Artful Living by Design: Kitchen-et cetera

Dec. 4—For many of us, the kitchen is the heart of our homes. The dishes, the warmth of creating dishes for our loved ones, the aromas of home-cooked meals, and the memories elicited by those aromas, the tastes, all of this originates in the kitchen. And in the past few years, especially, kitchens have taken on even greater significance. Spending so much time in our living spaces during the pandemic seems to have sparked a yearning for spaces that work better for us, both functionally and aesthetically. This desire for better working spaces at home has played out quite fittingly in the kitchen.

Depending on one's lifestyle, kitchens can be different things to different people. For most of us, kitchens function not only as that space where we make our food but as an overall gathering place. And, as many of us discovered during the lockdown, a kitchen is way more than just a kitchen. It's the center of communications. Moreover, it can give a home a focus, a direction. How, then, to achieve that? What are the keys to the perfect kitchen?

FUNCTIONALITY. The utmost value should be placed on a kitchen's functionality and its ergonomics. Kitchens, more than any other room, really are all about movement: circulation and being able to prepare food comfortably. This is why it is so important that those who will be doing the cooking, shopping and cleaning duties in the kitchen have the greatest say in how this space should function. We are more likely to enjoy a task if we enjoy the space we are in and can move easily in that space.

A "work triangle" in any kitchen is extremely helpful. The idea behind the triangle is to eliminate the number of steps between the refrigerator, sink and cooking surfaces and appliances, the three parts of the triangle. This makes for convenience and efficiency. Santa Fe-style homes, especially in the Historic District or South Capitol area, often have space challenges, odd-shaped kitchens or kitchens that weren't made for modern appliances and conveniences. Even so, there are always solutions.

My own kitchen, for example, required that we relocate the steps down into it to accommodate a built-in refrigerator. And a recent remodel I did was for a client who loves to bake, so we removed headers, dropped the ceilings and took out a column to allow for the possibility of mixer lifts and sufficient surfaces for rolling out dough.

AESTHETICS. A kitchen is a significant expense. For most of us, the result of a kitchen renovation will be a part of our lives for a great many years. Consequently, it is vitally important that the aesthetic has longevity. Tile, color, art and kitchen accessories and tools can play important roles in the overall finished tableau and personality of a kitchen. Day-to-day usage, trends and resale possibilities must also be considered. A well-designed kitchen can address all of these matters and still be phenomenal.

Another consideration is what — and how much — we do in our kitchen. Appliances and finishes are significant budget items. Some of us are home chefs; some are microwave aficionados. Where we put our hard-earned money makes a difference to us. One homeowner may spend a great deal of time in the kitchen and see the value of investing in more decorative and costly countertops, backsplashes and flooring. On the other hand, a person who makes coffee in the kitchen, but otherwise spends little time there might decide it's not the place to put their money.

TIPS. Designing a new kitchen is no small matter and requires research and patience. A design professional has an arsenal of resources and has already walked the renovation path a number of times. Take advantage of this fact.

There are countless products that professionals have seen and tried. Some of them are boundlessly useful, while others are not. Many clients, for instance, insist on cabinet space inserts that promise the sun and moon. Designers have a basement full of these items that clients later begged them to remove — after having once begged them to put them in. (And I have a pantry pullout that I would like to set on fire and eliminate from the face of the earth for its shortcomings!)

A professional often has the ability to think outside the box and see a solution a client may not see. (For instance, there's a little gem called a "fly moon" that's often the saving grace of a blind corner cabinet.) Be open to new ideas and don't be afraid to ask for help.

Ultimately, if a kitchen can teach us anything, or if we learned one thing from having spent so much more time in our kitchens the past couple years, it's that even this most basic, most quotidian space deserves as much care and attention as any other room. Cooking, after all, isn't only about eating. It's about relationships, and a great kitchen can make for better and perhaps even great relationships.

Kitchen designs and redesigns