Kitchen Designing for Generation X

As a baby boomer, I've been designing for "boomers" and "matures" over the past two decades. Much of my work in the field of universal design has focused on these two groups.

More recently, however, I have begun to address the needs of a new buying sector, the "GenXers." More than ever, I am designing for a group whose perceptions of the world and of the kitchen and bath are not what I have personally experienced. The world view and lifestyles of GenXers offer many of us the opportunity to take a fresh look at the spaces we've been designing for so long.

It has been my good fortune to have the perfect resource right in my own office. Originally a design intern for us from the University of Nebraska, and now a designer, Terri Berlage has been instrumental in broadening the understanding of the rest of our design team regarding her generation.

While the profile of the GenXer is not as well defined as that of the baby boomer, the age range appears to include those born between 1964 and 1978. Often over generalized as children of wealth and privilege who need instant gratification and question everything, this group has been influenced in ways that set them apart.

The first of the "latch key" children, Generation X is also the first generation to be totally comfortable with technology, cutting their teeth on Atari games. For the most part, these children have grown to be highly specialized professionals who are capable of buying their first home at a younger age.

This generation of homeowners ranges from those who are single or recently married purchasing and renovating a first home to those who have a couple of children and are settling into their first move up or dream house. There is an opportunity for designers to work repeatedly with these clients as their needs change.

While one of the stereotypes attributed to this generation is that they prefer a stark, minimalist look, we have found that many are interested in the architectural integrity of older spaces in established neighborhoods, and they are looking to add their own character to these spaces.

Terri uses "the Seattle coffee bar" as a metaphor to describe a look that incorporates high ceilings; painted trim; dark, vibrant or intense paint colors (on one or more impact walls); materials that suggest a richness of quality, but are in fact practical, simple and subtle with architectural details and specialty nooks. The craftsman and mission styles, for example, offer design statements that have strong architectural integrity, and an elegant simplicity with historical reference. These styles often incorporate natural materials and are flexible enough to blend well in renovations and with updated materials. In general, these styles exemplify the desire of GenXers to "draw on the past for ambience and appearance, while keeping an eye on the future."

Lifestyle design
As the development of frozen foods continues to become more sophisticated, the GenXer who is used to instant everything will continue to adapt dried and frozen foods with the addition of water. This implies the need for a second sink and the need to reexamine the space between the cooktop/range and the sink. Considering a pot filler faucet and sink in close proximity to the cooking surface would also support the ever growing popularity of global cooking.'

The GenXers appear to be more comfortable with two or more people cooking at the same time, whether for efficiency or for pleasure. Separate work centers or stations support this concept of simultaneous food prep by multiple chefs. In an ideal situation, every work center might have its own work triangle, but given the limits of space and cost, we are often challenged to plan the workflow so these multiple cooks don't collide.'

The primary cooking area needs to be created with access to a sink as well as the cooking surface. A secondary cold preparation area also needs access to a sink and, of course, the refrigerator. If included, the less used baking center may be somewhat removed from the main triangle and may be a multipurpose station; still, it must include adequate working space and storage. This also means that design of the sink and dishwasher for cleanup purposes may need to allow additional access to the sink for a cook needing water from time to time. Space permitting, a second dishwasher is ideal, particularly if there is a butler's pantry or mudroom available.

Smaller versions of larger appliances with "smart" features are becoming more readily available from refrigerator drawers to full apacity, high speed cooking ovens to dishwasher drawers. Multiple, small appliances facilitate the development of self contained work centers. For instance, refrigerator drawers in the primary cooking area provide space for storage of items particular to that process, with the main refrigerator located closer to the cold preparation area. A standard microwave may be located at or near the table/snack bar to warm weeknight meals as they are served, with a high speed cooking oven located adjacent to the primary cooking area along with the standard thermal/convection oven(s).

Storage needs for this generation are impacted by bulk buying, recycling and frequent quick stops at specialty markets, and multiple recycling and waste bins are a must in any GenXY kitchen design. Bulk items can be stored in large, deep pantry cabinets, walk in pantries or mudrooms. The mudroom is gaining new attention, seconding as a laundry and garden work area, as well as a place to wash the dog or drop off muddy athletic equipment. A sink is essential in this area, along with a bench, coat hooks and, of course, plenty of cabinetry.

As an increasing number of GenXers work out of their home offices, part or full time, there is also a greater emphasis on developing home offices that are tailored to meet those needs. Desks for use by the whole family are often found in the family rooms of open family/ kitchen areas. For these reasons, there is less emphasis on developing a classic six foot desk area within the kitchen. The message center, wired for instant Internet access, is used primarily for posting shared messages, limited use of the laptop, checking recipes or quick phone calls.

Clearly, as times change, so do the needs of our customers. Staying on top of key lifestyle trends will help us design more efficient rooms for the next generation.