The Return of the Eat In Kitchen
October 15, 2013
It seems everything comes full circle in design, and another place we’re seeing it happening is in the heart of the kitchen. Decades ago, the eat in kitchen with the dining table set in the middle of the space was commonplace, but over time and with our desire for more storage, it was replaced in many kitchens by an island.
In kitchen design we’re gravitating toward a more open feel, evidenced by the replacement of upper cabinets with bistro style shelving in many a remodel. Now it seems the weightier island is getting some serious competition from the lighter leggier table.
We rented a small furnished house while we renovated our home seven years ago and while we lived there we enjoyed its eat in kitchen. It had a pedestal table partnered with a trio of chairs (plus a high chair at the time!). It was small but it was perfect for us, we only needed to take a few steps to place the meal to the table instead of the back and forth into a separate dining space. It was cozy, casual, and it worked.
While we rented, we used the adjacent room which was “supposed to be” a formal dining room as a home office/playroom instead. We kept the toys and the laptop in that same spot away from the kitchen and the setup worked perfectly for how we were living with tiny tots.
How true is it that when we entertain everyone ends up in the kitchen? It’s the hub and where all the action is happening, so placing a dining table in the center of the space invites everyone to “come on in”. Benches and a rustic table lend a casual air where food and conversation take priority over formality.
Acknowledging that the kitchen truly is a gathering space is much of the rationale behind the dine in kitchen. Kids can pull out their homework while a parent preps the meal, or guests can sit and relax or help chop vegetables while they visit with the cook. The chairs are comfortable, the table multitasks.
My memories of good conversation come from a gathering of friends or family members around casual food in the kitchen. We had an impromptu party with a few friends on Saturday and I had not gone grocery shopping in preparation. It didn’t matter, a few pantry staples and a some vegetables from the fridge were pulled out, a store bought cheese pizza became the foundation for a more gourmet version enhanced with garden tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and a quick snip of basil from a pot in the window. Wines were opened, conversation was shared, and all the pleasantness took place right there in the kitchen.
What’s happened over the past few decades in many American subdivisions is that kitchens are designed in a predictable U or L shape with barstools that fit up under an island or peninsula. Not that there is anything wrong with that approach, in fact it’s a formula that makes perfect sense and provides what many believe is the best of both worlds, a surface that serves as one for prep, serve, and snack. Because let’s face it, people simply love being near the food!
The eat in kitchen is common abroad and in city living where apartments are smaller. Tucking a small dining space inside or just off the kitchen fits the floor plan and also suits the lifestyle of the dwellers.
But the eat in kitchen is not just a “small space” option, rather designers are opting to place a table instead of an island in the center of the kitchen to keep the focus on the dining experience rather than the extras storage while the amount of prep surface remains the same. Which is interesting…
… because as aesthetically pleasing as it is, there’s that “rule” that kitchen designers cite time and again, and it’s the necessity of a “work triangle” – that shape that aims for maximum efficiency by the sink, stovetop, and refrigerator being connected in an invisible triangle. In some spaces with a table in the middle, the work triangle might be interrupted. Should we ignore it in exchange for the pleasures of casual dining in the kitchen? Is it better that efficiency takes a backseat to comfort?
There’s also the concern of all the chairs, if and when they don’t get pushed back in. In a kitchen space without a lot of clearance around the table, do multiple chairs get in the way. Also in a dine in kitchen you’re sitting right next to what could be a sink full of pots and pans (unless you’re the “clean as you go” type – my husband is, I am not!). Can you relax and enjoy the space in those circumstances?
In our current kitchen, we have an island that houses an oven and extra storage all while providing a work surface, and I do like having a separate prep surface for only cooking. Off the island is a small peninsula with seating which allows friends or the kids to have a meal in the kitchen but away from the island, and that set up works best for how we live right now, but I’m open to the idea of switching that up in a future home.
Ultimately for all of us it comes down to what we can afford and the way we prefer to live. Budget and square footage permitting, what would be your choice?
Do you opt for the storage and prep surface provided by an island or peninsula with bar stools? Do you prefer a separate breakfast nook off to the side? Would you or do you live with an eat in kitchen with a dining table centered inside the cook’s prep space?