Today, kitchen designers think outside the triangle.
The work triangle, which determines placement of the refrigerator, stove and sink in relation to a primary work space, assumes the kitchen has one cook. It has been the traditional tool of kitchen design for decades.
It worked -- then.
But as kitchens grew in size, manufacturers offered more appliance choices while open designs integrated the kitchen into the rest of the home. The role of the kitchen changed. Some say the triangle is no longer practical, and kitchens now feature islands and work zones.
"We're more concerned about what our clients want in the kitchen than playing by the rules," said John Elias, owner of Avalon Development and Construction. "Some people don't cook a lot at home, others cook every day, and some people specialize in Asian or Indian cuisine for which the prep and working areas (or zones) are separate from the entertaining area."
Although the triangle may not be king, professionals still design the most functional and efficient kitchen possible, Elias said.
Joseph Dhamer, co-owner of Kitchen and Bath Mart, agrees. "I take that triangle with a grain of salt," he said. "I don't want the client to walk around the island to get to the refrigerator, and the cook top and oven don't need to be next to each other anymore, but the rules of the triangle don't apply.
"Often we do built-in double ovens and warming drawers that you could say comprise the cooking zone. You also need a landing area to take things out of the oven. You don't go to the oven 15 times a day, so it doesn't need to be next to the cook top."
In many households today, two or more people share in the cooking. "Everyone is helping and jumping in, and it's almost part of the entertainment," said Cheryl Bonk, vice president of sales and marketing for the Chicago division of M/I Homes. "We make sure our kitchens are larger than expected."
Often, buyers have specific designs in mind for their kitchens.
"Kitchen islands are big; everyone wants an island. Some people want two islands where they integrate the table into one of them, and some want a prep sink," said Lynn Havlicek, owner of Geneva Cabinet Gallery.
Just as the kitchen has become multifunctional, so has the island. "It's not just another eating area," Havlicek said. "People read and do homework at the island. The laptop follows people around the house, and people are sitting at the island, not in the den. Oversized islands are also very popular today."
In today's larger kitchens, a walk-in pantry is a must for convenient storage. Some people even like the oversized pantry, which Pulte Homes calls the Costco pantry because people are value-conscious and buy in bulk.
In the past, people furnished their kitchens with a simple stove and refrigerator. Now with all the different accoutrements and appliances out there, they have so many choices to help them save time and to keep up with the fast pace of modern life.
"We have built-in steamers and rice cookers, various types of built-in ovens -- double ovens, speed ovens, convection ovens -- and sometimes we do a range with cook top plus a double oven," Havlicek said. Warming drawers are popular. Appliances are more commercial looking, and they tend to be hotter, she said.
Other appliance trends include trash compactors and microwave and dishwasher drawers for small loads without wasting energy and water.
In today's open floor plans, the kitchen is more integrated into the rest of the home -- with the kitchen, breakfast area and family room becoming one large gathering space. "When we take down the walls, it impacts the design," Havlicek said.
The concept has changed how people live in their kitchens. People have plenty of space to cook, watch TV, read, use the computer, eat and entertain family and friends in this space. So the design must consider what else goes on in the kitchen besides cooking, and it must accommodate many non-kitchen activities.
The kitchen has become a multifunctional space where everyone is together yet involved in different activities. Dad may be watching the evening news while Mom is working on the computer; one child pores over an art project as another looks for a quick snack. The family is together, but often each member is involved in a different activity.
Style of kitchen
What do today's kitchens look like? People are getting away from the U-shaped kitchens and tend to go for a simpler, sleeker look than in the past -- not contemporary, but more metropolitan, Havlicek said.
Cabinetry is often the first thing you see in the kitchen, and it sets the mood and style of the room. You'll see a simple, cleaner look with little detail. People like to eliminate the soffits and have the cabinets reach the ceiling. Again, it makes for a cleaner look.
Cabinets tend to be light along the perimeter with a darker island, so you have a nice contrast. White cabinets are also in; white will always be popular. "We're not doing much of the dark cherry. Some people like the custom paint colors on the cabinets to give it their our own decorator look," Havlicek said.
Also, open shelving mixed with traditional kitchen cabinets allows people to display pretty dishes and glassware. It's more interesting than a solid wall of wood cabinets.
Quartz countertops have been more popular in the last few years. The design looks a little more like granite now, but it's more heat resistant and less porous, and people are zoning into that.
Homeowners are adding more lighting, most always under-cabinet lighting; it's more dramatic, and for glass fronted cabinets, light from the inside is a nice design element.
With its universal appeal and look of luxury, stainless steel appliances still reign. You'll see beautiful backsplashes stepping into the spotlight now with glass tile and a metallic shimmer. It's a place to be creative with different colors and textures to make the backsplash stand out.