The Evolution of the Kitchen

Ever wonder why it took so long for people to enjoy the open lifestyle of today’s kitchens?  Well, in reality, it didn’t!  Sorry, our generation isn’t the first to enjoy open concept living.  Going waaaaay back, we can find evidence that the fire pit was the first notion of open concept living.  Everyone hung out there, cooked, and told stories perhaps.  Okay; post the Neanderthal age, early farmer’s resided open with the farm animals and early American settlers built one room log homes primarily out of the resources and time available, along with the economy of having one fire and the family in one place. While it is a stretch to think there is any correlation because of modern living, it really is about lifestyle. Some of these one room cabins were being constructed in the late 1800’s while the American Victorian era was in full bloom, creating parlors, dining rooms and servant quarters.

What creates bigger and longer trends really depends on what is happening in the times of the trend. We are still experiencing a long term trend of people staying home more.  That love for the security of home, and renovating to enjoy that more, is now being transferred to our post-great recession drive of “experience over quantity”.  For many families, that busy life is not going to get in our way of sharing time with our children and parents because of some of life’s speed bumps like extracurricular activities.  The most desired experience right now is the time with each other.

The first open concept in the modern architectural age came during a great time in our history post WWII.  Look at postmodern ranches in the 50’s with the floor plans of open kitchen and stools at the peninsula. They are extremely close to the plans we are drawing today.  

I was recently visiting my nephew and we went to Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear.  In the attached photo, the stove boasts 2 two types of fuel available, and features any modern housewife in the 20’s and 30’s would love to have.  On one of the little fact sheets is a card that claimed in this era, a house wife worked an average of 40 hours in the kitchen just preparing meals for the family! Maybe that is why the separate kitchen was popular at that time, Mom didn’t have time to talk!

Designing for Your Lifestyle

I was reading a recent poll that was published by a national trade magazine in which designers were asked a series of questions, with what I thought were disappointing statistics. For instance, 3 out of 4 designers surveyed for kitchen designs are using function before form [a design that fits a client’s living and cooking style]. Three out of four??? I think that means that 25% of design professionals are focusing on how something looks without regard to how you would actually use the space– unbelievable! Imagine a beautiful new kitchen that frustrates the end user because there isn’t anywhere to prep a salad. At least you know you have a 75% chance that your designer cares about how a space will be used, LOL. Even if you don’t cook, you may want your designer to know where you’d like to store the take-out and make it easy to clean-up

I believe that a good home, and kitchen, and laundry area, and every other built environment can be designed to work for your lifestyle and also be beautifully designed. Start with lifestyle and infuse ergonomics with a touch of feng shui. 

Your lifestyle is a really important factor in designing you a space and I love to have the conversation with people about their lives because I know that is one of the most important factors in good long term enjoyment of home. I am sure there are more parts to the make-up of “lifestyle” but I think it is knowing the daily routines of the family now while understanding where the family is heading. How old are the children and what type of interests do they have? Who and how many are cooking at home? What type of down time does the family have as a group? And also the true nature of the neighborhood and how they participate in it. One of hundreds of examples would be the difference in 2 families that love to ski; one family owns a ski home so they don’t have a need for easy access and storage for winter items because it will all be up north. The other family goes every other weekend for day trips and would welcome a solution for packing easier, and unpacking when they get home.

Ergonomics in a home environment is about blending the lifestyle with how you want to “be” in your home, as well as how you will move about. In a kitchen or bath, there are more mechanics about process of course. Good ergonomics in whole would allow the occupants to have the space they need when it is time to get together (dining, talking and relaxing), and when they need space (homework, working from home, or reading while the children trash the basement). Two sets of stairs can aide in this if the home is long and linear- especially if the stair isn’t in the center. But two stairs too close to each other can actually impede on ergonomics if the space used has more value than saving a few steps.

Feng Shui is an ancient form of [tongue in cheek] lifestyle meets religion that has a lot of great information about how architecture should cohabitate with nature, and the people using it. Literally translates as “wind-water” according to Wikipedia. One example of good feng shui in a home design that you can move through your home the way a river would run with least resistance, aka:”ergonomics”. With interior design, it is bad feng shui to open a front door, and be able to immediately see the back door. They refer to this as an avenue for your spirit to leave, and offer a solution of placing rice below a red matt to keep your spirit from leaving. I believe the real translation would be that upon entering home, one should feel first embraced by it, and allowed to take in “home” before moving on. If you have ever enjoyed the seat in the corner of a room where you can see everything around you, that is known as the Tiger position. The opposite feeling would be present if a room was oriented with seating facing away from where others are gathering, with no connection or ability to know what is happening behind you. Many of you know why you have your bed facing a certain direction now, and who sleeps closer to the door :)

Peninsula with bad flow                     Before:  Kitchen in Dover had a bad layout for this family’s lifestyle; having to walk around the peninsula through the kitchen to get to the lower level

Kitchen layout with dining

After: Our Dover kitchen remodel changed the layout and moved the staircase, so you no longer have to walk through the kitchen work zone to get to the lower level

Online Shopping for Your Renovation

Shopping online has certainly come a long way. From a design/build perspective, I remember all the brick and mortar fixture and furnishing retailers trying to adapt to online competition. The pros and cons were different then; however, it was really a battle of better service at retail pricing vs. discounted pricing with questionable service policies. A lot has changed in the online environment, and so I thought I would blog about the current use of web orders and what I think works and doesn’t work.

