Without question, no room in the home has evolved to the extent that the kitchen has. No longer a space where only the cook and bottle-washer performed KP duties, today’s kitchen has become the most lived-in space in the contemporary home.
The kitchen has always been a space where people want to be, and
historically where people often spent their time. During the Colonial
era and as far as the 1940s, farm families enjoyed what we term
a country kitchen: a place where families worked and interacted
continuously in the duties and pastimes of self-sufficient life.
However, during the modernization of the 20th century when thousands
of homes were built as small boxes in suburban tract developments,
the kitchen became a self-contained workstation where the cook could
not interact with anyone unless they were working side-by-side in
tight quarters. Cut off from the dining, living and other utilitarian
areas, the kitchen in a majority of homes built from the 1940s to
the 1980s were isolated from the rest of the home and from the activities
and people in adjoining rooms.
Not so today. Kitchens are places where great food is prepared and
dining is a pleasure. It is a place where people visit, plan schedules,
execute projects, enjoy each other’s company and enjoy the
beauty that surrounds them. Today’s kitchen is largely open
to spacious dining spaces and living spaces—both informal and
formal. The kitchen often is accessible to the computer station
and home office, sometimes located right inside the kitchen boundaries.
These new larger spaces are accomplished easily in new constructions,
but are also being created through remodeling—removing a wall
that separates the kitchen from the rest of the house, sometimes
using a screening partition, but often it becomes a stunningly beautiful
place that invites guests for that lavish buffet spread on an island
or peninsula or a simple meal at the bar or table that in turn becomes
a part of the living space. This great room is the new in-home destination
for family and friends alike.
The kitchen is a place where a lion’s share of a homeowner’s
building or remodeling budget is being dispensed to create spaces
that are aesthetic achievements. With busier lifestyles, the kitchen
has also become a hub for the family, the space where schedules
are organized and where intersecting time is spent together. The
kitchen is a place where heart and home meet, where family and friends
come together to prepare and enjoy food and to reconnect in social
and emotionally supportive ways. Home and kitchen/great room have
become a refuge and sanctuary from an uncertain and stressful world.
Many factors have contributed to the new command-central kitchen.
At the forefront is the uncertain investment market factor. More
people have poured discretionary income into their homes where their
money is likely to remain stable and with a return on investment
if the home is sold. Another is the need to be sheltered and renewed
to face life’s challenges. Yet another is the high technology
wave that continues to make life easier, more convenient and even
safer and cleaner.
FROM LOW-TECH TO HIGH-TECH
From the spit over the fireplace to the latest must-have Wolf Dual
Fuel Range (a gas cook top and an electric dual convection oven)
today’s kitchens have left low-tech far behind—perhaps
forever. From cabinetry front to stainless steel, appliances are
coming into their own. Technology has created a new generation of
basic appliances such as drip coffee makers, timers and food processors
with digital dials and readouts. Timesaving items include electric
fry pans, woks, kettles and percolators, instant ice-cream makers,
pasta and yogurt makers, ice cream blenders, warming drawers and,
or course, the ever-present microwaves.
On a larger scale is the introduction of smart appliances. Two notable
appliance companies, Samsung and LG Electronics, are introducing
refrigerators with built-in touch screens on the door panels that
function as TV monitors, display information from the Web and record
voice messages for those family members who miss their family kitchen
connection time. Soon the refrigerator’s computer will keep
an up-to-date inventory of the refrigerator’s content. It will
be able to display a dinner menu with recipes including a shopping
list of items to be purchased. Smart refrigerators will allow us
to scan or manually input purchase dates and expirations dates for
pantry items as well, with a prompt message to alert us when a food
may have spoiled. An inventory control also can help find items
by location—no more searching for the missing ingredient. High-tech
refrigerators may become the center of command central for the kitchen,
connecting other smart appliances and systems so that the entire
house can be programmed from one eye-
The “Icebox” FlipScreen appliance acts as an undercounter
TV, but also projects images from the security system onto the screen
and provides Web access. A new collection of small Salton appliances
labeled Beyond communicate with each other. The coffee maker can
notify the alarm clock when the coffee is brewed and waiting. The
microwave includes a bar code reader (capacity of more than 4,000
UPCs) so the perfect cooking cycle aligns with the product.
More appliances are planned for lower installation areas for latchkey
children and for universal design if and when the need arrives for
wheelchair user-friendly spaces.
All these advances in appliances are designed to take the edge off
our typically compressed stress-filled lives.
BEAUTY AND BEYOND
The kitchen is also the fashion center of many homes today. Cherry
is replacing maple as the favored choice. Wood and paint finishes,
including fly-specking, are being mixed. For example, upper cabinets
in cherry and lower cabinets painted black. Cane and raffia or translucent
panels may replace glass panel inserts in upper cabinets. Accent
colors are used for interest and balance. Although granite is still
the favored choice as countertops, engineered quartz and solid surface
are in high demand. Other countertop materials include concrete;
wood and stainless steel are seen, sometimes as a combination of
materials in one kitchen.
As for design detailing, there are fewer heavy corbel brackets and
raised moldings. Lines are becoming simpler, perhaps due to the
heavy influence of the Mid-Century Modern Minimalist style. Moldings
may be flat, as wider rails are being used on raised panels. A secondary
sink is also becoming a must-have, complete with the pull down spray
head and swivel ball joint design that maximizes function and ergonomics,
or ease of use.
Above all, today’s culinary command centers are better lighted
than ever before. Artificial lighting includes dimmable downlighter
and eyeball spotlights, plus specialty lighting for accent and mood
setting. Limited fluorescent lighting is used in workspaces, although
often skylights flood rooms with natural light. Larger windows are
being planned into kitchens in addition to glass doors that connect
the kitchen to well-appointed outdoor living spaces. This gives
the opportunity for myriad window coverings from blinds and shades
to custom top treatments.
Beauty is in high demand for today’s upscale kitchens. Wall
covering borders, custom painted effects and tile or stone are often
seen on the walls and backsplashes. Windows and doors themselves
often are architecturally handsome. Thus, window treatments for
light control and privacy can be set inside the frame and are especially
appealing when they fold or draw up into a tiny space so the glass
and view are unobstructed.
Today’s aluminum mini-blinds and vinyl and aluminum vertical
blinds are impervious to grease, spillage and dirt. Wipeable and
soil-resistant blinds and shades are ideal for today’s low-maintenance
kitchens. Skylights also may require window coverings such as cellular
shades that can be motorized. For areas where cooking food will
not be a factor, more soft and lovely treatments are appropriate.
Many kitchens are outfitted with wood blinds. And back in the running
are woven wood shades that combine traditional styling with modern
operating systems and designs that include bamboo, reed, grass as
well as wood slats in many hues.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3.6 million kitchens were remodeled
in 2001. Today’s homeowner has in mind a beautiful kitchen,
enlarged seating and gathering spaces and more open spaces in the
J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at
Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including
Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction,
3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular
correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion,
education and merchandising.