DESIGN NOW: Integrated Design

Lately while on design consultations I find myself talking about the total home, and the fact that the Kitchen is NOT just another room . And this has me thinking about the ways things were.

Whenever I look at older houses it’s always fun to peek behind a wall or two and discover the kitchen. Tucked behind the foyer, or adjacent to the dining room, kitchens historically have enjoyed spaces of their own.

Starting as cookhouses in separate quarters, kitchens were originally set apart from the homes of the south because of the open fire and the safety of keeping those fires away from the main house. Many a home had a totally separate staff to man ( or woman) the “Kitchen House.” It was not a space for anything but preparing food, and rarely did anyone besides the cook step inside.

Modern times brought the kitchen in, usually segregated to the rear of the house, purposely not visible from other “fancier” rooms like the dining room and living room.
In the 50’s and 60’s, during the gourmet cooking at home initiative, it was important for guests to not be able to see into the kitchen. What went on in there was a secret, a magical laboratory where delicious treats were prepared and then bought out from behind swinging doors for enjoyment. If the cook wore an apron, it was removed prior to exiting the kitchen because what went on in the kitchen stayed in the kitchen.

Fast forward to the 80’s and 90’s where kitchens opened up to include a Family Room, creating a total living area for gathering. Still, the kitchen was set apart , if only by a bank of upper cabinets and a high counter. On the set of Mad Men, Don Draper’s most modern NY apartment has an open floor plan with a sunken living room. Positioned at the rear of the room is the kitchen. Although it’s part of the room, it still has a designated doorway or entrance, and a 42” counter separating the spaces.

Step into now. Today’s kitchen is a part of the great room, or as I like to call it , the “Gathering Space.” Recent architectural directions are plans that include lofts, open floor plans and little or no definition of a room’s perimeter. For Kitchen and Bath designers , this creates new opportunities and challenges.

The good news is that kitchens now bleed into the total space, allowing for more storage and work space options- and the easy flow of integrated spaces encourages togetherness. This is conducive for sharing a TV or Netflix show, helping with homework, or just joining in because the activity is right under your nose. Continuing kitchen pantries can be integrated with a flat screen TV wall or bookshelf, and work centers are part of the kitchen island allowing for more storage, prep and work space.

The integrated kitchen features plug-in and connection areas. Having this communication hub right in the kitchen brings back the kitchen as the “HEARTH OF THE HOME.” In Little House on the Prairie, Pa and Ma and Laura and the family gathered every evening around a central hub, darning socks, reading books, doing schoolwork and oiling farm equipment. We mirror that in our modern kitchens except we are networking, reading the Kindle, doing advanced math homework, or playing video games.

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