The Once and Future Kitchen

Great Room-inations and Design in a Bag

The open kitchen, as illustrated in architect Leon Meyer’s handsome contemporary

Seasons Plan 496-2 — is not a new idea.

The modern habit of combining cooking, dining, and living functions in one space harks back to the early American home, where everything was done beside a large open hearth,

as illustrated at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning  (in one of the so-called Nationality Rooms, which you can visit). It was a “Great Room” before there was such a concept. Later kitchens became separated or closed off from the rest of the house partly to protect from fire and partly to accommodate emerging systems and equipment like indoor plumbing and new-fangled appliances. The kitchen became more specialized. In their book The American Woman’s Home , published in 1869, two famous sisters — Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe — argued for efficiency. Their ideal design provided separate areas for storage, food preparation, and cooking.

They set the kitchen apart as a kind of laboratory.

But by the mid twentieth century an interest in more casual arrangements along with the rise of venting devices like fans (to evacuate cooking odors) lead to the dining  or family-kitchen,

like this one by ranch house designer Cliff May from the 1940s, with its kitchen pass-through and big Colonial style hearth that also includes a modern barbecue (presumably the rifle is just an accessory).

More recently the advent of quieter dishwashers and refrigerators has made it possible to make the kitchen part of a larger entertaining space, as we have seen with the Meyer design. Throw the fire back in, along with walls  that  disappear to unite inside and outside

and you might get the  Colonial/ranch house kitchen — “Part Deux.” This 21st century example was designed by Sebastian Mariscal Studio (photo courtesy the same).

To Infinity — and Before

One of the troubles with kitchen design is that there is too much choice in materials: counters, cabinet styles, back splash, paint, etc. How do you start narrowing down the list and then figure out what goes with what? My friend Lisa Kalmbach, former senior vice president of KB Home,  told me  about an especially clever solution called Design in a Bag from Chicago designer  Rebekah Zaveloff, who founded a company called Kitchen Lab with her husband Nick. The “bag” is  a selection of design materials grouped in stylish recipes covering a wide variety of kitchen styles.

You have a choice of Modern, Classic, or Vintage categories and then ten to 20 “recipes” or groupings of material samples within each category. Color palettes are simply cool, warm, or neutral. The one above is modern, called “The Palos” in a warm palette.

Each grouping includes finish materials, four paint swatches, color 3-D renderings to illustrate your finishes with the four different wall colors, and a shopping list with pricing, sizes, names of materials, and where to find them. The price of each sampler is around $100, depending on materials. Infinity just got closer.

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