Architects and designers have proven time and again they know how to design an aesthetically pleasing kitchen. This is confirmed every time you open a design magazine or walk through a model home.
Design professionals especially know how to make the cooking area beautiful, and most often it becomes the focal point of the kitchen. Cooktops are pulled forward with turnings to the left and right. A recessed niche is created for cooking oils behind the cooktop. Architecturally detailed built-in hoods feature columns, corbels and onlays in every medium possible — copper, zinc, stainless steel, painted, stained, distressed and exotic woods, to name a few.
The design/build industry has been extremely creative with elaborate tile details above and around the cooking surface.
However, does each of those beautiful spaces function as beautifully and meet the individual client’s cooking needs? If the answer is no, or you don’t have an answer, then you’re doing your clients a disservice.
It’s important to ask plenty of questions to learn how clients utilize their kitchens. Ask them what type of cooking they do. Most will answer, “We’re not gourmet chefs,” or, “We don’t have time to cook.” In the majority of cases, even if clients are not gourmet chefs, they wouldn’t mind feeling like one. One way to help them feel more like a real chef is to pair them up with an appropriate cooktop. The cooktop should have a burner with a high Btu rating so if they’re making spaghetti for dinner, the water boils quickly. It also should have a burner with a low simmer setting so while the spaghetti sauce is simmering it’s not scorching or splattering all over the kitchen.
Recently, I met with a client and her cabinetmaker to finalize the kitchen layout. As we discussed the design details, we also went through each cabinet and what its function would be. We then were able to decide whether the cabinet should have drawers or doors, rollouts or shelves. We then went through each drawer, rollout and shelf to detail what type of internal accessories should be included. Once we were finished, the client said she couldn’t believe what we had accomplished. The client knew we were finalizing the design but had no idea the kitchen would be move-in ready. The client was thrilled she already knew where every item was going. Now, moving her items back into her kitchen didn’t seem like such a chore.
Immediately around the cooking area is where we need efficiency the most, and I find that storage needs pretty much are the same for most clients. During preparation and the cooking processes, you don’t want to be crisscrossing the kitchen to grab spices or utensils, especially if you are sautéing on high heat. Everything you need during the cooking process should be within reach.
If I were the client, my ideal cooking area would look something like this: Spices in the top drawer to the right of the cooktop. In some designs we see beautiful columns that hold pullout spice racks coming down to the right and left of the cooktop. Although it’s beautiful, I find that this application is difficult to cook around. When a spice rack is pulled out, there isn’t enough counter space on either side of the cooktop.
I would place cooking oils in the wall cabinet to the right of the vent hood. Make sure the door swings to the right and out of the way of foot traffic, or better yet, make that cabinet without doors. Cooking utensils and knives would be in the top drawer to the left of the cooktop, and hot-pad holders would go in the drawer below the utensils. I would then place my butcher block cutting board (with a front lip to hold it in place) to the right of the cooktop. Pots and pans would be stored below or to the left of the cooking surface, and serving bowls and plates would be assembled in the wall cabinet to the left of the vent hood.
I have two active teenage boys and with school and sports activities our meal time is limited. To minimize dishes I need to do after our meal, I like to plate my food right from the cooktop rather than using serving bowls. Therefore, in my kitchen the dinner plates sit on a shelf to the right of the vent hood. This doesn’t mean this is where you would store all of your dinnerware. Dishes can be split up throughout the kitchen. In my kitchen I have a stack of dishes near the toaster where the boys can make toast, a set at the cooking area and then another set near the dinette.
Keep in mind this works for me since I am right-handed, which means I work from right to left. I also tend to use the front right burner the majority of the time. Because of this, most of my cooking essentials belong to the right of the cooking surface, allowing me to chop my veggies and then scoop them right into my pan from the cutting board. Most of my clients find this works nicely for them as well. However, every client is different and it’s important to find out what their individual needs are.
If the cooking area is organized as well as aesthetically pleasing, clients will not only be happy with the way the kitchen looks but will love how it functions. If you make the cooking process simpler, clients will want to spend more time cooking and in the end will enjoy the kitchen you’ve designed and built for them.