Someone's in the Kitchen

Someone's in the Kitchen

That's one of a number of important conclusions pointed to by the results of a comprehensive research project aimed at determining what kitchens in today's homes are like, and what activities are being carried out in them.

The multi-stage research project, which was finished early this year and reported on at April's National Kitchen & Bath Conference in Orlando, was also aimed at determining how kitchen storage, counter space, cooking equipment, cabinets and work centers are used and how homeowners would improve their kitchens, if given a chance. 

The project was developed by the faculty of the Center for Real Life Kitchen Design at Virginia Tech, with funding from the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) and the Virginia Tech Dept. of Near Environments. Project directors were JoAnn Emmel, Ph.D.; Julia Beamish, Ph.D., CKE, and Kathleen Parrott, Ph.D., CKE.

1. Kitchen Improvements Most Desired By Surveyed Consumers
(Percentage of respondents answering affirmatively)

More and/or efficient storage: 91%
More counter space: 37%
More accessible cabinets and appliances: 23%
A bigger or more open floor plan: 18%
A better arrangement or more appliances: 17%
A more efficient design or traffic pattern: 15%

Source: Center for Real Life Kitchen Design, Virginia Polytechnic University

The project consisted of three major segments: (1) A content analysis of 104 articles in shelter, design and kitchen magazines investigated current trends and features in kitchen design; (2) 78 local cooks were interviewed and then asked to cook a meal in one of the three selected kitchens in the Center for Real Life Kitchen Design. Videotapes of the cooking exercises were used to analyze cooking patterns; (3) A national telephone survey of 630 respondents gathered information about kitchen and cooks from around the nation.

A majority of the respondents in the national survey were from households of fewer than four people, and were most frequently a part of a family or adult couple. Females outnumbered males, and a high percentage lived in single-
family homes. The sample was equally divided into small town, rural, city and suburban residents. Respondents reflected different ages, sizes, abilities, family size and income.

Major findings
The research study contains important implications for kitchen designers. While many }of the findings are clearly not ground-breaking, they do reinforce certain key, widely held notions about kitchen design.

In contrast, other findings shed considerable new light on today's kitchens and kitchen users.

"The results of this project show that the kitchen is a place for serious and frequent cooking, as well as a wide range of other household activities," the report's authors state. "People keep many items in their kitchen and want a spacious, well designed, efficient and functional space."

Among the major findings of the research project were the following:

  • People want more more overall space, more storage and more counter space (see Graph 1). Asked what improvements they desired most in their kitchens, survey respondents listed more and/or efficient storage (91%); more counter space (37%); more accessible cabinets and appliances (23%); a bigger or more open floor plan (18%); a better arrangement or more appliances (17%), and a more efficient design or traffic pattern (15%).
  • People cook on a regular basis. 72% of the people surveyed said they prepare a meal five or more times a week most often dinner (67%), but very frequently breakfast (51%). Couples and family households cook more frequently than singles. The most frequently cited cooking activities were preparing food from scratch (49%), baking (32%) and grilling (32%).
  • The most common patterns for households is for one person (67%) to do most of the cooking. If two cooks prepare food, they typically take turns rather than cook together (18%). The two cooks will either work independently, or have one person take on the role of a teacher and the other a student. Only 13% of the consumers surveyed reported cooking together simultaneously.
  • The sink is a major focal point for food preparation. Adjacent counter space is used for a variety of food preparation activities. The trash is frequently accessed during food preparation, and people want it to be centrally located probably under or immediately adjacent to the sink and easily accessible.
  • Most people use and need a generous amount of counter space. Cooks typically establish a primary and secondary preparation area. Two prep areas are essential for two cooks.
  • Cooks in the study were frequent users of fresh and convenience foods, and only occasionally brought in carryout food. In fact, contrary to the image of Americans eating fast food on the run, only 16% of the national sample said they "often" brought home carryout food, while another 43% said they brought home carryout food "sometimes."
  • The microwave oven is a major cooking appliance, is used frequently and its placement by designers needs careful consideration. In most instances, it should be incorporated in the primary "work triangle." A microwave was present in 96% of the homes. 34% of the survey's respondents said they use it as much as their range/
    cooktop, while 25% use it more. 
  • People have many small appliances (such as coffee makers, toasters, blenders, toaster ovens, food processors and electric can openers), some of which need to be stored outside the kitchen due to limited storage space. The countertop is used to store many items, only some of which are food preparation tools such as small appliances.
  • Eating in the kitchen is common, and a large proportion of the survey's respondents consider an eating area in the kitchen to be important. Even people who do not regularly eat in the kitchen consider an eating area important.
  • Better, more accessible, and more efficient kitchen storage is requested. Pantries or tall cabinets were among the features desired.

