Cooking Rooms

As kitchen designers know, a shift has occurred in how kitchens are used by North American families. The kitchen as a stand-alone area has transitioned away from a single-purpose space serving the solitary chef into a multi-purpose and often multi-person "cooking room" or "kitchen room."

Behind this phenomena is a change in what families do in the kitchen, as well as what they are eating at home.

The National Kitchen & Bath Association reported several years ago about the wide variety of non-cooking activities taking place in the kitchen, including talking on the telephone, managing mail/family correspondence and conducting family "discussion/conflict resolution" talks. We all know that many kitchens now include a TV, and many are open to adjacent entertaining spaces.

Equally as impactful is the news from the American Beef Council research that consumer shopping trends with regard to food purchases have changed, as well. Today, pre-prepared gourmet takeout meals still fast, but a far cry from "fast food" are more common than "from scratch" meals.

As we study this entire crazy quilt of family activities, several key lifestyle changes emerge:

  • Many families, in reality, are "eating out in."
  • There's a lot more togetherness going on in the kitchen than actual cooking.
  • The space has not expanded to serve more cooking functions; rather, added family activities are part of the daily kitchen routine.
  • Kitchen specialists may be wise to rethink how they plan these multi-tasking kitchens and prepare for the design process, from the early stages of a project's planning through the completed kitchen.

Kitchen and bath firms may find cost economies and time saving opportunities by restructuring the way they approach the design process.

To address the changing needs of today's consumers, they may want to change the showroom presentation to include non-cooking area vignettes, or a more comprehensive photo gallery or album to demonstrate how the organization can plan multi-tasking "cooking rooms."

They may also want to broaden the information-gathering stage by updating the survey used on the initial client visit. At our firm, we have, for many years, asked, "How many people cook in the family?" Frequently, discussion with clients illustrates other activities to be performed in the kitchen.

It may be wise to formalize this process and ask specific questions about four non-related cooking activities in addition to dining/snacking. These include

1. Communicating Activities: Internet, telephone, interpersonal visiting, correspondence.

2. Entertaining/Educational Activities: Children's homework, computer center, major family gathering area, major television family area, children's game area.

3. Household Management Activities: Major home office, family message center, multipurpose laundry area, pet care/feeding center.

4. Pleasurable Pastime Activities: Gardening, cookbook library, photography/ scrapbooking, entertainment center, wine cellar.

By better understanding how the family enjoys or manages these home functions, kitchen designers will be better prepared to plan the space effectively. To help achieve this, they should:

  • Expand the scope of their drawings to include all the details of the entire room (not just the wall space reserved for cooking activities) with thoughtful consideration given to the adjacent activity spaces. Note the rooms surrounding the kitchen, where the view is, and what the natural light pattern is.
  • Develop new business relationships with allied professionals, notably recognized interior designers. They can be a great resource to better understand furniture sizing or to collaborate with on a project that combines the designer's functional space planning expertise and the interior specialist's unique talents.

Once the design firm has reformatted its initial presentation to accommodate these additional kitchen area activities, individual designers should adjust their systematic approach to the planning process to focus on all activities taking place in the kitchen: not just those pinpointed by the traditional work triangle.

First, become familiar with furniture sizing. When kitchen designers draw a kitchen, they often simply terminate walls at the end of the workspace or, draw an entire room but leave the furniture area empty. I believe to design the best "cooking room," designers need to be as familiar with furniture sizes as they are with cabinet sizes.

At right is a series of table and furniture dimensions, and typical furniture arrangements. Designers who prepare hand drawings, can create templatess in their preferred scale. Having such templates makes the "what if" general space study planning phase of the project so much easier. When working with computer-aided design programs, designers may want to add this dimensional information to their files.

For instance, table dimensions can be added to detail normal round, oval, square and rectangular tables (see Illustration 1, Page 71). These should also list the minimum and preferred walkway. Designers should also remember that each seated person needs 24" to 36" of "elbow room" table space, 18" to 30" deep.

Designers should also familiarize themselves with furniture dimensions, including sofa lengths, side chairs, armchairs with ottomans, coffee tables and end tables (see Illustration 2, at right).

Predetermined layout templats can be used to idenfity the minimum floor space required for common furniture arrangements (see Illustration 3, Page 73). For instance:

  • Two armchairs with coffee table showing arc of conversation.
  • Two sofas with coffee table showing arc of conversation.
  • Focal armchair with ottoman: side table included.
  • Typical television viewing, acceptable viewing angle.
  • Typical wraparound sectional sofa clearance requirements.
  • Typical seating arrangement featuring one armchair and sofa.
  • Typical seating arrangement including loveseat, sofa and armchair.
  • Typical seating arrangement with sofa and two armchairs or larger armchair.

