Multiple Functions Mark Today’s ‘Lifestyle’ Kitchens

ORLANDO, FL — The kitchen is becoming more of a multi-purpose room, with specifically integrated work zones for a variety of purposes that go beyond just cooking, such as entertaining, paying bills, doing homework, relaxing – and everything in between.

Today’s kitchen also sports cleaner lines, sink centers, generous work surfaces, multiple appliances and a multitude of storage options. Plus, the surfaces, materials, technology and style going into kitchens are making them easier to maintain than ever before.

That’s the belief of a trio of kitchen experts who presented the “Lifestyle Kitchens: Designs, Materials and Techniques That Guarantee Great Kitchens” seminar at the recent International Builders’ Show (IBS).

Mary Jo Camp, CKD, CBD, CID, Connie Edwards, CKD, CBD, and Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS, presented ideas to assist kitchen designers, builders and architects in creating kitchens that will help to sell new-build homes. Additionally, they outlined some significant trends these industry professionals should be watching and incorporating into their kitchen designs.

Successful, Saleable Kitchens

“The three of us know that kitchens sell homes, and we want to help builders [and other design professionals] differentiate themselves in the marketplace,” said Camp, a designer and v.p./marketing and business development for Rohnert Park, CA-based FBA Holdings (Standards of Excellence, Westar and Florida Builder Appliances).

To start, Edwards, the director of design for Timberlake Cabinet Co., an allied member of ASID and a chairholder of the Color Marketing Group (CMG), Peterson, owner of Mary Jo Peterson, Inc. in Brookfield, CT, and a columnist for Kitchen & Bath Design News, and Camp outlined what they believe are three essential requirements that combine to make a kitchen design successful:

  • The kitchen must relate to the architecture of the home and the lifestyle of the inhabitants.
  • The kitchen must possess a balance between counter, storage and appliances.
  • Appropriate materials and products must be chosen for the kitchen to be functional and appealing.

Then the trio outlined some major trends in kitchens. Among the continuing trends is the use of multiple appliances: dishwashers, ovens, microwaves and refrigerators for each cook. Among the tips for placement and installation given were paying attention to ergonomics when placing appliances – making sure they’re neither too high nor too low; adding a luxury piece, such as a wine storage unit or espresso maker to a small kitchen as a premium touch; considering the balance of appliances with other needs such as storage, countertop space and walkways; and remembering that “bigger is not always better.”

The addition of pantries and prep kitchens in larger homes is a popular trend, meant to compensate for the lack of upper cabinetry in more open kitchen floorplans. This goes with the trend of maximizing storage options in smaller kitchens and adjacent areas.

“Walk-in pantries are one of the most highly requested features in a kitchen,” reported Camp, Edwards and Peterson.

“Expanded butlers’ pantries and prep kitchens help hide some of the food-prep clutter, too.”

Sinks are also becoming larger, and the three designers noted large single sinks – some of them apron-front – in stainless steel leading the way, with accessories that increase flexibility and function. They are also seeing the use of more single-bowl sinks in other materials, such as stone, enamel on cast iron, and copper, plus more hands-free faucets that conserve water.

According to the three designers, sinks have grown beyond one sink with a handspray. They are now more like sink centers, with multiple accessories, and clean-up stations built around them, with pull-out waste containers, recycling centers, dishwashers or drawers and dish storage. Elsewhere in the kitchen there is also a prep sink and/or a bar sink, plus a pot filler near the range.

As for countertops, Camp, Edwards and Peterson reported that honed rather than polished stone counters are preferred in bolder patterns for focal points. They also believe that granite still rules, but slate, soapstone and limestone are gaining ground despite the potential for showing use. They further encouraged the implementation of varying counter heights, depths and materials for ease of use and dramatic effect.

Supportive & Sustainable

All of these trends combined are creating kitchens that feature cleaner lines, more eco-friendly products and more accessible designs that allow people to age in place, as well as allow multi-generational households cook and function easily together in one kitchen. They call these kitchens, which see more living and more activity than ever before, “lifestyle kitchens.”

These kitchens feature designs that mirror a “concern for the indoor environment, an awareness of our impact on natural resources and choices influenced by environmental concerns,” said Camp, Edwards and Peterson.

