Off the Wall

Do you have clients willing to sacrifice wall cabinet storage to capitalize on the view from their kitchens? Or those who simply prefer a modern flair over traditional styling, which may also lend itself to less traditional wall cabinetry?

If you answered yes to either of the above, congratulations! You have the opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone to create a space that truly offers function and expresses the desires and needs of your client. Remember, no two kitchen designs should ever be the same, as no two clients are exactly the same; each one has different tastes, needs and desires.

In recent years, we’ve been seeing more and more kitchens on exterior walls with huge expanses of glass to integrate the beauty of nature with the interior amenities of the home. But, for the kitchen to truly function as the nerve center, the area in which the majority of a family’s activity takes place, why not simply locate it in the center of the living space? Doing this allows ancillary activities to take place around it, creating an atmosphere of community.

The living spaces that stretch just beyond the kitchen could include the great room, dining area(s), study area, outdoor patio access, etc. With a design in which these all radiate from the kitchen, no one ever feels isolated.

We’ve seen open, integrated layouts for years, so centrally locating the kitchen within a home’s living area may well be the perfect answer for some of your clients. The key is to still make it functional, stylish and comfortable for the client’s lifestyle.
Now that you’re thinking about new design concepts, the challenge is to still create spaces that function superbly. How do you do this without as much wall cabinet storage as we’re accustomed to? Great design combined with innovative products provides solutions to make all of the pieces of the puzzle come together.

All-Inclusive Design

Islands become a key factor in today’s all-inclusive designs. By all-inclusive we’re talking about design that works for people of all ages and a multiplicity of tasks. One of the first and most critical functions of an island is that it directs traffic flow and distinguishes between functional meal prep stations and ancillary, social or other activities.

It is critical to keep prep areas compact and efficient; well thought-out appliance placement is one of the keys to maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of the space. When planning appliances, pay particular attention to which way the doors swing. You don’t want your clients constantly going around appliance doors to access adjacent counter space, or walking around the island to get from the refrigerator to the sink. And you certainly don’t want them to fall over the dishwasher door when clearing the table after a meal.

Dishwasher and microwave drawers have helped improve the appliance functionality in islands immensely. Single dishwasher drawers are fabulous for individuals with back problems or arthritis, or those who are in a wheelchair; if you have two sinks on the island, simply locate one by each with a standard drawer below for less utilized items. Take your cues from your client. Your client may have two or three eating areas in a space, so discuss which is going to be the most often used and focus the efficiency of your design based on those answers.

Once proper appliance placement is determined, how do you find a location for everything else that is easily accessible and as close to the point of use as possible, without wall cabinets? While you’re constantly being told to “think outside the box,” now we’ll encourage you to “think inside the box.” It is the interior of the cabinet that makes a kitchen function.
The greatest cabinet innovation in recent years has been the focus on improving the interior function of the box. It almost makes you wonder how we ever functioned with a standard base cabinet.

Even more amazing is how for years it seemed okay to fill a room with base cabinets and expect our clients to get on their hands and knees to access the contents. Well, no more. Since so much time is spent in the kitchen, the interior of the cabinet box was eventually due for a facelift.

The following are some options to offer your client. Who needs wall cabinets when you have this kind of functionality?

For drawer storage:

  • Consider shallow drawers with dividers to compartmentalize utensils, spices, knives and gadgets of all sorts or deep drawers divided for pots and pans and their lids or plastic containers and their lids.
  • Utilize one drawer of a two-drawer, 34-1/2"-high cabinet by inserting multiple full-height dividers to organize trays, cookie sheets, cooling racks and cutting boards. Utilize the other drawer for small appliances such as the blender, juicer, waffle iron, etc.
  • Drawers are fantastic because they save time – a simple open, grab it, close it sequence. The deep sides contain the contents completely and today’s full-extension guides provide visibility and access to the entire depth of the drawer. That means no more crawling on your hands and knees.
  • Consider drawers with peg board and post systems to capture plates, bowls and other items, or adjustable plastic plate holders that can be lifted out with a stack of dishes and carried to the table.
  • Another good choice is drawers with built-in, non-skid material for the bottoms or mats that can be fitted to a drawer bottom. With this non-skid surface and a soft-close drawer feature to prevent the drawer from slamming, drawers can easily house glasses and cups without worrying about shifting or breaking.
  • Compartmentalize deep drawers with small, approximately 4" square sections to separate and stand cutlery vertically – knives, salad forks, dinner forks, spoons, soup spoons, ladles, etc.
  • Corner drawers are becoming increasing popular vs. the standard lazy susan. While some storage may be sacrificed, the gain is in the efficiency and visibility of the contents.

For shelves, roll-out and pull-out storage:

  • Roll-out trays involve a bit more effort as you still have to open the doors and pull out the trays, but some people simply don’t like the look of drawers. Consider including several roll-outs of different sizes, i.e. a 3" height and a 6" height. The 3" could also be divided for utensil compartmentalization, the large one for mixing bowls on one side and snacks on the opposite or, as with the drawers, your pot and pan or plastics storage.
  • Cabinetry with open shelves adds function and aesthetic appeal. An open shelf under a range hood is perfect for frequently used pots, pans and bowls. A roll-out shelf in this area increases accessibility.
  • There are also systems designed specially for pot and pan storage. One of these features a unit that pulls out with lid storage on each side and pan storage on the top with a separate pull-out section underneath to house pans.
  • Base “super pantries” are cabinets that solve multiple storage needs. Can racks on the doors may house spices, canned goods or vitamins while pull-out towers house canned and boxed pantry items. Roll-out trays can hold larger pantry items, small appliances or pots and pans and mixing bowls. This is a multi-purpose solution that can be tailored to specific client needs.
  • Consider pull-out base pantry units, typically 9"-15" wide. These could be units with multiple shelves for food and cooking oils, and may include: pegged systems with hooks for skillets, utensils, towels, etc.; magnetic strips or wood blocks for knife storage, and 40-1/2"-high units for the ends of islands to create slightly higher access for frequently used items. This height finishes off with a 42"-high counter that can extend along the back of an island, creating an ideal height for guests or family members to lean on while conversing with the cook. Since they are on the back side of the island, they are not infringing on the cook’s prep space.

