Kitchen Design East Greenwich RI
East Greenwich, RI
East Greenwich, RI
From Bare Walls to Custom Kitchen
When I was in college, serving a six-month stint at the philosophy department of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, a roommate and I decided that when it came to own our homes, it would be imperative that, above all, the kitchen be a comfortable space to occupy: to cook, sure, but mostly to just hang out. It would need to be a space in which a reasonable number of people could spend hours talking over a meal. We came to this conclusion, my friend Allan MacTamney and I, because, as philosophy majors, it was our obligation to talk over life's big questions, and our kitchen was the most convenient place to do so. We talked of Wittgenstein and Kant on the limits of language and reason; we spoke of what it meant to be an aesthete; but mostly we drank a lot of whiskey, smoked too many cigarettes, played endlessly on musical instruments, and huddled around the teakettle to ward off the chill of the North Sea winter. The point was, however, that the kitchen is the most important room in the house; it is the hub, or as Johnny Grey wrote in his 1999 book The Art of Kitchen Design, The origins of the kitchen lie in the hearth.
When my wife, Leah, and I bought our home in 1997 on an island on the Maine coast, we bought what we could afford: a one-bedroom cottage that was in need of significant upgrade. Most of the house was uninsulated; the furnace was nearly dead; the windows rattled in the wind and were trimmed in lead paint. And the kitchen was a wreck. Cramped, its appliances and counters falling apart, the kitchen had numerous windows and doors leading to other rooms that broke up the usable space in such a way as to make it almost impossible to cook, eat or hang out without feeling like you were in someone else's way. You could not sit at the kitchen table and not be in the way of the cook preparing a meal, since the table was in the middle of the room and blocked the path between the stove and sink. The same was true of the bathroom and office doors, which were blocked by the table as well. To make matters worse, the ceiling was low, barely 7 feet, which meant that with the din of a typical meal in the company of young children, the kitchen became a pressure cooker. Although I hesitate to admit this, I even took to wearing earplugs during dinner on account of the powerful lungs of my colicky son whose screams would shake the house.
At the time we bought the house, we had one infant child, but we soon added two more to the mix, which meant that our kitchen problems were exacerbated with each passing year. The cramped kitchen was becoming intolerable.
Where to Start?
So it was that last year we began discussions with an island construction and design company run by the husband-and-wife team Harvey Johnson and Heather Thompson, whose business it is to work closely with people to develop and build custom renovation projects. They both studied sculpture at the University of California in Santa Cruz and after college moved to Maine and worked as furniture makers. With Thompson as the designer, using computer-aided design (CAD) programs from their home computer, and Johnson as the craftsman, Thompson Johnson Woodworks soon began to grow.
We met in our kitchen around the table so they could get a sense of the space and its limitations. We measured out the room's floor plan and decided that it would be my job to reduce the 12-by-12-foot area to bare walls and rafters, and they would come up with several plans that would fit within the space.
Thompson went back to her office with the dimensions, which included measurements of some of the surrounding areas, and plugged the dimensions into her CAD program, a professional version of AutoCAD. She then began what she described as the fun part, imagining the space in three dimensions and using the computer always to scale to determine what could fit comfortably in the bare space.
As basic ground rules, we told them that we needed to separate the food-preparation area from the eating space. With three small children always coming and going especially considering that the bathroom was on the far side of the kitchen from the rest of the house it would be imperative to isolate the cook from this perpetual traffic.
Working Within the Guidelines
The homeowner interested in designing a kitchen using computer programs would be well served to study some of the guidelines that have been established by professionals. The National Kitchen & Bath Association, http://www.nkba.org , provides specific guidelines for designing kitchens, which allowed Thompson to incorporate certain ergonomic considerations. For example, you don't want floor space between counters to be less than about 4 feet apart, space to swing your arms, say. This 4-foot-wide space would accommodate an argy-bargy mother-in-law who tends to command the kitchen when she visits. (A one-cook kitchen requires just 42 inches of floor space for a work area.) Twenty-four inches of counter space on either side of the sink allows for the flow of dishwashing and food preparation; a 24-inch counter on at least one side of the stovetop is important for safe cooking, and 15 inches of counter is nice next to the refrigerator for resting heavy objects and groceries in transit.
Faster Than Graph Paper
Much of what can be done on amateur CAD programs can be done on graph paper, but not at the same speed and not as carefully, especially for the layperson. CAD programs are faster because once you have established your room layout, you can move objects around easily, Thompson adds. And you're always drawing everything to scale automatically. Whereas the thickness of your pencil line, on graph paper, can introduce an error.
