The Essential Kitchen

Contemporary kitchen with islandThe evolution of the modern kitchen has grown far from its primary function of food preparation, to that of “the social center of the home”. A place where the family, both nuclear as well as tribal, still gather to share, rejuvenate and commune together.

Today the kitchen is still the gathering place of the tribe, but the walls have come down and this once hidden and secluded place is now part of a larger social arena. It serves as a meeting place, a dining room, a home office, a place to do homework; it can even serve as a hide-away for quite reflection, or a place to gather for fun and entertainment.

Today, the kitchen has become a place that defines the home and those that live within it. This once private domain of the feminine world has now given way to the new social order and reflects the world that we live in.  Today we find that everyone is welcome in the kitchen. More and more family members and friends are invited, if not encouraged, to participate in the ritual of preparation.

And with this increased activity and additional bodies in a high-traffic ballet of fire, boiling water and sharp pointy things . . . we find that the assembly-line kitchen of the past with its uniform horizon of sink, dishwasher, cook-top, oven and refrigerator, forever locked in its limited one-person “work-triangle” must give way to a new way of thinking.

In our recent past, the collective thought of modern kitchen design was to create the “illusion of order.” This was accomplished by hiding the true function of the kitchen. By hiding the food, the waste, the appliances and the process, we create the illusion of productivity and efficiency. In the new school of thought, the belief is that the kitchen must be efficient to be productive, an environment that is conducive to the task at hand. It is about changing the way we think about this space we call “kitchen” and our individual relationships to it.

It’s about creating an environment that allows us to experience new ideas and to rediscover aspects of our lives that have been lost in the daily rush of life.

This new approach is to think first about the fundamental aspects of the kitchen, what we want from it and how this space can be utilized to its full potential. We must view this space as a whole and understand the relevance and position of every item and detail in it, from the largest stew pot to the tiniest teaspoon.

In the past the appliances dictated the form and flow of the kitchen, the sink under the window, the dishwasher to the right or left of the sink, the cook-top with its 12 inches on either side, the double oven that is used only for holidays and special occasions and the refrigerator, this monolith of modern technology that dominates the space.  Today, we must place the individual or individuals and the task first and then the appliance and the space needed to fulfill the task. With a variety of people and activities, we must create a fluid, interactive, multi-functional arena, where tools and materials are close at hand and within a given task boundary.

The kitchen, in its new domestic role, finds itself reflecting a family style based on the sharing of traditional roles and function. The living area embraces the kitchen where food is prepared, people talk, homework is finished and guests are entertained.

Today’s kitchen is open to the rest of the home, and as such, the kitchen now must function on several levels, from food preparation to social interaction, from entertainment center to living-room. More furniture, than cupboards, the modern kitchen blends seamlessly into the living areas of the home, successfully achieving the delicate balance between form and function. Summary…when the kitchen is not acting as a kitchen, it must be furniture.

Simple and clean, open and inviting, the exclusion of all things extraneous, this is the foundation the Essential Kitchen. A kitchen without boundaries or barriers, a kitchen free from conventional thought and restrictions, a kitchen created to reflect the individual.


*The elimination of all things extraneous
*Simple and clean, open and inviting
*A kitchen without boundaries or barriers
*A kitchen created to reflect the individual.
*A multifunctional arena
*Open to the rest of the home
*Achieving a the delicate balance between form and function
*When not a kitchen, the space must take on the appearance of furniture.
*Everyone is welcomed in the kitchen
*The essential kitchen must be efficient to be productive
*An environment that is conducive to the task at hand
*Place the individual at the center and then address the task at hand.
*Create a fluid, interactive, multi-functional arena
*Seek harmony and balance to define the whole.
*The essential kitchen is centered on the duality of purpose and space.

Designer, writer and speaker, Kevin Henry has been a “thought-leader” to the kitchen industry for over 30 years and is sought out for his views and observations regarding market trends and industry direction. His blog, The Essential Kitchen, is followed world-wide by both consumers as well as industry and media leaders. Kevin is invited to speak internationally on a wide range of topics, including luxury branding, sustainable kitchen design and market trends. Mr Henry has been behind the success of such iconic brands as Snaidero, Poliform/Varenna, Küppersbusch, ALNO and DACOR in North America. Today, Kevin is the Director of Business + Product Development for VINOTEMP, a leading manufacturer of architectural wine solutions.

1 Comment on this Post

  1. Diana Kempton

    Excellent article and great rules to guide us in kitchen design. I love kitchens open to the family room, but not to the formal dining room. Some people never use one/don’t have one, but others entertain for business purposes, and even have a chef come in to prepare dinner parties. I always ask what sort of entertaining the client does to see if the kitchen CAN be wide open to the living area, or if privacy of dining is important for times of non-family entertaining. Often, the added butler’s pantry helps to buffer the open kitchen from a formal dining area, and that’s a room that can be off the kitchen and not impact the open feel of a kitchen as lovely as the one in your photo.


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