The Unfitted Kitchen Why Bother

If you've been involved in designing or building a new kitchen in the past 20 years, you've probably heard the terms 'unfitted kitchens' or 'kitchen workstations' or simply 'kitchen furniture'. These terms don't refer to a dinette set, but rather to a completely different way of organizing a kitchen by using a few specially designed pieces of furniture instead of installing continuous lines of cabinetry and countertops. For some people, a 'furnished' kitchen is an intriguing idea, but others might say "Why bother fixing something that ain't broke?"

Sometimes we get so caught up in accepting how things are that we don't take any time to question whether we are going in the right direction. Technology has a way of pushing us forward, but sometimes we need to take a break to discover what form of progress is the most appropriate. For example, when electricity first came to New York City, there were layers of power lines attached to all the buildings and power poles everywhere. If we look at the old pictures of Manhattan we can't believe how ugly it all was, but to most of the New Yorkers of the period, they never even noticed the chaos. It took someone with just a bit of foresight to realize that burying all the power lines underground was a better way to go.

Kitchen design that uses cabinetry has evolved into the universally accepted method to create a kitchen. But in the last 20 years, designers started to ask the question, "Is cabinetry really the 'best' way for all design situations?" To answer this question, we must first discover the reason 'Why' changing from cabinetry to something else would be beneficial. Hopefully, by illustrating how kitchen design has evolved, you will begin to discover 'Why' kitchen furniture can be a great alternative to designing kitchens with cabinetry.

In the days before electricity changed everything in our lives, family kitchens in modestly sized homes were large but simply appointed rooms. They contained a solid fuel heat source for cooking (a fireplace or a coal or wood stove) and a built-in sink, with or without running water. Everything else was a piece of furniture. The icebox was elegantly made of wood, as were the central dining/work table, cupboards, pie safes and pantries. The family kitchen was the central work/social place of the home too where family members, sometimes in the company of friends performed most domestic chores and socialized with each other.

Electricity brought many timesaving devices into the kitchen, as well as many inventions that pulled us away from the kitchen. Due to the innovations in the kitchen, fewer people were needed to prepare meals, so the kitchen lost a lot of its social importance and became a smaller, super-efficient working room. Built-in cabinetry, previously delegating only to Butler's pantries in larger homes, now became the best way to shrink the kitchen into an efficient workspace. With more leisure time, socializing was delegated to the living areas of the house, because the kitchen was too small.

Now, current planning has opened up the kitchen to incorporate the social rooms again. New homes almost always have a breakfast/family room completely in view of the kitchen. The Great Room concept is simply a large social room with a kitchen in it. Walls between the kitchen and other rooms are being torn down in older homes in the effort to create multi-task, live-in kitchens. We have actually gone full circle, in a little over 100 years, by creating a modern version of a pre-electricity social/working kitchen.

Why has this happened? There are too many reasons to list here, but they all seem to relate to time. With the development of the 2 career families and single head-of-household families, there isn't enough time in the day to dedicate a lot of it to cooking. Again, innovations (i.e., microwaves, pre-prepared and frozen foods) have allowed us to spend less time cooking during the workweek. And when we are cooking, we don't want to miss anything that is going on around us. On weekends, we may relax in the kitchen/family room by watching TV or even entertaining friends by cooking elaborate meals.

But typically, the kitchen portion of the great room still looks like and is organized like the super efficient, work-only kitchen mentioned above. It is lined with horizontal bands of cabinetry and countertops that are interrupted only by exposed hi-tech appliances. Designers promote this 'laboratory' look because it is easy to design and it truly is the only kitchen design concept that most people understand. Most kitchen layouts are created by drawing a line 2 feet out from every wall (to indicate cabinetry) and then if there is room, an island (the bigger, the better) is drawn to act as a buffer between the kitchen and family room. The room's personality is determined by the design of the backsplash, and it depends on the color uniformity of the cabinetry and appliances to hold the design theme of the room intact.