Sociability is the key principle of good kitchen design, recognising what cooking and food do for us, bringing us together for pleasure and nurture. In the past the kitchen was a workplace, a dirty one too when coal was the main fuel, and definitely not a place to linger. Now it’s a living space where people gather to chat, snack, use media and cook creatively when they feel like it. The multipurpose nature of the kitchen is set to only grow as more and more of us work from home and live multi-generationally. These trends will also increase the time we spend in the kitchen, both day and night.
From my 40 years of creating new types of comfortable kitchens through the use of human-centred ergonomics, I have learned that the planning of a kitchen should begin not by choosing units or colours or equipment but by identifying potential sight lines between kitchen users to foster eye contact. The cook(s) should have a view of the table, window and entrance door and a serving spot or perching bar. Conversation does not work when your back is turned.
It is fundamental too, of course, that the layouts support practical tasks with dedicated work surfaces for well-organised cooking and cleaning up. No space should be wasted, circulation around the kitchen further facilitated by the avoidance of sharp corners through design of curved furniture. The addition of perching places in sometimes unusual spots contributes to a friendly kitchen feel.
Central islands are now more or less compulsory in larger kitchens. While islands can be an effective way to turn our bodies towards the centre of the room, these tend to be over-scaled, their solid block-like cabinetry giving users of the room a hemmed-in sense. These days I prefer the alternative of a series of interlinked working tables.
People like being able to organise activities at different heights, a range of shapes and materials creates interest, and there is a sensation of light being able to travel through the room. Those with smaller kitchens might choose a circular peninsula about 1m in diameter: from this you can see into the room while preparing food.
Using freestanding function-dedicated furniture and judging countertop length accurately leave space for a sofa or dresser. The furnished room that results creates a feeling of comfort and ease. Keeping at least two corners free of built-in furniture adds to this effect, as does the use of colour and pattern.
“For 40 years I have been creating new types of comfortable kitchens through the use of human-centred ergonomics.”
Combining cabinetry with an accent wall in a rich hue works particularly well. Some vintage pieces and open shelves for kitchen objects including pots and pans are also great creators of atmosphere. Fresh fruit displayed in bowls becomes a set of still lifes in the round sending out signals of pleasure.
I am currently designing multi-generational kitchens that welcome users of any age and ability. Here adjustable-height worksurfaces with, for example, three work stations, allow different generations to cook alongside each other. The kitchens of the future are shaping up to be kinder, more accommodating places than their predecessors—and even more important to the home than they are already.
Johnny, who takes inspiration from his late aunt and legendary cookery writer Elizabeth David is Visiting Professor of Design and Kitchen Culture at Bucks New University and design ambassador to the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and works on student design challenge programme for the Royal Society of Art. Via Johnny Grey Studios he also works on bespoke kitchens around the world using innovative designs and the best of British craftsmanship and project management.