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Off the Kitchen

We’re not Victorians anymore! Gone are the days when the cook occupied the realm known as the scullery and the lady of the house presided over elegantly served meals in the dining room, away from the clutter, the noise and the odors incumbent with food preparation.

Today, virtually every client I come across insists upon having a “great kitchen,” which is open to at least one activity center in the new house. With the demise of household staff and our modern day attachment to an informal lifestyle comes the need to open up the kitchen so the cook doesn’t feel isolated.

What you plan for your own home’s kitchen will have an impact on the rest of the house and its occupants. Let’s look at what does work when planning a kitchen and areas open to it.

Kitchen basics. Think about how you live and how that might change through the years. If two or more of you love cooking together while everyone else hangs out, plan an open and accessible space. However, if you prefer reigning as king or queen of the kitchen realm, plan for that, too. Make clear boundaries between your world and theirs.

Consider how you’ll control cooking odors, excess moisture, noise, accumulated heat and foot traffic. Give yourself at least one solid wall where upper cabinets are easy to install and access. Specify exceptionally quiet appliances—especially for dishwashing. To best evacuate moisture and cooking odors, plan for an overhead ventilation hood.

Think about proper illumination. Create both general and task lighting for your work areas. Be careful that excessive light doesn’t spill into surrounding rooms—especially those where electronic screens are important. Put a flat, not vaulted, ceiling over the kitchen. It will keep cooking odors out of the rafters and provide a convenient and workable location for overhead lighting. Properly done, it’s also a place where beautiful beam work can be displayed and viewed more closely than in areas with cathedral ceilings.

Plan hallways and entrances to skirt the kitchen or at least bypass a hot stove or a particularly zealous cleanup crew. Think about where the cook most often will stand to chop, stir and mix. Keep those spots clear and undisturbed.

What goes on in the kitchen is task-specific and can impact the rooms around it. Plan your kitchen to be a good neighbor so that those spending time in adjoining spaces appreciate, rather than resent kitchen activity.

Dining areas. The place where we gather to eat has many names: dining room, breakfast nook or breakfast bar. No matter the name, the function is the same: to provide a place for people to comfortably and easily consume food. The pragmatic design task is to get the food quickly and easily from the kitchen to the table with as little fuss as possible. That means putting the dining area adjacent to the kitchen. Period.

The humanistic design task is to create ambiance so diners have a quiet place in which to relax, visit, enjoy the food and take in the view. Design a comfortable, light-filled area centered around a real table. Be sure cooking clutter is screened from view. Keep electronics out of the space so you can enjoy your beautiful home, the company of others and the meal without distractions.

Sitting rooms. In every home there is often a main activity center from which no cook wants to be separated. Whether it’s watching the nightly news or helping with homework, the chef wants to be a part of the action.

Since this is likely to be your scenario, plan to open one part of the kitchen to your gathering space, but keep a separation, too. Breakfast bars and partial walls work. So does a pass-through window or arch, though not as effectively.

Create a distinction between the kitchen and sitting areas by changing floor materials along an edge that separates the two. Visually, others will know when they’ve strayed into the cook’s realm, and you’ll be able to feel and hear the transition from one space to the other, even when your arms are full and you can’t see the floor.

Plan an overhead separation, as well—be it a dropped beam, a change of ceiling height, overhead cabinets or a pot rack.

Sunny spaces. Whether it’s a greenhouse, sunroom or enclosed porch, a glassed enclosure is perfect for showing off timber framing. The trick for workability is to control overheating during the day and excess heat loss at night.

Special places.   My favorite kitchen has a small but wonderful window seat in the middle of a wall of cabinetry.  There, one friend can sit while the other cooks or cleans.

There are many choices and possibilities in planning the spaces around your kitchen.  Now you get to make the best of that by using your space wisely and tucking in surprises that will make your kitchen not only comfortable, but magical.


Read the full story in the 2002 Spring issue of Timber Frame Homes.






Jean Steinbrecher, AIA, is a registered architect in private practice with offices in Whidbey Island in Langley, Washington.