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6 Unexpected Ways to Find Design Inspiration for Your Kitchen

You’ve been scrolling through Pinterest and Houzz so much, your finger is sore, and that pile of magazine tear-outs is becoming a fire hazard. But where else can you find inspiration for the kitchen of your dreams? Try these unconventional tactics.

1. Eat out.

Watch how the pros cook. Visit a few eateries that each specialize in a different cuisine and type of service—say, a breakfast café, a pizza joint and a white-tablecloth spot with a wide-open kitchen—and observe the chefs in action. See how they all strategically place the mixing bowls and cutting boards at the food-prep station, and notice how the dishwashing is done near the plate storage to maximize efficiency. Also note how they’re different: One restaurant may have a showpiece copper hood; another may have a pizza oven. Then, take what you’ve learned and loved, and apply it to your own kitchen design.

2. Watch TV.

Sure, TV kitchens aren’t completely practical (can the Dunphys on Modern Family really afford a kitchen that huge?!), but it’s worth noting when you spot an on-screen kitchen you love. Set designers often approach kitchens differently than residential designers do—for example, they consider how studio lighting will bounce off finishes and whether there’s enough room to scoot a camera past an island—so the on-set kitchens tend to contain fresh ideas you won’t see in real homes. Go ahead: Ogle the charcoal subway tile in Olivia Pope’s galley on Scandal, and envy the seemingly endless icy cabinetry in Alicia Florrick’s kitchen on The Good Wife.

3. Borrow someone else’s kitchen.

Call your best friend and demand to cook dinner tonight. (Nobody will say no to that.) Grab some groceries and get to work—and while you work, study the footprint of your pal’s kitchen: Take note of how lovely it is to have the stove nestled within the island, for example, or how convenient that pull-out spice drawer is, or how chic that overhead pot rack looks (but also note how annoying it is to stand on tiptoe to actually retrieve a stockpot). Looking is one thing, but actually cooking in another kitchen will help solidify what you want for your own—and what you don’t.

4. Go shopping …

… but look beyond the mall. Instead, visit a few showrooms: Head to a plumbing showroom, where you can view faucets and fixtures side by side (and even turn them on!); try a tile and stone showroom, and actually run your hands over the finishes; spend a few hours combing through sample books in a wallpaper shop. In the beginning, don’t worry about whether elements fit together; instead, focus on finding individual pieces you’re drawn to. Inspiration is only the beginning!

5. Take a vacation.

Cash in those frequent-flyer miles and jet off to a far-flung locale—to relax, of course, but also to experience how different cultures use their kitchens. Take notes on a small yet ultra-efficient urban Japanese kitchen, a slick Scandinavian galley or a coastal American bungalow, complete with a view of the sea. You can’t bring the ocean home with you, but a pleasant panorama may move further up your priority list.

6. Start small.

Forget about the major stuff—the appliances, the cabinetry, the flooring—for now. Instead, pick a single smaller item you love—an antique china plate, a funky chandelier, a Champagne bronze faucet—then build an imaginary kitchen around it. Crazy about your cast-iron mussel pot? Imagine a French bistro kitchen with a copper range and chinoiserie porcelain. Obsessed with your retro blue stand mixer? Dream about a midcentury modern diner with sleek wood cabinetry and an aqua tile backsplash. You might not use every idea in your real-world kitchen, but you might think up a new element you suddenly can’t live without.