Let’s get this out of the way right up front: I’m a marketing guy, not a kitchen designer. More importantly, I’m a husband and father, and from that perspective, this bit of reflection might be something to help distinguish you as a designer from “those other guys” on your next opportunity.
A central trend in kitchen design has been the expansion of the room — both literally and figuratively — from a place to simply prepare meals into a family gathering area. Often this has meant annexing adjacent space, and many a dining room has made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of family-oriented kitchen expansion.
When we remodeled some nine years ago, our kitchen grew by taking over a small adjacent family/play room. That allowed us to adopt an open floor plan and to incorporate a computer area where my son, to this day, does his homework and uses Facebook. In the main part of the kitchen, we added an island where the four of us can eat … sitting in a row, all facing the opposite wall. As we intended, the kitchen/family area has become the hub of our home.
The dining room, however, remained. Primarily this was because we have a lovely suite of furniture handed down through the family; it also just worked better to use the other space in our case. But the moment the new kitchen was complete, the island became our favorite eating spot, and the dining room became — and I say this as the father of two redheads — the proverbial redheaded stepchild. We’ve eaten there perhaps three times a year since, and it is by far the most underutilized space in the house.
Something very interesting has happened of late, however, and in our case, at least, it’s a call for the preservation of the dining room. Our kids, now a senior and a freshman in high school, have never been what you’d call chatterboxes … dinnertime “conversation” is often akin to extracting molars. But the past few times we’ve eaten in the dining room — in a circle so we can see one another, and with all computers and other tech distractions out of sight — the difference has been startling. We have had some of the best conversations I can remember. And where the kids are usually in a big hurry to get back to whatever they were doing, now they linger a bit and chat. Needless to say, we’re using the room more often.
This is perhaps a long way to a short point, but I recently walked away from dinner thinking this: If I were a kitchen designer or a salesperson working with a young family on a renovation plan, I would make it a point to incorporate some “face-to-face space.” In other words, don’t be so focused on getting the work triangle right that the family circle is ignored. If space doesn’t permit an island with seating on opposite sides, maybe that means preserving the dining room.
Because here’s the thing that parents with young children might not realize: As children become teenagers, the demands on their schedules — sports, musical activities, part-time jobs — become such that the evenings when all the seats at the dinner table are filled are few and far between. Empty Nest Syndrome looms on the horizon, and as a parent you realize that the opportunities to be together as a family are in fact finite and not to be wasted sitting shoulder to shoulder.
Make sure your designs maintain some “face-to-face space” — and if that space is away from electronic distractions, so much the better. It may take years before your clients can appreciate this design decision, but they will thank you.
With two decades of marketing and sales leadership experience in remodeling, Jim Rafferty is now principal of JMRketing, which makes that experience available — and affordable — to companies in the home improvement industry and beyond. Contact him at jim@JMRketing.com.