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In-demand kitchens
Large spaces and functionality are top requests for the hub of the home

By JOANN PETASCHNICK

 

In addition to being the place where meals are prepared, todayís kitchens are entertainment centers and family gathering places.


A couple of generations ago, American kitchens were large and busy places where mothers and daughters baked and families gathered. In the decades that followed, kitchens diminished in size and living rooms grew larger with the advent of television and convenience foods. Now, the kitchen is once again the headquarters of many American households, and people are looking for increased space, high-tech appliances and integration with the rest of the house. These "super kitchens" may be the showplaces in a home, but they are required to function as the hub for more activities than ever before.

In the zone

The square footage and number of work stations for cooking, planning and socializing are on the rise. One increasingly popular area is a "family organization zone," says Molly Madsen, owner of AB&K Design in Greenfield and Mequon. "Itís a place people can coordinate the family activities. Weíll install a small desk and take the center out of a cabinet and replace it with a bulletin board or chalk board," she explains. This area might also include a space and wiring for a computer or laptop. "We can also create a place for mail so it isnít piled up on the table or the counter."

A charging station for cellular phones, portable stereos, and laptops is an important component in new kitchens. "Most households have cell phones and lots of other electronic devices like PDAs, laptops and iPods that need charging. We place the outlets inside a cabinet so the cords are not dangling everywhere and everyone knows where to find them, too," Madsen says.

Kitchens are also likely to include multiple food preparation zones. For example, some customers are asking for a "baking zone," according to John Draves, a designer with Wisconsin Kitchen Mart in Milwaukee. "We can install a marble counter for making and kneading dough and special drawers for large mixers and baking equipment," he explains. A "cooking zone" might include a cook top, microwave, heat lamps, ovens and an extra sink.

While the laundry room has traditionally been in the same vicinity as the kitchen, some homeowners are bringing it into the kitchen. "You can fit a stackable washer and dryer behind a cabinet door. Itís much more convenient," Madsen says.

Pets are important members of many families and some customers are incorporating pet zones in their remodeling plans. "Sometimes homeowners will ask for a special feeding station for their dog or cat. We can create a niche where the petís dishes can be tucked under a cabinet," Madsen says.

Kitchen islands serve myriad functions, from 
breakfast bar to homework central to party hub.


Socializing

"The kitchen has become the social center where everyone wants to hang out," according to Kevin Schmidt, owner of Dream Kitchens in Delafield. "In older homes, we are often taking two or three rooms and combining them into one big room. People are spending much more time at home, preparing meals instead of just taking something off the shelf, so they want the right equipment," he says.

"Almost every client who has their kitchen remodeled will tell us that whenever they entertain, people seem to end up in the kitchen," says Madsen. "We try to design space that gives clients the ability to socialize with their friends and family, but still allows them the room they need to prepare a meal," she says. A "conversation counter" can work as a place where people can interact between rooms.

High-end cooking

Draves notes that many customers are looking for better and more efficient appliances in their kitchens. Food preparation areas have grown due to an increase in the number of cooks and a greater interest in cooking.

"People are doing more cooking and entertaining. They are looking for appliances that can do more," Draves says. Some clients are using commercially adapted ranges that are like restaurant stoves and ovens, but much safer for use at home. For ultra high speed cooking and baking, the TurboChef Speed Cook Oven is a revolutionary new oven that gives new meaning to the term "fast food." "These are three to four times faster than a convection oven. You can roast a 12-pound turkey in 45 minutes, and itís perfectly golden brown," he says.

Mission control

In many homes, the kitchen is now the control center for all of the electronic gizmos and gadgets that control the television, stereo, home theater and more. "Wherever you have a TV, stereo components, surround sound and DVD players, you have a lot of remote control devices. Now, we can put all of that wiring into one control panel. Very often, people want that control panel in the kitchen," Schmidt says. "We can even put the controls for the thermostat and the lights on that same panel and it can all be hidden in a cabinet," he adds.

Storage

Remember the kitchen pantry? An increasing number of clients are asking for walk-in pantries and prep kitchens, says Schmidt. "The pantry is one of the most highly requested features in a new kitchen," he says. These pantries have more storage options, and many are now featuring specialty items like wine storage.

Going green

Customers have been energy conscious for some time, buying Energy Star appliances that are more efficient, Madsen says. They are also becoming more aware of being environmentally friendly, Draves says. "Our clients are buying cabinetry and flooring made from renewable resources. For example, youíll see more bamboo flooring and cabinets made of Liptus wood, which is a South American wood that grows very quickly. We try to make those options available," he says.

"Our clients are looking for a way to incorporate more living into the kitchen, and we are looking for unique ways to accommodate them," Draves says. "The best part of our job is listening to our clientsí wants and needs and trying to make it all fit." Madsen agrees. "Our primary goal is to create a space that works for the family, whatever their lifestyle happens to be."