Space Planning Ideas for Today’s Cooking Zone

Remember when life was simple? Mom did all of the cooking at the range – the single appliance around which the cooking station was centered – and a single work triangle really did describe the only work flow in the kitchen, with one point being the “cook and serve” center. Well, that cook and serve center is growing and, in some cases, multiplying as we address the growing demands on kitchens, as well as options for components of this key area.

Following are two examples of how kitchen design is evolving to meet this challenge, and some of the resulting opportunities and ideas.

Needs and Demands
The cooktop or range, considered by most to be the primary element of the cooking zone, requires certain collaterals to function effectively. Following the principle of storage at the point of use, we must include space for pots and pans, utensils, and spices and condiments used regularly. In many cases, a water source and frequently a drain are desirable. Add to this sufficient work surface or landing space, clearances to any combustible or non-combustible surfaces, and appropriate spacing of work aisles and we’re almost there. We must also consider proper ventilation as a critical element, and this includes a plan for makeup air. With that, we should have the basics of at least a surface cooking station.

Rarely in today’s kitchen do we stop at this, however, and it would be unrealistic to list all of the possibilities, but here are a few. The world of ovens includes steam, speed, convection and microwave, and even wood burning or dual-fuel, plus warming drawers. Beyond these options there is whatever amazing technology may exist by the time this column prints.

In addition to the basic choice of gas or electric, today’s cooktops can include a range of output levels, the addition of induction and the return of dual fuel. To complete the offerings, we have a variety of modules including steamers, deep fryers, wok burners, grills and options from the world of commercial cooking such as the French top or the salamander that stacks on the cooktop, all of which require consideration for clearances to combustible or non-combustible surfaces. Finally, refrigeration is sometimes desired, often in the form of drawers or smaller units.

If the challenge of so many new appliances in the kitchen is not enough, today we frequently have more than one person cooking – often at the same time. This also impacts the space required for work aisle clearances. As our cooking appliances divide and the number of stations and cooks multiplies, we need new approaches to the design of this zone.

Multiple Cook Stations
This month we’ll look at two versions of a strategy that repeatedly seems to work well. Included are the plans for the personal kitchens of two professional designers as illustration.

As a first step in dealing with this wonderful dilemma of abundance, we must consider the cooking zone as made up of multiple stations. To clarify, in this case, we’ll define the cooking zone as including everything related to cooking or heating food and the stations as the interrelated work areas within this zone. Designing to this concept allows us to stretch out the many appliances so we may provide the needed storage/work surface at each and so we can accommodate multiple cooks. Of course, this spreading will work best when there is room to expand, and the current trend toward larger kitchens supports the concept.

As the stations spread, we are forced to carefully evaluate how much storage or work surface should be planned at each station. Even in the largest kitchens, we reach a point where we must decide, for example, whether it will be the third oven or storage for the baking pans that fits into the critical close proximity to the heart of this zone. The return in popularity of the walk-in pantry provides generous storage, but it is not within reach of the cook while at task.

What are the different cooking stations? This will vary, based on careful conversation with the client regarding particular needs, desires and kitchen habits. These stations would have to be organized according to each client’s profile.

Questions you might want to ask are:

  • Is there one primary cook or multiple cooks?
  • Which parts or stations are used most often?
  • Who does which tasks?
  • Which tasks are performed at the same time?
  • What is needed at each task center?
  • Where is each appliance/each piece of equipment used?
  • Where is water required? Drain too?
  • Where is ventilation required?
  • What duplicates are desired?

With enough information, the stations can be organized and designed based on what each cook needs in his or her area, resulting in dual or multiple cooktops separated by work surface and storage that might be shared, as in the first example. More often, we find one primary cook, wishing to organize according to tasks performed or appliances used simultaneously, with secondary stations for themselves or auxiliary cooks.

In the first example (see floorplan, below), separate cooktops create two “surface cooking stations,” each with their own work surfaces, storage, sink, dishwasher and downdraft ventilation, and with some shared storage, ovens and refrigerators. This kitchen was designed to allow for two cooks to use similar but separate equipment at the same time.

In the second example (see floorplan at left), a “surface cooking station” includes the cooktop with overhead ventilation, and adjacent to the cooktop are generous work spaces and storage for pots, utensils and potholders, as well as a water source and sink.

Immediately across from the cooktop is additional storage for spices and condiments, all within the reach of the primary cook while at task. No other appliances are included in this station.

Next, the “baking station,” nearby but definitely separate, includes two ovens, duplicate pot holders, separate pans and utensils relating to baking, and staples, plus mixing and measuring equipment and adequate work surfaces. Third, the “warm and serve station” is close to the eating area and the main sink, including a microwave and speed cooking oven and a warming drawer as well as serving dishes, flatware and a third set of potholders. A fourth station, near the warm and serve station, is the “beverage station,” including hot beverage appliances and appropriate storage, with refrigeration.

This kitchen was designed to allow for one primary cook to have self-contained stations for different aspects of cooking, as well as for multiple secondary cooks to perform different tasks in the kitchen at the same time.

While each space and each client will create the specific details of the cooking zone, this separation of the stations lends itself to opportunities for the growing social aspect of meal preparation.