Kitchen Now

Pretty soon, we’ll be building our homes around our kitchens. Don’t laugh—just think about what gets accomplished daily in this ever-changing space. In the 30 minutes before dinner, for example, the kitchen may be the setting for a conference call, food preparation and web browsing. And that’s on a slow night. Indeed, the beloved kitchen has become a family room, social center, work station and common area.

Which means that the evolution of this space requires a little rethinking about kitchen organization.

The tried-and-true concept of the kitchen work triangle is the foundation for this room’s design. The theory goes that the points between the refrigerator, cooktop and sink (storage, preparation and cleaning areas) should form a triangle, allowing a single cook to move easily between all three stations.

But something strange happened on the way to designing the perfect home. Our culture and lifestyles changed the ways we use this room (suddenly there are multiple cooks in the kitchen) and the appliances that populate it. One of the keys to reclaiming control over your kitchen is to organize the space in distinct and separate work zones. Don’t worry, this isn’t challenging; in fact, it’ll help you rethink how you use other parts of your home and inspire more than a few planning changes.

Get in the Zone
Ask yourself how you and your family use the kitchen and how best to “expand” the triangle to suit your needs. Creating work zones, where appliances are installed outside of the standard triangle, is an ideal way to open up your kitchen. Adding secondary appliances such as refrigerators, cooktops and ovens is made possible with space-saving modular design.

Richard Forbes, owner of Absolute Kitchens in McLean, Virginia, has been designing kitchens for nearly 10 years. “The key is to loosen the triangle,” Richard says. “Adding a prep sink is a great way to open up space for multiple cooks.” A prep or “salad” sink enables three junior chefs to add a helping hand while avoiding a run in with the chef de cuisine. Add a garbage disposal in the prep sink along with a small counter next to it, and your sous chef can rinse and chop veggies while leaving the main sink free for clean up.

If you have the space, add a modular refrigeration unit next to the prep sink to allow a second cook to operate independently in this set-aside work zone. If you’re designing a small kitchen, you’ll still find extra space for two cooks if you position the main sink away from the cooktop and prep sink. Even with only one cook in the kitchen, the prep sink and modular refrigeration creates a “triangle within the triangle,” saving the cook time and energy by confining activity within a smaller workspace.

Award-winning designer Judy Bracht of Stuart Kitchens in Baltimore, Maryland, adds, “One of the most important design aspects in the kitchen is placement of the microwave. Keep it close to the refrigerator for defrosting as well as warming up snacks. Within the microwave, newer speed and convection ovens come in handy when you’re entertaining guests.” Another useful addition is a two-burner smooth top, which gives you a separate food-prep area and extra electric burners to hold sauces.

Analyze Your Appliances
Nearly every contemporary kitchen has Cuisinarts, Panini makers, cappuccino machines and George Foreman grills. Which begs the question: How often do you use these culinary wonders? “Don’t make the mistake of building in a $600 cabinet for the sole purpose of housing an $80 blender,” Richard says. Also, consider your family’s habits and routines. If you rely on the morning cup of java, keep the coffee maker in an accessible area on the countertop that won’t block access to the cereal. If the omelet maker you bought only gets used on the occasional Sunday, store it in a pantry or cabinet. Better yet, install an appliance garage (a smaller cabinet on your countertop with a vertical sliding door) to keep your appliances grouped together and readily accessible.

Creating a Convivial Space
Now that you’ve organized the space and figured out your family’s habits, it’s time to consider all the socializing that occurs in the kitchen. The room’s all-purpose personality demands a design that allows for convenient communal access. The last thing any cook wants is a friend or family member chatting away while blocking access to the roast. You also want a way to supervise the kids’ activities while preparing the family meal. An ideal solution is positioning chairs or bar stools on the outside of an island or peninsula. This simple solution resolves a number of potential issues: Guests and family members can chat with you as you prepare a meal, and you can supervise your kids’ use of the laptop from a few feet away. “Now that wireless Internet is so commonplace in the home, it really is possible to keep an eye on the kids while you’re cooking,” Judy says.

These new seating areas also give your home more options for casual- or on-the-fly dining spots. A breakfast bar with a few stylish stools not only adds to the aesthetic appeal of your kitchen, but also provides a transition from the kitchen to your living space.

“There’s no magic answer to kitchen design,” Richard says. “It’s a matter of the space available, personal needs, patterns and habits.” The key is determining a design that will best accommodate your lifestyle. The basic work triangle is a good start in the design of your kitchen, and these additional tips will help the triangle fit seamlessly into the continuing circle of your life.