Beyond the Mantel Hood

There's no question how powerful an impact a decorative mantel hood can have as a focal point in a kitchen. Whether classically traditional, transitional, Asian- influenced or stylishly Italian, a large unencumbered, beautifully detailed enclosure around the ventilation system is something that is highly valued by consumers today.

Interestingly, kitchen designers' ability to allocate so much space to this hood element is possible because of the concurrent trend away from traditional wall cabinets: Clients are comfortable walking a greater distance away to a floor-to-ceiling storage cabinet in order to house items formerly located on either side of the hood.

Planning this type of enclosure, however, is truly a "balancing act" between function and aesthetics. The ability to meet both criteria is essential to creating a successfully designed cooking niche.

Occasionally, I enjoy looking at a beautiful cooking niche or mantel hood yet wonder if the ventilation system really works! Obviously, a beautifully designed mantel hood is useless if it doesn't provide the necessary ventilation power. For that reason, when considering mantel hood design, it's a good to start with a review of basic ventilation requirements.

1. Ducted Hoods: A ducted hood should be designed to catch and hold the contaminants before and during the process of their removal by the fan. While many consumers question the interior openness of a hood canopy from a cleaning standpoint, it's this very aspect of the design that's the key to successful air removal.

As cooking byproducts rise naturally from the surface, they're caught in the hood canopy area and stay in this "holding area" until the fan can activity remove them.

Note the words "rise naturally." The old story about a fan "pulling" cooking contaminants from the cooking surface is actually incorrect. Airborne cooking contaminates rise naturally and only when they're close to the fan can it go to work to remove them.

For that reason, proper positioning of the ventilation hood in relation to the surface is essential. Consider the following:

  • A hood 16" to 17" deep should be 21" off the surface (57" off the floor). This is important to consider if your design includes a microwave hood combination unit.
  • A hood 18" to 21" deep should be 24" off the surface (60" off the floor).
  • A 24"-deep hood can be 30" off the surface (55" off the floor). Ventilation specialists suggest that this 30" dimension is the maximum of clear space between the bottom of the hood's holding area and the cooking surface in any installation. With some of today's arched and boxed cooking areas, this dimension is extended.

Some designers feel this extended height opening is acceptable for a family who cooks rarely or who cooks relatively lightly. However, the ventilation system's effectiveness should be thoroughly discussed with whoever will be doing the cooking in the family particularly if it's a home chef who enjoys stir frying/wok cooking or plans on feeding large numbers of guests and family members.

2. Safety/Convenience Landing Space: The National Kitchen & Bath Association has a standard guideline suggesting a clear landing space at 12" to 16" on one side of the cooking surface and 15" to 16" on the second. Clearly, this isn't working space it's a safety zone for pot handles and the ability to slide something instantly from the cooking surface to an adjacent area. When planning a mantel hood or some decorative enclosure that in some fashion extends down to the countertop, this clearance needs to be

Once the designer has thought through the functional considerations of the ventilation system: it's time to have some fun designing the hood. There are key points that I start with.

Proportion: In the three examples at left (top, middle and bottom), I have included three typical scenarios for small, medium and large hood systems. Opinions vary on the width of the side columns. Thinking through how they will be used will help you dimension them.

When in doubt, make them narrower, rather than wider. A size of 4" to 9" works well. For some larger enclosures, designers feel 12" wide is workable. One way to make a column appear visually smaller is to change its form so it steps back rather extending down to the countertop. One of the best ways to consider the overall look is to draw an elevation of the entire wall so you can see the relationship of the mantel hood to the adjacent cabinetry.

One great design was created by Beverly Adams. This design involves a stepped-out hood used with extensions to the countertop featured in cabinetry adjacent to the hood, rather than connected to the hood.

3. Decorative Elements of the Focal Point: After you have thought through the overall proportion of the enclosure, think about the details. Here are a few favorite ideas of mine.

  • Pull the entire assembly within the mantel hood dimensions to 27" or 30" deep: Create a ledge 4" to 8" high, and 3" to 6" deep along the back wall. Just the addition of this dimensional change adds interest. The top of the ledge is a great spot to introduce a long horizontal band of a contrasting material or color. The break also gives you a good line to change the tile pattern, or start a niche on the back wall.
  • Lay out a tile pattern in full 1" scale: before construction begins. Keep track of those pesky electrical outlets or other encumbrances that can get you in trouble in this decorative area. For example, just where is that pot filler going to be in relationship to your great tile backsplash?
  • Think about new and different materials as part of the hood design. Metals are a key today. Burned copper, stainless steel, forged metal can be placed on the ledge you've created or can take the place of plaster or wood support brackets or be part of the decorative face of the hood.
  • Think about new colors in the appliances beyond that tried and true, safe stainless steel. Wolf and Viking have introduced a wonderful array of variations on a theme with different steel finishes, as well as some pretty snappy colors. LaCornue has steel cabinets finished to match their cooking appliances that can be used on each side of the range to expand its presence.

This is an idea you can create without using appliance cabinet cabinets: Consider finishing the adjacent cabinets on each side
of a commercial looking range finished to match the range, as opposed to the banks of cabinets completing the balance of the room.

4. A Classic Statement: Don't overlook the elegance of "tailored classic design," as well. One of my favorite mantel hoods was created by Christopher Peacock, where simple crisp white is the finish of choice, with an intriguing combination of glazed "subway" tiles and Carrerra or Calcutta gold marble on the backsplash area.

The cooking niche with its hood/ventilation is a preferred focal point today. Not so many years ago, the range and hood were located against the back wall. Then they moved to the island with the introduction of downdraft ventilation systems.

But today, it seems the cooking center has moved back to the back wall, allowing the sink to be on the island (encouraging interaction between the cook working at the sink and guests in the kitchen).

Such a key location in the room combined with new storage system options in place of wall cabinetry challenges the designer's creativity.

It is my hope that some of these ideas both on the function side and the aesthetic side will help you create you a truly great space! KBDN