First, there are brand positions that would regulate where the best deal is coming from. One of the hardware lines we sell in house is Top Knobs. They are what I believe is the best value in kitchen and bath hardware with middle to upper middle quality and a policy that no vendor can discount more than 25%. That brand policy makes it a no brainer to by direct from us since the shipping will be the same or less, and we are the direct contact for the purchase. If it needs to be returned, we return it, if something needs service, just call us. When looking certain national brands that you know what you are going to buy, it is easy to price compare- and if it is a porcelain toilet- you probably don’t want to risk getting a cracked one to save $5. Most vendors are sensitive to online pricing and today, there isn’t as big a savings in the end.

Quality can be difficult to understand with certain products because of the image you see online. Lighting is a big challenge for this reason and it isn’t uncommon for a client to return items that looked great in the photo only to receive something that is manufactured poorly or wasn’t accurately depicted. Like other brand items, I know I can expect good quality if I order a Quoizel light online, but I may still want to have it bundled with all the lighting selected from a local retailer since we can get better contractor pricing that keeps the costs in the same as online, with the service we want. The photo below is some hardware recently received that a client ordered online- this was really poor quality- the back of the pull and the knob were hollow. Even though this was going in a space where it didn’t need to be a luxury product, we found a solid knob and pull for the space that ended up costing less.

​​To be fair, online shopping has become a much better experience, I order most of my clothing online to avoid having to go to the store, and if I don’t like it- they have an easy to return process from almost every place I order. If you order a light from Restoration Hardware and don’t like it, they will take it back no questions asked. My first recommendation when buying fixtures and finishes for your renovation is to visit the local retailer, and use the computer for information gathering. If you can’t make it to the store, consult your design professional and let them help with what they know are good and dependable online vendors.

Hollow Drawer Pull

The New Addition is Great! What Now?

So, you are all moved into your new kitchen and the company that did the job talked to you about how to get those warranty cards into the manufacturers, and mentioned what would need adjustments. But who needs to worry about all that, you have a new renovation to enjoy!! That can be done later after the first few meals are cooked or you finally get to enjoy that long hot bath in the new tub. Then, all of a sudden you wish you had a list of all those things to help with what needs to be done, and that well-tuned company isn’t there anymore to help…….GUILTY!

Wellesley Kitchen Renovation; days after completion

Just recently our staff recognized that a final walkthrough meeting and a “90 days post completion” follow up call wasn’t good enough. So we put a checklist together for our clients to bring to that follow up meeting; and we will also keep a record of it for them. Without boring you with a checklist, here are a few of the things that you should keep in mind after your project is complete: 

1. Stone and tile care and maintenance will depend on what product you have. Natural stone like Limestone or Marble needs to be re-sealed regularly (every 6-12 months depending on how soft or porous). Porcelain tiles need nothing at all, unless you didn’t use a high quality grout that self-seals- then that should be sealed annually. Be careful not to purchase metal toilet brush containers that are left on the floor- they will rust if they’re steel and leave a mark that is practically impossible to remove. A caulking is used at all the joints to allow for settling and expansions where a tile backsplash meets the counter, or the shower walls meet the shower floor. This will usually show signs of separation in the 90 day window, and should be re-done-but should only need annual maintenance at the most.
2. Warranties on the manufactured goods are important for obvious reasons. If a manufacturer asks for a purchase date, I recommend also including an install date. If there is a problem with any of the manufactured products in the project, the builder isn’t responsible for the warranty, but can likely help if there is a dispute about the install vs. purchase dates. It is common for appliances to be purchased in advance of a project completion, and you should expect the warranty period to start when you move in. In other cases, a reputable contractor with good purchasing power can advocate on your behalf if something isn’t being taken care of. If you have a number of warranty issues with something, it may be reasonable to receive an extended warranty or demand a replacement.
3. Heating and cooling systems may have been upgraded or modified for your project. I think one of the most important items is getting familiar with the new thermostat…. Yes, that programmable thingy. You could be living more comfortably for less expense if you set that up and also use less energy. There are some other items that require different maintenance- like filter changes if you converted or added warm air heating.
4. Not the last item, just the last for this discussion. Those new appliances with convection microwaves or induction, or updated features in general will offer time saving and improved cooking, and there are services available to have someone come teach you, or shortcuts in the manual for speed pre-heating. I have a few clients that actually learned how to use their speed oven, and now only go to their conventional oven for bigger tasks such as the bake sale or a holiday meal- don’t wait to start saving time and add convenience!

Not to worry if you don’t have a checklist, it is OK to call the builder to get answers to any questions that come up. Happy Remodeling! 

Fireplace Makeovers for a Transitional Generation

You may have a natural brick fireplace like the ones pictured below, or at least may have seen one or two. We are seeing more of them as the 1970’s and 80’s homes they are in become due for improvements. We are often asked what we can do with them, and the answer is that there are endless amounts of ways to re-adorn this gathering spot. I thought I would show you 2 ideas that demonstrate what a little paint can do as well as a more tailored way to dress a raised brick hearth.

The first before and after is a recently completed makeover in Dover, MA. The client had a couple of inspiration photos, and she really liked one that had a more up to date honed stone surround with simple lines. Because her fireplace had a raised hearth, we had the stone fabricator make the base as monolithic as possible instead of a more traditional layering with the hearth top hanging over. Because they also wanted a TV above, we had to frame out the wall above to allow space for wiring.

                                   

The second idea was part of a major kitchen renovation in Sherborn, MA that we completed a few years back. We removed the wall between the kitchen and family room and installed a kitchen that leaned more contemporary than the brick fireplace in the existing family room. We suggested a deeper tone paint to allow the fireplace to remain a focal point and also offer a nice textural, sophisticated and simple accent against the wall.