Function: One of the Five Building Blocks of Kitchen Design

Learn about the five building blocks of kitchen design in this excerpt from Joan Kohn's It's Your Kitchen.


In today’s kitchen, beauty and function are inseparable.

Of the five building blocks of kitchen design, function comes first. Every decision you make about how you want your kitchen to work affects the aesthetics of your design, and every decision you make about aesthetics affects important functional issues as well.

The first and most fundamental question is "What’s it for?" How do you want to live and work in your new kitchen? Is this a room for cooking or just for warming and serving, where all you need is a telephone and a few take-out menus? Is this a kitchen for Thanksgiving dinner or just for snacks? Is it "only for show" or a vital arena in which to conduct all the complex business of daily life? The way you want to use your new kitchen will inspire, and may even dictate, many of your design choices.

It’s best to begin by considering broad functional issues such as these:

  • How important is cooking? Are you a gourmet chef, or would you be just as happy if you could turn your range into a planter and use your dishwasher as a file cabinet? (Don’t laugh; I know someone who did just that!)
  • Do you like to entertain lavishly, in small groups, or not at all? Are holiday dinners always at your home, or do you wish they were? If you entertain a lot, do you use caterers?
  • Do you want to eat in your kitchen? If so, how much seating do you need, and what kind of seating should it be? Should you have a large or small table, a counter with stools, a nook, a banquette, or perhaps a cozy lounge chair or two?
  • Do you have a large family or do you live alone? Is your family growing or are you an empty nester?
  • Does your family include pets whose needs must be accommodated in the design?
  • How much storage do you require? Do you need a large butler’s pantry for storing silver and glassware, or just a small cabinet for a few canned goods?
  • Do you dream of your new kitchen as a busy gathering place for friends and family, or a quiet place for a cup of tea and a good book? Does either dream include a fireplace?
  • Is ease of maintenance a high priority?
  • Do you want a wet bar in your kitchen?
  • Will your kitchen serve as an office for household management or a home-based business, or as a message center with space for a calendar, phone, and computer?
  • Do you envision using your kitchen for hobbies? Do you want a place for your wine collection or a potting sink? Would you like your children to do their homework or arts and crafts projects in the kitchen?
  • How should your kitchen relate functionally to your other rooms? Should it open onto, or be part of, a family room, dining room, mudroom, or laundry room? I know of one kitchen in a large, turn-of-the-century Boston home where a mother of three young boys included not only a washer and dryer but also her kids’ closets and bathroom. Coming in from playing, the boys dump their dirty clothes right in the hamper, bathe, and put on clean clothes without tramping mud through the house!
  • How do you want your kitchen to relate to the outdoors? Should it open onto a patio, or should part of the cooking function, such as a grill, be outside? Is there a particularly beautiful view that can be captured through thoughtfully placed windows?
  • Do you require, or anticipate the need for, wheelchair accessibility or accommodations for other special needs for you or members of your family?

Once you have decided on the general functional requirements of your new kitchen, you can focus on more specific issues:

  • Precisely how do you cook? Do you favor high-tech gear or conventional appliances? These days, we are no longer restricted to the simple choice of gas versus electric cooking. Modern ranges have evolved to include both in one, as well as other new technologies. Are you interested in some of the modern, health-conscious, water-based cooking appliances such as steam ovens or sinks with integrated steam-cooking units? Modular elements are also a valuable option, enabling you to mix and match traditional ranges with deep fryers and grills, or even a wok burner, pizza oven, or wood-burning rotisserie. If you’re working with limited space, you might investigate the newest miniaturized cooking appliances that not only take up less room but also serve multiple functions such as microwaving, grilling, broiling, and baking.
  • Is there more than one cook in your family? If so, you may want to create multiple workstations.
  • If you use caterers, would it be useful to have a separate prep area or secondary kitchen for them to work in?
  • Do you want to maximize counter space? Under-the-counter microwave ovens and refrigerators are options worth considering. Plus, they are handy for kids!
  • Do you like to bake? You might plan for a dedicated baking area, with a stone countertop for kneading dough and rolling out piecrusts. Consider building it lower than your other countertops for comfort and accessibility.
  • Do you cook on the run? Perhaps a warming drawer for carryout food is just the thing for you. Warming drawers are also great for home owners who entertain a lot.
  • Is speed of preparation important? There are appliances geared to that as well, such as ovens that combine microwave and convection technologies to dramatically decrease cooking time, and new electronic cooktops that heat up virtually as quickly as gas burners.
  • Is easy maintenance a high priority? If so, you may wish to trade in your high-tech, high-BTU gas range for a sleek, easy-to-clean electric model with a smooth glass surface that wipes up instantly.
  • Do you want a full entertainment center in your kitchen to draw others in, or just a radio or small TV for your personal use while you cook or grab breakfast before work?


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