Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cote's Kitchen Problem

Hooked on Houses is hosting her "Hooked on Fridays" blog party; I hope y'all will click here and have look. This week I'm hooked on kitchen psychology.

Joni at Cote de Texas is bucking the open kitchen trend. Well she is. If you don't believe me, listen (again) to the latest at the Skirted Roundtable: "Blogging and Design with Susan Serra, CKD." It's not the first time she has let this slip out.

We all want our real estate ads to be proud of us. Don't we?

Honestly, who doesn't want an open plan and granite and 10' ceilings and stainless and farmhouse sinks and sconces and chandeliers and... for our kitchen? At the Architecture Tourists' house we at least have an open plan and it worked very well on Independence Day.


So what can WE do to help Joni. I don't think she feels the least bit guilty about it.

In this very polite universe of design blogging a bucked trend or a critical comment is a delightful breath of fresh air. So I'm helping Joni by saying big thank you.

TV shows, magazines, the books, and the blogs can make design fans feel very small, very dated, very out of style, very poor, and worst of all, very un-cool.

I decided to followup with a little reading in "A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction." There is quite a bit about kitchen psychology. Try this pattern. I'm teasing you with a few quotes.

139. Farmhouse Kitchen
"In many cases, especially in houses, the heart of this common area is a kitchen or an eating area since shared food has more capacity than almost anything to be the basis for communal feelings."

But Joni specifically mentioned caterers and wanting to keep the mess away from guests.

"The isolated kitchen, separate from the family and considered as an efficient but unpleasant factory for food is a hangover from the days of servants."

The Architecture Tourists will volunteer anytime anywhere to test the "unpleasant days of servants." A bit of history:

" the middle class housing of the nineteenth century, where the use of servants became rather widespread, the pattern of the isolated kitchen also spread, and became an accepted part of any house. But when the servants disappeared, the kitchen was still left separate, because it was thought "genteel" and "nice" to eat in dining rooms away from any sight or smell of food. The isolated kitchen was still associated with those houses of the rich, where dining rooms like this were taken for granted."

"...there is in this kind of plan still the hidden supposition that cooking is a chore and that eating is a pleasure."
Well maybe I can help. I think maybe some folks need both a family kitchen and a catering kitchen.

If you can find A Pattern Language you might check these 2 other kitchen patterns.

147. Communal Eating
"Without communal eating, no human group can hold together."
182. Eating Atmosphere
"Put a light over the table to create a pool of light over the group...(so that it) lights up people's faces and is a focal point for the whole group, then a meal can become a special thing indeed..."

P.S. Did you get the word about wearing blue?


  1. I have learned that having a kitchen open to a living room/family room can be inconvenient. Not so much from the "seeing the mess" angle but from noise. Having a noisy person washing up in the kitchen while others are watching TV or talking does not work well. Also, even quiet dishwashers are noisy. I have seen houses that have an open spot between the areas that can be closed with a folding shutter arrangement.

  2. Since I am the one cooking (usually) I like the open kitchen so I can finish and join in festivities.

    I wonder if a large, usable, Butler's Pantry is the happy medium? No real prep work, but lots of finishing touches could be done there. And of course, the drinks.

  3. I agree with the first comment. My Mom's house is very open and the TV is so loud in the kitchen, yet the people in the family room can't hear it.

    I do like the openness when there are lots of people there. It just makes the house seem bigger.

  4. We postpone cleaning up until the noise doesn't matter. There's a compromise for everything. Most of the time nobody is doing any serious cooking and the space feels good.

  5. I really gravitate towards an open(ish) kitchen. I love everything about a kitchen...the smells and sounds of cooking,the communing, the mess (yes. So real) the living. It just feels like soul. Like family (the good and the warts).

    In this house we opted to just use our kitchen (turned DR into library). We can pull the table outside if need be. But it just feels so right and honest. Even for a big dinner party, or just a couple of friends.But ALWAYS for our family meals. It is the heart of our house. As funky as it is.

    I haven't listened to the roundtable yet...will have to!

