Kitchens serve as the life of the family, home

Published: Friday, May 31 2013 6:25 p.m. MDT

People love island counters in kitchens because they provide informal seating and more counter space for either food preparation, serving space for buffet dining, or the creation of great art or science fair projects. (Annie Schwemmer, Renovation Design Group) People love island counters in kitchens because they provide informal seating and more counter space for either food preparation, serving space for buffet dining, or the creation of great art or science fair projects. (Annie Schwemmer, Renovation Design Group)

We recently heard a statement from a woman who was planning a new custom home, and something she said resonated with us: “The kitchen to me is the life of the family.” We think this is true for so many families. The kitchen is the command center, the heart of the home for the residents and entertainment central where guests congregate during parties of all sorts. People flock to the kitchen even when it isn’t built for more than the cook.

This woman made an excellent point. She spent some time and effort to analyze how she really uses her current kitchen, where it was lacking, and how she could make it function better. She is a working mom with six young children, an avid cook who enjoys entertaining for friends, families and business clients.

One thing she noticed was that many traditional kitchen plans were not built for her real life. “Reality is that when I cook a meal I am going to have three of my six little ones under foot,” she said. So for her, the flow of the kitchen was important. She needed the pathways and walkways to allow for some traffic. “I needed an efficient, real kitchen. I needed it laid out in such a way that I don’t have to hurdle over the children but have space to just step around them,” she says.

She wanted her kitchen to cook like an industrial kitchen but not look like one. The appliances and overall flow, efficiency and functionality of the kitchen were all high on the priority list. It is refreshing to hear someone who understands the value of great design built with a lifestyle in mind. That is our pride and joy; that is what we do every day.

So many of our clients come to us knowing that their home doesn’t quite fit, that something is awry but they can’t quite put a finger on it. Sometimes it takes a new set of eyes — professionally trained eyes — to review your current house and pinpoint where it is lacking and not meshing well with your lifestyle. This is the client that doesn’t know what he or she is missing. They don’t know their home’s potential.

Our target subject knew what she was missing. Her existing kitchen was minuscule with a stove that her mother’s era cooked on. The plan for the new house includes upgraded appliances and allocates 200 square feet to provide plenty of cook/prep space with an organized traffic flow designed to keep little ones out from under foot.

People love island counters in a kitchen for several reasons. One is that it provides informal seating when you don’t have time to sit at the dining table. Another is the ample square footage of counter space available, either for food preparation, serving space for buffet dining, or used as general space for the creation of great art or science fair projects. Finally, a well-placed island provides a gentle barrier between the hard-core cooking area and the guests who may congregate in the general vicinity. They will tend to sit or gather on the outer side of the island because they still have close contact with the "action" but aren’t as apt to intrude into the true working space of the kitchen.

Many older kitchens from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s have a peninsula rather than an island, and often they have cabinets hanging above them, which narrows the opening into the space to a few feet just above waist height. This type of layout creates a "dead end" that traps everyone who is attracted to the kitchen and becomes a nightmare for the mother or hostess who is trying to complete a meal.

Not all kitchens have the necessary width to delete the peninsula and add an island; in this case, you can consider a galley kitchen. This layout has a back wall that holds the refrigerator, ovens, cook-top/hood and all upper cabinets. The sink often moves into the island, which runs parallel to the appliance wall. A circulation spine is then created between the outer side of the island and the other wall (which will not have an additional bank of cabinets). If laid out properly, this circulation spine will encourage all but the actual cooks to stay out of the active cooking area, while guests or children are still able to interact with both the cook and the progress of the meal.

A well-designed kitchen made this busy mom’s life easier. That is what good design should do. Your house should be easy to live in and help make you and your family feel comfortable. The new kitchen design took the frustration out of preparing the meals in a too-small space. It also accounted for little helpers in the kitchen as well as for guests making conversation with the chef.

When you are planning a kitchen remodel, remember there are two aspects to consider: function and aesthetics. Don’t just choose something based on aesthetics. Although it is important for it to look nice, it is more important to have it function well. A kitchen that is designed well truly can breathe new life into your home and family.

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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