“There’s more respect for diversity in age, size, ability and number of cooks in the kitchen,” elaborated Peterson. “Ease of use and maintenance in the kitchen becomes a priority.”

In the Zone

Camp, Edwards and Peterson also pointed out the continuing move toward specific work zones. There are major work zones – the prep zone, cooking zone and clean-up zone – as well as auxiliary zones – the kids’ zone, charging zone, baking zone, entertainment zone and relaxation zone. They explain what should go into each one in order to maximize function.

In the prep zone, for example, a sink with adjacent counter space and storage is a major component. It could also include multiple prep centers, each with its own sink, work space and storage, plus a smaller, dedicated refrigerator for each center.

The island is often a prep zone, providing the chance to vary surface materials, heights and knee space for a variety of cooks and activities. Storage should include waste/recycle containers, plus dishes, equipment, utensils and small appliances used to prepare food.

The prep zone should also be placed in proximity to staple foods and condiments, with duplicates as needed in multiple prep zones. Appliances may include the refrigerator, a microwave and disposer, plus compost bins, small appliances used in preparation, as well as less common compactors and hot/cold or filtered water dispensers.

Besides the cooking surface and ventilator, appliances in the cooking zone may include a microwave, warming drawers or heat lamps, ovens and an additional sink or pot filler.

Storage space should be provided for pots and pans, cooking utensils, spices and condiments.

“Often the cooking zone becomes the focal point of the kitchen, with beautiful hoods, tile backsplashes and decorative details,” described the design trio.

They pointed to the aforementioned sink centers as the heart of the clean-up zone, which consists of the main sink, dishwasher, trash/recycling bins, trash compactor and a faucet with long reach. “If it’s the only sink in the kitchen, placement is best between the range and refrigerator,” they noted, “with a minimum 24" countertop to one side of the sink and 18" to the other side. Adequate storage for dishes should be found within 72" of the center line of the sink. There should also be access to outdoors or the garage for garbage removal.”

There are also several auxiliary zones, the first of which is a kids’ zone, which is a space that allows children to perform tasks comfortably and out the way of kitchen traffic. It features lowered counters, appliances and storage for access. Another is the charging zone, or what Camp called the “message center plus.”

“While kitchens have long been the hub of the house, their importance has grown even more as families’ lives get busier. It’s a center of activity, but it’s also a place to get rid of stress, relax and recharge – literally,” said Camp. “Charging stations for mobile phones, portable stereos and laptops are an important component in new kitchens. Plus, you’ll know where to find them all.” This zone should include outlets and a planned location (which is sometimes concealed) for charging PDAs, laptops, iPods, cell phones, etc.

The baking zone features lowered work areas and storage for mixers, cookie sheets and cake pans for serious home bakers.

The entertainment zone “replaces the old ‘wet bar’ concept,” they asserted. It is an area outside the main triangle for refreshments and may include a wine refrigerator, small beverage refrigerator, a built-in espresso maker and a warming drawer. There’s also storage for specialty glassware, dishes, serving trays, napkins and silverware.

Lastly, the relaxation zone provides “a space to sit and enjoy. The Great room concept gives [the homeowner] an opportunity for relaxation. A small space could be turned into a window seat, booth at the table or seat at the counter. And this zone might include an audio system,” they noted.

Light & Shade

Another big trend right now, reported Camp, is layered lighting that is also energy efficient. “Clients want to bring light into their kitchens, and the answer to that is incorporating green building techniques such as ‘daylighting,’ which is positioning windows to best take advantage of outside light. Morning light is especially important in kitchens,” she explained.

The trio also suggested bringing the outdoors in, noting the relationship between the kitchen and outdoors can add to lifestyle possibilities.

Edwards cited more color in kitchens, especially “spa blues that reflect the environment, reds that have ethnic origins and textural neutrals for 2007.” Cabinets that feature tight grained woods, such as maple and cherry, in medium to darker furniture tones continue to be favored, she added.

Lastly, ceilings are becoming “the fifth wall” and a way to differentiate the kitchen. “But,” they warned, “be careful to balance the design. Sometimes too much is just too much.”

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