2. Most Popular Features & Products Included in 'Published' Kitchens

Islands 63%
Wall or special pizza ovens 57%
Tall pantry, pantry closet, or pantry space 44%
Cooktops 39%
Desk or message area 30%
Trash compactor 24%
Sink in the island 22%
Use of open shelves 21%
Eating area in conjunction with the island 20%
Beverage bars 18% 
Glass-front cabinets 14%
Commercial-style ranges 11%
Refrigerator drawers 10%

Source: Center for Real Life Kitchen Design, Virginia Polytechnic University

Analysis of articles
In reviewing the editorial content of the consumer and trade magazines utilized for the study, it was found that the kitchens that were featured exhibited a number of key characteristics, the study found (see Graph 2).

Most articles mentioned the incorporation of storage and counter space near the main work areas sink, cooking center and refrigerator. Specific types or special workspaces were also noted. Islands were extremely popular, and were included in 63% of the kitchen designs featured. A sink in the island either a primary or secondary sink was mentioned in 22% of the articles, and an eating area in conjunction with the island was noted in 20%. Beverage bars in the kitchen were incorporated into 18% of the designs, with many of them being a wet bar with a sink. After adding together the sinks in the wet bars and extra sinks in an island, 26% of the kitchens included at least two sinks.

In addition to standard base and wall cabinets for storage, a few special storage features were repeated in the designs. Some use of open shelves was mentioned in 21% of the articles analyzed, and glass-front cabinets were incorporated into 14% of the kitchens featured. A tall pantry, pantry closet or pantry space was included in 44% of the designs. A desk or message area was incorporated into 30% of the kitchens featured.

In addition to standard kitchen appliances, other types of appliances were included in many of the kitchens. Wall ovens or special pizza ovens were used in 57% of the kitchens, 39% used a cooktop, 10% incorporated a warming oven, 24% used a trash compactor, and 10% included refrigerator drawers. Finally, commercial-style ranges were used in 11% of the kitchens.

3. Most Common Non-Cooking Activities Conducted in Today's Kitchen
(Percentage of respondents answering affirmatively)

Talking on the telephone 81%
Conducting conversations with friends and family 76%
Doing paperwork/paying bills 50%
Entertaining 40%
Reading 40%
Watching television 39%
Collecting recyclables 29%
Doing laundry 19%

Source: Center for Real Life Kitchen Design, Virginia Polytechnic University

Other activities
As they cooked, participants exhibited "some consistent traits," the report notes. "Most got things out as they worked on a task," the authors state. "Most worked on a second item while the first one cooked. And most cleaned up as they waited for things to cook. They tended to work beside the sink and returned to a water source often. They often worked in several areas of the kitchen, and used a trash can frequently. They frequently stretched to reach the top shelf, and stooped and squatted to get to the bottom shelf."

Moreover, kitchen users generally "had difficulty understanding controls on appliances," the report notes. "Touch controls and LCD readouts were not intuitive for most of these people. Most reported positive things about the kitchens, but they did have specific suggestions for improving specific aspects of the kitchens."

The study also reveals that people do far more in their kitchen than merely cook and eat (see Graph 3). In fact, the national sample reveals that aside from cooking, food preparation, eating, storage and cleanup typical kitchen activities include household management, relaxation and recreational activities that encompass talking on the telephone (81%), conducting conversations with friends and family (76%), doing paperwork/paying bills (50%), entertaining (40%), reading (40%), watching television (39%), collecting recyclables (29%) and doing laundry (19%).

The survey further reveals that many of these non-cooking and non-eating activities may be taking place at the same time as the cooking.

Key implications
Aside from simply gaining an understanding of what takes place in today's kitchens, and what most consumers are seeking in their kitchens, the research report's authors recommend that kitchen designers keep the following key points in mind when approaching any design project:

  • Kitchen designs "need to offer flexibility to become adaptable to different users and different needs for space, storage and layout."
  • The amount and arrangement of counter space used by kitchen designers needs to be evaluated. "In particular, there is a need for two preparation areas in kitchens, even for one cook," the report notes. "Ideally, both preparation areas would have a water source. Adequate counter space adjacent to the sink and microwave is needed for food preparation. The number and variety of items stored on kitchen counters needs to be considered when recommending counter space guidelines."
  • The conventional arrangement of base and wall cabinets "is not adequately meeting many people's needs for quantity and accessibility of storage.

"Reach and access to cabinets is a problem," the authors conclude. "Creative solutions are needed that incorporate alternatives to wall cabinets, use of pantry (tall cabinet) storage, storage-organizing devices and greater use of the space between countertops and wall cabinets." KBDN