Rethinking Your Next Kitchen
An Architect’s Nuts and Bolts for a successful Design
Creating a new kitchen, either a renovation or a totally new construction, is always a challenge. Do you have enough countertop space? What about the best and most up-to-date equipment? And the most up to-date style, best materials and hottest color combination? Like the song asks, “Will you still love it in the morning?
The kitchen is perhaps the most important component in any home. Regardless of how much space you have or limitations of budget, one can make a kitchen worthy of a king.
One astonished visitor to Marion Cunningham’s kitchen, author of “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook”, one of America’s greatest cooks, (Sorry, Thomas Keller) was amazed at how small it was. One can make great meals in a trailer or a houseboat kitchen with imagination and creativity. Believe me, I did that in a 70’s Sausalito houseboat and entertained the Seahawks owner and Blackhawk developer to a superb meal.
Kitchen appliances do not last forever and generally must be replaced like old shoes, but kitchen components need to last years, if not decades, for sustainability and value. The real challenge is to avoid the latest fad and choose timeless features that will evolve, and like a good wine, improve with time.
One might worry there isn’t enough space or room but creating an open workable space is more important. Today, we want our kitchens unobstructed to the living areas. The “Family Room”, a term one of my 60’s employer architects invented, is dead.
As to the design palette’, keep it as clean and simple as possible. Fixtures, handles and appliance colors can be replaced as styles change but cabinet, drawers and countertops should be chosen for durability and timeless ness. Back-splashes currently are the big rage. Avoid the “gotta have…”. Or be prepared to replace in a couple of years…or the latest design fad.
Now that you’ve decided on your new kitchen design and layout, we need to get into the weeds and widgets of the construction process. Having a design prepared by a professional requires some homework on your part. While planning the remodeling is essential, “the devil is in the details” and the preparation.
The style and character of kitchen designs change like automobile styles. Yesterday’s Rustic Provincial style has been replaced with clean Contemporary Mid-Century designs. Rather than debate the design merits of any one style, let’s concentrate on what is needed to build this.
Assuming your existing kitchen has been accurately drawn to scale, today’s kitchen designs are open to the Living and Dining areas, and possibly the Family Room, which has fallen out of favor. But that’s another story.
Here are more issues that need attention:
Structural: If you’re planning to open up a wall, you might need a structural engineer. Chances are you’ll need a beam to make the span and sometimes an architect or qualified drafts person can make some professional recommendations, but generally if the building department requires structural calculations, a professional engineer needs to check the roofline structure above the wall and the foundation below, should new supports be required to handle any posts supporting new beams.
Electrical: Choosing your appliances upfront is important in order to ensure proper electrical design. Today’s codes require GFI receptacles every 4 feet, but not within 2 feet of a sink. While refrigerators are low energy users today, microwaves require at least a 20-amp dedicated electrical line. Providing under cabinet lighting is especially important today with LED strips or thin tape that can be installed in the smallest of accent areas. While low energy users, they do need a rheostat.
Heating and ventilation: Upgrading your systems are essential. If you are installing a high heat gas range top, it will require an extra heavy-duty fan, and don’t even think about a downdraft. Making sure your heating and ventilation requirements are properly vented and OSA, outside air, is essential.
Adjustable Cabinets and Countertops: What is often forgotten in design and use the kitchen is adjustable wall cabinets and countertops. Mechanically operated, manual or electric cabinets to lower and raise for easy access, are available today. Not every countertop has to be exactly 36 inches but think about the future access via wheelchair. One may not be long term disabled but even short-term can be distressing.
Choosing a Contractor: Any good renovation deserves a qualified contractor. This is not for the weekend warrior unless you want to eat off a hot plate in the garage for months. You should have a plan for surviving a long, unpredictable time period and expect sub-contractor and material supply schedules to be “telescoped” with the high current demand.
Be sure to ask for multiple proposals or bids and be sure they are comprehensive with as few exceptions as possible. Do check with the State Consumer Board for licensing and complaints and above all, ask for references and be sure to call.
This could be the most exhilarating experience for you and your family, but I always tell my clients, renovation is like flying an airplane: hours of boredom and moments of terror. Enjoy!
Chris d. Craiker AIA/NCARB