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From Restaurants to Real Life

AMY ASWELL knows her way around kitchens and dining rooms. As the interior designer behind some of the Sacramento area’s handsomest restaurants (Hock Farm, Cafe Bernardo at Pavilions, Element Restaurant at Hanford House Inn in Sutter Creek), she has a knack for creating inspirational dining spaces. We asked Aswell about the wisdom she’s gleaned from designing restaurants and how those lessons translate to residential kitchens.

By Catherine Warmerdam
Photo by Kat Alves

Quirky is good
“In residential design, I think people tend to want to play it too safe when it comes to kitchens and dining rooms,” says Aswell. “The most successful projects I’ve seen have some element of whimsy or quirkiness or something that brings the personality of the homeowner into the design.”

Get personal
“If you have a collection of anything, like cookbooks, special dishware, family heirlooms, artwork, those things can bring in a personal relevance that goes deeper than some new tile that you like,” says Aswell.

Shop for the long haul
“Invest in things that are higher quality: chairs, a dining room table, lighting—the things that I call the jewelry of architecture, the things that add character,” advises Aswell. “Look for materials that have a little staying power and iconic furniture that you can have for many decades.”

Embrace imperfection
“With restaurant design, durability is very important. But what I try to achieve when I’m working on a restaurant is that balance of items that are really durable but are going to age well and develop a patina. That might mean the material changes or breaks down a little bit,” explains Aswell, adding that those imperfections lend a space its character.

Know yourself
Understand what works for you instead of chasing every kitchen trend. For example, floating open shelves are popular, but they aren’t for everyone. “A lot of people don’t want to see collections or clutter, while other people love to have things on display,” says Aswell. Know which camp you fall into.

Just relax
It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like your kitchen needs to look like a designer showcase every minute of the day, but these are hardworking spaces that are meant to be enjoyed. “Have fun and don’t take everything quite so seriously,” says Aswell. “The point is to make yourself happy with a design that works for you.”

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