A Look at Future Directions for the Kitchen

As our kitchens morph into new spaces, expanding their roles in the home and the activities they are to support, it seems a good time to explore where kitchen design may be headed.

Recently I enjoyed a presentation in the New York showroom of Sub-Zero/Wolf on just this topic, given by design icons Mick DeGuilio, Jamie Drake and Matt Quinn. It prompted me to recognize some of the changes that have come with the evolution of the kitchen and the opportunities for us as designers.

While the history of the kitchen is interesting, it is the emerging trends and future opportunities that seem most exciting, so that’s where this column will focus. Beginning at the point where we all began to embrace the concept of an open plan, with kitchen and living space coexisting, here are some thoughts regarding where we are and where we’re going, inspired by the remarks offered by Mick, Jamie and Matt.

The Space

Improvements on the original open plan/kitchen/Great Room concept have come as they continue to be the standard in home design. We’ve moved from the long and narrow, dark kitchen that was joined to the family room by removal of a wall, to truly open and well-lit kitchens that are integral to the living space. In fact, the kitchen has become the center of the family and social space in the home, and its design is not just based on cooking, but on lifestyle in general.

Increased windows and open space for gathering and group cooking have forced some changes to the way we design within the space. Our work aisles and passage aisles are more generous. To help accommodate the reduction in wall cabinets and walls in general, we have accessories that store in base cabinets those things we traditionally stored in wall cabinets.

In addition, many clients are forgoing the formal and separate dining room, and we are designing or reclaiming furniture pieces to augment storage and display whatever family treasures exist. We are turning more and more to fully integrated appliances that subtly blend into the architecture and furnishings of the space. We are layering lighting to accommodate everything from kitchen clean-up to romantic dinners to homework.

Higher ceilings have offered better opportunities for indirect lighting, and options for decorative fixtures have expanded, supporting the need for light to be brought closer to the task. We are finally beginning to recognize the need to absorb sound in these communal spaces, with the use of sound absorbing materials and design details, particularly in decorative and dropped details of the higher ceilings.

To quote Mick, “People live in their kitchens,” so today and going forward, the kitchen will continue to grow in importance as the physical, social and emotional hub of the home, dictating lifestyle-based design. Not only does this require that we incorporate flexibility in the designs for multiple activities and participants, but it also requires that we listen even more closely to our clients for their needs and priorities. For example, the eating area may need to be a prep zone, a dining table and the place where friends gather to play bridge. Or, it may be a lowered table surrounded by comfortable chairs or a couch for weekend naps and reading the newspaper.

The bottom line is that we will continue to move away from a “standard design” to plans that stem from the habits and concerns of the client. Whether subtle or dramatic, each kitchen will be one of a kind, expressing not just the personality of the clients, but the way they live.

And size? While our homes, on average, are getting smaller, these designers are not expecting the size or importance of the kitchen to shrink. Perhaps it’s not that the kitchen area is getting smaller, but that it is taking on so many more purposes that we will feel the squeeze on the traditional food preparation areas of the space.

Materials & Technology

In its current exhibit, “Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen,” the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City suggests, “Over the course of the past century, no other room has been the focus of such intensive aesthetic and technological innovation.” A look at the products and materials available today, as well as a look forward, would support that thought.

Along with amazing advances due to technology, there is also a growing appreciation for what Matt refers to as “noble materials used honestly.” As our designs become more personalized and less stylized, even the more traditional spaces are becoming more streamlined, simpler and more sophisticated, incorporating this combination of high tech and simple, natural materials.

Cabinets are painted, but not distressed or glazed, with grain and brush strokes a prominent part of the design. Stone is honed with rough or unpolished edges, closer to its natural state. In hardware and fittings, there is growing interest in the more natural unlacquered brasses and bronzes. Appliances are moving from integrated to invisible, including cooktops that are concealed when not in use and refrigeration in more shapes and sizes to allow us to adapt it to our specific design parameters.

And going forward? How about glass as a surface that is also a conductor of energy, light and technology? A glass counter that emits light so that the work surface is lit without shadow or glare? Or a countertop that the cook can touch to activate and the world opens up – embedded television, computer, cooking surface or power station for small appliances come to life? Glass can also come from and return to recycled material.

These concepts are not necessarily available for immediate purchase, but the technology exists. If we can embrace it, our design options are expanded exponentially.

As designers, it is so important to remember to move outside the proverbial box, and to be inspired. My time spent looking at and listening to the ideas of Mick, Jamie, and Matt certainly did that for me, and I hope this may be a little nudge to you as well.

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