After World War II, Art & Arts magazine commissioned many major architects of the day to design and build homes. The popular/acclaimed “Case Study House Program” ran intermittently between 1945 to 1966 and “sought to respond to post-war building boom with prototype modern homes that could be both easily replicated and really affordable to the average American.” The program had a great influence on American and international modern house design, and shed light on the design of the kitchen as well.
One example, the “Eames House”, Case Study House #8, was designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. In this house, the kitchen is still hidden from the main living area, however, it integrated the dining room and kitchen into one space with the option to enclose the kitchen by utilizing a folding panel when needed. One of the most intriguing parts of this design is that it created a great indoor/outdoor relationship by positioning the kitchen/dining space with floor to ceiling windows and doors on one side of the pavilion adjacent to the courtyard.
A second example, the iconic Case Study House #22, the “Stahl House,” was built in 1960, and is considered one of the first pioneers in truly opening up the kitchen to be an integral part of the common area. The kitchen is no longer trying to hide behind, or partially open but still being shy with its own utility nature. Instead, the kitchen in Stahl House is a feature by itself. With its double islands, the kitchen area is defined by a lower ceiling detached from the main ceiling, creating a wood pavilion in the house, echoing the cubic shape of the see-through fireplace between dining and living rooms. The similar layout – having the kitchen, dining, living room side by side opening into each other within a rectangular glass box – started to appear more and more in modern and contemporary house design.
Our third example, though unnamed, is Case Study House #24 and was designed by A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons in 1961. The design has almost all the features of a contemporary kitchen – central location, open plan, long linear island with seatings, outdoor kitchen & dining, and a strong indoor-outdoor relationship. Another intriguing feature is the sunken conversation “pit” in the middle of the living room. “With the eighteen-inch lower level conversation space in the living area, the [kitchen island] countertop separating this area from the exposed kitchen provides two levels, the top which permits the center section of the counter to be used as a bar-height buffet and the end section as a normal dining table at a thirty-inch height. This end section can seat six people but would normally be furnished with four chairs in the everyday position.” Together with the two gardens on either side, it provided multiple experiences for everyday life and family gatherings. Unfortunately, it was never built.
Nowadays, the open kitchen concept is widely accepted by most people, but more often than not their current house layouts, which might have been built decades ago with piecemeal renovation and additions, do not support the concept.
A typical floor plan usually has a formal dining room, a formal living room, a family room, and a kitchen more or less tucked into a corner with limited access from other spaces. In some cases, although the kitchen might be open to the living room, it does not have a good flow into other common area or outdoor spaces. This type of layout cannot fully support today’s lifestyle anymore.
The age of some of the home renovation projects we have encountered in the Hampton Roads area range from the 1930s to 2010s. We have found that the list below displays some of the top issues our clients think about their houses:
- The kitchen is too closed off;
- The kitchen does not have enough natural light and is not taking advantage of the exterior view;
- There is no indoor/outdoor relationship;
- The flow of the kitchen to other spaces in the house is not convenient and does not support family gathering or entertaining
As the kitchen plays a strategic role in people’s everyday activities, the location of where it should be planned in the house, and how it should relate to the other spaces in terms of flow, functionality, and cohesion become the primary concern. The goal of an effective and efficient renovation of the kitchen (and/or house) is basically to transform the everyday living environment to support the lifestyles of those living in it.
See Kitchen Is The New Center – Part 1
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