Nizam Ali, co-owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington landmark, spends his workdays in an industrial-style commercial kitchen. You might think that he would want to replicate that style at the home he shares with his wife, Jyotika Vazirani, and their 11-year old son in the District, but their home kitchen has a nearly opposite style.
“I wanted our kitchen at home to be a break from work,” says Ali. “At home, my wife and I love to cook together, although she usually takes the lead in finding new recipes to try. People might be surprised that while we have a modern kitchen in most ways, the focal point is this elaborately detailed black-and-brass La Cornue-brand French range.”
Men — even those who are not professionals — increasingly are spending equal time in the kitchen as women and, in many cases, are the main chef at home.
According to a 2012 University of Michigan study, GenX men (born between 1961 and 1981) cook an average of about eight meals a week, much more often than their fathers did and nearly as often as women. As a result, men are as likely as women to drive the design decisions in new kitchens.
The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) says some of the design trends associated with men in the kitchen include more contemporary styles, such as flat-front cabinetry, bolder colors, contrasting-color palettes and upgraded appliances. Men spend about 30 percent more than women on appliances, according to NKBA research.
Designers say that a decade ago husbands weren’t as involved as much in decisions about kitchen design, and one partner would often make most of the choices. Now, they say, both partners often collaborate on design choices, each with their own priorities.
“Most of the men we work with favor industrial-style ranges, but Nizam was interested in emphasizing the homey feel of their kitchen,” says Megan Padilla, senior designer with Aidan Design in Silver Spring, Md. “The range he and his wife chose is like a piece of jewelry with brass fittings and a custom-designed hood that matches the cabinetry.”
Ali says one appealing aspect of the La Cornue range is that it has a “French plate” that provides indirect heat.
“It’s just another tool to make our cooking even better,” he says. “I’m still a fan of high BTUs, but that doesn’t have to be in a stainless-steel industrial-looking appliance.”
Like many couples, Ali and Vazirani enjoy cooking together, so they needed plenty of counter space as well as efficient storage.
“The kitchen isn’t that big, so we like it to look clutter-free and have built-in cabinets that go all the way to the counter to hide things like blenders and juicers,” says Ali. “We added stainless-steel shelving in one corner for a modern look.”
Ali’s favorite aspect of the kitchen is the light quartz countertop (called “Sea Pearl”) that extends up the walls. Padilla says that extending the quartz up the wall adds drama to the space.
“It used to be that the husband would attend early meetings about a kitchen remodel and be tough on the numbers, but otherwise the wife would take charge,” says Nadia Subaran, co-founder of Aidan Design. “That’s really changed dramatically the last few years, and now in many cases the husband is the main cook and decision-maker.”
Subaran says that while it sounds stereotypical to assume that men like gadgets, she asserts that in many cases men are pushing for larger and more high-tech appliances and are willing to spend more for those items.
“Almost everyone, including both men and women, are influenced by what they see on TV,” says Blue Arnold, principal of Kitchens by Request in Jarrettsville, Md. “I have clients who reference specific cooking shows and the kitchens they see on shows like ‘House Hunters.’ ”
Arnold says a difference he sees between his male and female clients is that men want “experiential cooking like Bobby Flay, with big and bold kitchens and big and bold cooking that blends outdoor and indoor cooking techniques.”
Arnold says men like things such as six-inch thick chopping blocks and a special pizza oven and want to know how many BTUs the broiler has.
“For one couple I worked with, the husband wanted the kitchen to be like a showplace where his wife and their guests can watch him cook when they are entertaining,” says Arnold. “He wanted an island with seating for his guests, a butcher block section and a wire-scraped granite section and a glass-front fridge like he has seen on TV.”
Arnold says many of his male clients like to connect their indoor kitchen with French doors to the deck so they can cook indoors and outdoors simultaneously.
“A lot of couples now want two or more sinks because they are cooking together,” says Arnold.
Homeowner Ryan Hastings and his husband Michael McCray worked with Jennifer Bouchard, a designer with Stuart Kitchens in Bethesda, Md., to remodel the kitchen of their home in North Potomac, Md. Hastings said his priority was to find a way to have an open kitchen yet hide his messy cooking habits.
“The best thing Jennifer found for us was this sink that is absolute magic,” says Hastings. “It’s a deep stainless-steel sink that has a lip with removable wood and plastic so that I can use it as a cutting board and sweep everything directly into the disposal. The sink has a ledge where I can put things to rinse out and a holder for knives and a touchless faucet so everything is clean and sanitized.”
Bouchard said she worked with Hastings and McCray to customize the space.
“In Ryan and Michael’s kitchen, Ryan was emphatic about the sink and about creating a baking center with a cabinet with pocket doors to access a huge mixer,” says Bouchard. “Michael was much more specific about the colors and wanted to avoid an all-white kitchen, so they chose gray-stained cherry wood cabinets, a white Moroccan lantern tile backsplash and blue walls. His priority was to have a glass-front cabinet to display his grandmother’s china. They both wanted a special space to place their dog’s dishes so they are accessible but out of the way.”
Michael Merschat, an architect at Wentworth in Chevy Chase, Md., says some of his client couples collaborate on their kitchen because both partners like to cook or bake, while in others the husband does all the cooking and makes the design decisions, too. He says in both scenarios men tend to emphasize high-end upgraded appliances as the driving force for the remodel.
“When I worked with Susan and Greg Reaman on their Penn Quarter condo, they collaborated on the design and both wanted a very modern space,” says Merschat. “But Greg was the one to push for higher-end appliances and to go bolder and even more modern.”
The Reamans’ priorities were to accentuate the ceiling height and connect their kitchen with the living and dining area, so Merschat extended the range hood and tile backsplash to the ceiling and designed the space for efficiency.
“We wanted a sleek, modern, minimalist look,” says Greg Reaman. “It’s a relatively small space, so we needed it to function well. But we also wanted it to have architectural appeal because it’s part of an open great room.”
The kitchen was designed with a large peninsula that could fit six bar stools for their guests, systematically organized storage space including covered storage solutions for Greg’s cooking gadgets and extra workspace near the range. Susan Reaman says the couple picked out design elements together, such as the quartz countertop, but that her husband, who loves to cook, focused as well on choosing high-end “but not ultra-high-end” appliances.
At another of Merschat’s kitchen remodel projects just about to begin construction, the wife is driving style choices such as the fixtures, counters and tile backsplash, while the husband is focused on storing items he uses to cook such as small appliances, minimizing clutter and adding a microwave drawer instead of an oven to keep it out of the upper cabinets.
“It used to be that men just let their wives make all the decisions about the kitchen, but now everyone has a strong opinion, which definitely correlates with men cooking more than in the past,” says Bouchard. “As designers, we have to find a balance, a way to pull together the desires of each partner and have a give-and-take.”