Book Report: ‘Lyn Peterson’s Real Life Kitchens’

Lynpetersonkitchen_2When considering a $40 kitchen design book, you must ask the question: Is this any better than the countless -- and less expensive -- magazines at the checkout stand that explore the same subject?

"Lyn Peterson's Real Life Kitchens" is superior to magazines when you read her text: informed, practical and helpful, with none of the breathless excitement -- spectacular, fabulous, must-have, trendy, gorgeous -- some magazines manufacture to capture readers.

However, when you consider some of the photographs, it's the magazine world all over. The rooms you see on the finished pages have that souped-up-model feeling. For a book titled "Real Life Kitchens," you expect a higher degree of reality -- that real people live and cook in these rooms.

If you can accept that the look of some of these rooms may be impossible to achieve in your real life -- unless you've got a line on high-end appliances, never-ending bowls of tulips and strategically placed lighting that emulates streaming sunlight -- and buy the book for the author's knowledge as a kitchen designer, you will have spent your money well.

Peterson is an interior designer and mother of four who lives in Scarsdale, N.Y. She is also the author of "Lyn Peterson's Real Life Decorating" and "Lyn Peterson's Real Life Renovating."

The book is nicely laid out by major kitchen topic: appliances, cabinetry, lighting and surfaces. If you were to hire a kitchen designer, you really wouldn’t need to buy this book: Your designer would know where to put the sink and how much space you need for pans, what kinds of lights you need for which task and all the rest of the wisdom. However, if you’re designing your own kitchen, or relying on little bits of advice from all over, this book could be your anchor.

Take the topic of stone floors. In a magazine article about a kitchen with stone floors, you might be seduced by the romantic, evocative images and swayed by the flowery verbiage. But in this book, though the images are nice and catch your eye, Peterson tells you the truth: Stone floors will crack if the subfloor is not completely level. They are so heavy that your foundation may need shoring up, your feet will get cold on them, and when you drop something on them or fall on them, they will be hard. And they could chip or crack. After reading all this, reality hits and you think: Do I want to deal with all that?

This focus on stone is surprising considering her statement on laminate counters: "The most affordable choice also happens to be the most often chosen." So why are there no laminate counters shown in that chapter among the scores of stone counters?

And that brings up a point: I think this book may disappoint people whom I would classify as the "not rich" — people like me. To see these expensive, well-appointed kitchens (think Viking and Sub-Zero) causes a little disconnect for me. Even if I had $100,000 to spend on one of these kitchens, it would look really goofy dropped inside my "real-life" house. There aren’t many kitchens in this book I can relate to. But it’s a necessary gap between what I could afford to do and what Peterson would design. Her clients have money and spend it well.

Perhaps this book needs a new title: "Kitchens for People With a Whole Bunch of Money and a Penchant for Stone Counters."

So if you understand the book’s limitations and want to take advantage of an accomplished kitchen designer’s insights, Peterson has written a guide that could help you make the best of your own real kitchen.