Vasi Ypsilantis is an internationally renown kitchen designer who I was able to talk at length about her award-winning creative process, her distinguished career, and how her participation in the Kitchen Design Contest – both as a winning recipient, and later as a judge shaped her process and benefited her career. This is the second half of our interview – the first half can be found here.
Vasi began her design career in 1985 after attending Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Starting in the kitchen design and cabinet sales industry, she honed her skills quickly and became a partner in her first business in 1989 and in 1999, she opened Vasi Ypsilantis Design Associates, her own boutique kitchen and bath showroom.
Bob (LoaA): What kind of observations have you made over your career about how kitchens have changed?
Vasi: When I first started designing kitchens, I just focused on the cabinets, countertops, and appliances. Today, other aspects of kitchen design – the space planning, ceiling design, lighting and how the kitchen design incorporates into the rest of the home’s interiors are just as important as the appliances and cabinets.
Consumers have a more sophisticated taste than they did 30 years ago because they are constantly traveling and exposed to more design styles. I try to impress clients by customizing details that match their individual lifestyles. Sometimes clients bring me photos of kitchens they like, and say, “Can you copy this?” While images can provide a design direction, I feel a kitchen should be customized according to my client’s cooking needs, functionality, and overall home design. That’s my specialty.
What has remained consistent throughout the years is the white kitchen. White kitchens have accounted for 60% of my sales from the day I started through today.
Bob (LoaA): In that time frame, have you changed how you go about solving the problems your clients bring you?
Vasi: Years ago, it was about promoting the cabinetry brand and selling appliances. Today, consumers appreciate the long-lasting quality and value of high-end cabinetry and appliances –it’s a given. Now, my focus is to sell my clients on a magnificent kitchen design that will be truly customized to fit their needs and will make their lives easier. I don’t want my client’s kitchens to look like a display in my showroom, or the kitchen in their neighbor’s house. My promise to clients – ‘The kitchen I design will be uniquely yours.’
That’s my approach. I think most consumers want what everyone else has, but I still try to make it personalized for them by adding specific details unique to their lifestyle. I always listen to my client’s wishes because they really know what they want.
Bob (LoaA): Do you like to cook?
Vasi: Yes, I really enjoy cooking for my family and entertaining at the holidays. My father owned a restaurant and my parents were always cooking – I grew up surrounded by fresh ingredients and always helped prepare meals. I just love Greek cuisine.
For most of my clients, how they cook isn’t as important as understanding their lifestyle. In the suburbs where I live in Long Island, there are larger families with 4-6 or more people living in one house. The dynamics surrounding families of size, and understanding their daily interactions must be considered even more than how much they cook because people live in their kitchens.
Bob (LoaA): Kitchen appliances that are coming out now are really clever. I’m curious as to the value of your knowledge of designing a kitchen for somebody who doesn’t cook often despite the fact that the technology is there for them.
Vasi: As a designer, I still like to introduce my clients to new products & technology – I especially like the [Wolf] convection steam oven. It’s one of my favorite pieces and it’s something that I’m going to hopefully have in my own kitchen. The convection steam oven is the answer for someone who doesn’t cook much, as well as the professional cook
Bob (LoaA): What are the challenges associated with designing kitchens in small spaces?
Vasi: I love designing small kitchens because they are very efficient. Many Manhattan kitchens that I design are rarely larger than 10’ by 7’. You can do some amazing things with that limited amount of space.
Bob (LoaA): Do you treat those small kitchens as isolated rooms? Can those spaces get treated as social kitchens?
Vasi: Even if the kitchen is isolated, it needs to look and function just as great as the rest of the residence. While counter space is at a premium, the client must be able to cook. Some design tricks that I’ve used to maximize space include an under counter oven instead of a wall oven, smaller refrigerator, and dishwasher drawers. In larger spaces, the focus is on kitchens used for entertaining, where I sometimes create a small kitchen or large butler’s pantry where most of the preparation and cooking takes place, that’s slightly hidden away from the main show kitchen. Since these additional spaces allow for cooking and food preparation, the kitchen now becomes more of a living room.
Bob (LoaA): Do you see a trend where cooktops are being pulled out of the island?
