Kitchens are the heart of the home

By Sherry Giewald
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted9/26/2014 12:01 AM
  • At Courthouse Square in Wheaton, Airhart Construction offers floor plans with two kitchen islands.

    At Courthouse Square in Wheaton, Airhart Construction offers floor plans with two kitchen islands. Courtesy of Airhart Construction

  • Today's open floor plans have kitchens that flow into a great room combining dining and living room areas.

    Today's open floor plans have kitchens that flow into a great room combining dining and living room areas. Courtesy of Meritus Homes

  • High-end appliances and large kitchens with islands are a must-have for many new-home buyers.

    High-end appliances and large kitchens with islands are a must-have for many new-home buyers. Courtesy of Meritus Homes

For today's heart of the home, it's all about keeping it open.

Several years ago when the walls came down, the open floor plan took off and home designs continue to cater to our more relaxed, busy lifestyles.

People live and entertain more casually today than in generations past. So combining the kitchen and adjacent living areas into a large open gathering space fosters togetherness. Families and friends can easily interact and communicate with each other.

"At Meritus Homes, we continue to see a lot of openness and dual functionality," said Brian Brunhofer, the company's co-president. "Our homes are designed to keep families close together, and people like the open plans."

James Smith also finds the open kitchen and floor plan design appealing to buyers at Prairie Park in Wheeling.

"People want to be in a large entertaining space where no one is lost and everyone is part of the conversation," said Smith, vice president of marketing for Smith Family Construction Inc., developers of Prairie Park condominiums.

In its new model home, Airhart Construction designed the space with an octagonal dinette where people can sit at a table -- a separate seating space -- as part of the whole.

"We also feature a hearth room, a square room just off to the side, with a fireplace," said Christy Whelan, director of sales for the builder. "All of this is part of the heart of the home."

Here's what else is hot in today's kitchen.

Cooking and baking

Also, with the popularity of Food Network, people are more interested in having a well-equipped kitchen and nice appliances in their new-construction homes. Even in active-adult communities, older homeowners want a nice kitchen to prepare meals and bake that birthday cake.

With the seasons changing and the holidays coming up, the heart of the home takes center stage, said Jennifer Arndt, marketing director for Rock Creek Homes. Many seniors will host parties, buffets and family dinners during the holidays.

"For active adults with children coming to their homes, children and grandkids will be able to be part of the action with their families all together," Arndt said.

"If the children live out of state, they may only have the opportunity to visit family a few times a year. And they want to connect with each other when cooking the turkey and preparing all the trimmings."

Defining the space

As the kitchen, dining area and family room merge into a free-flowing open plan, homeowners can still define the space with focal points -- such as a fireplace wall for the living area, a chandelier above the dining table or a variety of area rugs for different zones.

At Meritus, high ceilings and architectural details help define the space while columns and islands make the kitchen area very attractive to homebuyers, Brunhofer said.

Kitchen islands

Today, islands are not only an attractive focal point, but also a must-have for most new-home buyers.

People prefer to eat at the island rather than the kitchen table, so the kitchen island is very popular with homebuyers, Smith said.

"In our layouts not originally planned with an island, but open with a kitchen table, quite a few people want the island instead of a table," he said.

Islands are so popular in its new homes that Airhart Construction often features not only one -- but two -- kitchen islands.

"Homeowners can prepare food on one island and serve light fare or a buffet on the other," said Christy Whelan, Airhart' director of sales. "It's really a cook's kitchen.

"With more people cooking and entertaining at home, homebuyers want a large kitchen space with island and high-end appliances. Also, many people entertain large groups of people, and this (dual-island kitchen) can easily accommodate a big family or a crowd."

The island can also perform as a beverage center by adding a smaller refrigerator, while built-in shelving for a cookbook collection or display items can add a decorative touch to the area.

At D.R. Horton Homes, many of its designs include oversized conversational islands in the kitchen, which is part of the larger overall gathering space.

The builder's new model in the Bristol Park community in New Lenox also features two islands in the oversized kitchen, one that comfortably seats five people, said Chris Naatz, vice president of sales and marketing.

The island tops are flush (the overhang remains at counter height), making it an excellent space for gatherings or everyday use, he said, such as reading the morning news while enjoying breakfast.

Finishing touches

Homeowners have this well-designed space, referred to as the heart of the home. What do put in that space to make it sizzle with style and give it character?

Stainless steel appliances are still hot; granite is big, or quartz, but Corian is falling out of favor; and hardwood flooring prevails.

Homebuyers want higher-end finishes included in the price of their homes; they don't want to be nickel-and-dimed with costly upgrades, Smith said. "That way, they know what they're paying and the quality they're getting."

White kitchens are coming back, but for the most part, Smith sees darker finishes being requested.

"French door refrigerators are extremely popular with the drawer freezer underneath. We see a lot of larger base (cabinet) drawers, rollout drawers and larger-than-standard cabinets for large pots."

D.R. Horton and Emerald Homes offer staggered cabinets of varied height, crown molding, walk-in pantries and beautiful cabinetry in rich tones and colors, Naatz said.

Meritus Homes features large windows with nice views that keep the space light and bright. The optional fireplace is a popular feature in the great room adjoining the kitchen; many homebuyers like a nice stone fireplace, Brunhofer said.

Also, a lot of people get the washer and dryer upstairs and want a flexible mudroom space to keep clutter away from and out of the kitchen to ease daily living. Some call it a command center, which is close to the kitchen, for work on the computer, kids homework and checking emails, he said.

"We see people come in who want to customize the area to fit their specific needs and to keep clutter out of the kitchen."

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