All that banana bread baking has finally taken its toll. Designers across the country have seen an uptick in the number of clients who, after a few months on lockdown and learning how their home functions (or doesn’t), are ready to renovate. But perhaps no space has been more overworked and under scrutiny than the kitchen, the universal command center: a place to drop the mail, supervise homework, make a video call…oh, and also cook three meals a day.
For many people, this time spent at home has dramatically changed the list of kitchen demands. Only a few months ago, a “connected” kitchen would have signaled the latest in tech and smart appliances. But with human contact at a premium, our desire for connection has broadened beyond that. “The kitchen needs to be connected to other spaces, but it also needs to be a destination in and of itself,” says Seattle designer Andy Beers. “People want to hunker down and hang out.” Here are the steps industry pros are taking these days:
Creating a Better Flow
“All of our clients bring us the same 10 photos [of organized cupboards] from Pinterest and ask, ‘Can you do this?’ ” says Phoenix designer Jaimee Rose. “Those images represent this fantasy we have of a really smoothly run life.” Her clients fill out a detailed kitchen worksheet during the design process; mapping out where they want to store supplies has made Rose more laser focused than ever on a client’s kitchen workflow. Though that practical thinking on a designer’s part isn’t new, bringing the client into the conversation and customizing the layout around their preferences is. “You look at traffic patterns,” Beers says. “Space planning still starts from a perspective of cooking, but I think people are more flexible.”
Modern kitchens may be fully tricked out, but a key element of planning space is finding ways to tuck appliances of all sizes out of view. Making storage melt into the bones of a room is a process Beers sometimes thinks of as “thickening” the walls. Houston designer Meg Lonergan says she’s covering up most of her clients’ appliances with cabinetry these days—a tactic to make them disappear, and also to make the space itself feel less utilitarian.
“We’re seeing a trend toward clients asking for what we call a ‘living room kitchen,’ ” says Beers. A hallmark of such a space is a big, unencumbered work surface flanked by comfortable seating. “Whether it’s at table height or counter height, this is a table to congregate around, do work around, and connect around,” he says.
Nicole White, a Florida-based designer, has received requests for larger islands—so big, in fact, that she’s having to develop creative work-arounds, like decorative inlay to disguise seams where slabs meet. Sure, the trend may be tied to the fact that more cooking demands more prep space, but she suspects the trend is more often linked to dreams of large family gatherings in the future, when the pandemic has passed.
More than anything, designers are transforming kitchens into relaxing spaces that indulge the urge to linger, whether it’s an alcove for leafing through cookbooks or an intimate seating arrangement for morning coffee with a partner. “We have even been doing sofas in little breakfast nooks,” Rose says.
Of course, hygiene is paramount these days, yet Lonergan says that bright, white spaces are on the decline: “No one wants to keep it clean!” The trend of colored cabinetry has gained traction as homeowners struggle to maintain a pristine white cooking area. Meanwhile, Rose is wrapping countertop slabs up the walls to serve as a backsplash, even extending them to the ceiling—an easy-cleaning design decision that also streamlines a busy space.
The year has certainly altered our vision of the ideal kitchen in a deep and lasting way. “We were already primed for this moment, with kitchen trends [shifting from] sleek, prescriptive minimalism toward a much cozier version of clean,” Beers says. “The kitchen has become a sacred space.”
Living in the Now
There’s always a voice in the back of people’s heads saying, “Resale, resale, resale,” Beers says. “I think people are ignoring that now because they’ve realized they’re spending so much time in the kitchen. They’re more willing to do idiosyncratic things than they would have been in the past.”
The room is the most expensive to remodel, and as a result, families often feel pressure to get it right. But nowadays, the focus is shifting to what’s right for you right now. Case in point: A client of White’s recently agreed to a bright orange hood. “I tell my clients, ‘We do not design for resale,’ ” she says. “I’ll never let you overspend, but worrying about the next person should not drive the design.”
High-priority updates clients want now
- Swapping out “pretty” barstools and dining chairs for easy-to-wipe-down seating (think: leather, vinyl, wood) with a supportive back—and a swivel!
- Adding more cabinetry in order to hide small appliances and calm visual noise.
- Converting storage space for that extra set of fancy, only-at-holidays dinnerware into a place for baking essentials like yeast and flour.
- Making windows bigger or clearing away complicated treatments; folks want the option to stare at a view while dreaming of indoor restaurants.
- Layering in decorative lighting—oversize pendants and lanterns, or even table lamps—for a softer, more ambient glow between mealtimes.
- Getting more organized, so that the items they use most often are finally easiest to find.
Don’t Fear The Tech
Homeowners are requesting more comforting kitchens, which often means that they would rather cook with what they know than test out the latest technology. That’s a mistake, says Philadelphia designer Matthew Ferrarini. “If you ask a client, ‘Would you like smart appliances?’ nine out of 10 will say no. But if you ask, ‘Would you like to save time cooking and preparing meals?’ everyone is going to say yes.” Convenience and lifestyle are the focus of these new models, as is longevity: Since appliances are often 10- or 20-year purchases, many of the latest will require only software updates down the road and won’t need to be replaced. Here are just a few that can dramatically change your way of life:
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