador, tells me. "You want your space to be filled with things that free your creative energy and trigger your senses."

Brodie explains, "Ergonomics are another leading factor. My kitchen is scaled to my body. Also, I cut down on countertop clutter but always display produce to influence what I cook. I keep fruits on antique scales and in baskets. I like souvenirs in my space, to remind me of happy memories from traveling."

Chef Michael Solomonov reveals that his favorite part of his home kitchen is also scaled to his body. His stove is built into the wall "above my waist." He adds, "Downdraft ventilation was a life changer. You can sear a piece of bass without having your pillow smell like a fish market."

Rachel Street, the president of Hestia Construction and the host of Philly Revival on the DIY Network concurs with Brodie on the subject of clutter. "The first thing to do is take stock of what kitchen items you have and what you use most. And edit out what you don't use. Even the most impeccably designed kitchen will look horrible if it is overcrowded, so ample storage is of the utmost importance."

Street recommends design-friendly easy updates. "It's possible to completely change the look and feel without doing a total overhaul–and make it more utilitarian as well," she says. "Swapping out the 'jewelry of the kitchen' (such as light fixtures, cabinet hardware, and faucets) can immediately upgrade your look."

For Street, design is also about knowing when to stop. "My favorite kitchens combine a bit of character with modern elements mixed in, and a healthy dose of restraint so that they don't become overdesigned."

Nicole Paloux, the owner of boutique PR firm Red Balloon Communications and likely the most elegant hostess I know says, "For our kitchen in Philadelphia, which was already fabricated when we purchased the house, we transformed the look of it with really beautiful hardware, soapstone countertops, and a Georgian-era brass bridge faucet. I also love using open shelving sparingly to display plates and bowls or special ceramics."

Brian Phillips, principal architect at Interface Studio Architects, considers the kitchen to be the center of the living space. "It's a little breakfast, it's an office, it's the hearth."

Paloux agrees, "The best time of day is the brief moment when both the coffee nook and the bar nook are open for business."

Phillips says he's recently moved away from stainless steel and is an advocate of contrast. "There's a tendency to think of the kitchen as a top (upper cabinets) and bottom (lower cabinets, island, counter)." He explains, "For instance, if the bottom is one color and the top is a lighter color or shade, it will make the ceiling seem taller and open the space visually. Contrast deepens the space. If everything is the same tone, it can be very monolithic."

Contrast, openness, colored appliances that become motifs which conjure up memories, considering fixtures as kitchen jewelry, and fitting your kitchen to your body. Designing a kitchen or incorporating design into an existing space is simultaneously personal and functional.