  6. Your kitchen looks great but I live in a 200+ year old house and all are rooms are separate. I wouldn't be able to sit down and eat if I was staring at a dirty kitchen so this house works for me. I have to say I am with Joni on this one. In fact, I don't go with current builder's trends on quite a few things...cathedral ceilings (echoes), skylights (glare), catwalks (wasted space)...just to name a few.

  7. Well - since I ONLY entertain twice a year: Hanuakah Party and Father's Day (my sister who LIVES to entertain picks up the slack) - I shouldn't be too down on my kitchen. but still - someone has to stand there and fry the latkes and it ain't me! So - better to be able to close the kitchen door and keep the smell in. You try having a Hanuakah party and you would feel the same way as moi!!!!!!

  8. I think i am agreeing with lots!

    While the look and feel of the open space is great to have guests, it can be a bit noisey and certainly if you went to the expense of a caterer it would be a bit inconvineient -- unless you couldve taken your guests to another part of the house. (say a music room or basement pool room)

    For me -- i have had the big and all the cleaning and i am looking for a new cottage :)

    Always great inform from you!!

    TTFN~~Claudia ♥

  9. I'm not sure why, but every time we entertain, everyone ends up in the kitchen. It drives me crazy because I am tripping over everyone while I am trying to get the meal served. I usually kick everyone out. Maybe a large open space would help.


  10. I live in a garden home and the kitchen is pretty tiny. But it opens to four other areas and gets seen. Thankfully, since the kids are grown and off on their own, I don't have much mess to contend with. So I'm on the fence about this concept.

  11. Love it. I heard Joni say that and thought it was such an interesting point of view that you don't hear very often. The bottom line is that we all need different things from our kitchens (and homes in general).

    I wrote a post questioning why so many laundry rooms are put in the farthest corner possible from the bedrooms in so many houses (seems impractical to me), and I was astonished by the number of people who commented that they LIKE taking their clothes downstairs and to the mudroom by the garage. Go figure. We all have different lifestyles and different requirements from our homes, and that's what makes us--and them--interesting. :-)

  12. Folks do want and need different things and those things change as the family changes. So a flexible design is best. I think we have more in common than we think.

    Unfortunately few of us get to live in more than a handful of houses. Far fewer can experience living in great houses - great functional and aesthetic architecture. I'm talking about fundamentals - before the decor goes in.

    And we humans can get used to almost anything. I mean - good grief - some people enjoy camping!! We try to avoid camping at all times.

  13. How about a little amateur psychology: the thought occurred to me that extroverts - who love to be surrounded by people, can happily cook while carrying on a conversation, don't like to miss anything, and are relaxed about the occasional culinary disaster - will do well with a huge open kitchen.

    On the other hand, more introverted folk or those who need to concentrate to get more than one dish ready at a time (me), who are perhaps a little embarrassed at the non-pristine state of their kitchen (me again), who don't like tripping over people on their way to the fridge, would do better with a closed-off space.

    I love the idea of being the casual, chatty host, but I rarely relax enough to achieve that.

    Moreover, my parents would die rather than let guests in the kitchen. My mother even seats people at dinner parties so that the other women can't see through the doorway into the chaos that lies within. And, even for casual family meals, my father (who definitely did not grow up with servants!) considers it extremely "poor form" to eat in the kitchen. Wow.

  14. PS - Terry, love that green on the walls!

  15. Stuggler, the green is Benjamin Moore 2027-50 "Hibiscus" and it kicks major ___.

    I am personally one of those helpless cooks. I find that our guests feel sorry for me and want to help.

    Honestly we know how our kitchen is, our guests know how our kitchen is so we just get the job done and have a big time.

    Lately it's been Wednesday night cookouts and "So You Think You Can Dance" parties. You never know who's coming, what they'll bring to eat, or when they'll arrive. Usually a gaggle of mid-20's girls with bored boyfriends.

  16. We just ripped the wall between our kitchen and lounge areas out and the whole space is now open-plan. LOVE IT. We were also finding as soon as anyone came round they would congregate in the kitchen and it just wasn't big enough. Plus there's only my partner and I and we both work fulltime, so having an open plan works. When one of us is cooking and the other is couch-bound after work, we can still chat.

