The 'Live-In Kitchen' Concept

Several years ago, I began experimenting with a new kitchen layout strategy aimed at better integrating family activities and the primary storage/preparation/cooking work centers into one large living space. This new approach revolves around changing where these traditional work centers are placed within an expanded “roomscape” still labeled as a “kitchen.” I call it the “Live-in Kitchen” plan, rather than an “Eat-in Kitchen” or a “Great Room Kitchen.”

To better understand the basic premise of this new approach to design, it’s a good idea to review how the kitchen has evolved. Many of us remember when a kitchen was a walled-off space associated with grease, grime and drudgery. Over the last 30 years, walls have come down, and kitchens have been placed alongside family gathering and activity centers. Professional space planners are moving the kitchen “out of the corner” in these Great Room settings, and placing it in the center of an overall living area.

This “floating” approach to locating the primary work spaces of a residential kitchen allows various people-related activities to be integrated into the actual food-focused space or occur along the perimeters of the space. So – quite simply – rather than people gathering “in” the kitchen, they are gathering “around” the kitchen.

After creating such a space in a concept kitchen for the Jenn-Air exhibit at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, I wrote about new planning considerations for a “floating” kitchen in a Kitchen & Bath Design News article entitled “Emerging Kitchens Take Center Stage” (February, 2010).

Over the last few months I’ve enjoyed seeing both “real-life” and “conceptual” kitchen plans based on this new way of placing the kitchen in a gathering space.



This new approach to space management was beautifully employed by Chris Novak Berry of brooksBerry Kitchens & Baths of St. Louis, MO, and her co-designer, Emily Castle, in their 2011 NKBA Design Competition “Best Kitchen” award-winning design. Berry and Castle placed a kitchen in the center of a space, allowing the back wall to serve as a two-sided work and storage station (see photo at right).

The key to this solution is rethinking the concept of an island. The island is created with a full or partial wall. The design offers a combination of the traditional “corridor” kitchen (that “floats” in the room) and a secondary one-wall counter and cabinet assembly anchored nearby. We might need a new name for this shape: the “T-Shaped Kitchen”?



A second “floating” kitchen (see photo at left) was created by Kristen Hiestand of the Shadowlight Group. While this photography set may not serve an actual family, Kristen clearly understands the concept of multiple living spaces being created adjacent to or as part of a kitchen that is at the center of the space.

This approach to planning could be referred to as the “wagon wheel” kitchen shape: The primary work stations are located in the center with people activities radiating away from it like the spokes of a wheel. Look carefully – it is another version of the “T-shaped” kitchen. The corridor area houses the primary work centers and appliances. The back wall in the corridor space is intersected by a second corridor double-sided work area. These counter areas provide space for the cook’s helpers or a secondary chef who works alongside the cook all the time.

This kitchen design creates separate – yet connected – gathering or work areas in the “L” configured areas behind the work stations. Perhaps an area for the family computer/office center? Maybe a quiet reading corner? Alternatively, a classic dining area might be placed in this part of the kitchen. The general space just beyond the 36"-high snack counter would surely be reserved for the entertainment/media center.

Sometimes our best work is a result of being freed from the constraints of real clients with real budgets and brick and mortar rooms. Taking time to conceptualize possible ideal plans can lead to new solutions just right for our clients – so do not consider such time to be “wasted.” As you plan ahead, incorporate some time in your schedule to “daydream” while at work.

This is more important than ever because of the great recession we’ve just been through (or are still struggling in). For the past three years, we’ve all been focusing on carefully crafting functional kitchens, with keen attention paid to the budget parameters of the project. Such a focus (function and investment) leads to safe designs: space management approaches we have used time and time again. Looking forward to the balance of 2011 and 2012 and beyond, designers will be asked by their clients to take a fresh, new, more creative approach to how and where the kitchen is located within the space.

These two examples are a great starting point. However, remember that you cannot be creative, nor can you productively “daydream,” without having all of your planning tools and your design knowledge updated.


Key Planning Details

To be prepared to meet this challenge, consider these key planning details:

For renovation projects, survey all living spaces surrounding the kitchen. Pay particular attention to how the inside spaces relate to the outside spaces.

