It’s an age-old problem. People like to watch. Whether for a family gathering, or a corporate soirée, people gravitate toward the kitchen. The challenge for the host is to handle the crowd, get the food to them in timely fashion, and be able to enjoy their own party. “Human beings have, for thousands of years, gathered around fire for sustenance, warmth and protection,” explains Beverly Hammel, whose design firm, Beverly Hammel Inc., provides interior architectural and design services, specializing in kitchens and baths.
“Gathering in the kitchen is a way to feel safe, nurtured, protected," she says. "In earlier times, nourishment and survival was the ‘work’ of the day. Today, we cook to entertain and share time with family and friends. The kitchen remains the center of most people's world.” Strategic design choices allow the kitchen to accommodate both those preparing the meal, and those watching and waiting for it.
“Power and control in the kitchen is what you need when you entertain,” Hammel says. To maximize efficiency Hammel suggests creating a cooking area, a staging area, and a serving area. The cooking area is most important and should allow the chef easy access to everything they need to do their job, like tools and ingredients. It should include a prep space, and a place to put the food as it gets done.
“Counters and seats help set boundaries for the cook,” Hammel says. Creating a beverage station gives guests a place to gather and satisfies their need to be close to the action. “If you set up cocktails and appetizers in a location away from the chef,” says Hammel, “and have a designated pied piper to lead the way, your guests will follow.” Newer homes are often designed with separate bar areas (the perfect beverage station), or butler’s pantries. These are a tremendous help, providing a sort of second kitchen. They can function as staging areas, or they can act as serving areas.
If space and budget allow, specialized appliances ease the burden of entertaining. Second sinks and second refrigerators are popular, as well as second dishwashers. Auxiliary cook tops can provide extra cooking space, or can be used to keep foods warm. In fact, appliances have evolved into highly sophisticated tools. The old combo refrigerator-freezer is practically a thing of the past. Instead, smaller, more specialized units are being designed for installation closer to where they are used. An ice maker in the bar saves people having to go to the “box” for ice—it is right there next to the drinks. Wine coolers keep wines at just the right temperature. A refrigerated drawer in the kitchen island may dispense beverages, at a height easily accessed by children, and out of the cook’s way.
Many of these appliances are designed to blend into cabinetry. “Today's modular, point-of-use appliances offer many options and when fully integrated create a beautiful room,” says Hammel. “It allows you to create a very efficient space because they can go anywhere—and not be seen. Some warming drawers will hold the temperature, so you can take your meat off the grill and hold it at temperature.”
Other kitchen considerations include lighting and materials. Task lighting is essential to working in the kitchen, but ambient lighting creates atmosphere. And so, like the appliances, task lights should be installed near work spaces—where they are needed—while chandeliers and other soft-light sources can be used to “add sparkle and excitement,” Hammel says.
In a kitchen that gets a lot of use, delicate materials are just not practical. Hammel advises against marble and limestone as they are porous and will stain and etch more easily. Her choice is quartzite, a composite of stone and resin. “It takes the most abuse,” she says.
Hammel trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and worked as design director of a premier Kitchen and Bath Design showroom in the Merchandise Mart until she opened her own design studio in 1998. Aside from working in Chicago and Southwest Michigan, she has designed for clients throughout the country. She also designed the demonstration and studio kitchen for the acclaimed PBS series The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter.