Podcast, Ep. 359: Uncommon Kitchens with Sophie Donelson

Designer Sophie Donelson

Get ready for a jolt of kitchen inspiration (and some myth-busting) this week with Sophie Donelson, a design expert, journalist, and strategist who celebrates the connection between people and their homes. We last caught up with Sophie back in 2017 (Episode #30) when she was the editor-in-chief of House Beautiful Magazine, but this week it’s all about her latest book, Uncommon Kitchens: A Revolutionary Approach to the Most Popular Room in the House. 

Sophie provides insight into kitchen design and trends, reminding us that there are many ways to enjoy one’s kitchen. She discusses the idea of “liberated design” -bringing in nostalgic elements that also consider flexibility and functionality rather than following surface-level trends. Sophie shares some great advice on designing spaces that truly reflect how you use your kitchen daily, the “kitchen triangle” concept, and tips on lighting, color palettes, and storage solutions.

Uncommon Kitchens Book Cover

Sophie Donelson’s latest book Uncommon Kitchens: A Revolutionary Approach to the Most Popular Room in the House. Order your copy here.

What You’ll Hear This Episode:

  • It’s okay to question and even challenge the trends and come up with your alternative ideas for functional and beautiful spaces!
  • The idea of liberated design, and enjoying spaces without permanent changes.
  • Consider nostalgia when tweaking your kitchen and building new appliances.
  • Sophie’s expert thoughts on lighting, storage, and organization spaces.
  • Designing intimate kitchens with lower ceilings and cozy nooks.
  • The importance of perspective and flexibility in design, and focusing on what truly matters rather than superficial appearances.
  • Alternatives to built-in features like banquettes that limit flexibility.
  • Making small, affordable changes before undertaking major renovations.
  • Problem-solving creatively with the space you already have.
  • Incorporating both traditional and modern elements to balance different design aesthetics.

Decorating Dilemma:


I am a huge fan of the show and love the topics and range of guests.

I recently moved from a 600 sq ft New York City apt to a 3000 sq ft Greek revival house. I now have a living room the size of my old apt! And I am struggling with the size of the ceiling, floor and woodwork. The ceiling feels really big, white and flat. The floor is beautiful tiger wood but needs coverage.

I’ve started to do some of the trim in f&b down pipe  vs just white and gave painted the walls green smoke but now I am stuck. I want the room to feel honest to its Greek revival roots but also want some of my nyc funk.

Any advice on how to deal with these large surfaces within that aperture would really be appreciated.  I’ve enclosed pics for you.


– Maggie

Thanks, Maggie!

What a beautiful space you have to work with.

First, Sophie’s thoughts are that you should start by focusing on establishing a thoughtful layout. Creating a cozy desk or seating area near the windows, then adding targeted lighting in each space, will help define comfortable vignettes.

Area rugs can further separate intimate seating zones. Incorporating traditional architectural details while bringing in modern accessories will help balance your desired aesthetics. Drapery along the walls can frame focal points without needing full coverage.

Taking inspiration from your arched entryway, an eye-catching display on the opposite wall may help draw the eye. Don’t feel you need to fill every inch—prioritizing functionality and comfort will make the most of your gorgeous Greek Revival home. We’re excited to see how your space evolves!

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Also Mentioned in This Episode:

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Happy Decorating!

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Kelley Bostian

Kelley enjoys a light and livable home and is always searching for that perfect finishing touch. Here on How to Decorate, it's his goal to help you bring your own unique design vision to life.