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Architecture & Design



February 17, 2016

Architecturally Adventurous

An Blog Post by Holly Butler, AIA NCARB

The open kitchen has reigned supreme over the new home and renovation market for the last 15 years.  Americans have wholeheartedly embraced the combination of the kitchen, living room,  and dining room into one big space.  Parents can cook while keeping an eye on the kids.  Hosts can prep their dinner party while still entertaining guests.  The concept of togetherness has become the overriding consideration in residential design.

In the last few months, however, I have been seeing more and more articles pushing back against this concept.  Realtor.com has several articles on their homepage slamming the open kitchen.  "I Hate the Open-Plan Kitchen - and Amazingly, I'm No Longer the Only One" by Audrey Brashich details the rise and fall of this trend.  Brashich describes how technological advances and changes in social norms over the course of the 20th century allowed the kitchen to evolve from a private space only visited by the family or servants into the focal point the home.   Open kitchens "maximize space and minimize cost" in floor plans that are becoming progressively smaller and at the same time more expensive to build.   

Brashich, however, details several reasons why she does not want an open kitchen in her new home.  She argues that the ability to close the door and keep the mess and process of cooking private provides her with a measure of comfort.  Who wants a pile of dirty dishes on display in the middle of their formal dinner?

In her blog post for greenbuildermedia.com entitled "Open Kitchen be Gone", Christina B. Farnsworth points out that one of the best ways to keep up on current design trends is to pay attention to the backgrounds and set designs of television commercials.  Advertisers want to use the latest and greatest homes in which to showcase their products for hip young consumers, and lately, these ads are featuring a distinct uptick in closed kitchens.  

Farnsworth's and Brashich's articles both posit that open kitchens are not meant to be cooked in.  They serve as showpieces for the slicing of a carrot or the occasional assembly of a cheese platter.  They are for families that bring home a lot of take-out.  Real cooking is messy, cluttered, and sometimes features naughty words yelled at high volume (or is that only in my house?)  As Julia Child once said, "if you drop something, you can always pick it up if you're alone in the kitchen.   Who is going to see?"  

I think an eat-in kitchen is a real solution for this quasi-problem.  After all, the kitchen has become a focal point in the home for families and guests, and that probably isn't going to change.  People naturally congregate there; it's warm, inviting, and often has received more design attention and care than any other room than the master bath.  A closed kitchen with room for a table that comfortably seats a group a people solves a lot of the problems inherent in the open plan.

My house does not have an open plan kitchen.  My kitchen is long and narrow with a dining area at one end.  The south and east walls are glass with views into the backyard.  These expansive windows open the kitchen up and make it feel a lot larger than it is.  

I love my kitchen and have only rarely wished that it was open to the living room.  When my son was a baby, it would have been nice to be able to have more direct supervision of what he was doing.  However, now that he is four, I don't need to keep an eye on him as much, and I find that I prefer to have the added privacy.  I love that I can lie down on the couch after a long day and ignore the dishes if I need to.  

In conclusion, I was watching one of the real estate shows on tv the other day;  a European family was searching for a new home here in the US.  Their realtor was utterly shocked when the parents emphatically did not want an open plan kitchen.  The mother explained that she had a lot of children, and they all just wanted to be able to get away from each other.  I see nothing wrong with that sentiment.   


1.  "Why Open Kitchens Are Bad and Closed Kitchens Are Good."

Realtor.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016 <http://www.realtor.com/advice/home-improvement/open-plan-kitchens-are-bad/>.

2.  "Open Kitchens Be Gone."

Greenbuildermedia.com.  N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016


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