Fit for a chef

Today’s residential kitchens make cooking comfortable and efficient—and create a central gathering space that homeowners can enjoy.

The majority of kitchen designer Georgia Economakis’s clients say that the kitchen is the most important room in their home.

“I probably hear that about 80 to 90% of the time,” she said. “Even from people who hardly do any cooking.”

When Economakis first started designing kitchens 20 years ago, the shift toward open-concept spaces had just begun—and there was still some resistance to it.

"Some people were for it. Some people were not. They were like, ‘I really like my formal living room and dining room space,'" she said.

But today, those rooms are becoming less popular. Instead, homeowners are opting for designs that allow them to socialize, entertain and cook in one seamless environment that facilitates free movement and interaction.

In response to this shift, many kitchens have become more open. And the epitome of the modern-day kitchen is the chef-inspired kitchen, which combines thoughtful layouts and restaurant-grade features to create the optimal space for cooking, hosting company and simply appreciating being at home.

“Chef-inspired kitchens are super functional, as well as comfortable, so you enjoy the time that you're spending there,” said chef and restaurateur Spike Mendelsohn.

The
chef-inspired
kitchen

combines thoughtful layouts
and restaurant-grade features

Taking functionality to the next level


No two chef-inspired kitchens are the same, but just about every one has high-end appliances that make cooking more convenient with better end results. Top-of-the-line refrigerators are usually installed to ensure that food stays fresh, for instance, and gas ranges are often selected over electric, so home chefs have maximum control over their cooktops.

“Quality appliances are going to make a difference in the outcome of the food that you're making,” said Sandra Brannock, founder of Expert Kitchen Designs, a kitchen design firm serving the D.C. metro area.

Ovens are also carefully selected while designing a chef-inspired kitchen, said Mendelsohn. He designs kitchens for properties made by Van Metre Homes, and in them, he often includes “double-stacked ovens that are higher, so you're not constantly bending over to look at what's going on.”

And when it comes to pantries, chef-inspired kitchens are changing the game. Unlike the typical food closet found in a standard kitchen, chef-inspired pantries are walk-in spaces that can contain a second set of appliances, such as sinks and cooktops. There, home cooks can do everything from marinate a cut of meat to chop vegetables and cook the first few courses of a meal. Some people even opt to buy their refrigerators and freezers separately, and keep the freezer in the pantry, away from the main kitchen space, said Brannock.

The idea behind these pantries is to allow a homeowner to prepare food in a space that is distinct from the main kitchen area. This concept is inspired by the layout of a commercial kitchen, which has a “prep area” where food is cooked and an “execution area” where finishing touches are added, said Mendelsohn.

In addition to appliances and pantries, the physical layouts of chef-inspired kitchens are crucial. Most kitchen floor plans are centered around what is known as the “work triangle,” or the area of the kitchen where the majority of prepping and cooking takes place. The three points of the work triangle, according to Brannock, are the refrigerator, cooking station and prep sink.

“No single leg of the work triangle should be shorter than four feet or longer than nine feet, and you should have no obstruction within that triangle,” she said. For example, “you can't put the refrigerator on the other side of an island. That's considered a no-no.”

Even outside of that work triangle, the layout of a chef-inspired kitchen is designed to ensure efficiency and ease of movement through the space. Economakis, who is also the communications chair of the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Baltimore/Washington chapter, consults her clients before starting a project to learn about how many people live in their home and how they plan to use the kitchen. This helps her understand what items need to be most accessible and how much traffic the kitchen is likely to get, then coordinate the room accordingly.

While a full-fledged chef-inspired kitchen is nice to have, many homeowners don’t need every single state-of-the-art feature available; some may want the ergonomic design without the walk-in pantry, while others may be interested in top-notch appliances without a large, multifunctional island. The main goal of these kitchens is to give homeowners the cooking space they want, and kitchen designers and brands like Van Metre Homes can add and subtract features as needed.

“You can [mix and match] pieces of the chef-inspired kitchen and come up with something completely unique,” said Glenn Forester, Vice President of Marketing at Van Metre Homes.

