Architectural design is a combination of art and science. Put
more simply, it's about how things look and how they work. Many
view design as largely subjective, but when it's done well it
can be broken down into realistic, objective directives. These
deal not only with aesthetics — form — but also
with function, especially for kitchens.
In my experience, designing a well-working kitchen has much
more to do with understanding specifically how the users will
work in that space than with applying basic kitchen design
principles like the "work triangle." Kitchen design guidelines
are just that: They indicate a certain way a problem can be
solved. If a guideline goes against the user's work habits,
following it will result in poor design.
Recently I was hired to take a look at a home a general
contractor was building for a couple who were first-time
buyers. The new owners wished to make some changes to the
partially completed kitchen, but they were a bit frustrated,
not knowing exactly what they wanted done. Looking at the
plans, I realized there were some design flaws that could be
corrected. And after interviewing the couple about how they
planned to use the kitchen, I realized that some design
elements should be added.
It was obvious the owners planned to use the kitchen as one of
the main areas of the house, not only for cooking daily meals
but also for "cooking as entertaining" and experimenting with
cooking as a hobby. While these uses are not particularly
unique, they are specific enough to provide some design cues.
For example, for both cooking daily meals and cooking as a
hobby, proximity to food storage should be high on the list.
And cooking as entertaining — having guests watch as the
chef works — involves a certain showmanship, which might
influence the choice of cabinets, appliances, and
Also, the owners made it clear, without being specific, that
they would like some innovative features in the design. Clearly
they were hoping for a well-thought-out centerpiece
The Existing Plan
The owners had requested a laundry and a toilet somewhere
near the kitchen area of the house. The builder had obviously
had some difficulty finding a place to locate these rooms, so
he'd decided to put them directly adjacent to and opening into
the kitchen — an awkward arrangement. Since there should
never be a direct visual relationship between the toilet room
and areas used for food preparation, eating, or entertaining, I
began by addressing this problem.
Option 1: Keep the Bathroom
With the budget foremost in mind, I presented the owners
with my first option: keeping the toilet room but reconfiguring
the space by using a stackable washer/dryer so that the door
could be moved. I also added a work counter for the laundry
with storage above and below.
Option 2: Add a Pantry
A second option, moving in the direction I believed they
wanted to go, was to keep the door as built but change the room
into a pantry, thus adding to the "working" qualities of the
design. I was happy that the couple chose the pantry option; we
relocated the toilet room to another part of the
Finally, I nudged the design toward the "show kitchen"
concept. Unfortunately, the builder's package already included
the cabinets, so I had to make selections within that product
line. We did have a choice in appliances, though, and went with
the Electrolux Icon Professional Series. These high-quality
appliances have generated interest and conversation about the
I also took advantage of the kitchen's generous size by adding
a peninsula with a cooktop and seating; here guests can hang
out and watch the cook prepare meals and try out new
Thomas Lesko is a registered architect in
Hingham, Mass. He teaches at the Wentworth Institute of
Technology in Boston.