Next, as you stare at that blank piece of paper with catalogs and furniture templates close at hand think about zones of activity and their required space, as well as people "traffic patterns" before developing conceptual space solutions. This will allow you to turn your attention to how the space is used in total, balanced with your normal traditional expertise in creating specialized storage centers for primary work areas in the kitchen.

The two floor plans on page 70 illustrate this point.

In the first, a space made difficult to work with because of an inordinate number of windows and walkways was best studied as an entire gathering space, rather than a kitchen with a table area adjacent to an open family room. In the original plan, which did not consider furniture placement opportunities, the table was tucked in the corner where it had been previously. In Option No. 2, the difficulties in placing furniture in the new rectangular space were identified, leading the designer to suggest a different kitchen arrangement transitioning the former table area into an entertaining nook, and incorporating the table in the conversation area. This option allowed the table to become much more "user friendly" for family activities other than eating.

In the second, a new L-shaped kitchen plan was presented to a client who hoped to have easier access from the gathering area to the kitchen by exchanging an angled peninsula with a kitchen featuring a shaped island. The client and designer were concerned about the furniture arrangement's viewing angle to the diagonal corner television suggested by the kitchen designer. This cabinetry extension could not be considered seriously without laying out the furniture in the TV area as well.

After you've identified general zones of space, rethink the shape of the kitchen space at it relates to the overall room.
One way I do this is thinking in "blocks of space." For example, when considering the preparation sink area, rather than thinking of a 36" sink, 24" dishwasher, 18" refuge bin collection area and 18"-24" drawer bank, I think in a block of space of 96".

It's easier then for me to move blocks of space around a blank piece of paper oftentimes leading to a more creative solution than I'd get with the approach of locating major appliances and then filling in the cabinets.

Pay more attention to all the people traffic patterns not just the cook's path. Dimension walkways as the absolute minimum space (24"-30" to edge behind another person or through a little used opening), as the more generous, but still limiting, 36" space, or the more desirable Universal Design planning minimums of 42"-48" as you lay out the room.

Create aesthetic "vistas" into the space for visitors, as well as thinking through the view the cook will have while working in the kitchen part of the "cooking room."

Identify the relationship of kitchen activities to the surrounding spaces. To evaluate your proposed solution, chart the food assembly process (an updated look at the cook's triangle extended to include grocery unloading to the trash removal termination point) through your conceptual plan.

There are many ways to use furniture placement in the conceptual part of the process to create kitchen design solutions.
On page 71, Kitchen Sketch One illustrates a kitchen with a seating/dining area for a family that utilizes a one-wall banquette in place of a table surrounded by chairs. The one built-in wall might be tucked under a window, or could be at the back of an island. The value is this arrangement saves one complete walkway clearance dimension ranging from 24" to 42".

On page 72, Kitchen Sketch Two showcases how stepped cabinetry can be used to effectively separate the kitchen from adjacent living areas. In this example, the wall cabinet extends to the countertop, a ledge is created along the back of the L, and the walkway into the adjacent furniture area is defined by two raised cabinets facing one another. These are featured on oversized legs to clearly define the two spaces.

In Kitchen Sketch Three (above), the peninsula counter creates an excellent sense of definition between the gathering area to the left by incorporating a Hafele tower unit that extends through the countertop overhang and then connects to the extended soffit, which supports the lighting design.

Kitchen Sketch Four (above) illustrates a design that could not be effectively created without dimensioning the 42" high island with chairs, the table area and the furniture conversation section of the space in the front of the fireplace. Focusing simply on the kitchen is not enough!

Taking this new approach will expand designers' creative design process to include the entire space the consumer is dreaming of living in.

  • Study the room as a total space, paying close attention to adjacent activity centers.
  • Expand your knowledge of your client's lifestyle beyond their cooking requirements with better showroom presentations and a more thorough approach to information gathering.
  • Use a "what if" creative process to consider various solutions before detailing the plan.
  • Employ the tools of considering zoning the space, create "blocks of space" to meet the necessary storage and counter criteria in each center of activity, focus on people traffic patterns, as well as the cook's food preparation/serving/clean-up path.
  • Move beyond the kitchen shapes anchored to walls to see how the assembly of work areas can relate to the family's lifestyle, activities and traffic patterns.
  • Rather than just standing at the doorway of a workspace, realize the visitor now enjoys a new aesthetic view into the kitchen when engaged in other activities. Pay more attention to the aesthetic detailing both as one views into the kitchen, as well as the kitchen workers' views into the activity area.
  • Partner with experts in related fields to make sure the room works as well as the clients dream it will. KBDN