2000s Archive

Living Kitchens

Part 2

Originally Published March 2000
The dream state: questions to ask yourself before designing a kitchen.

Just as the best-dressed are those who have defined their tastes before they head out to trawl the boutiques, so most cooks with great kitchens have defined their style and ambitions before they commit themselves to cherry, stainless steel, or granite. When we undertake to build, renovate, make over, or reorganize a kitchen, we are susceptible to the come-hither of new appliances and the smooth assurances of kitchen specialists (who, however well versed in design, too often have never learned to make tea, much less sauté eggplant or bone a chicken). You alone can assess your expectations and requirements in order to create a kitchen that works for you.

Your answers to the following questions will provide both an inspiration and a reality check. The patterns they disclose will better equip you to make informed choices about overall layout and organization as well as specific appliance and storage solutions.

Create a kitchen wish list and assemble a file of clippings to hone your tastes and help you communicate with architects, designers, and contractors. Get recommendations from friends and ask the professionals to show you photos and floor plans of kitchens they have completed. Then gather graph paper, pencil, measuring tape, and courage and start to sketch out your ideas.

Even the most informed cooks should have their drawings reviewed by a professional kitchen designer experienced in charting a way through the bewildering (and changing) sea of options and focusing on details—hardware, door clearances, gas feeds, weight tolerances for heavy stoves, CFM ratings for high-Btu cooktops, and so on—that would be disastrous to overlook. Owners of successful kitchens almost universally admit, albeit sheepishly, that they revised their original plan more than once, often wisely casting out some of their most cherished notions. For some, faced with space limitations and a weak floor, their dream six-burner range with griddle metamorphosed into a four-burner high-output cooktop, with a single wall oven and warming drawer relegated to a distant corner. Others, upon reflection, rejected the behemoth refrigerator/freezer cum through-the-door ice and water that is usually seen as a national archetype in favor of a midsize top-mount unit supplemented by an icemaker and a wine cooler nearer the entertaining area. And in an era that idealizes big, open kitchens, other renovators have unexpectedly rediscovered the merits of pantries for cleanup and bulk-food storage.

Be ever open-minded and analytical as you answer these questions, but don’t be afraid to dream.

Why a new kitchen?

Q. Are family circumstances altering—children arriving or fledging, for example? Or is the kitchen inconveniently situated? Are you simply updating the appliances? Is your aim to expand the seating and dining area or to open up the kitchen to the dining area? Maybe you just want to make your kitchen prettier and pleasanter to work and entertain in.

A.You may not have to do a gut job. If you’re happy with your kitchen’s layout, a face-lift may be enough, replacing countertops and cabinet doors and painting.

Q. Do you want to reorganize the kitchen functionally?

A. Creating successful kitchens requires an understanding of the cooking process. Those who plan piecemeal around individual appliances or objects, however beautiful, with-out relating them to one another and without regard for efficient kitchen practice, regret the “improvements” or, sadder still, cook less because of the stress and fatigue (not to mention accidents) such kitchens can cause. Process is difficult to visualize. Cook several meals in your current kitchen, noting your regular -routines and the things about your kitchen that frustrate you the most when you put together a meal.

Q.Are you building or redoing a kitchen chiefly for your own use and pleasure, or as an investment? Or are you simply fixing it up with a view to quick resale?

A. Make sure you don’t spend beyond neighborhood values if you wish to recoup your money in the near or medium term. As a rule, no more than 10 percent of a property’s value should be tied up in the kitchen. Real-estate professionals calculate that kitchens give an average of 15 years’ service before fashion, technology, and the way we cook make them “quaint.”

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