JASPER, IN —
Tempting as it may be to peek inside another person's medicine cabinet, researchers lately have been turning to another room of the house – the kitchen – to learn what consumers' storage habits say about who they are.
In an effort to find innovative new ways to organize America's kitchens, researchers from Diamond Cabinets worked side by side with anthropological scientists to observe how homeowners "interact" with their kitchen cabinets.
The results underscored the need to rethink cabinetry not purely for functional purposes, but also for emotional purposes, since cabinets can help foster powerful social connections within families.
According to officials from Diamond Cabinets, a division of MasterBrand Cabinets Inc., the team of researchers lived with homeowners in dozens of different households for one full day to observe, photograph and videotape families as they interacted, cooked and cleaned in their kitchens.
The ethnographic study spanned a geographically diverse area of the U.S. and represented a cross section in terms of demographics and the general state of kitchen repair, from newly remodeled kitchens to kitchens "desperately in need of an overhaul."
The information the researchers gathered is being used to develop new cabinet products with organization features designed for the way people really live, according to Diamond Cabinets.
"Today's kitchen is the most utilized, multi-tasked space in the entire house, so cabinets need to be as multi-functional as the kitchen and as utilitarian as a Swiss Army Knife," says Mark Norris, senior director of brand marketing for Diamond.
WHERE LIFE HAPPENS
According to Norris, today's kitchen "is where life happens."
"It's a cooking and dining room, baking center, mudroom, bill-paying center, wine bar, home office and more," he observes.
"Often it's the entry point of the home, so things get dropped off in or near it. Yet it must be a comfortable space for homeowners and [their] visitors to congregate and socialize. It's also not just for adults. The kitchen is a place for caregiving, nurturing and interconnecting among social groups and generations," Norris continues.
With so many functions happening in one space, it's no wonder researchers found a fair degree of "storage chaos" inside homeowners' cabinets. They found heaps and piles of mismatched items in odd combinations. In addition to pots and pans, everyday dishes, glasses and baking ware, observers found cabinets laden with vases, candles, seasonal items, kids' toys and office supplies. Drawers held utensils, dish towels, pot holders, craft items, bibs, rubber bands, cork stoppers, corn-cob holders, batteries and pet supplies. Most homeowners also had "overflow" storage beyond the kitchen to hold their belongings.
In addition to its utilitarian functions, the Diamond Cabinets' research revealed that today's kitchen functions as an "open, life-sized memory album – a space where people have strong emotional connections compared to other rooms in the home," according to Norris. "For example, a homeowner with memories of baking with her mother may want a baking center in her own kitchen, so she can relive that emotional experience."
Furthermore, kitchens are filled with memories and memorabilia – treats and souvenirs from travels, family heirlooms, wedding gifts and photos, Norris adds, noting that cabinets are often used to store these memories. They also store items used for interacting with children, such as toys and games.
"Well-organized cabinets enhance a homeowner's feeling of meeting family needs," says Diamond brand manager Emily Small. "A few simple features can greatly enhance the level of satisfaction in a kitchen."
Among those features, Diamond Cabinet researchers found, are the following:
- No wasted space. People conceptualize "wasted space" as a very bad thing, the Diamond research revealed. "They want to use every nook and cranny in their kitchens, regardless of how much storage space they actually have," Small explains, emphasizing the need for cabinets to carve out space where none existed before. For example, a new "Toekick Cabinet" creates extra storage space beneath base cabinets, just above the floor. A tap of a toe opens a hidden storage compartment.
- Overflow storage. Almost everyone has a kitchen overflow storage solution in the garage, basement or closet. However, research indicates that the concept of having "extra" or overflow storage may be a positive thing for some. It provides an "out of sight, out of mind," option for items used infrequently, or which people aren't ready to part with yet. It also provides a space to stock up on items purchased in bulk, reinforcing feelings of taking care of their family and saving money. Cabinets with pantry-like storage features can solve this need, anywhere in the home.
- Drop zones. With so many people coming in and out of the kitchen, homeowners expressed a need to keep track of all of the "droppable" items that clutter up their countertops: keys, cell phones, coupons, notes from school, etc. Diamond recently introduced a unit called the "Mini Message Center," a three-inch-deep bonus storage unit that features a row of key hooks, a metal cubby divider, fixed shelves and a write-on message board, all concealed behind a cabinet door. And because it fits on an end run of cabinets, it takes up no additional wasted space.
- Changeable solutions for changing lives. Depending on people's life stages, they have different organizational and storage needs. For example, older people or those who have trouble bending and reaching can benefit from well-designed lazy Susans that make it easy to see and reach items that would otherwise become lost in a "black hole" corner cabinet.
- "Junk" drawers. Everyone seems to have junk drawers, and surprisingly, "they like them the way they are," according to Diamond. Many consumers have multiple junk drawers and even "specialty" junk drawers containing sub-sets of "junk" items. For some people, access to built-in drawer organizers gives them control over the contents; for others, simply having items "out of sight and out of mind" gives them a temporary feeling of organization.
- Kitchen cabinets as medicine cabinets. Researchers discovered they were, in effect, peeking into medicine cabinets after all, upon learning that some medicines are stored in the kitchen. Although the majority of medications are stored in the bath, many people are keeping at least a few items in the kitchen because it helps them remember to take them. Cabinets with flexible interior configurations can meet this need, Diamond researchers point out.