A Living Kitchen

A Living Kitchen

By Sandra Luttchens, CKD

Designers must delve deeper than ever before into families' lifestyles determining their needs for cooking, eating, storage, entertaining, projects and activities following their lead to create a truly delightful and efficient space for all activities that will take place there.

Planning a "living room" in which meal preparation is just one of many activities requires imagination and visualization. The best way to begin this is to create a unique shopping experience, getting clients involved in visualizing their ideal environment. Have a green-light thinking session, ask some of the basics, and then delve deeper.

Designers may even want to consider a game of charades. Schedule a one-hour session with all family members present, and ask them to act out the activities they feel are most critical to the success of the new space.

The 10-year-old may act out working on the computer so that he/she can be part of the family activity, rather than locked away in a bedroom. The mother might act out that she wants her prep space to include a large counter space where she can help teach her daughter to cook. The father might act out his desire for a space to read the morning paper, while still remaining close enough to converse with his family while breakfast is prepared.

Making this game of charades fun will maximize results. After all, if your clients are enjoying themselves, they're more likely to open up and blurt out some incredible concepts for you to run with. Albert Einstein once said that if an idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it. Sometimes the wildest ideas are the most innovative. Give ideas space to grow freely, and refrain from judging or immediately refining them.

The Basics

To create true living rooms, start with the basics:

  • View clients' idea files. Most clients have these; in fact, some have been clipping magazine pictures or taking photos of friends' kitchens for years. Be sure to ask to see these collections; they can save countless hours of investigation. As the saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words."
  • Determine appliance selections. These will quickly dictate functional placement, since a range vs. range top and double ovens or a side-by-side refrigerator vs. a bottom freezer immediately suggest entirely different design solutions. Discuss clients' dining habits. Do they have set meal times? How often does the entire family sit down for an evening meal together and at what time? Recent years have seen an increase in warming drawer usage, partially due to the fact that it's difficult for everyone to be home at the same time for meals. These are also a big help when entertaining.
  • Consider appliance placement. Since actual prep time continues to dwindle year after year, appliance placement can play a big factor in getting cooks out of the kitchen and off to the soccer game a few minutes earlier. Door swings and compact work triangles for quick accessibility are critical factors. Keep in mind the majority of microwaves are hinged on the left, therefore placement directly next to a wall on the right decreases its accessibility, thus requiring more prep time. A side-by-side refrigerator is another key appliance that is most efficient if placed on the right side of a kitchen. Even in large kitchens, keeping the work triangle compact and additional activities and traffic patterns outside the triangle will help to create an incredible in-kitchen entertainment space.
  • Discover your clients' cooking habits. Who in the family cooks, when do they cook, and what are the most common forms of preparation? Are some meals prepared by a single individual, but the majority a family affair? Does one person perform the chopping and preparation and another the actual cooking? Answering these questions will go a long way toward creating a cooking center that works for your clients' individual needs.
  • Look at processes/basic storage needs. What processes do they go through when preparing breakfast, making sandwiches, baking, etc.? What types of utensils are used in the process?
  • Consider socialization. Do your clients adore socializing over meals? If so, design seating areas conducive to conversation that will foster enhanced family communication. What types of activities do they anticipate for this area besides dining? Make sure seating facilitates these.

Emotional Impact

Next, designers should tap into their clients' emotions:

  • Style and color. Open floorplans and multi-tasking spaces create the demand for fashion-focused design. Find out about your clients' style and color preferences, and plan accordingly.
  • Specialized storage. What items do your clients store in a pantry or in another room, simply because they are too large to be accommodated where they are really needed? Do they buy items in bulk? Be sure to plan storage to accommodate existing needs, rather than just replicating what clients previously had.
  • Meeting space. Do they host book clubs or committee meetings at their home that they'd like to use this space for? If so, the space must be designed to facilitate easy conversation and a free-flowing traffic pattern.
  • Entertaining. Are clients frequently hosting post-game snacks, gourmet club, baby showers, etc.? Provide adequate seating for guests to converse close to the prep area, but not positioned so they are in the way.
  • Wine coolers and coffee centers. These are best placed outside of the work triangle, making them accessible, while freeing the cooking and food prep areas from unnecessary traffic.
  • TV. If a television is on the wish list, who will it be viewed by the cook, those seated at the snack bar, those at the table? Be sure the angle works for the intended audience and that the lighting doesn't create a glare on the screen.
  • Household management. Find out what clients need in order to effectively manage their household duties. Do they need a desk with a computer area or simply an area with file drawers? If designing a computer desk, it may need to be large enough for other activities.
  • Education center. If a location to do homework is needed, consider what tasks will be performed and what storage and equipment is necessary.
  • Message centers. Do your clients need an area with a phone to simply write messages or do they need to take the notes with them? This will help make the decision between chalk board, cork board or white board materials. Should it be located on the end of run, perhaps incorporated into a decorative paneled end? Should it be a separate message/desk area, refrigerator with cork or chalk board doubling as an art gallery for the kids?
  • Walk-in pantry. What activities and storage will take place here? Finding out what type and amount of food storage is needed will help to better define this area.
  • Pet provisions. Where do your clients want to store pet supplies, and do you need to provide a pet feeding station? Drawers to tuck away pet dishes, chew toys and vitamins can keep a room looking neat and tidy.
  • Pleasurable pastimes. Is a location needed for craft activities and project supplies such as scrap-booking or board games? If so, be sure to allot proper storage.
  • Collections. Do your clients want to display photography, pottery, cookbooks or wine? These can be used as a powerful design element, so be sure to plan display space for these.
  • Laundry management. Is this desired near the kitchen or in the walk-in pantry?
  • Service entrance. Is the kitchen entered directly from the garage? If so, individual lockers may be a better solution than a closet to house coats, umbrella, shoes, etc.
  • Traffic patterns. Allow for movement and a multiple activities to take place simultaneously.
  • Noise control. If designed for multiple activities, consider segregating activities by noise created or quiet space desired. This will allow clients to engage in multiple activities with minimal disturbances.

