All I Want Is an Open-Concept Kitchen

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Public Domain. MaxPixel

It would make my life as a parent so much easier.

There is an ongoing debate among TreeHugger staff as to whether open-concept kitchens are a bad idea or a brilliant one. Lloyd has written extensively about this topic and he is staunchly anti-open kitchens, but whenever he posts one of his rants, editor Melissa and I issue a good-natured challenge. She says she can't live without her open-concept kitchen, and I say it's all I dream of having.

After Lloyd's latest, in which he asked, "Tell me again why anyone being stuck in the kitchen all day is a good thing?", I couldn't help but feel a need to respond. With all due respect to Lloyd, whose articles are well-informed and thought-provoking, here are the reasons why I would trade my small, confined kitchen for an open-concept one in a heartbeat.

First of all, I have three young children and they want to be exactly where I am, especially on weeknights when we've spent daytime hours apart. Despite encouraging them to go outside or play in another room, they always drift back to the kitchen. They want to talk, need help with homework, or they are curious about what I'm making. It's not uncommon to have two kids rolling around on the kitchen floor and another sitting on the counter, all within a few square feet. I'm in the midst of it all, trying to get dinner going, and it's not fun.

reading a book on the kitchen floor

© K Martinko -- The kitchen floor is a popular reading spot in our household.

Unlike the American averages that Lloyd mentions in his article, my family eats together every night and we (yes, both my husband and I) make all our food from scratch. This amounts to about three hours of work per day (approximately one hour in the morning and two in the evening, from prep to cleanup), with significantly more on weekends. The only time either of us enters another room in the house for a prolonged period of time – not counting my office during work hours – is to eat meals at the dining table (only because it doesn't fit in our kitchen) and to collapse on the living room couch after the kids have gone to bed. The rest of the time we live in the kitchen.

So, I am pretty much a living example of that vestigial female that Lloyd wants so badly to get out of the kitchen, but do I feel stifled or trapped when I'm in there? No! Only the narrow, confined space is a frustration, not the tasks that are performed within it.

I take issue with Paul Overy's suggestion that a kitchen should be used efficiently so that a housewife is "free to return to her own social, occupational or leisure pursuits." For me the kitchen IS my social and leisure escape. It's where I want to be when I'm not working, because I love cooking, baking, preserving, flipping through cookbooks; it's my creative escape. Why would I not make it a place where the rest of the world can meet me and revolve around my interests and priorities?

I love to entertain, and having a separated kitchen is not conducive to it. Guests enter into the dining room and don't know where to go, since the living room is at one end of the house and the kitchen is at the other. Often they end up in the kitchen where we all stand awkwardly with no natural place to lean or sit. Sometimes I beg my husband to take guests to the living room while I put the finishing touches on dinner minus the live audience, but this is such a weird reversion to old-fashioned gender roles that it makes us both uncomfortable. I don't think my generation of guests likes it either; they'd rather pitch in than be formally served.

What about the argument that a separated kitchen keeps the mess hidden? I don't buy it – because if you have a chronically dirty and cluttered kitchen, you've got bigger problems on your hands than the fact that you can see it from the couch, and the presence of walls isn't going to fix the problem. My separated kitchen gets cleaned every night, regardless of the fact that it's not visible from the rest of the house.

The kitchen is a magnet for family, no matter what size it is, and as long as I have kids living under this roof and continue to cook the way I do, an open-concept kitchen would make our family life much easier. In fact, it's exactly what my husband and I plan to do next spring – knock down the wall between the kitchen and dining room to make, finally, a somewhat bigger open space for our family to enjoy.

Don't think I haven't listened to Lloyd's other design lessons, though. There is going to be an enormous hood on the stove, vented to the exterior, that will pull greasy air away from the common space; and the living room, with all its musical instruments, will remain entirely separate from the cooking/eating zone, so I hope he won't be too disappointed. I think I'll invite him for dinner as a peace offering and we can just agree to disagree.