Where has the kitchen desk gone? Out of curiosity, I reviewed the 2012 NKBA design competition winners to see if any of the kitchens included a dedicated desk space in the kitchen. None were apparent.
Clearly, we haven’t lost the need to check cookbooks and calendars, to sort and pay bills, or to store the tape, scissors, stamps and other desk-related items. However, we do seem to have changed how and where we do these things. While the occasional client may still desire a dedicated desk in the kitchen, today’s command center for the household seems to be moving around.
This month’s column will take a look at the spaces in or near the kitchen where this trend is having a design impact.
LIFESTYLE & USE FACTORS
First, we have to acknowledge the changes in how and where we manage the activities associated with a kitchen desk. Technology has so incredibly altered how we collect, organize and store information that it must be recognized as the single greatest factor in the move from the dedicated space to today’s more mobile command center.
Increased numbers of and options in appliances have also forced us to prioritize every inch of available kitchen space, pushing the kitchen desk down the list. The numbers of devices that most of us use to communicate and maintain our lives, all requiring recharging, are also a factor in the changing demands on the desk.
Time shortages mandate that we plan storage of items at the point of use, which often moves mail and charging space nearer the entry. This also influences our desire to conceal the desk area so a task can be left in process without the need to tidy up mid-stream.
Finally, the growing number of offices in the home for both business and household needs is taking some of the burden off of the kitchen desk and relocating at least some of the storage related to it to other areas.
Near the outside entry, the drop zone will decrease demand for kitchen desk space, and it may include the charging station, where phones, pads, PDAs and even laptops can be left charging as one enters the home and picked up again when heading out the door. These can also be moved to whatever work area one wishes to use in the home.
The wireless nature of our electronics allows for this type of portability, which means that the dining table or snack bar may become the kitchen desk on a temporary basis when desired.
There are a few of us who still hold out for a paper calendar and note-taking, and current mail/school notices must be stored, usually designed into the telephone space within the kitchen. But, even this seems to be fading, as more and more clients are relying less on the land line and more on synchronized electronic calendars that are kept within reach except when they are charging.
While cooking Web sites and blogs are common tools, they have not entirely replaced cookbooks and food magazines, so storage for these items – including a docking station for the electronic device most used – is needed in an area convenient to the kitchen.
Bill storage and payment has moved to the home office for many, again requiring less physical space as much of it is done electronically. However, clients who work from home often desire total separation of the business office from the home office, so this must be taken into account when designing this type of area.
So where does this leave the design of desk space in the kitchen? One concept is to provide closed storage at or near the snack bar or dining space, and to be sure the lighting in this area will support desk work, so that the space can multitask as a place to do desk-related activities in addition to dining. The addition of a desk lamp can help to define the space if desired, but the lighting plan should include appropriate lighting for tasks that would require the desk lamp be stored away.
Proximity to a window or a view has become more popular for this space since computers have shrunk so much in size and no longer block the view. An important element to include in this plan is the waste receptacle that is always part of a desk area.
The amount and type of storage from file drawers, or chalk and corkboards, will vary depending on the client’s habits. The ability to move older items to more remote storage in the house can help to keep the demands on this space at a minimum.
Often, on the back side of an island or peninsula, the heights of this work area and storage can vary, but the reach range of each of the users must be accommodated.
Another concept that is growing is the small space near the kitchen, where the “commander” might still be able to view kitchen activities but also be able to conceal the mess of organizing the household when not engaged in the task. The command center may be anything from a pantry-sized room, separated by a half wall, to a converted closet, or a work area with retractable or tambour doors near the primary activity centers of the kitchen. Sometimes referred to as the “mother’s office” or the “home command center,” this has the added advantage of leaving the prime kitchen space for food preparation and related storage/work surface. When the dedicated space is large enough, this can double as a craft room or a homework station.
While we are changing our designs to support the total penetration of technology into our lives, we might be wise to provide for the peaceful socializing that can come from isolating that same technology.
We have all experienced the disruption to in-person communication that can come from others who are checking their phones or texting during meals. More families are encouraging device-free meals, and perhaps our designs for the kitchen desk should support technology when in use, but also allow that technology be tucked away to keep the focus on family and guests.
Mary Jo Peterson is president of Mary Jo Peterson, Inc., a Connecticut-based design firm that focuses on residential projects. Certified in kitchen, bath, aging-in-place and active adult housing design with specific expertise in Universal Design, Peterson has authored three books on the subject and is a frequent national speaker and educator.