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Function and Flow: Kitchen Design for the Modern FamilyMay 31st, 2017 by
On the simplest level, the purpose of a kitchen is to store and prepare food. It’s where we cook, eat, and grudgingly clean up afterward—and it’s so much more than that.
The kitchen is where we sit each night to trade stories from the day; it’s where good report cards hang on the refrigerator door; it’s where we burn the popcorn and pour the wine and perfect the art of the Thanksgiving turkey.
When it comes to modern kitchen design, understanding the kitchen as a place not only for cooking, but for inspiring and celebrating community, is essential to Rick Kimmel’s design philosophy.
Kitchens are Kimmel’s bread and butter. In 1994, Kimmel founded Select Kitchen & Bath, a Virginia- and DC-based remodeling company specializing in kitchen and bathroom design. Throughout his time in the industry, he has shepherded countless kitchens from humble corners of the home to bright and open centers of family activity.
As I spoke with him about modern kitchen design, Kimmel’s passion was clear—not only for creating beautiful living spaces, but for working collaboratively with people to do so.
Function and Flow
When I asked Kimmel how he approached a kitchen remodel, he stressed these two ideas: function and flow.
To Kimmel, designing a kitchen always begins with the physical layout of the space, “because that’s where the activity flows from,” he said. His foremost consideration when cultivating the “flow” of a space is an open floor plan.
“We’re talking about remodeling, so your typical homeowner has a house that’s twenty to eighty years old,” Kimmel said. “And a lot of kitchens in homes built in that time period are smaller, because the kitchen wasn’t as important as it is now.”
Twenty to eighty years ago, American families cooked almost exclusively with canned and boxed goods, and only one person—Mom—did the cooking. Today, we place far more emphasis on nutrition, and families are preparing healthy meals at home on a consistent basis and with fresher ingredients.
More significance demands more space, so modern kitchens have a larger footprint. Kimmel also attributes today’s open floor plans to the opportunity for family togetherness.
“People are wanting to create one large space for a center of family activity,” he said. “So, the typical consideration is removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room, which expands the kitchen to integrate the family eating space.”
Kimmel and his team often open the living room wall as well, finding that combining kitchen and dining activity with the couches and television of the living area encourages the household to share a communal space, rather than occupy separate rooms.
Other trends have emerged as the kitchen evolves from simply a space for cooking into a space for family interaction, such as flat-top islands replacing those with raised bars.
“Raised bars are good for entertainment. People can walk over, put their elbows down, have a drink and interact with you while you’re preparing a meal,” Kimmel said. “But more so now, islands are flat like a table, which is more for, say, the kids doing their homework while you’re making dinner. It’s lower seating, so that tells me that kitchens are more for the family than for entertaining.”
Of course, every remodel is unique to the household Kimmel works with. Designing a kitchen is largely informed by the way individuals interact with their home, which is what Kimmel terms the “function” of the space.
Design choices stem from small details, like installing a charging station where people set their keys and phone down, as well as larger considerations, such as whether or not his clients have school-aged children.
“It’s about how you and who you’re living with—whether it’s a full-fledged family with four kids, or you and your dog—interact with your house, how you want to interact with your house, and how to make it function best for you,” Kimmel said.
Cosmetic Kitchen Design Trends
Select Kitchen & Bath operates in Virginia and Washington, DC, metropolitan areas, where Kimmel identifies the aesthetic as “traditional” when compared to the modern styles of California, for example.
Regardless of geography, Kimmel suggests the kitchen at large trends toward a “simple, open, linear” look in congruence with the open floor plan. Modern color schemes rely heavily on white, black, and above all, gray, which Kimmel refers to as “the new neutral.”
Contemporary kitchen trends
Cabinets and hardware. The most common cabinet style Kimmel encounters is a painted white, Shaker-style cabinet, characterized by its five-piece door with a recessed center panel. Recently, manufacturers began adding subtle molding to the doors, which give the cabinets a more custom, stylized look: “It makes the appealing Shaker style just a little more interesting,” Kimmel said.
As for hardware—including faucets as well as cabinet knobs and pulls—Kimmel points to bronze replacing black finishes as the latest trend. Bronze lends a “metallic, industrial” quality, he said, and it contrasts beautifully with white, black, and gray.