Having clients videotape family time in the kitchen can provide you with great clues as to how they work and play in the kitchen as well as how organized, or disorganized, their current space is. Since we are creatures of habit, interesting phenomena may be uncovered.

For example, when watching the video, you may discover spices are stored in one location out of habit; upon reviewing their cooking and baking activities, it would be more efficient to store spices in two or even three locations to eliminate unnecessary steps.

Whether selecting blue prints for a new home or considering a remodeling project, ask your clients what they feel works or doesn't work in their existing or proposed space. Some homes have a relatively small space allocated for the kitchen. Delving into the homeowner's wish list may indicate that more space is needed to satisfy their needs.

Start investigating adjacent spaces. For example, should they keep the formal dining room or living room? They've always had one, and being creatures of habit, people often assume that if they currently have it, they couldn't possibly survive without it. Yet, if they have limited kitchen space, rarely entertain formally and only use the formal rooms for holiday gatherings, it may make more sense to allot that space to a larger kitchen.

This solution allows you to create a true living space, which just happens to include a cooking center. Having everyone in the same space rather than segregated in small rooms invites lingering. Multiple activities can take place simultaneously in a larger, well-organized open area without anyone feeling isolated.

The best spaces are the result of collaboration. Have fun and cater to your client. Each individual, each family entity is unique, so visualize yourself as part of the family, then make the creation of their dream space a truly memorable and positive experience.

Guard against simply discussing features and benefits during your presentations. It's easier to create a truly personalized kitchen if you're able to make an emotional connection. As humans, we're programmed to make emotional decisions first, then thinking ones. Providing both emotional and logical reasons to back up your design will likely win you the sale. For example, you may have listened intently and created incredible solutions to your clients' concerns. However, unless you walk them through the design and help them visualize how these solutions will make their lives easier, you still may not make the sale.

The designers' missions are not to simply put cabinets in a room, but to design kitchens for living, making them lifestyle spaces. To be truly successful, these designs must put function first and incorporate all of the clients' aesthetic desires second.

Living Kitchens

The "Living Room" concept can be an effective design for bringing people together in their everyday tasks. In the Italian-influenced kitchen/gathering room pictured on page 84, six entrances created a challenge from efficiency and traffic flow standpoints. The previous kitchen featured a rectangular island too small for the homeowners' wish of having space to set up a buffet counter for informal entertaining while maintaining a prep space to be utilized simultaneously.

The angled island facilitates traffic flow around the prep area, and allows for multiple cooks within it. The 42" elevated seating counter created a nice dividing point between the food prep area and additional activity areas, also doubling as a buffet counter. One of the clients' favorite features is the cooking center with scooped drawer for a full array of utensils beneath the cooktop and open area below with roll-out shelves for quick and easy access.

With the increase in size of the island and the angle, limited space remained for the dining table. To eliminate the need for clearance on both sides, a banquette was built incorporating a file with access from the side. This storage feature eliminates the need to move the table, cushions and pillows to access a lift up lid. Instead one can be seated, pull out the files and complete home management activities quickly and efficiently. This is a perfect spot to gather for small meetings, and family time playing board games or cards.

In this design, a closet was removed coming in from the garage and replaced with open locker storage for quick easy access for the clients' two daughters. Each has her own space for coats, book bags, etc. The adjacent tall cabinet houses supplies for the central vacuum system.

Wrapping around the corner, a message center was created with room for a laptop computer, a phone and a large fabric-covered cork board for messages, family photos and the children's artwork.

A wall cabinet situated on the side of the pantry provides the appearance of multiple apothecary drawers with six drawer fronts, but for maximum function they were attached to only two drawers. Above is space for a cookbook collection and below, vertical dividers for file folders, phone books, etc. The wine cooler was also placed in this area for entertaining. The end result is a space that is the perfect location for gathering, without interrupting anyone in the work triangle.

In the new construction project (see floor plan on Page 85), the clients wanted lockers with closed doors to keep the area neat and tidy. An open area below the bench is for shoe storage.

The beautiful hutch doubles as a home management center. The top features glass doors and the lower section five file drawers. The wall cabinets on each end extend to the counter with dividers for mail and phone books.

The homeowners requested a space that would accommodate numerous functions efficiently, and still be highly conducive to socializing. The wall was removed between the kitchen and living room to facilitate large family gatherings and entertaining. The island wraps around the primary cook creating a very efficient prep area. The 42"-high counter conceals the prep space from the living and dining areas, yet the radius countertop facilitates conversation, allowing people to view each other rather than being spread out in a straight line. The placement of the left-hinging microwave in a 40-1/2" high cabinet on the end of the run is a perfect height and location for the children to prepare their own snacks, staying clear of the main work triangle.

The living room carpeting originally was a square shape starting flush with the cabinet on the back of the island. This placement inhibited island seating possibilities. Therefore a revision was made moving the flooring away from the island and creating a curvilinear shape better defining the traffic flow, and allowing room for island seating.

A large, multi-functional walk-in pantry encompassing pleasurable pastimes and laundry management was a major focus for the homeowners. A separate laundry space was designed for noise and sight control. A second refrigerator is conveniently placed in the pantry with adjacent prep space.

A window was also added to visually expand the space and create an inviting area to sit and work on scrap booking projects. The opposite wall features three floor-to-ceiling 15"-deep pantries for small appliances and bulk food purchases. KBDN