Problems Facing Kitchen Remodel Designers Today

Few areas of the house have received such intensive study as the kitchen: an analysis of space and shape, customized cabinetry and storage development, the design and redesign of appliances and other equipment for greater efficiency and appearance, technically advanced products, experimental kitchen designs that result in eventually marketable, practical products. Microwave cooking, home computers, smooth-surface inducting cooking, convection cooking, self-cleaning ovens, no-frost refrigeration–all these concepts and more have first gone the experimental route.

I have had a growing admiration and a great deal of respect for George Nelson, certainly one of the foremost proponents of mid-20th century design and a leading industrial designer of this century. His theories on the evolution of design, the nature of change, the process of problem-solving in the achievement of a product design and the essence of creativity make rare good sense. Says Nelson, “One of the things the designer learns rather quickly is that in problem-solving, the limitations are far more important than the freedoms. This seemingly harmless statement goes against almost everything we have learned: Creative people, we are told, need freedom so that they can express themselves without hindrance, but this is not true, assuming that the limitations are real…. The only creative freedom that is worth anything, in other words, is found in setting up a problem so that it can be solved intelligently.”

In the past three decades, now, with the increase in smaller houses and apartments, builders, architects and designers have expanded the kitchen–opened it up to the entire living area so that it becomes a part of the whole. It has become a Great Room, a multi-function area filled with many divergent activities beyond cooking and clean-up. With this in mind, manufacturers of appliances have made a successful effort to incorporate some of the architectural and design philosophy of the rest of the house to appliance styling.

And I am pleased to see that designers are exercising more creative approaches in adapting to a kitchen’s practicality while maintaining a central design concept throughout the house. Schemes we have noted include: * Cabinetry designed to look like fine furniture; * Furniture designed to look like sleek, modern appliances; * Recessed and concealed appliance installations; * Architectural styling in kitchen design in deference to the traditional cabinet/appliance look; * An eclectic mix of antique furniture with new appliances and modern cabinetry; * Extensive use of color and decorative art; * Use of the kitchen as a showcase for collections.

The successful kitchen designer must stay on top of the news in the kitchen field. As for ’84, a new survey tells us what consumers want, but it also suggests a hidden meaning: In a recent study done at the request of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), consumers were asked what new features they would want the next time they bought each of a list of 13 major appliances or, if they were to buy that appliance, what special features they would want and what colors they would prefer. The survey tells us that the most wanted feature in: * a refrigerator is an ice maker; * a freezer is a frost-free capability; * a range is a self-cleaning oven; * a microwave oven is a browning unit; * a dishwasher is a cycle for scrubbing posts and pans; * a washer is more cycles; * a color choice for kitchen appliances is almond/beige/cream.

The hidden meaning is that clients are looking for time-saving ease and convenience with high style in kitchen design, a not-so-impossible combination for the designer who is really concerned about kitchen design.

How, then, can you be assured that you will give your clients what they want? First, one suggestion is to keep in mind those principles espoused by George Nelson–consider the limitations, then set out to identify the problem and find a logical solution.

Walk into the kitchen with your client. Look around. Is the work counter placed conveniently in relation to the appliance, cooking utensils and food storage? How much walking does the client have to do when a meal is being prepared? Are items easily accessible, or must one reach, bend and stoop unnecessarily? Is there enough unbroken counter space to stack things neatly if one gets too busy to clean up? Is there a comfortable area for eating, snacking? Does the client have to move several pans before retrieving the desired one? Is the client playing games with the canned goods to find the mushroom soup? If so, chances are there’s room for improvement.