Yes, it takes a village - a global village, that is - to create today’s most interesting kitchens. Design elements inspired by many countries, cultures and eras meet in a celebration of great looks, function, and the quirky features that set a really good kitchen apart.

According to Rutt designers from around the nation, kitchen styles may begin with the homeowners’ fondness for a certain county or region, but soon other considerations enter the picture, so the end result is eclectic, to say the least.

"And that’s the beauty of today’s kitchens," explains Tom Pettigrew, who heads the Rutt of Seattle design team. "A kitchen that looks like it came right off an assembly line may work all right, but it doesn’t warm the soul, attract get-togethers, or, for that matter, inspire the kind of creative cooking and entertaining we strive for today. Let us face it, most of us spend our days working in sterile, high-tech surroundings that may be long on efficiency but leave us desperate for self-expression.

"Our designers encounter this need almost every time we begin to create a new kitchen. Homey warmth and a lived-in feeling are two of the expressions often used by our clients when they tell us what they want from a new kitchen, and as for the style they like, mellow farm looks from Tuscany and Provence, American Shaker simplicity, and English manor styles top the list. This doesn’t mean that they stick with a certain look like heirlooms from a 17th century Tuscan villa, but don’t be surprised to see it combined with a professional stainless steel range, a Finnish soapstone oven that doubles as a fireplace, gleaming granite counters, and a collection of Royal Copenhagen platters."The Cooking Room Noted designer Susan Bates of The Rutt Collection, Los Altos, CA, feels that we should call today’s kitchen,

"The Cooking Room".

" It has become so much more than a kitchen," she says. "The fine woods, craftsmanship and details of the cabinetry that we design today rival those of the finest furniture," she says. "Then add eye-pleasing displays of favorite items, beautiful floors and walls, lovely colors and well chosen texture contrasts, and you’ve living room beauty and comfort.

"And yes, the international flavor is undeniable. People are well-traveled, and they appreciate design elements from around the world. Often, clients will ask us to find ways to design their kitchens to make room for something special they brought back from overseas. It could be something as impossible as an antique Bavarian cupboard or Swedish porcelain stove, or it could be a collection. Recently, a client asked us to design cabinets to show off her prized collection of antique Chinese porcelain. Another client had two rare stained glass windows that he wanted to incorporate in his kitchen

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With the world as their oyster, how do homeowners put together a kitchen that mixes elements without looking haphazard?

George Rallis, head of Rutt of New York City, agrees that it takes a fine eye to balance design elements of different eras and countries of origin.

"You can’t just mix whatever you like," says Rallis. "There has to be a balance. And even if you have excellent taste and might be able to get the mix right, there are still all practical elements to consider, so you wind up with infinite choices. Why, even selecting a faucet can be a daunting task. Just when did a faucet stop being a simple utilitarian device? Good question, and it proves just how difficult it is to make kitchen decisions these days. The solution, of course, is to seek out a professional kitchen designer."

Rutt designers have earned great reputations for very special kitchens, and all agree that initial interviews and thorough, preliminary sketches are important first steps.

"We don’t do format design," says Bates. "There is no magic plan that works for everybody. It makes a huge difference how a family shops, cooks and eats. For example, those who like fresh foods, need more refrigeration space. Indoor grilling is great for those, who prefer low-fat foods. And multiple work stations are terrific for families, who arrive home with hunger pangs and need room for everybody to pitch in and prepare dinner in a hurry...

"Those are some of the practical considerations, and finding the right answers to them is just as essential to a successful kitchen as the aesthetics."