Vasi: In my contemporary designs, cooktops are introduced in islands. I personally love a cooktop on the island, or a sink in the island. Sometimes clients are hesitant to include a cooktop in their island, but the island is a part of the kitchen and it should be incorporated functionally into the overall design.
Bob (LoaA): Could you talk a little bit about how you approach lighting in the kitchen?
Vasi: I approach lighting like any commercial space and incorporate task lighting, intimate lighting, and overall lighting. Task lighting is very, very important. If there is a center island, you need to make sure that the ceiling lighting will provide a proper amount of task lighting.
LED lighting is much nicer than it used to be and when it comes to overall lighting, I like to add it into the mix. I’m using LED more and more because there are much improved options for designers to beautifully light their spaces.
Bob (LoaA): There are more eating spaces being incorporated within these large kitchens; do you have a specific approach to design that incorporate dining in the kitchen?
Vasi: I recently had a client request that they didn’t want any table seating in the kitchen – they just wanted eight stools around the island. They have five children, so it’s a great concept. However, when you’re sitting and dining, or just enjoying a glass of wine with your meal, I think a proper table environment is very important – whether it’s a table for four, or it’s lounge seating with three or four low chairs. I like to create a real dining space away from the island, if it’s possible.
Bob (LoaA): Do you feel that because some people think that doing integrated appliances makes those appliances disappear, that it makes the kitchen a different sort of room?
Vasi: Even if concealed, I think consumers know there’s a refrigerator in the room. Kitchens that feature either exposed appliances or integrated appliances both have different values and aesthetics. It depends on the design of the space and which of the two options is more appropriate.
The fact that there are so many product sizes available right now is fantastic because I can customize the refrigeration in each kitchen. The client’s design goals will dictate whether I select sleek stainless, commercial stainless, or concealed appliances. The designer really interjects the aesthetic direction into the overall plan.
Bob (LoaA): What would be the first and second most important piece of equipment in a kitchen?
Vasi: Most important for me would be a 60-inch Wolf Range; or a 48-inch Wolf Range if size was a constraint. My second choice would be a convection steam oven.
Bob (LoaA): Do you ever find yourself designing around specific day, a holiday, or a specific activity?
Vasi: Yes, Thanksgiving. Everybody talks about the Thanksgiving dinner – it really touches all cultures. You need to accommodate big groups and you need a large oven and maybe even a third oven. I find that holiday entertaining is always part of the client conversation in kitchen design. We always end up talking about Thanksgiving at one point or another.
Bob (LoaA): Do you think kitchens are getting larger because some of the more traditional roles or duties that the kitchen plays are being allocated to a separate space?
Vasi: Yes, in the past few years, I have seen more stocking up of groceries and supplies, so you need a place to put it all. As a result, I always try to incorporate walk-in pantries if the space allows.
We are using so many more appliances in the kitchen nowadays and taking up more space, so I’m always finding creative solutions for additional storage, counter space, etc. There are refrigerators that are no longer limited to 36” or 48”, so sometimes I design up to 5 or 6 feet of refrigeration. We are taking up so much square footage in the kitchen with appliances that we’re running out of space for pantries. With that said, a small pantry is never enough, so the conversation evolves into, “Well, let’s do a walk-in pantry.” As a result, pantries have evolved into a closet or something larger located off the kitchen.
Bob (LoaA): What advice would you give someone who is in the position you were in 30 years ago, starting out – knowing what you know now?
Vasi: Don’t give up! Be passionate about what you do, but don’t force it. If you don’t love and have a passion for your work, then this can be a very difficult business. For me, it’s a little bit of being an architect, a designer, a contractor and a psychiatrist all in one. So, you have to really love what you do.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting a chance to speak with Vasi the current state of kitchens, their evolution and involvement in our lives, and the Sub-Zero and Wolf Kitchen Design contest. It is easy to see why Vasi has been selected to participate as a judge in The Kitchen Design Contest. If you would like to learn more, I have included links here to everything you might like to know more about the judges, the awards and prizes, or the rules of this event.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have partnered with Sub-Zero and Wolf to provide my professional opinion about kitchen design and document its Kitchen Design Contest. While I am being compensated, I only recommend products or services I may use or will use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”