Kitchens that Cook The task: Take an existing kitchen and make it more usable, more beautiful, and more conducive to the homeowners' lifestyle. The designers of the three projects that follow offer practical solutions that address the functional requirements of a kitchen.

By Nina Patel

Designer: Richard Forbes, Absolute Kitchens, McLean, Va.; Size: 182 square feet; Cost: $435 per square foot ($79,000)

One of the major problems designers see in kitchens is poor circulation. Richard Forbes says older homes and kitchens are not equipped for the entertaining today's homeowners like to do.

Adequate aisle width is important in creating a comfortable kitchen. Forbes says the ideal width is 42 inches, but anything between 36 and 48 inches is acceptable. Though aisles that are too narrow are a common issue, extra-wide aisles in a large, spread-out floor plan can be a problem, too. "For some large kitchens, you need to put on a pair of roller skates to get from one side to the other," Forbes says. For these kitchens, he creates a "kitchen within a kitchen" by setting up several workstations.

Another important element is to create a place for guests. "If you don't, they will be standing in front of a drawer that you need to reach," Forbes says. Some kitchens have only one entry and exit, so cooks find themselves trapped by their guests. "Give them two ways in or out so they don't interfere with the circulation and flow," he says.

The best kitchen designs meet the objectives of the client and reflect their personality and style, Forbes says. "It has to be useful, but if you can make it useful and attractive, it's a win-win situation," he says.

The project: The kitchen in this 1940s house had been remodeled in the 1970s. At that time, a bump out was added to enlarge the kitchen, but the design was closed in and made cooking in it a dark and uncomfortable experience. The homeowners wanted to make the room feel larger and make it more pleasant to work in.

They especially disliked the cooktop hood over the island, which made them feel trapped. Designer Robert Forbes agreed. "It blocked visual distance and made the room feel smaller," he says. Another request was for better circulation and flow. Forbes had to fit all these requests into a small space.

Problem 1: The center range hood cramped the kitchen.

Solution: Forbes not only removed the center hood but he moved the cooktop to the opposite counter and installed a new, attractive stainless steel vent hood. The compact unit does not jut out into the aisle.

Problem 2: The entire kitchen was dark.

Solution: This problem required multiple steps to solve. First, Forbes replaced the double windows on one wall with a triple window, choosing window muntins that matched the profiles in the glass doors of the cabinetry.

Next, Forbes modified the side wall, which had a single window and a door that lead to a dark vestibule. Forbes knocked out the two walls of the exterior vestibule and installed three-panel French doors. "Now the wall has 9 feet of glass," he says. "That really opens it up." He also replaced a double hung window above the sink. "These are notoriously difficult to open with your arms outstretched, so I put a casement there," he says.

The clients thought they wanted to cover up the existing skylights because they didn't like how the openings looked and didn't think they added light to the kitchen. "The vent cut off light from the skylights and cast a shadow over the oven area," Forbes says. He chose to leave the skylights. Removing the hood fixed this problem, and replacing the trim around the skylights made the openings look less busy.

Problem 3: The existing kitchen had a chase along the ceiling that held all the electrical. Once that was removed, Forbes needed to find a way to run the wiring across the kitchen.

Solution: The chase was next to the hood, so it added to the barrier effect that cut off the light. Forbes says finding a way to run the wiring after removing the chase was the biggest technical challenge of the project. Because the kitchen is on a concrete slab, he had to carve out the slab and fit the wire into the grooves.

The original kitchen had a vent hood over the island that blocked light and made cooking a dismal experience. Designer Richard Forbes removed the hood, added a row of triple windows, and enlarged the island for a more practical and open space.

Photo: Bob Narod

Problem 4: The flow around the kitchen was inefficient.

Solution: The original island measured 2 by 4 feet. By increasing the size of the island to 3 by 6 feet and repositioning it, Forbes created better flow. On the cook's side, he pushed the island away from the line of cabinets, which increased the aisle width from 36 inches to 42 inches.

The longer island also acts as a barrier that takes guests out of the cooking area. A circular overhang on the guest side provides a surface around which guests can sit or stand.

The new refrigerator is smaller than the old one, but it is in the same place, so guests can access it without interfering with the work triangle. According to Forbes, a refrigerator is the most democratic appliance in the kitchen. "Everyone uses it, so place it at the edge of the cook's working area," he says.

Problem 5: Installing new appliances required new wiring.

Solution: Forbes wanted to add high-end ovens and a microwave, but they each needed a dedicated circuit and he didn't want to max out the panel. Instead, he chose to use a single Thermador unit that has an oven, microwave, and warming drawer. "We did not want to cut a hole in the floor," Forbes recalls. This way, "we didn't have to run so many dedicated circuits for it and use up all the circuits in the panel box."

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