“Please take our guests to the living room. This is strictly a one-rump kitchen!” I used to often hear that memorable phrase when my husband and I lived in a small apartment. Mason and I now have a two-cook kitchen, but the practice of asking “one rump or two” is one that’s very useful to anyone considering the redesign of a kitchen.
A well-designed, two-rump kitchen offers separate counter spaces for two cooks: one area should be adjacent to the range and another for salad and drink preparation. A kitchen designed for two cooks usually has two sinks, and often more than one oven, as is the case with the beautifully designed kitchen here, the work of my friend and fellow designer, Jamie Goldberg.
But with kitchens, bigger does not necessarily mean better!
A few years ago, a relative – I will call her Antoinette – excitedly invited me over to see her new multimillion dollar home. My immediate reaction to her “dream kitchen” — it’s a nightmare!
I immediately saw that it was the kind of kitchen that David L. Brooks skewered in his book Bobos in Paradise as “an airplane hangar with plumbing”. Antoinette’s kitchen island looked about the size of Maui!
In reality, the island was around 10 feet square. If the surface had been a bit higher, the outer edge could have been used as a stand-up bar – if you happened to be serving ors d’oeuvres for 30 or so people! But its depth and circumference were bad news when it came to food preparation. It was so wide no one could reach the center, and to use the appliances, one would need track shoes. Since the appliances were scattered in a ring facing the island, reaching them would be like training for a track meet.
Although I was kind enough to keep my thoughts to myself, mumbling something about the kitchen being “impressive”, I knew that Antoinette was going to come to loathe the kitchen. It had been designed to impress, and the design was about conspicuous consumption more than about food consumption. (The message in the design, I believe, was “let them eat cake.”)
Over the centuries, our kitchens have come full circle from being the center of family life, to being galleys intended for food preparation to again becoming a gathering place for family and friends. Since the 1950’s, multiple trends have bulked up our kitchens, tripling its size. June Cleaver’s kitchen, seen on the 1957-63 TV show “Leave It to Beaver,” was less than 100 square feet. The average American kitchen is now around 225 square feet!
This increase does not reflect bigger families. During the same time, the size of the American family has shrunk. While some of the changes are driven by technology, the big drivers for kitchen remodeling have been social, related to both to changes in how we really live and how we want to live.
Reasons to Remodel Your Kitchen
While there’s always a bit of “keeping up with Joneses” that figures into remodeling plans, there are also some green and family-affirming reasons to remodel. The schedules of two-career families demand that we be able to cook quickly, and they may also prompt us to do more business entertaining at home. Couples often want to be able to invite friends to have a drink in the kitchen or help with salad prep while a convivial meal is being prepared.
Parents need a convenient place to feed the kids, to keep an eye on them while cooking, and also to enable the kids to make their own snacks. Safety can also be an issue.
In addition, some people also want to reduce their energy bills and lower emissions that drive climate change. In addition to replacing old, inefficient appliances with new “Energy Star” models, eco-conscious homeowners can offset the use of artificial lighting by increasing “daylighting”. Improved window placement, insulated frames, and low-emissions glass can improve the color and quality of interior light while significantly cutting drafts, winter heat loss, and summer overheating.
A remodel also provides an opportunity to replace old incandescent light fixtures with energy-efficient compact fluorescent, LED, and halogen lighting. (Incandescent light bulbs have actually been banned in Ireland, and Title 24, the California energy bill that goes into effect in January 2010, will require that half of kitchen light in newly built homes comes from energy efficient light fixtures.)
All in all, the kitchen is one the two most-often remodeled rooms in the house. (The bathroom is the other.) In this first post, I will look at changes in how we configure and use our kitchens, and I will also include some tips and tool for thinking about ways to improve your kitchen. In later posts, I will return to the topic of kitchens, exploring small kitchens, wheelchair accessible kitchens and other kitchen topics.
It’s best to start with a plan. That seems obvious to me, but apparently not to everyone. I recently heard a story about a woman who simply went out and bought all new appliances without having a plan in place. Because most of them wouldn’t fit, they wound up sitting in her garage for over a year while she backtracked, trying to decide whether to sell the appliances or to ask a contractor to enlarge her kitchen. Who knows, those appliances might still be in the garage had she not met a designer in a tennis class!
I suggest that you start planning for a kitchen remodel not by looking at new appliances – you will get to that – but by first looking at how you use your kitchen now and how the changes you can anticipate over the next ten years will change your needs.
What’s the Best Size for My Kitchen?
