architecture  research  design

Contextual Modern: The Merging of Old and New
Kitchen Design


At Atelier et Alia we practice architecture mainly in New England, which boasts of having the country’s oldest housing stock, yet our passion is contemporary design.  As luck would have it, we are not alone!  We often find ourselves tasked with merging traditional and contemporary design for clients who share the same aesthetic goals. Our approach to solving this design quandary begins with the study, understanding, and appreciation of the project’s context to inspire the design of the renovation. Our design solutions aim to support a modern lifestyle and aesthetic while evolving from the history of the project site. We refer to this design approach as “Contextual Modern,” which aims to harmoniously merge the old and the new.

Here are a few strategies of Contextual Modern design to help you align your traditional home with your inner modernist:

1. Bridging the Style Gap:

Strategic material and finish selections enable different styles to harmoniously coexist.

Contemporary kitchen renovation in historic homeThis project involved the renovation of a kitchen in an 1899 Georgian mansion that had been converted into condo units. The unit maintained many of the traditional details and character of the original home. The new homeowners desired a sleek modern Italian kitchen to accommodate their contemporary design aesthetic.

To bridge the gap between the different interior design styles, we introduced materials and finishes found throughout the home into the kitchen design. The hardwood floors, trim, and moldings are retained, and the marble that makes up the grand fireplace surround and sunroom floor inspired the kitchen backsplash and countertops, tying together the old and the new.

click link for more photos of this project.

2. A Balancing Act:

Clean lines and a balance of color, texture, and light give a space a bright and contemporary look while maintaining the overall character of the traditional home.

Contemporary Kitchen in Traditional HomeThis home was built in 1930, and the homeowners sought to maintain the home’s character while achieving a modern kitchen renovation.

Shaker style cabinets are shape-shifters and were selected for their ability to work well in both modern and traditional settings. The traditional forest green cabinet color is brought up to date with modern hardware, fixtures, and a contemporary-styled countertop and backsplash. The palette is kept simple; the ceiling, walls, trim, and backsplash tile are all white in sleek contrast to the green of the cabinets, and the warm wood tones of the floor are replicated in the floating wall shelves and furnishings. And details like the light fixtures were selected because they are a modern interpretation of historic fixtures.

click link for more photos of this project.

3. Leveraging Good Bones:

Restoring the original shell of the home as the backdrop of a modern interior renovation.

Modern kitchen and diningThis 1880s farmhouse-style home had endured several transformations over the years resulting in a loss of much of its original detail and character. It did have its good bones, or more specifically, the much-valued features of tall ceilings, ample square footage over 4 floors, and windows that provided great natural light.

Our design strategy was two-fold; to remove the layers of past renovations to restore the traditional shell of the building and to create a modern interior inspired by that history while better meeting the new homeowner’s lifestyle and design tastes.

click link for more photos of this project.


Compact modern house concept renderingInterested in more on this topic?

Check out our Contextual Modern Pinterest Board for more inspiration!