The Evolving, 21st-Century Kitchen
authors Eliot Sefrin
The modern-day kitchen is forever being redefined – adapting to emerging lifestyles, reflecting new household compositions and homeowner needs, evolving with the times.
That’s been the case for decades, of course. And it’s clearly the case these days.
Evidence of this fast-paced, ongoing transformation can be found in a compelling new study that points to many of the ways that today’s kitchens far transcend the traditional role they’ve played as the centerpiece of the American home.
The study, conducted by the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) – exclusive research partner of Kitchen & Bath Design News – reveals that a considerable number of surveyed homeowners are spending more time than ever in their kitchen, with a growing number engaged in an array of activities beyond cooking, eating and cleanup (see story).
Indeed, the RICKI study found that many homeowners report that they’re increasingly involved in several kitchen activities simultaneously – multi-tasking, often without even realizing it, for prolonged periods of time.
The most popular “non-traditional” activities taking place in today’s kitchens, RICKI found, include listening to music, watching TV/streaming video, caring for pets, paying bills, reading (both digitally and in print), playing games and doing schoolwork. These kitchen activities, the study noted, are above and beyond the longstanding trend of simply gathering and socializing with family and friends.
Stated simply, today’s homeowners are doing far more in their kitchens than ever before – a trend that’s likely to become even more pronounced in the future. Technology alone, for instance, is literally altering the entire “social experience” of the kitchen, transforming it from an independent living space into a hyper-connected, multi-purpose hub for cooking, eating, entertainment, relaxation, well-being and work.
All of this is a vivid reminder of an important reality for kitchen dealers, designers and manufacturers alike. It’s also a call to action.
The reality is that the 21st-century kitchen continues to evolve in important new ways. The call to action suggests that a well-conceived, enlightened game plan is needed for the design community to cope with the anticipated changes.
In many ways, that game plan is already being implemented. A growing number of kitchens are occupying larger, more open footprints. Additional seating capacity is being added. “Smart” features are being built into cabinetry, appliances, countertops and other kitchen components. Hardware, lighting and other products are addressing the growing demand for Wi-Fi/Bluetooth capability, computer/cell phone docking stations and other technology-driven needs. There’s also an increased focus on specific zones beyond the traditional work triangle: dedicated pet-care centers, laundry rooms and personal workspaces, as well as specialized storage considerations for a growing number of new-age accessories.
Beyond detailing what’s currently taking place, the RICKI study also suggests that kitchen designers will continue to be challenged to create spaces tailored to the ever-growing diversity of homeowner activities – in effect, to increasingly think of kitchens as multi-purpose “meeting spaces” that have greater-than-ever prominence and accommodate an ever-widening array of non-traditional functions. It will be similarly incumbent upon manufacturers to think outside the box – and partner with other suppliers when necessary – to offer products that address the kitchen’s continued evolution. Both parties, it’s equally certain, will be required to develop effective marketing campaigns that reflect today’s – and tomorrow’s – new realities.
Perhaps more than ever, it’s essential to stay in touch with the key forces that are reshaping our complex, dynamic, lifestyle-driven market. Evolution requires continual adaptation, a capacity to change with the times. It also requires the capacity to understand the expanding definition of the kitchen and the evolving role it plays in peoples’ lives. ▪