The kitchen was a separate, small structure where servants attended to the cooking and baking and served the master and guests at the appropriate formal meal times. Other historic homes, including Mount Vernon, used the same plan-the kitchen was separate from the main home.
Another home we visited in Nashville was a 1930s Beaux Arts showcase home refurnished by interior designers as a marketing tool. The room that fascinated me the most was the butler's pantry. This narrow, cupboard- and countertop-lined hallway room was sandwiched between the kitchen and the formal dining room. Mind you, this house was not a grand mansion like the Hermitage. Rather, it was a typical, upscale period home properly designed for a lifestyle where the cook prepared meals and the butler artistically arranged the food in serving dishes from the butler's pantry, then served them with decorum to the family and guests seated and waiting in the dining room.
Perhaps there is no more dramatic contrast in the evolution of the contemporary home than what has happened to the kitchen. Yet in some ways, as we compare what we want in our kitchens, it isn't too different from the typical farm house of 100 years ago.
Whereas wealthy families of the past were loathe to enter the labor area, today we love living, working, interacting and even entertaining in our kitchens. Rather than pull the family apart and view the kitchen as a drudgery work place for the cook, we now are opening up the kitchen as the new activity center where many things take place in a congenial, open, family atmosphere. There are many trends and reasons why this is a major design direction.
THE BUSY LIFE
Many, if not most, people today are juggling careers, family and extra-curricular involvement such as children's sports, community events or volunteerism and have less time to plan and execute formality. Formal sit-down dinner parties have become less frequent, and today our guests would rather be in the kitchen with us, anyway.
This does not mean we don't love to entertain, sometimes in mass quantity, but that the scene often includes less formal elements.
Consolidating our meal preparation efforts while enjoying beautiful surroundings and good company is the logical result. Involving family and guests in the meal preparation, or to visit with the cook while the meal progresses, is now the norm. This is more and more possible as walls that isolated the kitchen come down in favor of big open spaces and great rooms (kitchen/dining/family rooms) and alternative seating areas in or near the kitchen.
CONVENIENCE, DURABILITY, BEAUTY, LUXURY
Kitchens today are different than ever before because they have become a place for living beautifully. The priorities for today's upscale home owners are convenience in food preparation and cleanup, easy-to-maintain surfaces that are durable and beautiful, and the spoonful of luxury that makes an ordinary home extraordinary.
We also want individuality in our decorating schemes. Consider the following trends as you advise customers in their furnishing and decorating decisions.
Cabinetry, moldings and windows: Kitchens now are places that feature fine architectural detail with custom cabinetry capped with moldings, stepped cabinetry (varying heights and projections), finishes that vary from very smooth to rusticated and from all matching finishes to varying colors and textures. Windows are equally important architectural features and moldings, stepped columns and beams finish the detail.
However, not all kitchens have these extensive details. In fact, there are two major, and opposite, kitchen trends today: The first is clean, contemporary and modern. The second is historic styles made with fine craftsmanship.
Countertops: Countertops have become a durable and beautiful work surface with granite leading the way in upscale kitchens followed by solid surfacing then tile, materials like concrete and stainless steel and, of course, laminates.
Laminates also are being used as cupboard drawer and door fronts with an amazingly handsome appearance and remarkable durability that outperforms wood with minimal upkeep at far less cost.
More under-counter storage cabinetry yields more countertop space. The removal of upper cabinets over peninsulas and the creation of food prep islands means less visual obstruction and increased communication.
The few and the crowd: With the varying careers and lifestyles many people are experiencing today, there are differing roles the kitchen now plays. Sometimes only one or a few family members will be home to cook, eat, interact, conduct business and unwind with electronic entertainment (music or television/video/DVD). Other times the kitchen is filled with a crowd of family or friends, and large quantities of food are served to eager and hungry guests.
Today's well-planned kitchens can accommodate any situation from quiet family living to gracious entertaining. Additional dining spaces, alternative seating, extra sinks and modern appliances make today's kitchen truly flexible.
Color, pattern, form and texture: All combine to make today's kitchen/activity center beautiful. Any theme from vibrant southern European to clean Scandinavian, from traditional fruits and vegetables to rustic textures can be found in abundance in current fabric and wall covering books, tiles and counter and flooring surface textures.