Draw the entire room in 1/4" scale. Secure a set of designer furniture templates so that you can confidently present your solution as a balanced plan accommodating people and furniture, as well as people and food. Not familiar with furniture sizing or clearance dimensions? Google “Furniture Templates” or review the reference book Architectural Graphic Standards – Eleventh Edition, 2007 (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). Visit the KBDN Web site and review the article I mentioned earlier featuring an extensive list of planning details for such “center stage” kitchens ($5457). You can also access an archived Webcast that Janice Costa and I conducted on the subject, “A Concept Kitchen for the New Consumer: Contemporary Casual” at

Pay special attention to the lighting plan: You need variable levels to match the various activities in the space. The ventilation system is of key importance, as well – it needs to be efficient and quiet. Make sure you’re aware of all of the new technology emerging in ventilation – from approved efficiency to new, more ergonomically appropriate designs and shapes. To provide equalized air pressure for a well-balanced home and budget, visit

Consider adding the sale of chairs/bar stools to your product offering. There’s no reason that you cannot provide this “kitchen furniture” along with your cabinetry.

Renew or establish collaborative working relationships with interior designers. If your specialty is cabinetry, counters and appliances, the idea of outfitting an entire space that includes the kitchen can be daunting. Partnering with an interior designer who handles all of the furniture and decorative details of the live-in room can simplify the creation of this great gathering space you’re proposing.

Now that we’ve covered the planning guidelines for “floating” kitchen plans, let’s return to a few more moments of fun “what iffing” – enjoying these three conceptual kitchen plans created for a young Gen-X couple living high above the LA cityscape:


conceptual Solutions

Billy Williams, AKBD, owner of B. Williams Design in Nashville, TN, is a kitchen and bath specialist with 20+ years’ experience. He was recently asked by Jenn-Air to really “think outside of the box,” creating several versions of an American Contemporary kitchen that blended outside living spaces with inside living spaces and focused on non-traditional kitchen planning.

Williams was certainly up for the challenge. He has been featured in Southern Living magazine, as well as on HGTV and PBS. He created several kitchens for a Los Angeles, CA couple in their late 30s who lived in an urban setting; he imagined a condominium. Williams’ hypothetical clients were professionals in the entertainment industry, a diverse couple: She drives a Range Rover but also collects art! The couple was very interested in modern architecture but wanted the kitchen to work for their family.

Williams’ first proposal was called “Balance” (see drawing on Page 40). Like a bridge of a starship, the kitchen is set up to be “command center” in this plan. The circular design allows the cook to work inside the cooking circle, while guests and family gather around the bar and in the adjacent modern day “keeping room.” The kitchen is the hub – other rooms and activities branch off like the spokes of a wheel.

The key to this concept of centering the kitchen in a space is that those individuals who are preparing a meal are not isolated, but remain part of the action. Williams omitted any sort of formal dining room – focusing on casual eating areas at the bar and flowing to the outdoor space. (Both formal living and dining rooms are being eliminated from new home designs in smaller, smarter home planning.) An intriguing use of space: Note how a curved ceiling/skylight architectural detail completes the “circle” of the kitchen.

Williams’ second plan was labeled “Waves” in honor of the shape of the eating counter (see drawings at top right). Once again, he repeated the shape in the ceiling with a skylight. Note how the L-shaped configuration of the island with a microwave/convection/browning appliance is accessible to assistant chefs.

Williams employed a design concept similar to Berry’s design when he created an island – with a wall! The back side could feature a flat screen entertainment center, pantry storage or an art wall: A variety of uses is possible. The introduction of stainless steel fronts on the tall cabinetry fitted against the wood seen elsewhere provides an interesting design detail.

In Williams’ words, “This kitchen is yin and yang: Earth and sky, corners and curves, dark and light.”

The kitchen relates directly to the outdoor lounge area and dining room. The idea is simplicity and flow for entertaining. Williams employed large Nana walls that can be opened – letting the indoor and outdoor areas meld into a single contemporary connected space. The “wave” design of the island adds softness and a bit of sophisticated whimsy to the look and feel of the kitchen.

Williams’ last plan is called “Apex” (see drawing above). This one is “really out there!” What an intriguing idea – a V-shaped kitchen is anchored to one wall; its form allows for two adjacent gathering areas and one long horizontal area leading outside. This minimalist approach probably has a large pantry close by for an overflow of the owners’ “stuff.” The V creates a deep pocket for those who are creating a meal, yet the kitchen folks have a clear view to all three gathering areas.

The elimination of wall cabinets allows the kitchen to really be part of the total living experience. Williams includes open shelves that float around the tall units; if support was an issue, steel rods could extend from the shelves up to the ceiling.

There’s just no doubt about it, being able to think “conceptually” leads to some intriguing ideas. The real world and the conceptual world need not be separated, though. Smart designers will always consider function and budget first – but will “layer” a conceptual, “what iffing” approach when planning a space for a family who might be well served by pulling the kitchen out of a corner or away from the perimeter walls and locating it in the center of the roomscape called a “kitchen.” KBDN