What?s a Kitchen to Do? Hub of Your Homes

Humble or deluxe, the home’s heart is always the hearth - the kitchen.

By By Carole Eichen, ASID, MIRM | April 27, 2000
As president and chief design strategist for Carole Eichen Interiors, Inc. (CEI) in Santa Ana, Calif., Carole Eichen is credited with introducing "believable" model homes with accompanying sales offices that offer an array of lifestyle choices based on differing buyer demographic profiles. "Interior merchandising," as Eichen terms it, now has become accepted as a housing industry marketing discipline. Over the past three decades, Eichen has been recognized with numerous sales, marketing and design awards, as well as many other industry honors on a state, regional and national level.


Humble or deluxe, the home’s heart is always the hearth - the kitchen. For some time, our buyers have been re-defining kitchens as a stage for many activities beyond food storage, preparation and serving. Design is catching up to this new truth, and builders who pay close attention are builders who will keep an edge in their markets.

The kitchen is our anchor. Here, we plan, stage and carry out count-less activities. Cooking is still a principal focus, but the kitchen is more than "the food place". With family time at a premium, the kitchen is the gathering place.

Both ardent cooks and convenience fans thus demand more ways to maximize this hub space, more ease of use and more flexibility. Builders who understand the value of a well done (no pun, I promise!) kitchen will stay ahead of the game. Five points to consider.


Couple smart merchandising - like highlighting wok cooking - with real options such as offering an optional range with higher temperatures.


Multiple Personalities: Formal living and dining rooms keep shrinking. The great room concept stays popular because of its flexibility. True flexibility acknowledges that all is temporary.

Flexibility acknowledges more than one way of doing things. Wok kitchens, for example, are popular in markets with Asian-Americans. Many others are just as fond of wok cooking: vegetarians are among them.

Tucked into a corner as a semi-retreat, yet connected to the hub, desks for computers and paperwork are great. Here we’ll find family members e-mailing, downloading recipes, making travel arrangements, ordering groceries, working on school projects; the list is endless.


Spatial cues come center stage as an island workstation and wrap-around countertop work double-duty,offering both function and unobtrusive space definition. An island provides space for eating and food preparation, while also giving guests a spot to chat with the cook.


Once a high-end exclusive, islands are now for all price ranges. They make a value statement, and they work, creating extra prep space and a snack bar.

Efficiency: The harder our kitchens work, the more ingenious the ways for allotting and saving spaces need to be. Built-ins should improve function and create the "Wow!" response. Think: retractable computer tables/desk tops; pigeon-hole cabinetry; dishwasher drawers (capable of independent or one-unit roles) and a chopping block drawer.

We’re finding better ways to store things over and under countertops, not on them. We may see more battery operated appliances, with fewer wall outlets. Cabinet shelves that pull out, corner units that swing out and flexible configurations accommodate all types of storage. Cabinet organization systems will be as common as those for closets.

All of these elements are geared to simplifying a complicated world. Durability and ease of use should complement clever solutions. Remember, nothing is quite so stylish as flawless function.

Choices: In a world with proliferating choices, position yourself as the builder who has truly thought about the opportunities that you make available. You will stand out if your standards and options address real world needs and preferences - as opposed to simply throwing more, more, more at the buyer.

Possibilities should be based on known preferences, gleaned from reliable research. Separate work spaces, each with double sinks, may be highly desirable in larger kitchens. Compact kitchens can emulate bygone eras of luxurious efficiency - think Pullman suites, a ship’s galley. Find innovative ways to arrange, stow and access essentials.

Show advanced choices, such as convection and halogen light ovens. Stay on top of product research, and marry it with market data to give yourself an edge. Explore ways to allow for more self-expression. Everyone wants space that feels like "them," and that means individualizing potential.

All That Jazz: Michael Graves designs home accessories for Target. We must take heed of what this signifies - high design is accessible and in demand. At any price, buyers are less likely to okay the humdrum, yesterday or tacky. Incorporate real design.

Consider color. Make nuts and bolts less visible - seamless counter tops, concealed hinges and the look of a melded whole make your kitchen memorable.

Look for great appliance design, especially lines that offer cabinetry paneling, streamlined built-ins and functional twists, such as a solo wine cooler or a warming drawer. Or be the first to offer the retractable pot-filling tap that attaches to the wall behind your range tops.

The Basics: In every space of the home, these are the proof of your design pudding. In the kitchen, they are critical. If this space doesn’t work, the entire house suffers, and buyers are checking.

Glamour means nothing if traffic paths are inconvenient, if loading the dishwasher means a cramped dance, if the island promises bar seating but the overhang is too short. Your buyers are savvy and thorough. They will check distance from the fridge to the nook table. They will imagine themselves eating, relaxing and entertaining - so functional details had better be right.

Bottom line? Work for light, livable space that provides all the necessities for good cooking and a pleasing area to enjoy the results. But not just that - provide space for all the non-eating related activities that take place there, too. Achieve this gracious statement of style, taste and function with beautifully coordinated elements, streamlined space planning and thorough attention to color, craftsmanship and the union of form and function.

This place we call the kitchen is truly a life space. In life space, everyday tasks are sources of pleasure, with design that encourages buyers to say, "We’re home, and we’re very, very happy to be here."


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