Do you need to enlarge your kitchen, adding on or borrowing space from another room? Maybe, maybe not. The optimum size is based first and foremost on how many people will be cooking, and how many will be visiting the kitchen. Here are some questions to answer:
- Is a one-cook kitchen sufficient?
- Does your family have a main cook and a sous-chef who does the chopping and prep work?
- Do you want a kitchen where multiple family members or friends can join in, helping with salad making, table setting and other dinnertime activities?
- Does your kitchen need a family activity area where children can do homework or color near mom while she’s cooking?
- Do you pay bills or use a computer in the kitchen? If so, you might want to add a small desk or a convertible work area.
The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), a respected trade industry group, offers some great guidelines for figuring out the best size for your kitchen. Here are a few:
Countertops – You need at least 158 linear inches of counter. The surface should be 24″ deep with at least 15″ of clearance between the counter and the upper cabinets. (But a wheelchair user needs 18″ deep counters because she cannot reach the back of a 24″ counter.)
Loading and prep areas – You need about 2 feet of space next to your fridge, sink, and stove to load, unload, and prepare food.
Opening doors and appliances – All doors should swing freely; your dishwasher door should not catch on the pull for the adjacent cabinet, and your stove door should open without causing a trip hazard. (Having enough room for door swings is partly a function of space planning, and partly a function of room size. Small rooms may require different types of doors and some other ingenious solutions.)
Aisles – A working aisle should be at least 42″ for one cook and at least 48″ for multiple cooks. (But one cook doesn’t need more than 60″ either!)
Measuring Kitchen Efficiency
In a kitchen, the “primary work triangle” is formed by lines drawn from the kitchen sink to the refrigerator and stove. For efficiency’s sake, each side of that triangle should be no less than 4 feet long and no more than 9 feet long. The total of the lengths of the three legs should be no more than 26 feet long.
It can be a challenge to keep within that limit in today’s large kitchens. For example, the kitchen shown above is 13.5 feet wide and 22 feet long; the sides of the sous chef’s triangle add up to nearly 26 feet. That makes for a lot of walking back and forth!
The most efficient kitchen is probably the galley kitchen; it’s basically two counters with a working aisle in the center. The galley’s small size limits walking distances, and if there’s enough counter space, it can be a delight. Indeed, a caterer we hired to put together a buffet in our “one-rump” kitchen told me that it was the most efficient kitchen in which she had ever worked.
I was very pleased, having laid it out myself. Although I knew nothing about kitchen triangles at that point, I had argued with our contractor about the kitchen layout. He wanted at 6-foot wide center aisle. That convinced me that he didn’t cook much! If he had, he would have known that an aisle that wide would force the cook to take 2 or 3 extra steps every time s/he went from the stove to the sink.
All of those extra steps add up to what’s called a “travel penalty.” In the two-cook layout above, both chefs – or rather their feet – are going to be paying that penalty.
The goal in kitchen planning is to have the triangles as compact as possible, but to also ensure that work triangles don’t cross so that kitchen workers don’t bump into one another.
There are multiple types of travel patterns in a kitchen: movements of the main and sous-chefs, of table setting and serving, of clean-up, of unpacking groceries and unloading the dishwasher, to name a few. The simplified kitchen layouts here show just three of the most-used patterns: the chef, the sous chef, and clean-up. Because the main chef will be preparing the entree at the same time the sous chef is making the salad, it’s important that the two cooking triangles (red and yellow in the big layouts) don’t cross.
In practice, and in smaller kitchens, it’s likely that some of the triangles will cross, so while minimizing them, it’s also important to consider the sequence of traffic patterns. Some of us do clean up while cooking, but most of the clean-up traffic (indicated by the green triangles) will occur after the cooking is done. In most cases, our kitchens involve some trade offs, and it’s best to make them consciously – and before the appliances are purchased.
Other Kitchen Conundrums
Here, in no particular order, are a few useful planning tips to keep in mind if you’re thinking of remodeling your kitchen:
- Consider the next buyer. Unless you and your house have a until-death-do-us-part arrangement, you should consider the next owner’s likely needs as well as your own desires. You may love that Wolf professional-style range, but the person who buys your house might consider it a problem that detracts from the value of the house.
- Don’t get too trendy. Similarly, it’s a good idea to consider how the durable parts of your design – such as tile, flooring and appliances – are going to look in 5 or 10 years. For example, right now a retro-1960’s palette is very much au courant. It seems like every interior design magazine I see features several interiors in the same baby blue and brown combo, as well as lime green and orange. If you paint your walls in trendy colors like those, they can be easily changed, but counter tops will cost thousands, not hundreds, to replace. And I can guarantee you, that in 10 years, we will be looking at brown-and-blue rooms and yawning “that’s just so 2009.”
