When I was training to be a residential kitchen and bath designer, my instructor used the phrase many times, “Is the kitchen for looking or for cooking?” I think in our recent societal mentality, the primary focus has been more about the show than the functionality. What with HGTV and advertising, the focus has been more about how the kitchen looks than whether it functions well and can be used by everyone from children getting snacks to someone in their 80’s who has arthritis and wants to get their dinner. In my opinion, good design should not only look good but provide enhanced functionality for all users of the space.
Functionality in a kitchen can be enhanced with some simple guidelines to keep in mind. A few things to think about include workspaces at different heights so that all users can utilize the area. That means that there should be counter tops that are lower so someone in a wheelchair or a child has a work area and there should be higher counters so someone standing and working can work comfortably in the standing position. Not all countertop heights are created equal. One standard height does NOT fit all.
Another thing to consider if you are thinking of remodeling or even designing your kitchen is to think about the upkeep and the long term care of your kitchen. Are you going to want to be sealing that countertop when you are 80? Let’s face it, we are all getting older and looking at the long term, we need to design not only for our current lifestyle but for when we get older too. Granite is the current status symbol in kitchens. Sure, looks nice but let’s consider the global and even the short term ramifications of using granite. Now, I am not a tree-hugger or whatever; I look at the functionality. Granite is a natural resource, it is a rock. It is a hard rock, sure, but it is a rock. It ABSORBS so it has to be sealed with something to keep it from doing that. That means it needs maintenance. Why not choose something that requires no maintenance and in the process, save the earth from being robbed of another resource that takes thousands of years to make. There are wonderful choices like solid surface, quartz-based and even good old, easy care laminate countertops.
In the design process, consider all your choices and try to think about yourself using the kitchen when you are older. Think functionality and think easy-care and maintenance. You probably spend a lot of time in your kitchen and it should be a comfortable space that you can work in no matter what stage of your life you are at- consider your choices carefully looking not just at status and symbolism but at the workings of the kitchen. It’s what’s on the inside, not just what’s on the outside that makes a great design. The NKBA
has a great website that lists kitchen design considerations – check it out. If you have any comments or questions, please contact me. Take care and thanks for reading.