Space Relationships: The Kitchen and its Entries

For a number of years now, we’ve been recognizing the kitchen as “command central,” the social and operational hub of the home. Several times recently, I’ve been told by architects, builders and private clients that this is the most important room in the house.

Of course, this is music to my ears – and it also reminds me of just how critical it is to work with the relationship of the kitchen to the rest of the house.

Because much of what comes into the home spends at least some time passing through or even staying in the kitchen, the relationship of the home’s entries to the kitchen is especially critical. As designers, we must attend not only to the appearance and aesthetics of the space as seen from adjacent areas, but also to the noise, separation and defining of spaces, traffic and work flow, distances, organization of storage and space for non-cooking functions and more.

What follows are a few insights and reminders about these issues, focusing on the connections between the kitchen and the main or formal entry, the back or family entry, and passage to outdoor living space.

Formal Entries
First, let’s look at how the kitchen relates to formal entries of the home. It’s often true that the kitchen, along with the Great Room, is moved to the back of the house, making these concerns easy to address in design. However, in many cases of new construction – whether urban infill or on narrower-than-traditional lots – the kitchen is often planned near or at the front of the space, making this more of an issue.

In terms of the front or guest entry, we seem to have become more comfortable with sight lines to certain aspects of the kitchen, but not with views of the mess associated with appliances, and particularly the sink.

While they may be a focal point within the working kitchen, a good design will integrate them to the point of invisibility, or plan them out of the line of sight for guests at the main entrance.

Often an island, peninsula or pass-through helps accomplish this, helping to define the different spaces, and these aspects of the design can be visible from the entry. They may be raised so that a guest can see the cook, but not the mess, and they may be finished in contrast to the rest of the kitchen design, with details that blend with adjacent spaces. This increases the importance of finishing these “back sides” with more than a plain stub wall or panel. Common examples include an island finished in contrast to the kitchen with furniture detailing, or the back of a peninsula raised to 45" with glass door cabinets and wood tops that complement the adjacent nook or great room.

Family Entries
When looking at the less formal back or family entry, there is more to consider and much more to gain in the way the kitchen looks and functions.

Frequently, this entry to the kitchen is from the garage, and there is a laundry or a mud room – sometimes called a family foyer – that connects to the kitchen. This space often takes some of the storage burden off of the kitchen and, in some grander homes, it can include a partial or entire prep kitchen for cooking help, especially on those occasions when the “big kitchen” must be clean to present well for serving – or when, for whatever reason, the main kitchen is overflowing.

Even in the smallest of kitchens, this space can be a better place for some items that otherwise fall to the kitchen, particularly in the pantry. Beginning with coats, gloves, boots or rain gear, usually a spot in the garage or mud room can absorb this storage. New storage systems, particularly for the garage, make this more viable.

Mops, brooms, vacuums or their hoses, and household cleaning supplies are next, along with bulk paper goods. When the space allows, design of this area can also incorporate craft or hobby space, including child-friendly storage, mail drops and message centers, pet feeding and grooming, homework or home office stations, and more.

This list can go on and on, depending on the size of this space and the demands on the kitchen. Whatever can be accommodated in this family foyer can help to free the heart of the kitchen for food preparation. Sometimes, the separation of the spaces can also serve as a buffer to reduce kitchen commotion, clutter, noise, cold and other environmental issues.

The kitchen design is not complete without consideration of this relationship to the back entry. When doing so, remember to consider the proximity to the kitchen; if the garage and family entry are a distance from the kitchen, the relationship changes to that of “remote storage.”

It will still be a good spot for outdoor gear, perhaps even school books and briefcases, as well as cleaning supplies, but it will not be as handy for pantry food storage or as a back-up kitchen, and a rolling cart might be a good item to store here to help in transporting groceries. If this entry is in close proximity to the kitchen, however, the flexibility is greater for its use.

Entries to Outdoors
The link between the kitchen and the outdoor deck, patio, courtyard, kitchen or other exterior living space is a third key relationship. Again, we must design both for the visual and physical connection.

While it’s not uncommon today for kitchens to be separated from outdoor space by an eating alcove, there’s a strong preference for visual contact – and, when there’s a usable outdoor area, for direct access.

In the illustration on the previous page, floor plan changes occurred as a result of focus group research indicating this preference. The changes result in better sight lines and physical access to the outdoor living space, and the route does not interfere with slating. In addition to access, if the outdoor space involves a grill or related kitchen activity, the design must address ventilation concerns for the outdoor space or they’ll become the concerns of the indoor space.

As we look at people entering a home and moving into, around and through the kitchen, we need to address work and traffic flow and clearances. Since the kitchen is the heart of far more than simply cooking in today’s homes, our focus needs to be on protecting the work flow in the space and providing sufficiently for the traffic flow. Subtle directing and organizing of non-cooking traffic can be accomplished through the layout of the kitchen plan. Greater clearances in traffic routes can also help not only to define spaces, but also to accommodate the increase in people using the space.

As the role of the kitchen in our lives has increased, so has the importance of its relationship to the total house plan. Hopefully, this look at the connections between the kitchen or hub and the movement of people and things between outside and inside the home will help us remember this.