The kitchen is a home's hot spot. But a kitchen's design trends aren't trendy when its composition and construction are dictated by how people really live, says Jonas Carnemark, whose eponymous design-build firm is based in Bethesda, Maryland.
"The self-isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic has placed a magnifying lens on home design, especially in the kitchen," says the 33-year certified kitchen designer, as designated by The National Kitchen and Bath Association. "The kitchen isn't just a place where people prepare and eat food. It's the heart and hub of a home, where everyone gathers before and after meals, too."
The NKBA's "Living Impacts Design" research was released during the first quarter of 2020, and highlights consumers' kitchen inclinations based on more than 750 completed industry surveys. Influential changes to kitchen design include: plans for aging in place; homeowners' need to escape from a chaotic world; a desire to live with less; and more people working from home, according to the report.
"When designing kitchens, people want an open, minimalistic space in which many can gather, and yet have a space that feels cozy and calming," Carnemark says. "The NKBA research highlights and objectifies trends we've been seeing in the kitchen, such as quality builds in terms of sustainability and functionality."
Designing kitchens that really cook on all levels is a necessity in today's home.
Whether the cook is on-the-go, with little time for meal prep, or a more health-conscious experimental epicure with the desire to prepare fresh foods, the kitchen is now accommodating many styles and skill levels.
"The kitchen is the natural place in the home to gather, and as a result, people want to feel connected -- both to each other and the world at large," Carnemark says. "People want literal access to the outside world and nature from their kitchen or digitally, through electronic devices."
The first step to more connected kitchen living is tearing down walls. A formal, separate dining room has been tabled in favor of incorporating many types of seating as the kitchen area occupies more square footage.
Today's kitchen has a living area outfitted with sofa, stuffed chairs and a big-screen television that is wired for movie marathons, big game day gatherings and Zoom calls. In this space -- which can include a bar area and fireplace -- families can chill out and lounge around in a comfortable atmosphere with easy access to the kitchen and food.
A kitchen that also encourages outdoor living is the environment many homeowners desire. The installation of sliding doors from the larger kitchen area to an outdoor patio encourages gatherings to spill outside.
With an open floor-plan kitchen design, everything is on display, so it's important to keep the space clutter-free. Carnemark relies on his Scandinavian sensibilities when designing kitchens that have both form and function.
"Americans are desiring a minimalistic style design aesthetic in their homes, whether you're borrowing inspiration from the German Bauhaus movement or the Japanese wabi-sabi philosophy," he says. "The idea is to fill your house with experiences and people, not possessions."
Invest in high-quality building materials and craftsmanship, so less time is spent fixing or replacing broken items in the kitchen. Cabinets, countertops and backsplashes with clean lines are easier to wipe down. Customized storage for everything from servingware to spices means there's a place for everything, and everything is put back in place.
"A well-stocked and organized pantry means the food you have doesn't go to waste," Carnemark says. "And if everyone knows where items are located in the kitchen, you're more likely to have more involvement in mealtime preparation and cleanup."
It's impossible to not consider one's health during the age of coronavirus, but a move toward preparing plant-based dishes, using nonprocessed meats and whole grains predates the pandemic, Carnemark says.
"People are growing their own herbs, whether it's in pots on the counter or in garden beds right outside the kitchen," he says. "We are dialed into the Earth by consciously using sustainable materials during the building process."
Cool zones are hot in the kitchen as designers are figuring out a colder kitchen flow. Refrigeration and freezer appliances can be built-in or freestanding, stowed under the counter in drawers or standing upright as wine columns. "The refrigerated zones anchor a kitchen's workflow," Carnemark says. "Based on refrigeration, you can build multiple stations in the kitchen, from meal prep to drink and snack drawers."
Living in Place
Universal design concepts have universal appeal for homeowners and refer to a broad spectrum of modifications that can inherently make a space more livable and accessible for both aging and differently abled individuals.
In the kitchen, universal design can be the embodiment of one-level living with wider doors, nonslip flooring and readily accessible switches and home controls, Carnemark says.
"Universal design concepts aren't just precepts to be applied to homes for aging populations; it's just good design," he says. "Wider clearances around the kitchen island and multileveled countertop work spaces just make sense so more can pitch in and help."
Overall, creating an environment in the kitchen and adjacent areas that is comfortable and accessible -- while being technologically wired for lighting and Wi-Fi, with clean and organized cabinets using natural and durable finishes -- makes cooking time more charmed, and less a chore.
"Multigenerational living is a reality now in many homes, thanks to the pandemic," Carnemark says. "These new living situations have their own synergism and opportunity to connect in the kitchen."
-- To find a certified kitchen professional, go to The National Kitchen and Bath Association's website: www.nkba.org and click the "Find a Member" link.
-- Carnemark Design and Build, carnemark.com, 301-657-5000