Make Your Kitchen a Gourmet Showplace for Cooking and Entertaining

The kitchen is no longer the behind-the-scenes “workhorse” of the home. This once purely functional space is now the most popular room in the house for entertaining and remodeling. Despite increasingly busy schedules, families still find time to gather around the dinner table. Casual seating areas and entertainment centers located in or near the kitchen allow parents to connect with their kids during meal preparation, and couples are discovering that cooking food is a great way to relax while spending quality time together. The 21st-century kitchen incorporates many functions into one, all-purpose room-it is now a place for meal preparation, as well as an office, a family room and a dining area. Some kitchens even have a pet station and a laundry alcove.

Today’s trend toward open designs is one reason that the kitchen is a designated meeting and mingling area. Les Petrie, CKD, current vice president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association and senior design partner at Mother Hubbard’s Custom Cabinetry, points out that a large kitchen that opens into a family room or great room is the most asked-for arrangement in new and remodeled kitchens. He adds, “I see more year-round residences being built that mimic the wide-open floor plans most often seen in homes specifically designed for casual vacation-style living.” During a party, or even an intimate family meal, home cooks enjoy the ability to chat with guests as they prepare food. The comforting sights and smells of the kitchen naturally draw people in and invite them to linger.

With new innovations in ovens, small cooking aids, counter and cabinet materials, the amateur chef can enjoy more freedom and fun in the kitchen than cooks did even a few short years ago. Les says, “Entertainment TV is hitchhiking on this phenomenon by offering up an entire network dedicated to food and cooking. And the new cook wants a nice kitchen filled with good ‘gadgets’ to help them on their culinary journey.”

Modern, light-powered ovens can cook food up to four times faster than traditional ovens, and smooth-surface electric cooktops make clean up a breeze. Many manufacturers offer ranges that can be equipped with a convenient griddle or grill, or even a professional-grade deep-fryer. Microwave ovens are more powerful than ever and can be installed under cabinets to leave more open counter space. Convection microwaves cut down cooking time, but still create browned baked goods and roasting capabilities not available with traditional microwave ovens.

Refrigerators are enjoying the benefits of improved design, technology and energy efficiency. Interior space-saving, adjustable shelves provide easy access to food. Compartments with individual temperature and humidity controls keep vegetables crisp and meats fresh. Create a customized look with special refrigerator surface treatments designed to blend with your cabinets or go for trendy stainless steel appliances. “Secondary refrigeration such as the SubZero 700 series drawer-style, under-counter units are becoming a standard request in larger kitchens,” Les says. These second refrigerators can store chilled wine, or a small freezer can increase storage space for frozen foods.

Homeowners who host frequent dinner parties and large gatherings find that doubling up on other features helps with food preparation when more than one person is working in the kitchen. More than one appliance can also cut down on clean-up time. Les observes, “a second sink and dishwasher often accompany an island or second prep/clean-up area.” A special sink in an island can be used for washing fruits and vegetables, or a sink with a high faucet is useful when cleaning large pots or delicate stemware that can be broken when bumped on a lower fixture.

When it comes to decor, the possibilties are endless. Les says, “Colors are more casual with soft yellows and greens leading the way. Natural textures such as stone and wood dominate.” Les also adds that the “old world look is still very popular and variations including the introduction of stainless steel appliances and contemporary styled accessories lend eclectic charm to classic styling.” Incorporating unusual furniture-like pieces, like armoires or an antique dry sink, can add to the appeal of this style. Mixing countertop materials is also popular. This not only adds interest to the look of your kitchen, but can be useful when involved in different tasks. For example, a section of easy-to-clean stainless steel countertop is perfect for preparing meat. Bakers will appreciate a stone slab for rolling dough.

Even if you’re not ready to splurge on a entirely remodeled kitchen or new appliances, repainting the walls in a popular shade and replacing the hardware on your cabinets can give the room an updated appearance in the work of just one afternoon. For a slightly more ambitious project, replace your sink, or even just the faucet fixture. New options include water filters, super-heated faucets and convenient spray attachments.

Nothing beats convenient and plentiful storage for creating an enjoyable place to cook and clean. Les suggests that the “perfect kitchen will have plenty of designed drawers to hold a variety of preparation gadgets as well as fine cutlery and flatware.” Drawer organizers can help keep small kitchen accessories and utensils easy to find and prevent them from becoming damaged in the jumble of an undivided pile. For safety, it’s important to keep knives and other sharp tools in a special section or a block designed specifically to hold them-you don’t want to quickly reach into the drawer and be surprised by a hidden blade! To avoid crawling on the floor, searching for things in the back of cabinets, Les says that “Pots and pans are best stored on roll-out shelves that allow full access.” He adds, “If possible, these heavy items should be stored at a height between 30″ and 48″, thereby putting less strain on the back when lifting a mixer or large stockpot.”

When embarking on the adventure of planning your dream kitchen, Les suggests seeking the guidance of a Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD) who can show you recent designs and trends and help you decide what will work best in your home. Whether you’re building an entirely new kitchen, or simply treating yourself to a few of the newest helpful gadgets, take advantage of the latest innovations designed to make cooking and living in your kitchen fun and relaxing.

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