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.