The finishing touches
of a chef-inspired kitchen

On top of quality appliances and ergonomic layouts, Mendelsohn includes small,
sometimes unexpected touches in his kitchens that “inspire creativity” and help home chefs elevate their cooking and entertaining skills.

Here are some of the specialty features he likes to add to his kitchen designs:

Pantry-slash-prep kitchenOn top of storing food, they can be a space for tools like indoor grow gardens, prep sinks and separate dishwashers, all out of the view of the entertaining space.
Spices that are visibleWhen spices are laid out where they can be seen, they can offer inspiration during the cooking process and encourage creativity.
Two islandsOne of the islands can be a distinct space for guests to sit and relax, while the other can be an area for home chefs to put the finishing touches on a meal.
Double convection ovenHaving two ovens is essential to simultaneously preparing dishes that cook very differently—like needing to bake a cake and roast root vegetables at the same time.
In-kitchen barHaving the best features to prepare a beverage—like a display space for decanters or a wine cooler—makes it easier to craft a delicious drink pairing.
Drag to explore
Pantry-slash-prep kitchenOn top of storing food, they can be a space for tools like indoor grow gardens, prep sinks and separate dishwashers, all out of the view of the entertaining space.
Spices that are visibleWhen spices are laid out where they can be seen, they can offer inspiration during the cooking process and encourage creativity.
Two islandsOne of the islands can be a distinct space for guests to sit and relax, while the other can be an area for home chefs to put the finishing touches on a meal.
Double convection ovenHaving two ovens is essential to simultaneously preparing dishes that cook very differently—like needing to bake a cake and roast root vegetables at the same time.
In-kitchen barHaving the best features to prepare a beverage—like a display space for decanters or a wine cooler—makes it easier to craft a delicious drink pairing.
Pantry-slash-prep kitchenOn top of storing food, they can be a space for tools like indoor grow gardens, prep sinks and separate dishwashers, all out of the view of the entertaining space.
Spices that are visibleWhen spices are laid out where they can be seen, they can offer inspiration during the cooking process and encourage creativity.
Two islandsOne of the islands can be a distinct space for guests to sit and relax, while the other can be an area for home chefs to put the finishing touches on a meal.
Double convection ovenHaving two ovens is essential to simultaneously preparing dishes that cook very differently—like needing to bake a cake and roast root vegetables at the same time.
In-kitchen barHaving the best features to prepare a beverage—like a display space for decanters or a wine cooler—makes it easier to craft a delicious drink pairing.

Meeting the changing needs of homeowners


There are a number of reasons why chef-inspired kitchens are becoming more popular, but the biggest one is that Americans have become more interested in making food at home. Today, 82% of the meals that Americans eat are made from scratch, which is a significant increase from just 10 years ago.


"People have
become huge foodies,
whether it's because of food TV or food competition shows or celebrity chefs."- Spike Mendelsohn, Chief and Restaurateur

“People have become huge foodies, whether it’s because of food TV or food competition shows or celebrity chefs. It seems like everyone's always kind of talking about food in some sort of fashion,” said Mendelsohn.

He also noted that, as people have stayed home more in recent months, they’re buying more groceries and cooking for themselves. This, according to some experts, is behavior that will continue even after restaurants become accessible again. One survey found that since March 2020, 75% of home chefs have become more confident in the kitchen and 73% of them are enjoying the process of cooking more than they ever had.

And for those with a high-quality kitchen, it’s more likely that home cooking will become a go-to ritual as culinary skills improve. Or, as Brannock put it, “If you have a chef-inspired kitchen, you might start behaving more like a chef.”

Still, there are plenty of people who aren’t passionate home chefs who want a chef-inspired kitchen, because these kitchens aren’t exclusively about making meals. High-end kitchens can dramatically improve the property value of a home, said Economakis, and homeowners often make back the money they put into their kitchens (and then some.) An investment in stainless-steel appliances, for instance, has an average return of 141%.

Beyond improving property value, they also improve the value of time people are spending at home. These days, the average person is spending over 13 years in a single home, and they want to be able to savor the moments.

“The homeowner who wants a chef-inspired kitchen is somebody who views their home as their main place of enjoyment,” said Brannock.