  17. On always. A Pattern Language is unbelievable. It will be interesting to see how magazines will reinvent themselves.

    They will have to hire Joni of Cote De Texas because they can't compete!!

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  18. When we bought our house 25 years ago, the kitchen was adjacent to the family room (with fireplace). I always wanted a dining room with a fireplace, so I turned that room to the dining room. We turned the master bedroom upstairs to the media room. When I was working, it helped keeping the downstairs presentable and the upstairs liveable. I also don't enjoy entertaining around a TV so the move helped in that regard, too. As an empty nester, I am planning to making the dining room more of a library with a dining table.

  19. My house was built in 1947. It is a single-story Rancher style home. The rooms are small and closet space is at a premium (but that's another story). There was no "dining room" as such when I bought the house; only a small eat-in kitchen. I made quick work of fixing that. The room on the other side of the kitchen was a bedroom. One of the first things I did was to make a large opening in that wall between the kitchen and dining room and turn the bedroom into an intimate living room/den. I then utilized what was originally the living room as the dining room, which has a fireplace making it all the more cozy. The way the house flows now it that the dining room (which was the living room)is separated from the kitchen by a standard doorway and the living room/den is on the other side of the kitchen where people can sit and talk among themselves and I can join the conversation with ease. This is in no way a "great room" but it works quite nicely. I should take pictures and post them here so you would have a better idea of what I'm talking about. Anyway, I am not a fan of the great room. While I think the initial intent was to make it easier to communicate with people while you were in the kitchen it failed to do so because the spaces were so large and people so spread out that you found yourself yelling across these vast expanses which was impolite. I much prefer mingling and visiting with people in small, intimate groups rather than swarming around in a gaggle of people who all appear to have been corralled for conversation.

  20. Terry,
    I’ve moved around often including overseas and design kitchens so find this post of great interest. I believe you hit the nail on the head when you said we have different needs depending on what stage of life we are in. As long as the kitchen has a good work triangle and prep space for the most part I am happy.

  21. OK, I am back now, and catching up on the posts! This is a great one. I have been thinking about this a lot since my architect asked what basic structure I want in a house.

    I recently watched an acquaintance go through the house design and build process. She had two objectives that seemed (to me) to fly in the face of reality: she did not wire the basement for TV, as she did not want her children watching TV downstairs (her children are pre-teens), and she did not want her kitchen to be open to the family room, as she did not want her guests to see the mess from the caterers.

    The house is now built, and I have been to a party there. I learned that she ended up wiring the downstairs for tv, realizing that she needed to set up the space so her children and their friends would want to hang out there.

    The kitchen is indeed separated from the family room; the kitchen is on the left side of the house, then the breakfast room is next to it, along the back of the house. Then the family room is across the back of the house too, but there is a wall between the family room and the breakfast room, and the butler's pantry is the path to get from one to the other.

    Here is what happened during the party: the caterers worked in the kitchen; people hung out in the kitchen with the caterers, and also squeezed themselves into the breakfast room and the butler's pantry. It was incredibly awkward. A few people hung out in the family room, but felt cut off.

    It is a good idea to think about your lifestyle when planning a house, or picking a house. Do you entertain much? Is that what dominates your life? I think it is better to plan for the 99% of the time you are living in the home as a family, not the 1% of the time that you are entertaining. Look at Joni's case, she entertains twice a year. Why set up a floor plan and flow for the 6 hours of the year that you are having people over?

    As always, A Pattern Language causes me to think, as do your posts. I received my copy of A Pattern Language a few weeks ago, and look forward to reading it.

  22. This post really made me think. I favor an open kitchen, because I like to be able to be in the kitchen and speak with my husband in the family room (or vice versa, since he's doing a lot of the cooking now), but I can understand where Joni is coming from. I love hearing what everyone else thinks on this matter too. Good for Joni for bucking the trend and keeping true to herself.


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