Kitchens – the home’s nerve centre revisited

Shoreham Shack Kitchen by Sally Draper Architects

Shoreham Shack Kitchen by Sally Draper Architects, Photo Credit: James Greer

Kitchens have ‘morphed’ over the decades. In Victorian times, kitchens were tucked at the back of a house or below ground level. In the 1950s, kitchens became more of a focal point, with housewives (now a politically incorrect term) keen to show off their latest appliances, from the new fridge to the mix-master, the latter proudly on display on the shiny laminate benches. Fast-forward to the present and the kitchen is the hub of a house, often located between the living areas and outdoor deck.

“Increasingly, the kitchen is seen as THE key social space for family and friends,” says architect Sally Draper. “Given its rise in the house, there has to be a strong connection to the internal spaces and the garden,” she adds.

Given the kitchen’s position in the home’s hierarchy of spaces, its form has taken a number of paths in recent years. There is according to Draper, the ‘functional components, which include cooking, preparation and washing’, which has been delegated to the butler’s kitchen, a secondary space. “We find that many people want these functions to be out of view. We’re also seeing more people wanting these functions to be integral to the kitchen itself, where the process of preparing the dinner is on display to family and guests,” says Draper. Other trends, such as a ‘row of stools along an island bench’ might feature in magazines, like a ‘bus shelter’ according to Draper. “Increasingly, we’re seeing more of a table arrangement where the dining table is an extension of the island bench, often in a different material, such as timber,” she says.

Barwon Head House by Sally Draper Architects

Barwon Head House by Sally Draper Architects, Photo Credit: Trevor Mein

Whether a kitchen is open to view or partially segmented by a butler’s kitchen, a move away from a more minimal and streamlined kitchen is slowly being replaced with a more ‘layered’ ambience. Open shelves, with appliances, objects and artifacts, are combined with cooking books. “There was a period where everything in a kitchen had to be concealed, including the fridge. It makes it a lot easier to have open shelves and have everything at arm’s reach,” says Draper, who also sees a richer and more diverse palette of materials and finishes being used in kitchens.

Changes in kitchens often coincide with work patterns. “People are working longer hours and need kitchens that work efficiently, as well as performing on a variety of levels, whether it’s entertaining friends or catching up on work emails,” says Draper, who sees the kitchen as becoming more ‘blurred’ as people move towards working flexible hours. Other features are seen as fashion driven. The German ‘Thermomix’, for example, a large blending device, is regularly on people’s ‘wish-lists’. Other items, such as the insinkerator, are now seen as passé, and not considered environmentally friendly.

Prahran House by David luck Architecture

Prahran House by David luck Architecture, Photo Credit: Shania Shegedyn

Architect David Luck also sees the centralised kitchen remaining at the core of a house for some time yet. Given its use for entertaining, rather than in formal living areas as was once the case, the kitchen needs to be treated as with other habitable rooms. “If I’m designing a kitchen that’s not adjacent to a garden or terrace, it often features a lightwell, filled with plants,” says Luck. “You need to be connected to natural light, and preferably have a garden outlook,” he adds.

Luck recently inspected a house where the owner was struggling to find a buyer. It had been renovated and came with all the latest appliances. ‘The problem with that kitchen was that it was isolated from the living areas and the garden. It almost had a Victorian feel in spite of all the mod cons,” says Luck.

Grass House by David Luck Architecture

Grass House by David Luck Architecture, Photo Credit Peter Hyatt

Luck has also seen a move away from cupboards that are difficult to reach, particularly for shorter or older people. The amount of bench space has also increased in recent years. “I’m designing kitchens with almost 50 per cent more bench space that I did 10 years ago,” says Luck, who also sees a closer merger between the kitchen and the dining room. “The dining table is sometimes an extension of the island bench,” he says.

Fewer materials has also become a hallmark in more recent kitchens, particularly those designed by Luck. In one kitchen, he used black laminate on the benches as well as on the floor. And to create a seamless connection to the terrace, Luck stained the timber boards black. “The kitchen and terrace ‘reads’ as one, with a second kitchen built on the terrace. It’s not about fragmenting the kitchen any more, but making it merge with the living areas,” says Luck, who can see a time in the future where cooking appliances form part of a dining table. “It will feel quite primordial.”

Architect Sally Draper can be contacted on 9486 6606 or at sallydraperarchitects.com.au
Architect David Luck can be contacted on 9867 7509 or at davidluckarchitecture.com.au

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About the Author: Stephen Crafti

Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990s and is a regular contributor to DesignBUILD. Inspired by the architecture around him in Melbourne, Australia, he was keen to share the things he saw, whether buildings, furniture, fashion or other stunning pieces of contemporary design. After many years of writing about his favourite things, and with numerous books and articles behind him, Crafti still delights in discovering and promoting exhilarating design. He is a regular contributor to several Australian newspapers and local and international design magazines.