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GREAT KITCHEN DESIGNS
SHELVES AND PANTRIES
COUNTERTOPS AND BACKSPLASHES
APPLIANCES AND SINKS
FLOORS, WALLS, AND CEILINGS
LIGHT IN THE KITCHEN 182
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Great Kitchen Designs
Why a new kitchen? For starters, how about the lure of new, state-of-the-art appliances, cabinets, and countertop materials? Creating a completely new look is ample reason to rip out the old and one of the big thrills of owning a home. But even more important than a new six-burner cooktop or the latest solid-surface countertop is space. People want bigger kitchens these days. Big enough for two cooks, for children and homework, big enough for eating, paying bills, and just sitting around. Even if a new kitchen is just big enough for the basics, those basics no doubt include eating, playing, and working. That's what modern kitchens are for.
In this chapter I'll cover the basics of designing that new kitchen, big or small. First, we'll set the style. Does a contemporary kitchen suit the house? Is Shaker style more fitting? Or is a mix of new and traditional the best solution? Next, we'll lay out the kitchen. Then we'll consider how the kitchen connects with the rest of the house. There is a growing nostalgia for the Colonial keeping room: a room for work, play, and cooking, complete with fireplace. On the other hand, a separate kitchen makes it easier to conceal dirty cookware during a dinner party. Finally, think fresh air and sunlight. No matter how it fits in the house, it's a rare kitchen that doesn't benefit from a connection to the outdoors.
Setting the Style
A style can mean a look that's homey, country, comfortable, or spare. Or a style can refer to a specific historical period and the details, colors, materials, and shapes that distinguish it. But such styles aren't cast in stone. For example, a cabinet brochure or kitchen magazine may tout a kitchen as Colonial without meaning that it's a reproduction kitchen like one in Williamsburg, Virginia. A modern house with casement windows can still have a Colonial-style kitchen.
On the following pages you'll find farmhouse kitchens, Shaker-style kitchens, Craftsman-style kitchens, and more. Some designers and homeowners are influenced by details found in vernacular houses, such as pale colors and thick, rounded-edge walls of Mediterranean houses, or the all-wood interior of a New England coastal cottage.
Much of a kitchen's style comes from its cabinetry, particularly the doors. Lighting, flooring, wall covering, and appliances have a lesser effect, but if all the parts match, the style is enhanced. It's up to the homeowner whether a kitchen has a style that prevails down to the very last hinge. Function, technology, comfort, and the budget also play major roles, and, more often than not, kitchens are eclectic. Style mixes with style, material with material. A hand-rubbed wood cabinet stands next to a gleaming stainless-steel dishwasher. Even though Gustav Stickley, father of the American Craftsman style, called dark oak the flooring of choice, a Craftsman-style kitchen can have a tile floor or concrete floor. Some homeowners choose to disguise modern devices, but most accept the new beside the old. After all, our ancestors took advantage of new technology when it came their way.
Does style have an influence on a kitchen's layout? It can. The major players in the kitchen (refrigerator, sink, dishwasher, and cooking appliances) can still take the same positions from kitchen to kitchen, but they may be housed differently, depending on the style. A Craftsman-style kitchen might have built-in seating and cabinetry, or it may simply boast Craftsman-style doors. A contemporary kitchen often has banks of streamlined cabinets, with clean lines, minimal fuss, and high-tech materials.
Up-to-date Kitchen Plans
No matter how great a kitchen looks, it's not much good if it doesn't work well. Good kitchens incorporate all the activities that their users require. Some people prefer a minimum of space so that they can prepare dinner efficiently and save money on kitchen finishes (kitchens cost more per square foot than any other room in the house). Others use the kitchen as a common room, with space for cooking, eating, laundry, homework, reading, and surfing the Net. The first step in planning a working kitchen is to list all activities. Then determine who will use the kitchen: One cook obviously requires less space than two, and sometimes whole families prepare meals together.
For the cook who always goes solo, a galley kitchen (two rows of cabinetry and appliances) with a 38-in.-wide aisle is ideal. Two cooks require more room. A wide galley kitchen with an island or an L-shaped or U-shaped kitchen with an island provides more space for food preparation and more complex traffic patterns. Here, aisles should be 42 in. to 60 in. wide, depending on whether the island is also used for eating.
For families and serious cooking duos, two sinks are a blessing, if not already a necessity. Locate trash and recycling receptacles away from the main work areas so that one cook doesn't have to move each time vegetable scraps go in the compost bin. Consider tucking a sink and dishwasher into a corner to make a mini-scullery.
Provide two workspaces, two cutting boards, access to each side of the cooktop and two ways out of the kitchen. If just one cook is extra-tall, consider adding an 18-in. wide, 48-in. high counter along the edge of an island or peninsula.
For help with a kitchen layout, consult Resources in the back of this book. An experienced architect or kitchen designer can help you come up with work polygons that would impress even Euclid.