Don’t forget the wet towels – there are numerous pull-out units available to house drying space for prep/clean up towels.

Waste and recycling cabinets are growing in popularity. Let your clients tell you how they handle these functions, and how they might like to in the future. General waste is best set by a water source where items are often unwrapped and immediately washed.

If there is an island and functional kitchen prep space on the opposite side, say for a baking center, locate a waste receptacle in the island and the baking center to avoid having to walk around the island to discard the trash. Recycling stations may be appropriate on the back side of an island, away from the prep space – still close, but not taking up valuable prep item storage.

Additionally, 24"-deep islands that include sinks can provide functionality from both sides if faucets are placed at the corner or on the side. Guests can assist with preparations without being in the principal cook’s prep space.

Seating and Entertaining

Since the kitchen is increasingly a social space as well as a place to prepare meals, the design must take into consideration social needs, including appropriate seating and space for entertaining. Consider the following:

  • Many islands incorporate seating. If a kitchen is small and built-in seating that takes up additional space is not feasible but it is still on the client’s wish list, a pull-out table may be an ideal solution. This is a table top that pulls out of a top drawer, making it readily available at a moment’s notice. When not needed, it tucks neatly back into its drawer cavity.
  • Rolling carts serve dual functions: storage and serving. A cart can be designed to slide neatly under an existing counter when not in use. But, when needed for entertaining, the client can simply wheel it out and you’ve instantly added additional counter or buffet space for anything from cocktails to coffee and dessert.
  • Banquette areas are wonderful space savers. Whether a kitchen is centrally located or you’re just trying to make room for a larger and more creative island, banquettes save at least a foot of space since there is no walk space required to access the seating on the bench side. In addition, you can hinge the top of the bench for additional storage, or better yet, incorporate a drawer or file drawer that pulls out from the end, providing easy access for daily bill paying and filing. File compartments for each of the children’s activities plus a dedicated location for appliance manuals and warranty information keeps everything organized and close at hand.

Aging in Place

Consider planning for aging-in-place and the unknown. At a moment’s notice, any one of us, or a loved one, may find ourselves navigating life from a wheelchair, and having to redesign the space for this can be difficult and costly.

Whether the client is in a wheelchair, has a wheelchair-bound friend or loved one or just wants to make accommodations to age in place, as many baby boomers do, a number of design elements can easily be adapted to make a space more universally accessible.

Traditional wall cabinets are difficult to access from a wheelchair, so consider these alternatives:

  • Provide a variety of workspace heights with under-counter access to them as well.
  • Go with drawers, drawers, drawers. Whether cabinets, dishwashers or microwaves, drawers are much more user-friendly for those in a wheelchair. You don’t always need to open a drawer 100 percent to access what you want, unlike a cabinet with roll-outs where the doors need to be fully extended to reach in.
  • Cooktops with front controls and two-burner units oriented side by side rather than front to back assist with safety and ease of use. Open storage below provides space for pots and pans.
  • Sinks with drain holes in the back locate plumbing and the p-trap back far enough to leave room for one’s knees if in a wheelchair or on a stool for a sit-down prep space at the sink. Lever handles on faucets are much easier for children or someone with arthritis to grip. From a safety perspective, thermostatic faucets allow regulation for maximum temperature settings.
  • 42"-wide pathways for easy navigation and/or multiple cooks plus softened countertop edges are a must for all ages.
    Functionality is fundamental in any design. During the process, personalize the space to reflect the interests of your client’s family. Some ways to incorporate these ideas might include the following:
  • A tabletop constructed with different wood species can be designed to create a permanent game board for the chess or checkers players in the house.
  • Perhaps there is a sculpture artist in the house. Create open niche areas for display. A niche option for the back of an island might include 40-1/2"-high cabinets topped off with a glass countertop providing visibility for the sculpture from above or an adjacent family room.
  • For multi-level islands, a portion could incorporate 18"-high appliance garages on top of a standard 36"-high counter, creating great storage for small appliances and creating a visual barrier between the cooking and socializing areas to conceal the mess. Bi-fold doors work best for this situation so double doors can be opened completely left or right, providing clear access to the prep space in front. To add that personal touch, prep the doors for glass and get creative with insert panel material…perhaps a reproduction of Andy Warhol’s soup cans.
  • Design the entire island as a piece of functional sculpture with a variety of shapes, colors and creative materials, including sinks and counter applications.

While not necessarily used in islands, blind corners have come a long way in maximizing space. Today’s devices pull out and pull forward additional storage, which can be pulled out of the dark cavity so the client has more visibility.

Maximizing efficiency…without the traditional wall cabinet? It is possible. Above all, the key is to create a space that works for the family you’re designing for. When you’ve done that successfully, you’ve not only created a kitchen that functions fabulously from a culinary standpoint, but also one that meshes with the family’s interests so that they can enjoy it completely. KBDN

Sandra Luttchens, CKD, is director of design and training for Omega Cabinetry. Her current position involves product development, training and marketing. Luttchens has been involved in the kitchen and bath industry for 20 years, the past 11 with Omega Cabinetry. Prior to her association with Omega, she was in retail kitchen and bath design and also an instructor of art and architecture. She has been a member of the Color Marketing Group since 2000.