As an Architect, I try to utilize the best means of design to make a house more efficient and well utilized for the square footage. In this article, I’m dealing with kitchen design, and how to make it more efficient in use and storage, make it feel more open than a standard kitchen, but do it in a smaller size (square footage costs money).
I am a big believer in the “Open Floor Plan” which has fewer walls and doors, with rooms tied together as open visual space. Keeping the Great Room, Dining Room and Kitchen “open” (meaning no walls between them) help make all the rooms “feel bigger”. The wall removal helps facilitate the open communications between the rooms. You don’t feel isolated in the kitchen when wall barriers are removed, and thus people don’t have to step into the kitchen to talk to you. They can do it from outside the kitchen zone.
Keep your ceilings tall by putting in scissors trusses. You can make your walls 8 foot tall, but by adding the scissors truss (peak at 13 to 14 feet) will give you lots of visual space and a less confined feeling. And get a skylight in the kitchen. The opening for a skylight can be much bigger than the skylight itself. Get the opening from the peak of the ceiling to the edge of the wall, and locate the skylight near a perpendicular wall so it will disperse the light throughout the kitchen. Put some “niches” in your tall walls above the 8′ line for greenery, or statues. Put “puck” lights in these niches for accent lighting.
Use tall, 2′ deep cabinets instead of overhead cabinets. 2 foot deep, 7 foot tall cabinets (or 8 foot tall) are also known as pantry or utility cabinets. With fixed shelves, they hold over 4 times as much stuff as an overhead cabinet. Put a line of tall cabinets along a back wall, and near the opening to the kitchen zone. By having a 2′ wide, 2′ deep, 7′ tall cabinet near the Kitchen opening (usually next to the Dining Area) it can store all the glasses, dishes, platters, and bowls that you use on a daily basis. People don’t have to enter the kitchen to get the dinnerware to set the table as you would with overhead cabinets.
By using just 3 tall cabinets (2′ deep 7′ tall) at the rear of the kitchen, and the open floor plan, this allows all the rest of the kitchen to have 36″ tall base cabinets and countertops, without overhead cabinets. Eliminating overhead cabinets (and the associated wall) just gives you an incredible open feeling. The kitchen isn’t as nearly as cramped. The windows and natural light come from the windows of the other rooms and skylights, meaning you don’t have to waste valuable kitchen wall space for windows. Place your sink and cooktop to face the open rooms.
In the corners of the kitchen, install cabinets at 45 degrees to the adjoining cabinets rather than a “blind” cabinet or “lazy susan”. While a 45 degree cabinet has some dead space, it utilizes more space than a “lazy susan”, mainly because the cabinet shelves and drawers are square, and a “lazy susan” is round.
Put a pantry in the corner between your tall cabinets. It doesn’t have to be very big (4′ x 4′) and being in the corner will utilize all the corner “dead” space. The pantry would have a 2′ opening at 45 degrees to the adjoining cabinets. The pantry walls could be 2×4 framed with drywall or 3/4″ MDF, but the wall shouldn’t be taller than the height of the tall cabinets. This allows for crown molding (if you use it) to also be used on the pantry. Have the pantry open at the top, especially if there is a skylight above, to allow daylight into the pantry. Have shelves from the floor to top of wall. Put a “cabinet door” (same as the rest of your tall cabinets) on the pantry entrance, not a frame door like you’d use in the bedroom. By having a cabinet door the pantry, and the pantry walls at the same height as the cabinets, the pantry looks like a cabinet rather than a drywall opening.
In the pantry, install a counter with 4 electric outlets. This is where the coffee maker, toaster, electric can openers, etc are to be permanently located. It keeps them off your kitchen countertops, but they are always available to use. No need to store them in your cabinets and no need for appliance garage cabinets. This leaves your main kitchen countertops “clean” (nothing on them) and more open for the food prep you need to do.
Put an upper counter 8″ above your countertops (i.e. 6″ wall, 2″ thick upper counter). In an “open floor plan” concept, this 8″ of height hides a “messy” kitchen counter from view to the other rooms. It also gives you plenty of room for multiple electric outlets in the in the 6″ wall areas. The 6″ tall wall is the right height for 6″ ceramic wall tile. The upper counter is 44″ (elbow height) a perfect height for “leaning”. This allows your guests to “lean” on the counter (out of the kitchen) and talk with you while you’re preparing food (in the kitchen). It’s also a good height for serving food or for tall stools as a breakfast bar. Not all of the upper counters have to be the some width. Some sections may be 9″ wide (just a top to the kitchen partition, while other sections of the upper counter can be 24” wide, for serving food or as a breakfast bar.