- Don’t overspend. Once you get to looking at high-end appliances, counter tops and flooring, it’s really easy to drop $150,000 on a kitchen. The cost of the design shouldn’t exceed 20 percent of your home’s value. You can typically recover up to 8 percent of that cost when you sell your place.
- Watch for “bad adjacency“. If you live in an old house or apartment, you have probably inherited some old-fashioned design trends. One of the worst is having a bathroom that opens from the kitchen, something considered very undesirable, even tasteless, by modern buyers. It’s well worth correcting this during a kitchen remodel, as well as finding ways to enclose or otherwise hide laundry appliances. Among other bad, but common adjacency problems are noisy kitchens that neighbor sleeping or study rooms.
- Fix the lighting. You’ve probably had the annoying experience of having your own shadow fall across the vegetables you’re chopping, making it hard to see. This happens when kitchens are designed with just one or two central ceiling lights; those fixtures may create adequate “ambient” light, but don’t do a good job of lighting counters. When your central lighting is supplemented with proper task lighting – for example, fluorescent panels tucked away under the skirts of your upper cabinets – it can greatly decrease your chance of injury while preparing a meal. In addition, you will want to ensure that your light does not produce glare on work surfaces.
- Reduce the noise level. Today’s dishwashers are much better insulated, and thus quieter, than those of a decade past, but they’re still noisy enough to interfere with conversation. Ditto for range hood fans and washers and dryers. If you add to that the noise produced by your refrigerator, plus the echos of footfalls on stone or tile flooring, the kitchen can be a noisy place. Pay attention not only to the energy ratings of your appliances, but also to the specifications on how much noise they produce. You might also want to consider putting some sound-absorbing surfaces, such as fabric or wood, somewhere in the kitchen, and perhaps even adding some sound proofing to the walls if sleeping or study rooms are next to your kitchen.
- Consider what’s underfoot. Marble is beautiful, but it can be slippery, as can other kinds of polished stone. If you choose a slip-resistant flooring – a matte-finished wood, bamboo or laminate; cork, or textured or a soft-glazed ceramic tile – you may prevent a fall. (If you’re holding a hot casserole or a knife when you fall, you could be in for a trip to the ER.) If you select tile, you should also place a throw rug with a non-skid backing in areas that get wet.
- Think safety. Your kitchen layout should enable you to locate the range and cook top away from doorways and passages, and it’s also a good idea for parents to opt for rounded corners on counter tops. In addition, consider the heights of the adults: the NKBA’s Kitchen Planning Guidelines say that microwaves should be installed 3″ below the principal user’s shoulder but no more than 54″ above the floor to avoid accidents.
- Gold Notes – Jamie Goldberg, kitchen and bath design
- Five Worst Kitchen Goofs from Consumer Reports
- Kitchen Planning Guide from Consumer Reports
- Is it Time to Remodel Your Kitchen? – Article from National Kitchen and Bath Association
- Dishwasher Drawers: Pros and Cons from the Remodelista blog
- Is Your Kitchen Making You Fat? ABC News story
- WoodFloors Online
- Bobos in Paradise
- Monticello’s remodeled kitchen
“One Lump or Two, Dear?”
The work triangles I discussed in this post were developed back in 1944 after the University of Illinois conducted a number of studies of kitchen design, and they gained wide adherence in the US in the 1950’s.
I was tickled to learn that our British cousins have quite a different tool for measuring kitchen efficiency. They count the number of steps the cook has to take to prepare a cuppa tea, English style. That’s not just a matter of dunking a tea bag in hot water, the way the Yanks do it.
Instead, it requires taking down and pre-heating the cup with tap water, filling the kettle, heating the tea water, gathering the tea, fetching the milk from the refrigerator and the sugar from the cupboard, replacing the tap water with boiling water, steeping the tea, and finally serving it. Those tasks take the cook to each end of the triangle, and possibly then some.
Because one the nicest rituals in my life is awakening to a cup of British-style tea with milk, served in bed by my loving husband, I was delighted to share this piece of design trivia with him. Mason is retired, and he wakes up hours before I do. He says he finds the tea-making process pleasant, and we both enjoy our pre-dawn tea and conversation. While writing this post, I asked him to count the number of steps he walked while making our tea in our current two-rump kitchen.
The total came out to 25. I was asleep so I don’t know whether they were sleepy, mincing steps, or big, bold strides.