An open plan kitchen is the perfect match for almost any Southern Californian homeowner. It is open, casual, and free flowing.
But kitchen designs weren’t always that way.
What was once considered a strictly utilitarian space -- hidden behind closed doors and disconnected from other rooms -- has become a full-fledged member of the home’s design scheme.
Lifestyle Changes Precede the Open Kitchen Layout
A more traditional lifestyle, one that baby boomers grew up in, had fathers working and mothers staying at home with the kids. Meals were eaten in the dining room; there were only four channels on the TV, and no video games. Computers hadn’t yet been invented. Well, those days are gone. We are casual in everything we do (especially in Southern California); family members are always on the go, each needing to get things done and a place to do them. In this on-the-go lifestyle, the kitchen is a grand central station for family activities of all kinds.
This is where the kids do their homework during the week, where you have friends over for supper on Saturday, and where you watch football on Sunday. If you need to hold a family meeting, this is where it happens.
Cooking is no longer just women’s work. Men cook -- and like to. Kids cook, too. If you’re having a party, several people could be cooking at once. In fact, having space for more than one cook is high on many wish lists. This means that space has to be found so that two people don’t continually bump into each other. This space isn’t usually inside the confines of a work triangle.
This evolution of kitchen design is underpinned by a change in lifestyle. The attraction of this style of living is the luxurious feeling of open, clear, and light space.
When Walls Come Tumbling Down
Both the original work triangle and Steidl’s early work center kitchens envisioned a kitchen enclosed by four walls, with a door leading to a dining room and maybe a door leading to the outside. That’s the way kitchens looked in the 1940s and 1950s.
Today, there are no partition walls. They have come tumbling down. Kitchens are part of open living areas that include a place for casual eating and a family room. Often, there will be a home entertainment center focusing on a wide-screen TV. The dining room is pretty much a thing of the past. If used at all, it’s only at the holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Passover.
The Importance of an Island in the Open Plan Kitchen
Open plan kitchens, with their adjacent family rooms, great rooms, or casual living spaces led to the use of kitchen islands. Islands do important things.
They add useful counter space to the kitchen and provide an almost automatic location for a second sink, or cooktop closer to a sink -- an arrangement that reflects Steidl’s idea that the cook shouldn’t have to walk away from the sink in order to check on what’s on the stove. Islands add storage space, cut down the walking distances between work centers, and establish traffic patterns that direct people easily through the kitchen and out of the cook’s way.
Large islands function like big tables, providing room to eat or to put food out for buffet parties. They have lots of space for younger kids to do crafts or play games. For older ones, it’s an after-dinner homework area -- mom or dad, finishing cleanup chores, are then close by to answer questions. Islands are also natural room dividers. In open plans they are shared elements between rooms, with specialized storage on both sides. They are also a shared design element.
An Open Plan Kitchen is the Heart of the Home
The kitchen is the heart of the home; it has always been so. In the 21st century, kitchens are expanding and becoming the welcoming focal point of family life and a family-oriented lifestyle. What has evolved is the notion of the kitchen as the heart of the home. An open plan kitchen fully encapsulates that notion.