Gorgeous colors, patterns and textures make today's kitchens lively and aesthetically satisfying places to be. Larger work surfaces and larger windows, beautiful dining furniture, seating and entertainment equipment are all a part of this desire for an aesthetically satisfying environment.
Flooring also is becoming more upscale. Wood floors, real and laminate, as well as tile and stone (limestone is vogue) are at the top of the want list.
The home/kitchen office: As the activity hub, the kitchen is the logical place for a home office or personal computer station. Creative ideas to accommodate the desk or hutch that serves as a work station include handsome cabinetry and furnishing with doors that close when the area is not in use.
The kitchen office serves many purposes:
· The home finances can be easily managed from here.
· Recipes for cooking and baking can be stored and retrieved.
· Parents can monitor children's homework progress and Internet access.
· Shopping and purchasing via e-commerce is convenient and time-saving.
· Home businesses can be electronically managed.
· Learning via the Internet can progress at the user's pace.
· Hobbies or research for any topic and for any reason from first aid to managing investments to genealogy research can be an ongoing, easily accessed activity.
As PCs become smaller and laptop and notebook computers more affordable and powerful, a modest desk space is all that is required-providing the wiring for power and telephone can be accessed. The home office no longer needs to be a separate room, as the paperless office becomes a reality for many home owners. The space also can be decorated thematically and made enjoyable for the users.
New appliances make food preparation easier: If you are over 30 or so years old, you might remember the days when you were first deciding whether to get a microwave oven. Now not only is the microwave standard, but more convenience in several appliances is standard.
Refrigeration units installed as cabinet drawers, wine coolers, warming ovens, ice makers and a host of time-saving appliances await the new, remodeled and updated kitchen. And for those who want the very best, gourmet cook surfaces and ovens also are available for the discriminating customer.
The food industry caters to a faster-paced society: No longer do we need to take the time or make the mess to thaw out and then cut up our own chicken, for example. Just buy ice-glazed tenderloins and toss them right from the freezer onto the grill. Gourmet foods and fresh quality food and herbs are readily available to put together without the hassle of long hours of preparation. This makes meal-preparation much more fun and interactive.
Food itself has become an art form, and many people are cooking as an enjoyable hobby. I asked my friend David Taylor, co-author of "Interiors: An Introduction" (who just remodeled his own kitchen), what he really wanted to do when he retires. His response was, "Cook!" We have become much more interested in good nutrition as well as exotic and regional cuisine, and we don't mind spending the money for the equipment to make it easy and satisfying.
Dining in: In many homes, the kitchen table has been moved back into the kitchen and has become integral to the activities there as a place for meals as well as homework, projects and even food preparation.
Another trend is multiple dining areas where there is a counter-height bar, island or peninsula and two additional dining areas: one to be used as a breakfast table and one as a formal dining room. Some families, however, are shunning the idea of formal dining in favor of informal dining only. Lifestyles will dictate these choices.
Your lifestyle, your choices: The real needs of every individual can be met in today's kitchen/activity center. If, for example, occasional large-party entertaining is on your customer's list, then consider old-fashioned ideas such as a custom-layout butler's pantry just off the kitchen as a food staging area. It can be equipped with a large refrigerator, a small freezer, an icemaker, a wet bar, wine storage and a dishwasher. Many homes are now including an extra dishwasher and a second single- or double-bowl sink.
A television placed in custom cabinetry also is standard in many activity kitchens or dining areas. Watching the news, business forecast or preferred programs during meal preparation, cleanup or dining is a time-saver for many families. Custom cabinetry to showcase beautiful possessions, both utilitarian and purely aesthetic, have become important to today's activity center kitchen.
Special hobbies also can be accommodated in the new kitchen-perhaps a closet with drop-down counter for sewing or other projects that can be messy, but that also can be closed up and out of site when not in progress.
And most important of all, we have the flexibility to make the kitchen look new, charming and fresh with a host of window treatments and wall covering options. Individuality is limitless, which is where the fun is in the decorating business.
Whether the customers are spending $50,000, $5,000 or $500, there is room for improvement in most kitchens to make them more user-friendly and gracious settings for personal interaction between people. Today we live, work and enjoy life together in the kitchen. It's status has risen from work space to the hub, the heart and the soul of the home.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.