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Family Kitchens

Cambria quartz countertops in a modern kitchen.

Engineered stone counters (quartz) from Cambria offer stone durability and concrete style, without the maintenance hassles of either.

So many of the kitchens I design are for families with active children or teens. Some include grandparents who now live with the parents and kids. Some also include pets. I love designing these projects, as I know that my success in making them both sensible and stylish will lead to years of happy use.

The sensible component means that the kitchen will fit:

  • how the family will really use the space on a daily basis;
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  • the home's architecture, especially when we're tearing down walls to open it to great rooms and dining areas;
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  • the home's value, so that if they move in the near future, they will maximize their investment in the kitchen project;
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  • prevailing neighborhood standards (also for maximum resale consideration).
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The style component gives them a look that they'll enjoy for years to come as well. It won't be fad-driven, but updated in a way that reflects the homeowners' long-held preferences. If prevailing neighborhood standards dictate integrated appliances, I'll recommend that option to the client. If every other home in the neighborhood has stone countertops, I'll suggest that for maximum resale, should they decide to move in five or seven years.

The most important consideration, I believe, is designing the kitchen to how that family uses the space on a daily basis. That means creating storage that accommodates their everyday cookware, serveware and meal ingredients.

 

Material Matters

Sensible Style kitchen planning means guiding my clients in selecting materials that will stand up to daily use with a maintenance level that makes sense for their lifestyle. Here's a typical example. Granite is a very popular countertop material for its unparallelled natural beauty, heat and scratch resistance — as well as its historically high resale value — but many homeowners fail to take into account its porosity.

When clients have young children or a house that's the popular teen hangout and tell me that they want granite countertops, I let them know that granite will need to be sealed periodically, and what the recommended schedule is for the stone they like. I also warn them that certain spills — e.g., orange or tomato juice — that go unnoticed for busy hours can stain granite, even eating through a sealer. I will typically suggest an easier-to-maintain quartz or engineered stone counter for this household. I also like this material's long warranties.

  

A modern kitchen with a Kerlite porcelain tile floor.

Kerlite, used most often in commercial settings, is a stylish, durable porcelain tile that works for busy home kitchens, too.

 

 

Flooring is another key material selection. Travertine became a very popular choice for high-end kitchens, but it's not my recommendation for a busy family household. One, it's a natural material that needs to be kept sealed. Two, it's very hard underfoot, which can make lengthy meal preparation painful to the cook's feet, legs, hips and back. Three, when wet it becomes a slip hazard. And kitchen floors, especially with young kids, can get wet pretty often. For any grandparents in the home, that can be a broken hip waiting to happen!

For a family kitchen, I like a distressed-look wood or porcelain tile, especially through-body color, for hiding chips and rectified for minimum grout lines. With regard to grout, I learned from my own previous kitchen to avoid white; it shows every morsel that ever drops on it! For hard floors like tile and wood, I also recommend a cushioned mat in front of the sink and cooktop.

 

Space Case

As I mentioned, designing a family kitchen involves strategic space planning. This includes figuring out how to allocate food storage. Will a standard 36 inches wide freestanding refrigerator meet the family's needs? If we're upgrading to a sleeker, countertop-depth model, do we need to go to a 42- or 48-inch model? Would separate fridge and freezer units make more sense, given their flexible sizing options?

Each family is going to have different needs, of course, but I wouldn't want to put a family of four in less than 25 cubic feet of fridge/freezer capacity. I also wouldn't want to give them less than 36 inches of pantry space, with roll-out trays for easier access.

Supplemental fridge drawers on an island can be a boon for a busy family. It can be a good spot for putting kids' treats within their reach, and saving on energy bills while they deliberate on their afternoon snack.

 

Sub-Zero-fridge-drawers

A single or double refrigerator drawer, like this one from Sub-Zero, is great for easy kid access and supplemental food storage.

 

 

Safety Counts

If I'm putting a slide-in range or cooktop into an island or peninsula plan, I like to have an absolute minimum of 12 inches left and right of it. I don't want a running child or excited pet to knock over a hot pot by bumping into the handle. I also like to have at least 15 inches behind the cooking surface if there will be counter-height seating on the other side, 12 inches for bar-height seating.

My recommendation to clients with aging parents, forgetful teens and young children is to consider an induction cooktop or range. Induction will give cooks the performance level of gas without the hazards. It's energy efficient, easy maintenance, and safer to use. Only the area under and immediately next to the pot or pan gets hot, and once the pot or pan is removed, the magnetic-generated heat goes away.

 

A Wolf microwave drawer placed at waist height, next to a kitchen counter.

A microwave drawer, such as this one by Wolf,

 

 

I'm not a fan of over-the-range microwaves, as I consider them both unsightly and potentially unsafe. This is particularly true for petite clients, children, older clients who may have less upper-body strength, and clients with gas stovetop burners. It's so easy to hurt yourself on a front burner when reaching up into a microwave.

Whenever space allows, I like to move the microwave to a more comfortable height, near counter space for unloading. Microwave drawers on islands are great for older kids in the house. They can heat up their own snacks and meals and not be in the way of the cook, who may be preparing dinner while the child does homework nearby.

Eat-at islands have become very popular in recent years. I recommend against them, except when I can locate the seating on the non-working side of the kitchen. I don't like to seat anyone between an island and cooking surface for safety reasons. I also prefer not to seat them between the island and a prep or clean-up station, so that they aren't accidentally bumping a nearby person with a knife in his or her hand.

If there are grandparents in the household, I like to plan seating at table height, rather than a 42-inch bar height or 36-inch counter height. It's awkward for an older person to climb onto a stool and impossible for some disabled people.

If there are pets in the house, I like to designate a feeding area for them away from the cooking, prep and human eating zones. They're less likely to be tripped on that way, or trip up someone carrying a hot item to the table.

 

What's the one must-have item in every family kitchen? Find the answer and other tips by reading more about Family Kitchens at Jamie's own blog, Gold Notes.

 

Kitchen and bath designer Jamie Goldberg

 © 2011, Jamie Goldberg, AKBD, CAPS. Excerpted from Gold Notes: Nuggets from the World of Residential Design. Jamie is an NKBA-certified designer of kitchens and baths in San Diego, CA, and offers Sensible Style for Home Seller consultations around the country. She can be reached at (619) 796-2217 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

 

 

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