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In defense of open kitchen design

By Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

I’m sure that J. Bryan Lowder, culture writer for the online magazine Slate, launched his screed against modern open kitchen design to provoke a reaction. Well, he succeeded. My wife, Linda, wondered: “What’s not to like?” Award-winning kitchen designer Jeanine DeVaney said: “That’s silly.”

I’m with them.

A few weeks ago, Lowder wrote that today’s open kitchens have been foisted on gullible homebuyers by the evangelists on subversive propaganda outlets like HGTV. Kitchens should have walls, he said, so your guests won’t see you drop stuff on the floor. He said open kitchens aren’t that great for entertaining and you’re not going to entertain, anyway.

There was an odor of hip urban snark emanating from Lowder’s Aug. 13 piece.

“There is one distressingly popular design choice that has spread throughout HGTV’s stable of shows like black mold through a flooded basement,” he wrote, “and I can no longer abet its growth by keeping silent. I’m talking about the baneful scourge that is the ‘open-concept kitchen.’”

Now, he was right about one point: If you didn’t entertain in your old kitchen, you probably won’t in your new kitchen. You’ll still be you.

But he was wrong about almost everything else. In most ways, open kitchen design is a huge improvement.

And DeVaney, owner of Charlotte In-Vironments, makes the point that open kitchens work well for all sorts of families. “It doesn’t matter what stage of life people are in. They just say, ‘I want an open plan.’”

Young moms in the kitchen can watch toddlers in the great room. Older couples can invite guests to gather and help prepare the meal. We do that. (If someone accidentally drops something onto the floor, well, just pour another round of sauvignon blanc.)

There are some tradeoffs when kitchen walls come down.

If you knock walls down, there are fewer places to hang cabinets. But folks like DeVaney come up with creative ways to stretch the storage space that is available. Deep drawers for pans and plates, for instance, or innovative nooks in islands.

If you knock walls down, you have to worry about things like kitchen noises and odors. “You can get... a quiet dishwasher that you can’t even hear,” DeVaney said. “Or... really good ventilation, so cooking won’t make the whole house smell.”

DeVaney admits that some clients do prefer traditional kitchens with all four walls. But not many. “About 1 in 200,” she said.

In the interest of full disclosure, workers next week will be opening a pass-through from our kitchen to the great room – so my wife can watch HGTV from the kitchen sink.

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