Theory of the kitchen

Spatial layouts, evolving technology and an increase in sociability have all affected contemporary kitchen design.

Wood features highly in the Bastide Collection by Carpe Diem.
Wood features highly in the Bastide Collection by Carpe Diem.

The transformation of the kitchen's footprint indicates an extraordinary shift in the way people eat, cook and socialise. The evolution of the kitchen has encompassed a multitude of developments from the atrium type room in Ancient Greece to the post war galley style prevalent in the 1920s to the high tech integrated designs emanating from kitchen designers today.

Advances during the Industrialisation period affected most major technological developments in the kitchen with the introduction of iron stoves and the distribution of water, electricity and gas through pipes. It is however, social attitudes at the beginning of the 20th century that developed changes in design. The ‘Frankfurt Kitchen' developed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky in 1926 embodied a standard for kitchen design.

The 1.9 x 3.4m kitchen was designed with the purpose of optimising kitchen work to reduce cooking time and to lower the cost of building well-equipped kitchens. The design was heavily influenced by the railway dining cars of the period and although it was heavily critised due to its size, it was built in approximately 10,000 social housing apartments in Frankfurt. Too small to live or work in, the kitchen remained separated from the living areas.

The popularity of integrating the newly developed kitchen appliances in the 1940s shifted the trend from small box kitchens to larger rooms suitable for use as a dining area too. It was the introduction of the extractor hood in the 1980's and the change in perception of cooking that allowed the kitchen to be opened up and the open plan kitchen was born.

The open plan kitchen is just as popular today as it was in the 1980's for a number of reasons. Interior designer for Emaar, Padmini Acharya uses open plan style kitchens for practical reasons, she says: "In a typical apartment we use the 3 x 3 kitchen module which is invariably open plan. We have seen that works best for apartments in terms of optimum utilisation of space, function and ergonomic use of air-conditioning." Interior designer, Emma Gower attributes the open plan kitchen trend to more relaxed attitudes, she says: "By opening up our homes to multifunctional spaces that we invite guests into, these once private spaces in our lives are now on show. In the 21st century we are becoming much more open and relaxed in the way we live our lives."

Having an open plan kitchen does not mean a kitchen has to be smaller, in fact with an increasing amount of time spent in the kitchen for both cooking and socialising the kitchen has grown considerably since the days of the Frankfurt Kitchen. Martin Barry, senior designer, Mark Wilkinson Furniture says: "We are finding that the demand is more towards enlarging the kitchen, creating a larger living space where the family can interact. The kitchen should become a family room not a work room."

Kitchen designer, Jamie Drake believes that evolving technology and a desire to spend more time in the kitchen has had a dramatic impact on the way in which kitchens are now being designed. He says: "The evolution in kitchen design and planning has been a direct result of a sophisticated user who has travelled the world either in reality or through the media. Their experiences are influencing the aesthetic direction of their kitchens and homes."

The trend to integrate high-end technology and appliances in the 1940s continues today. The +Integration kitchen from Poggenpohl mixes a sleek contemporary design with the latest futuristic technology. Red Dot Award winner, the +Integration allows the user to control and operate all kitchen appliances as well as building services and media such as alarm systems, lighting, air conditioning, heating and internet through the use of a laptop or infrared remote. Oscar Mathews, marketing manager, Palmon Group who distribute Siematic Kitchens in the Middle East talks about installing entertainment systems into the kitchen. He says: "Technology has moved into the kitchen with options ranging from plasmas, LCDs and internet access which are all being incorporated into the kitchen."
 

Style

While trends for wooden kitchens maintain their popularity in the Middle East the shift to contemporary, sleek kitchens in a variety of new materials is fast becoming the norm in open plan developments which have to integrate modern living areas in the same space as the kitchen area. Gower believes there should be no definition between these two spaces: "Open plan kitchen and living areas should be light, bright spaces that blend seamlessly. Space flows when there seems to be no definition."

The use of the word ‘wood' may evoke images of traditional style country kitchens but the latest designs incorporate modern metallics with sleek contemporary woods. Kamal Helou, designer at Carpe Diem agrees this is a definite trend: "Solid wood combined with stainless steel makes beautiful combinations for large working areas."

David Kimber, assistant general manager for Kitchens & Beyond agrees: "The contemporary kitchen style is popular, with straight lines and plain finished doors - no profiles or swirls." Mark Wilkinson Furniture offers customers a range of bespoke kitchen units and predicts future trends will include maple and sycamore.

Other popular materials include glass and lacquer. Gower says: "Glass fronted kitchen units near to the living/dining space for storage of glass and tableware are aesthetically pleasing as well as being practical and time saving.Toughened glass worktops on breakfast bars and islands make for neutral and stylish finishes that work in conjunction with dining and coffee tables as well as soft furnishes." The use of lacquer allows the customer to blend the colours of the kitchen into the living space or if they choose, to make a bold statement.

Markus Doecke, general manager of Miele Middle East suggests that younger consumers in Europe are focusing on bright colours such as yellow, lime green and purple to contrast with the rest of the décor.

Considerations

A variety of factors must be taken into consideration when designing a kitchen that suits all needs in terms of function and design. Gower highlights the importance of the kitchen and where it should be located, she says: "The position of the kitchen has and I believe will continue to be near the entrance to the property. It is usually our first port of call and last when we enter and leave the home."

The layout of a kitchen largely depends on its floor size and the position of windows and doors. It has been a long-accepted formula that the principal appliances - fridge/freezer, oven/hob and the sink should form the shape of a triangle, but many contemporary designers believe this approach to be too restrictive, and assert that the positioning of appliances should be practical for the individual client as each homeowner has different priorities. As standard appliances such as dishwashers have a footprint of 60cm, fitted appliances can be easily changed when properties change owners.

Storage units have evolved dramatically from those used in Ancient Greece when a separate storage room at the back of the kitchen would be used for both food and kitchen utensils. Gower recommends drawers rather than cupboards to maximise space, she says: "Drawers, although more expensive than doors, make much more efficient use of space. Items stored on a shelf at the back of a cupboard are less likely to be seen but drawers slide lower storage towards you enabling you to see better." Kimber recommends closed storage for kitchen items which in keeping with the open plan theme conceals rather than highlights peeling food labels and old saucepans while Acharya advices making full use of every space with spice racks and custom sized cabinetry for maximum efficiency. It is also worth noting that freestanding islands double up as storage units as well as providing a surface to eat at. Cultural considerations should also be taken into account, particularly in the Middle East where it is not uncommon for traditional homes to have two kitchens.

The ISH Kitchen and Bath Show will take place at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre from May 13th to 15th.

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