Kitchens have come a long way in the role that they play in our daily lives. The room that once existed for purely functional reasons, located in the back of the house and away from all other activities, is now taking its rightful place front and center of our lives and our homes.
The ad above is from a May 1940 issue of Architectural Forum. Just 75 years ago, this was considered a modern kitchen – efficient, white, stainless steel … wait?! Maybe things haven’t really changed all that much.
While kitchens are no longer relegated to the back of the house and designed only for women, they are still mostly made up of the same moving parts now as they were a century ago. You still have the classic components that divide a kitchen up into its most basic parts:
… and these aren’t going to be changing anytime soon. What does seem to be changing is the activities that take place in the kitchen that are secondary to the preparation of a daily meal. I don’t like the word “trends” when it comes to designing kitchens despite the fact that I know the kitchen is subject to trends just like any other room in the house. I would rather focus on the evolution of kitchens, talk about how their role has evolved to suit the needs of today’s families. The kitchen is the most used room in your house … and it gets used by everyone many times throughout the day. It’s no wonder that the kitchen is now a multi-purpose space that reflects the wide variety of functions and users that occupy the space.
Kitchens are now woven into the social aspect of our lives – it’s the space where the kids are doing their homework while Mom or Dad prepare a meal. It’s not even that uncommon that some extended family member is there as well, hanging out with the primary family; I know that’s true in my house, my Mother-in-law is a welcome addition to our lives and is typically involved in some manner with almost every family event that takes place at the house. (The fact that she makes one of the very best apple pies you will ever eat in your life is an added bonus.)
The Social Kitchen
Kitchens are now integrated into the center of the house – a part of the flow of the occupants. No longer does Mom disappear into some room in the back of the house and food just magically shows up when it’s time to eat.
Frequently these social kitchens are given some of the best real estate in the house – the spot with the best views. You can see in the kitchen above that there is a clearly delineated work zone but at one end of the island there is a spot for a spectator. The large adjacent table gives ample room for school projects to get worked on and when it’s time to eat, you don’t have to clear the table – just push it all to one end.
Kitchens are no longer defined by 4 walls – it is typical that one entire wall has been removed to really open the kitchen up to the surrounding spaces. This allows the kitchen- and the people who use the kitchen – to participate in the activities that are taking place concurrently with the preparation of the meal.
This is the view out of the kitchen – you can see that the kitchen is as integrated into the social aspects of this house is could be imagined. This would be a terrific party space – everybody ends up in the kitchen anyways, this allows the person working in the kitchen to play host and chef at the same time. Which brings me to the next big evolution – people are starting to cook again.
The White Working Kitchen
I don’t know if this is a chicken or the egg (no pun intended but awesome none-the-less) result of the kitchen becoming integrated more into the working heart of the home but the number of white functional kitchens we are being asked to work on has been going up a lot of late. Kitchen appliances are heavily featured in these kitchens – they are bright and sparkly, and the folks who use these kitchens want people to know that they cook – even that they take cooking seriously.
I am a huge fan of kitchens that look like kitchens – not because they’re full of dirty pots and pans and that morning breakfast mess is still sitting out on the counter – but it speaks to the modernist in me. There is a quote/ story from Louis Kahn said that goes something like this:
You say to a brick, ‘What do you want, brick?’ And brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’ And you say to brick, ‘Look, I want one, too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.’ And then you say: ‘What do you think of that, brick?’ Brick says: ‘I like an arch.’
You’re thinking to yourself “What does that have to do with kitchens?” Well, what it means to me is that kitchens need to be kitchens – not living rooms that happen to have some appliances in them.
In all of these white kitchens, the appliances are stainless steel and are not tucked behind integrated cabinetry.
Another item that the white working kitchen features is the large center island. There is almost some sort of seating arrangement that is built-in to the island but the islands are typically sized to accommodate kitchen spectators or participants.
Islands are really useful planning devices to take on many roles and responsibilities. Not only do they give you additional counter top space in an area where it is most needed, it also helps delineate the kitchen into those classic zones that I mentioned earlier. Clean on one side, dirty on the other. Hot on this end, cold on the other, cooking on this side, spectating on that side. In the properly designed kitchen, you don’t even have to be conscious about these zones – it will be intrinsic and you will know where to be based on your role in the kitchen.
Clearly this is the kitchen of someone who likes to cook – I love this kitchen. It is so white and clean looking, you can almost smell the bread baking. The light quality is terrific (helps to have natural light coming in from 3 sides) all set off on the dark floor to accentuate the brightness of the cabinetry.
Despite the fact that most of the kitchens I’ve selected are fairly large, they all have a very small working kitchen footprint. Most of the space in the kitchen is dedicated to secondary and tertiary roles the kitchen space is now absorbing. There is also a noticeable duality of light and dark materials being used – designers are using contrast to help accentuate the kitchen zones.
All of the images I used in today’s post were taken from the Sub-Zero and Wolf Design Photo Gallery and all were winners in the Kitchen Design Contest, an event that has occurred every two years since 1993. It is a great resource library and with each contest, you gain additional insight into how kitchens are evolving. If you would like to learn more about the projects I have shown here, or if you would like to learn more about the Kitchen Design Contest, I have included links here to everything you might like to know: more about the judges, the awards and prizes, or the rules of this event.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have partnered with Sub-Zero and Wolf to provide my professional opinion about kitchen design and document its Kitchen Design Contest. While I am being compensated, I only recommend products or services I may use or will use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”