Nancy’s welcomes back Jan Rutgers, a regular guest on this podcast. 

A little bit about Jan:

  • Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry.
  • She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one!
  • Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

This week we are going to explore the unfitted kitchen– 

The History

  • The Unfitted Kitchen evolved from the original Cooking Hearth 200 years ago
  • Cooks began to add items into the space to make storing and cooking more efficient
  • These included tables, shelves, hooks, and basket

What is it

  • A true unfitted kitchen is one where everything is free standing
  • It is furnished with individual items used for specific tasks
  • Items can be added as needed and arranged for different tasks
  • Canning and preserving of the fall harvest are a good example.
  • Tables would be brought into the space for better workflow during this busy season

Unfitted vs. Fitted

  • The invention of built-in cabinetry evolved the modern kitchen into what we call a Fitted Kitchen around the 1920-1930’s
  • All the elements in the kitchen are built-in or fitted to the space.
  • Indoor plumbing was part of this evolution
  • A main reason for the kitchen going from unfitted to fitted though was space.
  • Original kitchens were part of a large space so there was room to move things around
  • Single family homes began to be built and they were much smaller
  • A built-in solution was a much better use of space in small kitchens


Who is Johnny Grey

  • The UK Kitchen Designer Johnny Grey is the most famous designer employing modern unfitted kitchen concepts
  • He produces highly decorative one-of-a kind spaces for clients around the world.
  • His approach is one of individualizing every aspect of the kitchen to the homeowner.
  • Though his approach is called Unfitted, most of his units are attached to the walls or floors of the kitchen space.
  • He has written several books on the topic and I have read them all!
  • Books: The Art of Kitchen Design; Kitchen Culture; The Hardworking House

Unfitted Kitchen getting Popular

  • The Kitchen Industry is beginning to talk about the Unfitted Kitchen again because our kitchens have been getting larger and larger
  • Long expanses of built in cabinets can be boring and designers are looking for ways of making them more appealing.

Examples of the Unfitted Kitchen Elements

The Kitchen Island

  • The kitchen island evolved from the harvest table.
  • Originally a long narrow table was brought into the homesteader’s kitchen during the late summer/early fall harvest season
  • Its job was to provide a surface for prepping all the produce for preserving it
  • It became the center of the kitchen and ended up staying in the kitchen year-round.
  • It grew into what we now see as the contemporary kitchen island
  • The popularity of Modern Farmhouse Design has seen the return of the harvest table look with islands being produced with butcher block counters, turned legs and rustic details being included
  • Islands on casters in smaller spaces allow the cook to move the workstation to where it is needed. This unfitted island can work well in smaller kitchens
  • Antique butcher blocks have also been popping up in kitchens for many years. Designers may use them as the actual kitchen island or as a free-standing piece at the end of the island.

Larder Cabinets

  • Many contemporary kitchens have a built-in pantry cabinet included in the design.
  • The Larder is a variation on the built-in pantry.
  • It looks like a piece of furniture
  • A popular look is to have a 24” deep base 24” to 36” high with upper cabinet storage 15” to 18” deep sitting on top of it. The two units are separated by some type of countertop contrasting or matching the cabinet pieces
  • The larder is then accessories to store food stuffs including deep drawers, door shelves and pullouts.
  • The accessorizing of the larder works well for cooks that purchase one-of items because when opened up everything can be seen at a glance.
  • Often these units look as beautiful on the inside as the outside with stained wood interiors and even labels integrated into the drawer pulls
  • A true must have of a 1920’s kitchen was the hoosier cabinet.The idea built behind this popular cabinet was that a worker is only as efficient as her workplace. This cabinet was so much more than just a storage cabinet, it included storage, appliances and much more!

Hutch Cabinets

  • With great rooms the preferred style of most contemporary homes, the formal dining room china cabinet is morphing into a hutch to store everyday tableware
  • I have seen designs where a custom hutch is designed for the kitchen in a different cabinet door style and finish.
  • It often includes some type of glass doors
  • It still relates to the built-in kitchen but becomes its own focal point.
  • Some designers are even searching out antique furniture pieces to be included in their kitchen designs to store everyday dishes

Floating Shelves

  • Many people will think that floating shelves in the kitchen are a new phenomenon
  • Actually, these were the first form of storage added to kitchens centuries ago
  • A visit I made to Taliesin West in Arizona by the famed architect Frank Lloyd Write had floating shelves included in his kitchens more than 80 years ago.
  • Again, as our kitchens have gotten bigger and bigger open shelving has become more at home in the kitchen since long expanses of closed-door cabinets can become overwhelming.
  • Open shelves also contribute to a more communal kitchen. They have items that the cook’s helpers may need on display, so it is easy to have others come in and help out in the kitchen
  • The popularity of iron open shelves in kitchen design is another nod to the past we are seeing in contemporary spaces

Custom Hood

  • The custom hood that sits overtop of a pro-style range evokes the cooking hearth
  • These hoods have become focal points in modern kitchens
  • Designers have been using everything from metal to plaster to reclaimed wood when designing them
  • Since they “stand alone” they have a very unfitted look to them

Multiple countertop Heights and Surfaces

  • With more Kitchen Designers introducing Universal Design to their clients we are seeing multiple countertop heights and surfaces being planned into kitchens
  • This is an element that came from the unfitted kitchen
  • As cooks brought different furniture pieces into the kitchen, they would think about the task these units would help out with.
  • The marble top table for rolling out pastry is a good example. This unit would also typically be at a lower height to allow better leverage for kneading

Antique Pieces

  • To give a unique look to a kitchen another unfitted kitchen element many designers are embracing is the addition of furniture pieces into their kitchen designs
  • I have seen antique plate racks, angled wine holders and shelving units added into kitchen designs
  • Creative designers are also reinterpreting antique wardrobes into pantries
  • The original “Hoosier” cabinets are an all in one prep station that is a sought after pieces designers and consumers are looking to add into contemporary kitchens
  • Harvest tables and pastry tables are also great additions to today’s kitchen

 What to do with appliances in the unfitted kitchen

  • Panel the refrigerator(s) to look like pieces of furniture
  • Microwave can be put in cabinet – hoozier with lift door
  • DW & warm’g dwrs with panels to look like drawers
  • Ranges can look very old fashioned
  • Ovens, steam ovens ???


  • A completely unfitted kitchen is probably not a solution for most people
  • A fitted sink with plumbing hook ups is more desirable than lugging water from an outside well!
  • A combination of a fitted and unfitted kitchen is a design direction that is one worth exploring.

kitchen by the late Uruguayan architect Horacio Ravazzani.

This podcast sponsored by Premier Lighting
Dec 2, 2020

email questions to Nancy@NancyHugo.com