Kitchens That Work

Custom residential kitchens are challenging spaces to design. They must successfully integrate and organize an extraordinary range of social, physical, and practical requirements that go far beyond food preparation and storage. Although restaurant inspired kitchens are still fashionable, restaurant and residential kitchen design have little in common. One is a set of professional workstations while the other is the architectural touchstone of our daily lives.

Up until recently, most kitchens were task specific spaces that were distinct from other living areas. That is no longer true today. Kitchens are now an integral part of what we at MGA call "primary living space." A majority of daily activity, other than that limited to the bedroom, now takes place in sight of the kitchen sink. This includes most meals in addition to leisure activity, such as entertaining, watching television, or reading.

Well designed kitchens must successfully address the five following criteria. First, they must be practical and useful. Second, they must be aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to be in. Third, they must provide opportunities for the cook to interact with others, either within the kitchen or surrounding spaces, and vice versa. Fourth, the kitchen must be well integrated and compatible - in terms of layout, material, and design - with surrounding living and dining areas. And finally, they should be well made of durable materials that will hold up to decades of use.

In order to function as family hubs, kitchens need to be accessible from other primary spaces, resulting in a web of circulation zones and pathways. These spaces include but are not limited to the following: the mudroom and garage, the informal dining area, the family room, the back yard, the main hallway, and the formal dining room (in bigger houses). Additional spaces include offices, study nooks, bathrooms, and laundries.

As a result, placing walls for upper cabinets and appliances requires great care. Finding spots for walk-in pantries always helps along with placing sinks and cooktops in islands. Creating a “triangle” between the fridge, the sink, and the cooktop is important, but as important is the triangle between table, dishwasher, and cabinets and drawers for china, glassware, and cutlery. If a house has a great view, orienting the two primary kitchen workstations, the cooktop and sink, also becomes a priority.

Different personal agendas and specific project criteria have big impacts on how a kitchen gets configured, but here are a few principles we always adhere to.

Design for the cook.

Design for efficiency. (Don't make any kitchen bigger than necessary.)

Orient views. (Remember, it is great to feel like you are in the family room when you are actually in the kitchen, but when you are in the family room, the kitchen should be secondary.)

Make it wonderful, as it is now the absolute center of contemporary houses, regardless of style.


Marcus Gleysteen AIA