Now…I’m discussing this portion last because different clients use their kitchens differently, and every person has their own taste. I’m not talking about the size (although it’s related), but how many people they want in a kitchen. Some clients want everyone in the kitchen, including guests and relatives, to help in cooking or processing the meal, which means a larger kitchen to handle the people. Others don’t want anyone but a few people in kitchen, so they’re not tripping over people to get the meal finished, which means a smaller more efficient kitchen.
Most modern house designs have the kitchen open to the garage or rear door and open to family room and/or other rooms such as breakfast areas, dining rooms, or hallways. This means the kitchen has multiple openings to handle these functions. Some kitchens also have “island” cabinets/countertops with two or more openings. All the openings to the kitchen allows people to come in, stand around, or pass through the kitchen from Point A to Point B somewhere else in the house. Also, one of the quirks of our human psychology is everyone eventually ends up in the kitchen. This design concept uses the kitchen as a “traffic corridor”. These kitchens need a large amount of space to handle the volume of traffic. Again, some clients love the flow of people in and out of the kitchen. They just need a larger kitchen space for all this happen
Other clients think the “traffic corridor” kitchen concept “clogs” up the kitchen with unnecessary and unwanted people. Count me in the “keep-the-unnecessary-people-out-of-the-kitchen” category. I like to keep the kitchen open and inviting, I just don’t want the extra bodies while the meal is being prepared. By keeping the extra bodies out, the kitchen can be smaller and more efficient, meaning fewer steps between the refrigerator, cooktop and sink.
Keeping people out of the kitchen is very easy to do in your design, just make it difficult for them to get in. Use a wrapping countertop with just one (1) countertop opening into the kitchen, and locate that opening in the most difficult spot to enter the kitchen. This, along with the “open floor plan” is the most effective way to prevent unwanted kitchen traffic. The single kitchen entrance will psychologically keep them out of the kitchen zone, while the open floor plan (no walls) allows you to communicate with family and guests, while keeping them out of the kitchen.
With the tidbits I’ve discussed above and by keeping the people out of a kitchen, a kitchen size of 16’x10′ or 12’x12′ is very effective, with tons of storage. Making the kitchen a “traffic corridor” for people to pass through, the kitchen would need to double in size, and you’re not gaining storage space with that size because all the openings to the kitchen are eating up what could have been used for cabinets.
In regards to lighting, most kitchens have a few main way of lighting (or combination of these)
A. Light in the ceiling fan
B. “Can” lights in the ceiling
C. Under-cabinet lighting (usually puck lights or fluorescent strips)
I generally reject all of these lighting concepts. With a light in the ceiling fan, you always have the light at your back, meaning you’re casting shadows onto everything you do on the countertop. Can lights are “energy hogs” because they cut large holes in your insulation, and use inefficient incandescent lighting (usually 75 watt). I don’t use overhead cabinets so therefore eliminate under-cabinet lighting, which is sometimes expensive
With the tall ceilings of a scissors truss, I like to use MR16 adjustable light fixtures, not “can” lights. The MR16’s are usually know as “strip” lighting. However, you’ll want to use a “plate” instead of a “strip” for the fixture connection. By using a plate, the MR16 uses a standard electrical box, so a smaller hole in your insulation blanket compared to a “can” light, and they pump out twice as much light for less wattage (usually 50 watts) than a “can” light. MR16 fixtures can be very small (so you don’t see them) and not very costly (around $20). MR16’s are adjustable, meaning you can point the light where you want it. A “can” light points light perpendicular to the ceiling. In a sloped ceiling, that’s not good. Locate your lights above the countertop to eliminate shadows, along your major work areas (sinks, cooktop, cutting and prep areas) and then distribute evenly along the rest of the countertops. You really don’t need lights elsewhere other than for accent lighting. The lights above the counters will be more than enough, assuming you’re keeping the kitchen smaller.
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