By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Creating a comfortable, welcoming kitchen can be an expensive undertaking, but it does not have to be. British kitchen designer Johnny Grey says the need for an unfitted kitchen -- one that does not rely on lots of built-in cabinets -- is particularly keen in tough economic times.
His most striking, pragmatic kitchen designs create an easy flow, often with a variety of shapes and natural materials.
"It's about assembling an authentic spirit of home around you," he says. "The core idea of using [your own] free-standing furniture and enjoying cooking are in line with the new zeitgeist."
Grey has championed the cause since 1980, when an interview with him in the Sunday Times of London launched his design career. He was inspired by the kitchen of his aunt, the food writer Elizabeth David. She cooked in a space filled with free-standing cupboards, open plate racks on the walls, surfaces of varying heights for different tasks and utensils that hung on pegboard.
This was all out of step with America's perimeter-bound, streamlined kitchens of the 1950s and '60s. Grey called his aunt's kitchen "highly atmospheric"; it looked like a heavenly jumble to unfitted-kitchen aficionados who saw the photos of it in his 1994 and 1997 books on kitchen design.
If you are able to alter the physical makeup of your kitchen, consider these do's and don'ts from Grey:
Storage. A mix-and-match style of separate pieces can create a more relaxed room. By limiting built-in cabinetry, you can use wall space for artwork. You can repurpose furniture you own and/or add pieces as you can afford them; start with an island that has cooking facilities and a sink cabinet. Shelves are less expensive than cabinets, and they are decorative and allow for easy, immediate access. They work best for items that are washed regularly, to avoid buildup of dust and dirt. Pots and pans can be stacked on open shelves that afford greater access and more space than storing them in drawers or pullout shelves of lower cabinets.
For knives, vertical storage sunk into a countertop or butcher block is safer and kinder to the utensils than storing them on magnetic rods or in thick blocks.
Countertops. It seems counterintuitive, but too much footage creates unnecessarily long distances and low-key confusion. By limiting the amount of countertop space, you have room for something more social, such as a window, sofa or large table. Smaller, dedicated work areas (one task per area) help the cook get organized.
As for materials, Grey says colored granite is on the way out, trendwise; matte black granite is in, as is CaesarStone, an inert composite made of granite dust or marble dust.
The "work triangle." It's an overly simplistic approach, Grey says. The trinity of sink, refrigerator and stove do not necessarily apply when curves are introduced in the design, or when work areas and storage areas are carefully situated and planned around the room.
Varying surface heights. Raising the dishwasher 14 inches off the floor is kinder on the user's back and reduces distances for putting dishes away (especially if they are in nearby plate racks on the wall or in drawers next to the dishwasher). When the dishwasher height is raised, that naturally creates a higher surface that can be used for display or for storing breakable items.
Lower surfaces allow access for children and are more ergonomic when using appliances such as mixers and food processors.
Small second sinks. "Utterly useless," Grey says. If you have the room, install a standard-size sink and designate it for one use, such as vegetable prep or dish cleanup.