Kitchen takeover

This Haverford kitchen is in a house built in 1901. Renovated in 2008, the kitchen includes a family seating area and butler's pantry. The TV is in the island.
This Haverford kitchen is in a house built in 1901. Renovated in 2008, the kitchen includes a family seating area and butler's pantry. The TV is in the island. (JESSICA FOGLE / Archer & Buchanan)
Posted: March 08, 2014

Kitchen design used to be simple: It was all about the work triangle, allowing the cook to move efficiently from refrigerator to range to sink.

Now, though, designers have more complex calculations to make. After all, the work triangle never accounted for the second island, the extra prep sink, or the double oven - or where to situate the love seat, fireplace, tablet-docking station, and flat-screen television.

"It's quite a revolutionary time in kitchens," Philadelphia kitchen designer Joanne Hudson said.

Kitchens have grown by about 50 percent over the last 40 years, according to the National Home Builders Association.

Now, at an average 306 square feet, they take up 11.6 percent of the floor plan in a typical new house. In older houses, they're devouring dining rooms, home offices, and dens to keep up.

The manifest destiny of the kitchen, it appears, is to become a multipurpose great room for living, eating, entertaining - and, from time to time, cooking.

"What we're seeing is a trend in general toward larger kitchens but smaller houses," said Richard Buchanan, of Archer & Buchanan Architecture in West Chester.

"Forty years ago, a kitchen had Formica countertops, a Kenmore refrigerator with magnets on it, and a stove you bought at Sears. Now, in our projects, $5,000 ranges are rather common, and large Sub-Zero refrigerators and freezers are a status symbol. It's sort of, the Mercedes is moving into the kitchen."

Buchanan said that shift is pegged to the evolution of people's lifestyles over the last century.

Kitchens, he noted, began as humble workspaces, the domain of servants.

Even after household staff disappeared, the kitchen remained segregated as architects distinguished between informal and formal living spaces: kitchen and dining room, family room and living room.

But as people adopted more casual lifestyles, he noted, those spaces began to merge.

"Now, the kitchen is probably the main feature in the house, with access to the outdoors and to the living room, great room and dining room," Hudson said.

She cited a second force behind that shift: the emergence of food culture, powered by the Food Network and its ilk. Even if not all of us cook, most of us these days like the idea of cooking.

"It used to be someone would buy a house and just put up with the kitchen," she said. "Now, they're so individualized. All of the rules have been broken."

She's had calls for wood-burning pizza ovens, built-in espresso machines, walk-in refrigerators, and multiple large wine coolers, among many other customized details.

In a recent project on Spruce Street, she designed an 800-square-foot cooking and dining space with two islands, extensive storage, separate food-preparation and dishwashing sinks, staging areas for caterers, and a bank of doors that open onto a patio.

An American Institute of Architects Home Design Trends survey last year found a demand not just for larger kitchens, but also for kitchen space devoted to other activities: computer stations, recharging areas for personal electronics, recycling stations, pantries, and family living spaces.

One Haverford kitchen renovation Buchanan undertook includes a TV built into the base of a kitchen island, for viewing from two armchairs, one on each side of a fireplace.

In other cases, the kitchen and living spaces are simply combined. Hudson did a number of kitchens in the tony 1706 Rittenhouse condo building; most of them featured contiguous cooking, living, and dining spaces.

"Walking in, you see the kitchen," she said. "That didn't used to happen in expensive projects like that."

Architects are starting to take notice: Hudson said these days she's getting called in much earlier in the design process.

Still, Paul McAlary of Main Line Kitchen Design said that most large homebuilders haven't caught up quickly enough.

He said about 50 percent of the jobs he does - and nearly all of the jobs he does for clients younger than 40 - involve tearing down the wall between kitchen and dining room to make one large kitchen.

"Nobody wants a whole bunch of formal space when people aren't formal anymore," he said. "Even formal living rooms are getting eaten up."

As a result, the open-plan kitchen has spawned its own vocabulary of design innovations.

Henry Michalkiewicz of Society Hill Kitchens is offering clients what you could call convertible kitchens. They feature built-in wooden paneling that slides in front of the appliances and over the top of islands to effectively pack the kitchen away when it's not in use.

There are also combination mirror/TVs built into backsplashes, pullout pantries for improved storage, and cabinets that extend up to the ceiling, accessed by stepladders hidden inside of toekicks.

Hudson said almost every kitchen she designs also includes refrigerated drawers so that salad fixings and deli meats - light food-prep items - can be stored inside the kitchen island for easier access.

The shift to open kitchens with islands has also spawned an increase in walk-in pantries and other storage areas to compensate for the cabinets lost in the demolition of kitchen walls, designers said.

For a house in Villanova, Buchanan built a butler's pantry packed with extra storage, including closets designed specifically to hold catering tables and folding chairs for parties.

"That kind of storage capability is crucial to success of the open kitchen," he said.

Of course, for a certain set, all this raises a question: If parties are now ending up in the kitchen, then where does the caterer go?

For some, the answer is a small, secondary kitchen where the actual cooking gets done.

"In a way, it's a throwback," he said. "The kitchen popped out of the servants' end of the house, became this grand space, this grand salon - and, taken to its logical extreme, it comes full circle."



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