The programs come with standard-sized sinks and appliances, which allow for precise measurements and drag-and-drop design. Once I had the measurements of your appliances, I arranged the program's drawings of these objects along the outer edge of the drawing on my computer screen, Thompson explains. And then I could click on the sink icon, slide it into place, nudge it to the left or the right, and then fill in the other items like the stove and refrigerator, which soon gave me a sense of the available space. To draw this out would take days of effort. This is so fast and easy to tweak. Drawings in 2-D were immediately available for printing on her desktop printer, which Thompson would bring to us for review.
Once she knew how space was needed to accommodate the non-negotiables, the appliances and the 4-foot floor space, Thompson was able to move that space around on her screen as a unit.
A feature that emerged in the design process was the idea of a banquette (a long, bench-like upholstered seat), which would fit well in a corner of the kitchen. The benefit to us would be the fact that two sides of the table would have benches that would form a fixed space. Without the benches, the table would tend to migrate out into the rest of the kitchen, and clog traffic to and from the bathroom or the outside door, when chairs slid in and out from the table.
By placing the banquette and table in one corner and the food-prep area in the other, Thompson soon found that there was still space for people to pass between the two areas. Our family of five, plus a guest or two, can now sit comfortably around the table and not be in the cook's way. Only with large dinner parties do we have to add a leaf extension to the table and begin to block traffic but there's also an appealing closeness to this sort of get-together.
When it came time to build the cabinets, Johnson selected quarter-sawn oak for the doors and mahogany for the faces and trim, which, combined with a radius curve built with 2-inch-thick vertical tongue-and-groove mahogany that defines the backside of the counter in the living area, gives the kitchen a warm, earthy glow that resembles the interior of a yacht.
I attempted my own drafting of a kitchen design, mostly to play around with the possibilities, and found a new CAD program called Instant Kitchen Design, which was produced last year by Upperspace, developers of design software for 18 years. I was able to download it from the company's website, http://www.upperspace.com , and after some initial hiccups finding the right support software, I was clicking and dragging like a madman. With some coaching by phone from Upperspace's senior technician, Jerry Herring, I was feeling confident enough after two hours of messing around with the software to begin an actual design. Most CAD programs for the homeowner that are priced under $100 (Instant Kitchen Design retails for just under $30) are designed to be simple to use by non-professionals.
We developed this program so that homeowners could feel more involved in their design process, Herring told me. Someone without CAD skills can begin using it right away. The benefit to these types of programs is also the drawback: They're simple and simple also means limited. One can spend upwards of $1,000 or far more on CAD programs, but if you want to bypass the majority of options that, as an amateur, you'll never use anyway, such programs are the way to go.
Each of the programs allows you to draw your own walls to whatever specifications are required. Other than adjusting the length and width of the room, you often can't adjust the shape of the room to account for odd angles or dormers. Which is why a drawing tool, including predetermined shapes like circles, ellipses, arcs and angles, is included in the program's toolbar in my case, along the bottom and top of the screen. These are helpful for other reasons as well. The program didn't offer a pre-designed corner bench (banquette), which Thompson drew into the plans to our specifications, so I drew one in. You don't get to view these objects in the 3-D mode you can view your creations simply by clicking the 3-D button on the toolbar but at least the bird's-eye view includes the lines, and you don't have to use a protractor or a compass to draw them in.
The program I used allowed me to customize all the cabinets for height, depth and style for both wall-mounted and base cabinets. Using spacers, tailored to fit the specific space, was especially helpful if the program didn't offer exactly the cabinet style we were using. To top it off, I could even select the color of the walls, the style of the ceiling and the material of the floor. Again, the selection was limited, but I was able to arrive at an option that was close enough to offer an honest suggestion of what the kitchen would look like exactly to scale.
After almost a year of use, our new kitchen still fits our family. The raised ceiling absorbs more sound than the previous low ceiling, so I don't have to wear earplugs any longer. The cook can create a meal without tripping over people sitting at the table or others interested in moving to and from the bathroom. Most importantly, it is a beautiful area, the best part of the house, the vital center. And although I haven't seen my friend Allan MacTamney in more than 10 years, I think he'd be pleased. n
Twain Braden is a freelance writer who has recently moved from his home on Peaks Island and now lives in Bridgton, Maine.