Predictions made during any decade of the 20th century regarding the kitchen of the new millennium invariably involved a hefty dose of futuristic edginess, largely based on the idea that high-tech inventions would be the focal point of all our living spaces. Now that the new millennium has not only arrived but is solidly in place, it can truthfully be said that the 21st-century kitchen is much more complex than anyone had imagined in how it fulfills homeowners' needs.

The kitchen includes an eating bar.  Shelves are cleverly created by inserting glass panels into wall slats. The effect maintains the crisp appearance of the space.
The kitchen includes an eating bar. Shelves are cleverly created by inserting glass panels into wall slats. The effect maintains the crisp appearance of the space.

GRAND CENTRAL STATION The kitchen has become the focal point of communication with family and friends, from everyday socializing and mealtimes to entertaining. This has influenced the shape of the 21st-century kitchen: No longer a square room cut off from dining and living areas, the kitchen today can morph into a variety of shapes and is more often than not open and adjacent to the dining area and family room.

The traditional runs of uniform cabinetry and countertops have been replaced by the now-standard technique of juxtaposing varied elements: combining multiple cabinet heights, door and wood styles, and door-front cabinets with open shelving, as well as including more than one countertop material.

Kitchens are designed to be versatile enough to accommodate cooking for every scale of gathering, from preparing meals for a small family to feeding dozens of guests. And, in line with providing this level of versatility, the kitchen has become larger, so much so that the idea of the “work triangle” has transformed into a series of “work zones,” with space and equipment organized to accommodate segments of the mealtime process: food preparation, cooking, baking, and cleanup.

A kitchen with two sinks, two dishwashers, a refrigerator/ freezer and additional refrigerated drawers or a mini-refrigerator, a wine cooler, and multiple ovens, in addition to a range or cook-top is now common in upscale homes. Islands are often equipped with eating bars and appliances for easy entertaining.

The kitchen, which is open to adjacent living areas, can be concealed behind movable wood-slatted panels.
The kitchen, which is open to adjacent living areas, can be concealed behind movable wood-slatted panels.

CLEAN-LINED STYLES Although “traditional” is still the preferred kitchen style in U.S. homes today, there have been changes in the look and makeup of U.S. kitchens since the turn of the current century. Clean lines and clutter-free spaces impart a sense of order and calm, which is attractive to today's busy homeowners. So the percentage of clients opting for contemporary or transitional spaces is on the rise.

There are other motivations at work here as well. At the high end, consumers are more sophisticated, well-traveled, and better educated than ever. Their attitudes toward design have broadened, and acceptance of the eclectic use of design elements has become commonplace.

There is a streamlined “international style” taking hold in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. — a common language of modern design that steers clear of the stark, sterile components of Euro kitchens that migrated to the U.S. a decade ago.

Instead, international style embraces the art of mixing materials — juxtaposing warm and rough elements with cool and smooth — to maintain visual interest while promoting the beauty of well-proportioned lines.

REAL-LIFE KITCHENS In these two examples of 21st-century kitchen installations, one carries the concept of entertaining to the extreme by enveloping the cook in a modern circular workspace; the other updates the all-white kitchen, incorporating a plethora of appliances while maintaining streamlined good looks.