Tips from Interior Designer Kisha Gianni

Why Designers Are for All, How to Remodel Your Kitchen, Cutting Clutter, and More

Organizing and decorating your home needn’t be a daunting endeavor. We asked two of Santa Barbara’s top interior designers to dish on their successful strategies. Here is what Kisha Gianni had to say. Click here for Michelle Beaman’s interview.

What’s the first step in a kitchen remodel? Is it really necessary to hire a designer? I think most people probably don’t realize how many design decisions go into making a kitchen not just look good, but function well. The process generally starts with selecting a style, but configuring a logical layout is the all-important next step. “Form follows function” may never be more crucial than in the space where meals are prepared, food is stored, and cabinets and drawers have the monumental task of housing everything from your pretty William Sonoma plate collection to your not-so-pretty accumulation of chip clips.

Kisha Gianni
Paul Wellman

Once you have a style and layout, get ready to make decisions about fireclay versus porcelain, furniture feet or a plain toe kick, custom cabinets or factory-finished. From there, the list of selections goes on (and on!), and each must fit the look, the budget, and be available by your install date.

Because kitchen remodels can be potentially overwhelming and certainly lengthy (two months is not out of the ordinary) and pricey (sock away at least $40,000 for your average remodel, and prices can go up exponentially from there), having a designer help navigate you through the design phase and a contractor to orchestrate the execution will not only speed up the process but make sure the end results match your idea of a dream kitchen.

If a full kitchen reno is not affordable in the foreseeable future, don’t despair. There are things you can do to refresh the look of your kitchen without the hassle of demo or the heartache of a depleted savings account. Fresh paint on the cabinets (white is still my favorite “solves-most-design sins” cabinet color) and walls, and replacing the cabinet hardware, goes a long way in transforming even the most tired kitchen. Does yours come with really unattractive lighting? You can literally lighten things up by replacing outdated lighting [and] adding recessed lighting and/or under-cabinet lighting. 

Next? Clear the decks! What doesn’t need to live on your counter should be hidden behind closed cabinet doors. Then up the style ante by adding attractive items: cute canisters, a pretty bowl holding fresh fruit. You can get intentional with your arrangement: all artichokes or lemons or red apples; set out new dish towels, a chic bottle of hand soap; line a windowsill with fresh herbs — anything to give the eye something fetching to focus on. New stools at an island, a bamboo or Roman shade at the kitchen window, adding a striped runner or natural fiber mat in front of the sink all help to set a stylish tone. Even the view outside your kitchen can influence the feel inside; a strategically placed tree or flowering plant can improve the view as well as screen a bad one. 

It has been all the rage to tear out upper cabinets in favor of a few shelves for open storage. This can be a very nice look, but be prepared to use only your best items (generally a single color palette works best, or a lack of color, such as all white or all glass dishes), which means you won’t have the same storage capacity as when you could jam everything in a cabinet and close the door on the mismatched coffee cups and leaning tower of Tupperware. 

Get ready to dust and wipe these items — often. Items in the kitchen tend to get glazed with light coating of grease which you’ll soon discover dust is wildly attracted to. But if you already have ample storage and relish the thought [of] gazing at your kitchen curios on a daily basis, I will say the upshot of this look is that it is something homeowners can generally tackle on their own. It can make a tight space feel more open, and it offers a way to show off a collection of items that might otherwise be forgotten behind closed cupboard doors.

What are some tips to tackle clutter? Ah, spring. If there was ever a season that inspired snipping ties with your inner hoarder, it must be this one. There’s something about the warm days and the pollen in the air that just encourages purging. But sometimes good intentions don’t result in enough items being donated/recycled/re-gifted. So let’s get ruthless, shall we?

As an interior designer, I am prone to the “I might need it someday” slippery slope. Up until recently, my garage was filled with things that I’d love for the “right” house, things I loved a lot more five years ago, and things I still loved but had forgotten I owned because they were buried under other things. Operative word: things. And far too many of them. It was a bad system.

So I used the same advice I give to clients for the interior of their home: Sometimes the best way to make a space work is to take everything out of a room and only allow what really works back in. This process will allow you to view each piece with fresh eyes. If the item isn’t somehow making the room better — whether due to its function, pleasing aestheticism, or sentimental value — it should go.

For objects you are conflicted about (“are two paper weights better than one?”), set them in a bin and store them somewhere (the garage, an attic, your best friend’s house) — anywhere but back in the same room. In a month, revisit the items in question and ask yourself if you have missed them — or even thought about them. If not, sell them at a garage sale (with the earned funds, you may want to buy a new and improved paper weight), or donate them to a favorite thrift store or friend in need.

Once you limit what you keep to your best-of, you’ll find that organization — not to mention dusting — is much less daunting.

In kids’ rooms, baskets, boxes, closed storage (dressers, nightstands, seats that do double duty as storage containers) will help keep the space tidier and greatly reduce the Lego foot-impalement incidents. For offices, dens, and living rooms, bookshelves provide an ideal place to add more storage and showcase your most treasured finds (because you already donated the ones that just didn’t work—right?).

And that leads us to your clothing closet. A closet system that utilizes every square inch of space will not only allow you to fit a maximum amount of items but in such a way that you can still access them all in case you’re not quite ready to part with that too-tight pair of jeans.

Here’s a neat trick to help accurately gauge what you’re wearing and what’s wasting valuable cubic footage: Rehang your clothing with the hangers facing the wrong way (the hook facing towards you). The next time you don an outfit, reverse the hanger. You’ll soon see which items you actually wear and which duds are duds.

Remember, any rejects can be donated to charity (tax deduction), sold on consignment (cha-ching!), or inspire a great clothes-exchange party with your friends (but choose wisely there, or you’ll be right back where you started).

Are designers only for rich people? I hate to think anyone believes designers are reserved for the rich. Most designers work on an hourly rate that is the equivalent [of] a dinner for two at a nice restaurant. Of course, that can add up, but not all projects are complete overhauls. Some rooms only require fresh paint, furniture rearrangement, and the addition of a few updated accessories — you’d be surprised how much style new throw pillows can add to a tired, old sofa, for instance.

In contrast to your spending all your free time researching ideas on sites like Houzz and pouring over Pinterest, a designer has the know-how to walk into your space and look beyond its current state to envision all the improved possibilities. We recognize what works and know how to remedy what doesn’t. Yes, this is a service that has a price tag, but the adage, “It costs less to do it right the first time” is never more true than when you get the estimate for repainting that room you thought would look awesome in a pale shade of puce.

Taking a house from so-so to stunning involves a lot of deciding, ordering, and orchestrating, and thinking on your feet when that tile you loved turns out to be back-ordered for eight weeks. Working with a designer allows you relax and rest assured that someone is making sure your design not only doesn’t derail but stays within the timeline and budget that you set. And, don’t forget, designers not only come with an arsenal of quality tradespersons, and access to to-the-trade-only products, but we get trade discounts, which ultimately save you money!

For more on Kisha Gianni’s work, see


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