Rethinking the Kitchen

Virginia Gray is an associate editor of this magazine.

The kitchen--always the heart and soul of the American home--is expanding to reflect its status as more than just a place to cook. This decade's return to nesting has made the kitchen "the family room of the '80s," says interior designer Van-Martin Rowe.

When Rowe remodeled Diane and David Schoeff's Pacific Palisades kitchen, he followed the current trend of combining living, dining and cooking spaces into one 50x16-foot room. "It was a big change for my clients who had lived in the house with a small, dark and outdated kitchen for 15 years prior to the remodeling," he says. The kitchen is attractive and functional and works as well for the two of them as for entertaining larger groups.

Architect Paul Bailly of Architecture for Kitchens & Baths Inc. specializes in kitchen design, and he believes that "nowhere else in this country is more space devoted to the kitchen than here in Southern California."

For the past 26 years, Bailly has designed single-family homes, but kitchen design has become so complex that he has chosen to specialize in it.

Bailly says: "The most common change people make in homes more than 20 years old is the incorporation of three small rooms--dinette, laundry and kitchen--to make one large, more open and functional room that still serves all three needs." But remodeling a kitchen is not cheap. Bailly estimates that one-third of the cost of the average total kitchen remodel is in cabinetry, one-sixth in appliances, and the rest in construction and installation costs. (The remodeling costs for the kitchens shown on pages 30 through 37 ranged from $25,000 to $150,000.)

"Today's families eat 90% of their meals in the kitchen, so an eating area is a primary desire for all my clients. The next most sought-after kitchen appointment people want is a work island," Bailly says. To accommodate an island, the space must be at least 12 feet wide. He encourages clients to keep the island devoid of appliances with the exception of a preparation sink and waste disposer.

"Many people like to have a cooktop in an island, but it's difficult to ventilate a cooktop efficiently in an island unless (the design has) a down-draft venting system."

The kitchen options available today are astonishing. Cabinets come in a multitude of colors and finishes--Formica-type laminate, paint, pickled or white-washed wood, light, dark or medium wood stains. Materials for countertops include granite, marble, tile, Corian or faux stone-like surfaces. Flooring may be wood, tile, marble, vinyl, brick or stone.

Serious cooks may choose to install commercial ranges and cooktops. However, they can only be used in communities whose building codes will accept them; they're not permitted in unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County.

Sleek imported European appliances are available here, but many American manufacturers have restyled major appliances to compete with European designs. For the past few years, black glass-front appliances have been popular. But recently, black has given way to white glass.

After spending as much as $150,000 on remodeling, most homeowners expect a new kitchen to last for decades. But because it contains some of a home's most complex, frequently used equipment, that's not the case: Residential design professionals estimate that major kitchen appliances wear out in about 15 years.

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