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Bringing the Heart of the Home to Work

Kitchens are slowly being integrated into commercial spaces, including offices and designer showrooms. Here, i+s delves into why that may be, and what we can expect from this evolution.

09/01/2017 By Kadie Yale

A large island acts as a meeting and work space in Interceramic’s new Dallas showroom.  Photograph courtesy of CallisonRTKL During the July 24, 1959 opening of the American National Exhibition at Sokolniki Park in Moscow, then-Vice President Richard Nixon debated the merits of capitalism versus communism The contemporary kitchen space in Shaw Contract Group’s Atlanta showroom doubles as a reception desk and work surface with service amenities around the perimeter Photograph courtesy of Perkins+Will Carvart’s New York showroom boasts a 40-foot steel island that is used as gathering space for employees as well as a demonstration surface for cooking presentations. Photo courtesy of Bradley Imaging

Gilbreth’s studies turned the act of cooking and cleaning into a scientific formula. By the 1920s, the primary laborer in the home was the woman of the house, with an estimated 50 percent of her time spent in the kitchen. Gilbreth rearranged the layout of the kitchen—up until this point set up so that chillers and ovens stood at the periphery of the room—so that the mixing of ingredients, baking, and cleaning could be completed with the least amount of steps. As the basis of their labor studies, the Gilbreths used steps as a metric for determining productivity, and in her kitchen studies, she used the same to determine the productivity of the individual. In 1931, “Better Homes Manual” described Gilbreth’s “Kitchen Practical”—a test kitchen designed in partnership with the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company in 1929—as having decreased the number of steps taken by the user from 281 to 45 during the making of a strawberry shortcake.

The advancements and availability of kitchen technology in the home continued to grow throughout the mid-century. After World War II, technologies which had previously been used by the military were commercialized for civilian use, as with the microwave, which was first introduced by Westinghouse during the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, although it wouldn’t become commonplace until after the war. The post-war period also introduced advancements in refrigerator and stove technology. As Gilbreth’s layout became standard in American homes, the kitchen became a boasting space for the United States’ ingenuity and manufacturing. This is evidenced by “The Kitchen Debate”—a series of exchanges between then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the opening of the American National Exhibition in Sokolniki Park in Moscow on July 24, 1959. The exhibition served as a competition between the warring countries locked in the Cold War, using the kitchen as a representative of capitalism versus communism. In this regard, the kitchen had it all: technology, efficiency, domesticity, and an importance in every home regardless of social status. 

The post-war period also saw the kitchen take on a managerial location. Newly designed tract housing, as seen in Levittowns, placed the kitchen sink below windows which would open to the front or backyards, where the woman of the house could easily watch over her children playing outside. 

In recent years, spurred by cooking shows and the HGTV network, the interior plan of the home has reverted more commonly to place the kitchen in open view to the rest of the home, although less as a means of allowing the meal-preparer to keep a watchful eye on others, and more due to cooking acting as entertainment. Guests can sit in view of the host’s food preparation, acting as the professional chef. 

This open-kitchen design has moved from Gilbreth’s enclosed C-shape to an open U-shape, which is often the darling of HGTV redesign shows. It also easily blends into the layout of open offices and showrooms, often with a counter that also acts as an additional work surface or, in the example of Shaw’s Atlanta showroom, the reception desk.

The kitchen’s role as the heart of the home takes on an additional meaning in showrooms by creating a place where people can make themselves comfortable.

The kitchen’s role as the heart of the home takes on an additional meaning in showrooms by creating a place where people can make themselves comfortable. While we often discuss the merits of an open office versus a closed, little has been stated about no-office arrangements. With recent studies showing 35 percent of the U.S. workforce now working as freelancers, with many more able to do their work from anywhere, workers are untethered from not only the desk, but from the workplace in general. Wilson recently stated that Mannington’s new showroom was designed as a space where clients and designers can set up their laptops or tablets to get work done. “One of the main goals for [Mannington was] to serve a lot of purposes… they wanted it to be a comfortable place for the Atlanta design community.”

What does this all mean for interior designers? Mainly, it is important to note that as work-life balance is discussed, kitchens need to be part of that conversation. While gyms and spaces for relaxation are becoming incorporated into the offices of more wellness-focused employers, no room in the home has been as welcomed into the workforce as kitchens. 

The open addition of kitchens in showrooms has implications for the wider retail and hospitality markets, as well. As brick-and-mortar stores look for new ways to attract consumers, we may see retail taking a note from the design industry. The introduction of Keurig’s individualized service in shops, for example, signals to shoppers that they can relax while they are in the store. With that, specialty coffee services are being integrated into hospitality, as seen at the ACME Hotel in Chicago, which has removed the standard coffee maker from guest rooms and instead offers premium coffee delivery. This lends to a culture of individualized, on-demand food and beverages.

This expectation of personalization has already permeated the workforce. As Wilson pointed out, campuses such as Google and Facebook have adapted to “the culture of customization.” Weekly or even daily changes to their menus, complete with preparation lines in full-view and seemingly limitless customization, only adds to society’s expectation that what someone is craving on any given day can be readily available. 

It isn’t a narrow trend that showrooms are incorporating open kitchens; we are continuing to see the integration of cooking and food-and-beverage storage spaces in offices and design centers. Carl Hansen & Son’s New York showroom provides food and drink along the installed kitchen island, while Interceramic uses an open kitchen to create an inviting setting for the design community to come in and make use of the showroom. At Carvart’s new NYC space, a 40-foot steel island was inspired by CEO Edward Geyman’s love of food and hospitality, and is used for cooking presentations. Also in New York, Kimball Office’s new showroom features a kitchenette where visitors can prepare beverages of choice, and Poppin’s office kitchen is fully stocked with healthy food and drink options for both its guests and its predominantly millennial staff. 

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