After the kitchen basics are in place, consider those non-cooking activities. A space for planning meals, paying bills, and working on a computer can make it easier to do two things at once. For a look at laundry in the kitchen, see sidebar. In a family with children, a kitchen table for homework, crafts, and informal eating is almost a necessity unless the kitchen is open to a family room. Even a small kitchen benefits from an out-of-traffic place to sit and read the paper or converse with the cook. And don't forget to find a niche so that animals can eat in peace without their bowls being accidentally booted across the floor. Keep pet-food storage nearby.
Fitting the Kitchen to the House
A kitchen contains more gear than any room in the house, and it sees the most action. The North American kitchen hasn't always been the center of attention in the house (see sidebar), but today's kitchen is in the spotlight as never before. In new construction, it's a rare kitchen that is in a room of its own without at least an eating space and a few visual connections to other spaces. In older houses, space and budget constraints and aesthetics may keep the kitchen in a room to itself, and professional cooks and serious amateurs may prefer that a kitchen not be part of a larger space. But even those who prefer keeping folks out of their kitchens welcome an audience on the other side of a peninsula or at least far enough so that they can't trip up the cook's choreography.
Not too long ago, kitchens were always in the back of the house. But a kitchen that's on view from the front door has its advantages: both visitors and the kitchen are clearly visible. Other tactics are to offer a narrow slice of kitchen life from the entryway or living space, or a far-off view, or no view at all.
There's no shortage of ways to visually and physically connect a kitchen to the living or main dining areas yet keep the rooms separate. Opening the kitchen to the second floor allows the smell of breakfast cooking to waft up and the light from the rising sun to bounce down. For same-level connections, try the age-old pass-through, first used by servants and now a conduit for conversation, appetizers, whole meals, and dirty dishes. The size, shape, and detailing of the pass-through can range, depending on the style of the house, the amount of stuff going back and forth, and the size of the budget.
Floor and wall cabinets, whether opaque or transparent, make fine buffers, as do open shelves. All provide convenient storage for dishes, especially if doors open from both the kitchen and dining room. The cabinets or shelves can be loaded directly from the dishwasher and unloaded directly from shelf to the table, without the table setter having to cause friction in the kitchen itself.
A wide, framed opening with no doors or doors that are always open can distinguish the kitchen from surrounding spaces without impeding traffic and conversation. A kitchen can be set off from other spaces merely by trim and a floor pattern.
At the open-plan end of the spectrum, the kitchen takes its place in a larger space, sometimes called the great room. You can shield the kitchen with an island or peninsula or bare the cabinets and countertops to anyone with a yen to chop onions. Even a kitchen that bares its counters can veil its baser aspects--namely the dishwashing area. For cooks who love to entertain but don't want help, make the kitchen walls at countertop height for conversation but keep the openings at a minimum.
Even if the ideal kitchen has no wall to speak of between the kitchen and the rest of the house, it is hard for a kitchen to fade into the woodwork. The lighting is stronger, there's more bulk--cabinets, appliances, range hoods, dishes, pots and pans--and materials, colors and textures will be different from the rest of the house.
Connect to the Outdoors
Most kitchens benefit from a connection to the outdoors, whether by windows, doors, or both. Kitchens need light, views, ventilation, comfort, and proximity to the front or back door for bringing in groceries and, for a lucky few, taking lunch to eat al fresco. Along with controlling the amount and type of sunlight that comes into a kitchen (look for this information in Chapter 7), think about seasonal changes and wind direction. In climates with severe winter cold, such as Wyoming, a north-facing bank of storage rooms and other non-living spaces can make a good buffer against the wind. Plan outdoor eating spaces to take advantage of breezes and to avoid strong winds.
And what cook doesn't appreciate a view? Balance the close-up view--where the kids play, where the birds feed, the kitchen garden--with distant views, of treetops, mountains, a skyscraper, water. A kitchen doesn't even require an outside wall to get the view, as long as part of the kitchen faces toward a nearby window.
A direct route to the outside is a must for the family kitchen, with its constant stream of kids, dogs, guests, dishes, food, garbage, compost, maybe laundry. Then take note that a lot more stuff comes in through that same door: garden produce, flowers, dirt, snow, sand, flies. Does a mudroom appended to the kitchen sound good? If possible, keep all this traffic outside of the kitchen work triangle--not always an easy design task. Groceries, the chief raw material of kitchen work, may travel through the backyard door, a door into the garage, or the front door. Locate a suitable loading dock near this door. For vertical transport from car to kitchen, or from kitchen to an outside or inside eating area on a different level, see the sidebar on dumbwaiters
A terrace or other outdoor space next to the kitchen is a bonus. There's no need for a roof if the space is shaded by a canopy of trees, and consider backing an end-wall fireplace with an outdoor version for deck campers. In hot, sunny climates, shelter from the sun is a necessary element of outdoor eating. In fact, eating outdoors can in be almost a requirement in resort communities, not just a bonus of good weather. If the kitchen is next to a screened porch, chances are it will be used almost constantly for meals at all times of the day.
These days, everyone seems to live in the kitchen. It's where we talk about things both trivial and important. It's where all parties end up. It's where the children want to be from the time they can bang on pots and pans until they're home from college. It's where the computer is, and it's where the mail gets sorted. Oh, and did I say, it's where meals are made and eaten?
