The Evolution of Kitchen Design
Kitchen Bergen County

Though the kitchen’s role as hub-of-home will likely never change, the definition of “hub” and what that means to the modern homeowner has certainly evolved. With emotional comfort, open space and sustainability leading the charge in contemporary design, this room, which was once relegated to meal preparation, has taken on a much broader, lifestyle-driven role.

Avid cooks have long known that casual dinner gatherings result in a crowded kitchen, where guests wander in to be part of the action. Designers and architects have taken note of this, and expanded on the idea to make the kitchen an open space that serves a range of lifestyle needs.

More than ever, homebuyers are seeking this open style of design, one with a free-flowing aesthetic incorporating multi-functional areas where the family can interact both during meal times and throughout the day. Many kitchens now have adjoining family rooms and seating areas, or activity centers for small children with built-in doodle boards and chalkboards.

And let us not forget the cooking and entertaining. “Clients want a kitchen that lends itself well to casual entertaining,” says Karen Eastman Bigos of Towne Realty Group in Short Hills, N.J. “Ideally, they want it to be located at the back of the house, with easy access to an indoor/outdoor space such as a patio, deck or barbecue area.” This is not to say that having a festive occasion catered is on its way out. “Clients are still requesting second dishwashers, multiple ovens and eight-burner stoves,” says Bigos.

In designing what he calls the “unfitted kitchen,” Greenwich, Conn., and London-based designer Johnny Grey follows a “liberation philosophy,” leaving room for people to place their own freestanding pieces of furniture within the space. His clients typically want to go beyond imitation to create a personalized environment for themselves, one that may be, at present, a defensive retreat from the world outside.

Grey has been working with neuroscientists to better understand our hard-wired needs for views of nature, eye contact with others and sunlight. “One day we will use neuroscience in the tool chest of design,” he says. “We need to reconnect with our instincts.”

This scientific bent (what you might consider “scientific feng shui”) incorporates the emotional connections one makes with a room to achieve the ultimate in personalization and comfort. In interviewing his clients, Grey often asks for memories of cooking or the kitchen, and typically childhood memories and storybooks come into play. “Emotional and aesthetic needs are often fulfilled when we are sitting around the hearth,” he says.

John Kelsey and Sally Wilson of Wilson Kelsey Design in Salem, Mass., conduct similar exercises with their clients by walking them through the making of a meal. This not only establishes their kitchen work style, but also the role the space plays in the broader scope of their lifestyle.

Clients often ask to “hide the technology” so the room has less of a kitchen feel, and is more a multi-purpose space. As the kitchen is no longer hidden inside four walls, homeowners now prefer to install appliances and gadgets that have more symmetry with the overall room aesthetic.

In response to this lifestyle evolution, Viking Range has unveiled a new Designer Series that incorporates flush installation for minimal distraction, where appliances blend more seamlessly into the kitchen setting. Details like noise reduction and tight seals to contain cooking odors have been taken into consideration.

And though stainless-steel appliances are still popular, color is becoming more prevalent in kitchens to add warmth, whether in the appliances themselves or via splashes of color throughout the room. Grey often asks his clients which pieces of artwork will be hung on the walls, and pulls his color palette from those canvases.

Perhaps the biggest emerging trend, however, and one that will have a significant impact on the future of kitchen design, home ownership and renovation as a whole, is “green” design and the use of sustainable materials.

“Green is the new stainless steel,” says Grey. “Installing a new kitchen is the best way to reduce one’s carbon footprint, and though people may be growing weary of hearing it, sustainability is now a necessity.” This is a costly maneuver, however, which typically requires gutting the kitchen to add insulation to the walls and floors, as well as double-glazed windows and LED lighting, before installing energy-saving appliances. Grey also sees a move toward more natural wood finishes such as linseed and tung oils. And as half the cost of kitchen design and renovation goes toward installation, Grey recommends that his clients focus on using local artisans, which not only reduces costs, but sustains local enterprise.

Wilson Kelsey Design’s clients often come to meetings armed with details about energy-saving appliances and sustainable materials, including recycled wood floors from older homes or barns. John Kelsey is careful to make sure, however, that clients understand how all of the details come together in a meaningful way. “There are layers of meaning to ‘green.’ A product may be green on the assembly line, but not recyclable. Bamboo flooring might be low-cost and long-lasting, but if it comes on a boat from China, the savings of energy and resources are lost.”

Whatever the specific trend, it is comforting to know that the kitchen still holds its pride of place as the one room in the house where people are happy to gather and share. And as homes are now being eyed with a look toward longer-term ownership, that central hub of kitchen and hearth has become a critical piece in the purchasing and renovation decision. The room itself might be larger or more energy-efficient, with sumptuous finishes and professional-grade appliances, but its soul remains the same.

Originally published in the February 2010 issue of ASPIRE Magazine