Kitchen Realities – Take One . . .

by Maurice Levitch, AIA

With the holidays almost over, I recall and evaluate the past year in many ways. It is easiest, however, to look back a few weeks to the many times we entertained this month – more than we had in any recent year. From having a group of four families over, to my fraternity brothers after the Big Game, to hosting our company holiday party, I had an opportunity to see how my home worked under pressure.

From preparing a gourmet meal at home, to ordering in lots of pizza for the guys, to bringing in catered food for a Mexican fiesta, the Kitchen was always where things were happening. Having an “L” shaped, 12’ x 24’ Kitchen with a chopping block island, separate eating area and a high ceiling, with access to the yard, Family Room, and Dining Room helps a lot. The traffic signal on the wall at the apex of the ceiling makes for instant party lighting and is always a hit with kids who can use individual toggle switches to play with the different color combinations. I prefer the combination of red and yellow to set the mood. My wife says the flashing yellow gives her a headache.

While our Kitchen is not technically located in the center of the home, it is pretty darn close and used as though it is. It has a direct or very close connection to all rooms except the Living Room, which is separated from the Kitchen by the Dining Room. Between floors a single stairwell open to the Kitchen leads up to the sleeping area or down to the workshop/play area at the walk-in Basement level.

I can’t help but think of the Kitchen as a hub and how, when designed as such, it adds so much to life. Last night I dreamed that we had moved recently and were living in a very nice home but much closer to an elevated freeway. As I lay in my dream bed looking out and up from my window I was trying to notice how much vibration from the freeway above I could actually feel. I did feel some but was surprised how little (maybe we were having another earthquake!). Then I was noticing how close the freeway column was to our wall (inches) and wondered if the column footing extended below our home – probably not.

That night our friends who joined us, by chance, for Chinese food at our neighborhood restaurant (it was the only restaurant open Christmas evening – maybe you were there too!) told us they were looking to move to Berkeley from Oakland so that 1) their kids could attend Berkeley High, and 2) because she had never liked their current home. This may explain my dream – or maybe not.

I thought about their Kitchen and recalled many good times with friends at their home: a parallel counter (Pullman style) kitchen with a small peninsula at one end and a separate eating area with a connection to the yard. Walk through one doorway and you’re in the hall, or another doorway and you’re in the Dining Room, then through another and you’re in the Living Room. If you’re not getting food from the eating area table or peninsula and chatting in the Kitchen you’re trying to squeeze in at the Dining Room table; otherwise you are out on the patio (usually freezing) or in the Living Room visiting and watching the kids play. A while back they had asked me to design a more open connection between the Kitchen, Dining and Living Rooms – which I did but they never implemented. I wonder (aside from the school preference) if she would have been more comfortable staying there had they completed this work.

One thing I know is that I had more beer left over than hard liquor after my fraternity brothers’ visit, no beer after the company party (no hard liquor provided but great leftovers to bring to a jobsite the next day), and a lot of soda left over from all functions, which my wife wants me to take to work immediately so the kids stop asking for it.

Seriously though, year round, the Kitchen plays a major role on the stage of life. While there are many ways to design and live in a Kitchen, we as designers and builders need to show our clients the available possibilities, even those they may never have imagined. Go beyond the walls, cabinet, appliance and countertop selections and see how the Kitchen relates to the rest of the home and site. While there are always limitations, turn constraints into opportunities to create the client’s dream so they never have to wake up in one under the freeway.

This article was originally published in the February 2007 issue of Builder/Architect magazine and updated in August 2018.