When remodeling a kitchen, the tendency is to fill all the walls with cabinets and counters. Everyone wants more storage and work space, but there are other things that need to happen in a kitchen — in addition to storage and food preparation.

In the '70s and '80s, kitchens became “machines for cooking.” Lined with cabinets and counters, they resembled showrooms for kitchen cabinets. Full of straight lines and hard, gleaming surfaces, this type of kitchen demanded constant cleaning and straightening up. Now the children of baby boomers are growing older and there is no longer the need to clean up baby food or constantly prepare meals. Although some homeowners prefer the minimalist kitchen, most families tend to use the space as a hub of activity — for dining, homework, watching TV, paying bills, and just plain interaction with one another.

The Kitchen Living Space
Dick Kawalek The Kitchen Living Space

Designers have noticed this trend and are starting to treat the kitchen more like a home and less like a showroom — decorating with furnishings and design features that befit an important room of the house. Here are some ideas for avoiding the “storage-box” kitchen:

  • Incorporate design elements that bring in a more homey feeling such as box beams, moldings, and actual light fixtures (instead of holes in the ceiling).
  • Reflect the history and interests of the family with artwork and family artifacts, such as grandma's hutch.
  • Pantry closets provide for a larger and better array of storage than bunches of cabinets alone. Avoid the impression that someone sold you as many cabinets as they could fit in the room.
  • Add comfortable sitting areas as well as spots for casual perching and chatting.
  • Use a variety of counter surfaces — some are best for food prep, others are better for homework or just hanging out with a cup of coffee.
  • The cabinets don't all have to be the same type or color — or even have to match for that matter.
  • The Cabinet Showroom Kitchen
    Dick Kawalek The Cabinet Showroom Kitchen

    Keep in mind that kitchens are not just for showing off cabinets — they really contribute to making a house a home. —Dick Kawalek, a registered architect for more than 30 years, is founder of Kawalek Architects, Cleveland. E-mail him at rck@rktekt.com.