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Renovation Solutions: Closed kitchens versus open kitchens

Published: Friday, Jan. 24 2014 4:25 p.m. MST

This kitchen is a relatively closed kitchen with a doorway on one end leading to a more formal dining room and a doorway on the other end leading to the family room.

Brent Murray, Renovation Design Group

When seeing a new house or newer apartment, it will most likely include an open concept kitchen in the design. Many people love the idea of an open kitchen that isn't separated from the rest of the living space and may be part of a great room. They are very desirable for families and people who love to entertain. Builders have caught on and are now including this type of kitchen in almost every new plan.

However, while the majority may prefer it, the open kitchen doesn’t work for everyone. While there are many requests to open the kitchen to the surrounding rooms, there are some people who prefer a more private, closed kitchen.

There is no "architectural" right answer, the decision must be based on the homeowner’s personality and preferences. The introverted type of person, who values privacy, usually prefers a closed kitchen that is separated from the main living space, while the extrovert may feel isolated and suffocated in such a set-up and would prefer the open concept.

If a person is trying to decide which kitchen is right for he or she, here are some pros and cons to consider.

The case for the closed kitchen

The cook who prefers a closed kitchen usually is a more formal, traditional person. They prefer to eat in another room and keep the dishes and remains of meal preparation out of sight.

For centuries the kitchen was closed, and it was improper for anyone to be in the kitchen but the cook(s). The kitchen of yesteryear was secluded and private, and some cooks still prefer it that way. They prefer to focus on the task of cooking and don’t want to be disturbed by people passing through their work triangle.

Closed kitchens tend to have better task lighting than open kitchens. Because there are multiple functions happening in an open kitchen, it tends to lose the focus on the proper lighting for the work that goes on there. (This is a common design flaw in new houses, but when you are remodeling you can make sure this doesn’t happen.)

Closed kitchens also separate the noises, smells and messes of cooking from the main entertaining area. If it bothers a person to think of running the blender in the living room or serving the meal with the dirty pots and pans still in view, then a closed kitchen, which many times have doors to block the view, may be the better option.

The case for the open kitchen

Open kitchens are definitely more informal. They are interactive and offer a more casual way of cooking, dining and entertaining. In this scenario, the cook can be a part of the conversation while making a meal, and serving is seamless.

Family and guests like to congregate in the kitchen, so an open kitchen recognizes this universal tendency and adapts the philosophy that “if we can’t beat them, let’s join them.”

Even an open kitchen can be too open. A great room consists of three areas — one for gathering, one for dining and one for meal preparation. If these areas and circulation paths are not well-defined, it gives the feeling of some sort of a warehouse with a kitchen in one corner.

Without the proper visual separation of the room functions (with furniture, flooring, beams on the ceiling, columns, etc.), the space can actually feel too wide-open.

The problem with the open kitchen concept in new houses is that there isn’t a division between private and public spaces. Even if there is an open concept in the house, it doesn’t mean someone should be able to see the kitchen sink from the front door. Casual living space is for family and invited guests. Some people may be fine with their sister seeing the kitchen in disarray, but they don’t really want anyone who comes to the front door seeing it too.

During the past few years the open kitchen has become increasingly popular, but it doesn’t mean it is the only design option available. The debate of the open or closed kitchen comes down to preference. There are some beautifully, well-designed closed kitchens that serve the owners well just as some amazing open kitchens and there are configurations of varying openness all along the spectrum.

Design is about how it works for the end users. It is a personal thing, and everyone is different. That is why there isn’t just one type of house and one design for everyone. Thank goodness. How boring would that be?

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

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