The average kitchen design lasts 15 years. That means your kitchen is probably ready for an update. If you're like me, you spend hours in a kitchen that doesn't quite work. And you'd love to change that. You'd like to add eating space in the kitchen or reposition the appliances to eliminate gridlock around the refrigerator. Whatever the change you're considering, or if you're starting from the ground up with a new kitchen, you know that you have a hundred decisions to make.
This book isn't a coffee-table book, it's a kitchen-table book--a "cookbook" of kitchen details. Like kitchen-table wisdom, these kitchens are a combination of down-to-earth basics and sky's-the-limit ideas; I hope they will confirm your own ideas, help you when you've run out of ideas, or maybe even change your mind.
You'll find hundreds--thousands --of ideas to help you make decisions about layout, materials, and details. You'll understand style, see how kitchens work, and learn what makes a good-quality cabinet. You'll find ideas on how to trim the top of a cabinet or finish the edge of a countertop. You'll find new ways of incorporating appliances and adding light to dull kitchens.
What you won't find is some Platonic ideal of the efficient kitchen. Some people hate peninsulas, others love them. The kitchen triangle can be a boon or a bust for your situation. Determine your ideal, then compromise. Your kitchen may offer something more compelling than the perfect prep-cook-cleanup layout, such as a breathtaking view, a beautiful piece of kitchen equipment, a gigantic kitchen table, a budget, or existing space. As long as you're not cranking out meals for money you can probably live with a little glitch in the plan. In our small kitchen, we have to swing out around the end of a long, skinny kitchen table each time we move between sink and stove, but we'll never get rid of that wonderful, wobbly table just to make a beeline between appliances (the exercise doesn't hurt, either).
Likewise, you probably know deep down that the latest in kitchen appliances and finishes is not a burning necessity for a kitchen that people love to be in. I remember an off-campus kitchen with an 18-in.-wide range, two running feet of countertop, and a bare bulb screwed into a ceiling fixture. But what meals! A pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner with a turkey whose posterior hung out of the tiny oven, the bread toasted over a gas flame during a tornado blackout and served with the first Beluga caviar any of us had tasted. Ambience is made by people and food, not by a granite island the size of Texas or a cold-water faucet by the cooktop.
On the other hand, anyone with a faucet by the cooktop loves it for filling pasta pots. And owners of big granite islands rejoice that they can prepare a flotilla of cookie sheets at the same time. The stove, always a status symbol, is again a compelling behemoth, a stainless-steel version of the black, cast-iron coal-burning beauties of a century ago. Who hasn't justified the expense of something in the kitchen because it looks great and promises to perform better and faster?
Take a look at these kitchens for the critical pieces that make a kitchen belong to its owner. There's the restored enamel cast-iron sink with the two huge bowls and integral backsplash, the beautiful concrete half-wall that's speckled with bits of glass and air pockets, and the slender, oak Arts and Crafts kitchen table. While some of these kitchens took a big chunk of money to build, others were built on a shoestring budget. Whatever the cost, there's a cabinet, an appliance, a floor, a light fixture, or a layout that can inspire someone who's in the market for a new kitchen.
While some of these kitchens have been styled for picture-taking, most have not--beyond the basic spit-and-polish required when company's coming. These kitchens are all real, not "dream kitchens" put together for a designer showcase or a product ad.
As you look through this book, keep an eye on the three types of text. The main text provides basic information; sidebar text--boxed and shaded--provides excursions into particular aspects of the kitchen, from dumbwaiters to sink materials. For the nitty-gritty details in each photo, read the captions. That's where you'll find references to materials and design ideas that you may want to apply to your own kitchen. To find the designer of any kitchen shown here, check the credits in the back of the book.
Turn to For More Information in the back of the book to find sources for both kitchen-design and kitchen-construction books and articles that can help in designing your kitchen. You'll also find a list of kitchen-related associations, and a look at what I've found on the ever-expanding Web with regard to kitchens.
Even beyond these sources, keep looking at kitchens for ideas. Look in seasonal kitchen magazines, go to kitchen showrooms, take kitchen tours. Invite yourself over to look at kitchens. Sneak a peak under the sink and inside the refrigerator. Observe how handwashed dishes are drained and where garbage and recyclables are stored. Don't ignore older kitchens; some good ideas show up in the most unassuming places. My grandmother Ruby was quite short in later years, and her most trusted piece of kitchen equipment was a library stool, which scoots around freely but won't budge when you sit or stand on it. She set her garbage pail on the stool and pulled it around the kitchen to catch vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds, spent paper towels. When she needed something in a wall cabinet, she'd remove the garbage pail and stand on the stool. Not only is mobile garbage a good idea, but a library stool is a safer means of acquiring height than a chair or folding stool.
Finally, when you do build your new kitchen, please don't take the tack that the town officials are out to get you. Building codes are meant for your safety--and for future occupants of your kitchen. There's a big plus side to developing a good, above-board, honest, talking relationship with the town planners, engineers, and inspectors. You'll not only learn something about local building practices and how your town works, but you may also find that Town Hall is agreeable to squeezing in your request for a variance before the Board of Adjustment takes off for the summer.