Countertops. Kimmel identified quartz as the most popular countertop material used in his company’s recent remodels. Compared to granite’s “drama” and heavier grain patterns, many quartz variations on the market today have a subtler, marbled look. Although it mimics marble cosmetically, quartz is nonporous and far more durable.
Backsplash tiles. According to Kimmel, homeowners are shifting away from the traditional standard for kitchen backsplashes—three-inch tall, six-inch wide white subway tile—and are instead choosing contrasting colors and mosaic pieces.
“It draws your attention, becoming a focal point,” Kimmel said of the newer, more colorful trend. Additionally, Kimmel deemed diagonal patterns as having gone the way of the dodo bird, replaced by solely linear tiling.
Modern Kitchen Appliances
Along with the open floor plans of contemporary kitchen design comes more space for larger, more robust appliances. Likewise, as households place greater emphasis on cooking at home, professional-grade cooking appliances become a staple of the modern kitchen.
Ranges and range hood trends
According to Kimmel, gas stovetops remain the popular choice over smooth-top electric ranges. High-end, professional gas ranges are typically forty-eight inches wide, incorporating four to six burners and a griddle. Thirty- and thirty-six-inch ranges have comparable features on a smaller scale.
A common kitchen layout places the microwave over the stovetop to utilize the microwave’s ventilation system. However: “If you’re a cook, that doesn’t really cut it,” Kimmel said. “When you have a thirty-six-inch range and you’re doing a lot of cooking, you need good, powerful ventilation.”
Because chef-grade stoves and stovetops naturally require better airflow, chimney range hoods frequently accompany an appliance upgrade. Often coupled with backsplash tile, chimney hoods also create visual interest within the kitchen.
More recently, Kimmel observed, homeowners prefer lower-profile, under-cabinet range hoods, which are designed to maintain the continuity of the cabinet, rather than establish a focal point.
Food storage for fresh ingredients
As more people develop healthier eating habits, we trade preservative-packed boxes and cans for fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins with considerably shorter shelf lives, making refrigeration an important part of the modern kitchen.
“People don’t have as many canned goods as they used to. You have baking goods, oils, and seasonings in your pantry more so than boxes of mac and cheese, Campbell’s soup, powdered mashed potatoes, and that sort of thing,” Kimmel said. “Now, in the morning, you’re going to get out your blender and make a smoothie. Instead of using something from the pantry, you’re going to get your banana and almond milk and whatever else from the fridge.”
High-end refrigerators are larger—up to forty-two inches wide—and include better-quality crisper drawers as well as multiple temperature zones to keep perishables fresh and extend the time between trips to the grocery store.
The microwave was originally designed to facilitate and expedite the cooking process, but it’s often used today exclusively for reheating purposes—which, truthfully, may be all an older microwave is capable of. With the latest developments in microwave technology, however, at-home cooks can choose from a variety of settings and programmed recipes to get the results of a conventional oven in a fraction of the time.
Some models also include motorized control panels, which open the microwave door at the touch of a button. Conveniences like this, as well as thoughtful placement, can also protect against spills and burns, Kimmel suggested.
Instead of the traditional placement over the stovetop, Kimmel finds that locating the microwave below or at the level of the countertop and away from the stove area, where most of the meal preparation takes place, keeps the kitchen functioning smoothly and safely.
“It’s useful for a couple of reasons. The kids can use the microwave without the danger of climbing on something to get their food or spilling it,” Kimmel said. “And when the microwave is further away from the range, it can be used [while you’re cooking] without getting in your way.”
Before You Remodel
Of course, no single countertop, refrigerator, or floor plan can meet the needs of every household. Kimmel knows this well—it’s part of what he loves about his profession.
“When you have a remodeling activity, you deal with a wide array of people in different situations with different interests, budgets, and physical limitations,” Kimmel said. “You have to take the way they verbalize their concept and translate it into what’s possible or best. It’s enjoyable working with people in that regard.”
Likewise, unclear communication about your parameters can frustrate the remodeling process. Before you contact a remodeling professional about your project, consider the following questions:
- What is my budget?
- Am I planning on selling my home?
- How often do I cook at home?
- How much square footage do I have to work with?
- What are the goals of this remodel?
Being honest and thorough begets a design tailored to the way you interact with your kitchen and a beautiful living space for celebrating community the best way we know how—with food, friends, and family.