I have been talking to a lot of Allied Professionals in the home design industry lately, and the post-COVID Kitchen has been a hot topic.

Something I have found interesting is how often the Closed-Off Kitchen has been creeping into the conversation.

When I began my design career, the Kitchen was a room that 9 times out of 10 was closed off from the rest of the home.

If the room was an eat-in Kitchen that was a bonus!

Most of the renovations that I designed in the early years remained within those 4 walls with better function of the space a top priority for clients.

With Design Professionals starting to talk more about the Closed-Off Kitchen I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my past solutions.

Scrolling through my past projects I actually discovered I had multiple Closed-Off Kitchen designs on my computer.

Having designed over 1000 Kitchens I guess I was bound to have a few!

When I saw this one I though it would be a good example to showcase.

The Before

This layout was a very typical “BEFORE” that I encountered back in the late 90’s early 2000’s.

The U-Shaped Kitchen was the go-to layout for most Kitchen designs for the last half of the 20th Century.

This layout evolved from studies by Home Economists in the 1940’s and was deemed to be ideal for the 5’4″ able-bodied, female, homemaker of the time.

But, in 2002 this layout was not cutting it for this family.

A few things that annoyed them about their Kitchen were:

  • It did not work for 2 cooks
  • The upper corner cabinets were inaccessible
  • There was a lack of general storage
  • There was no place for a microwave
  • The range location was very dangerous
  • The framed in pantry wasted a lot of space
  • The eating bar didn’t function for them
  • The layout felt cramped
  • The space was really dated

My design approach is all about giving my clients options.

Before I jumped in and started designing though, I conducted a thorough needs assessment with them to understand what they really wanted for their new space.

Highlights from the interview included:

  • They wanted to keep the Kitchen within the existing space
  • The did not want to alter the windows (They had been replaced the previous year)
  • They were willing to move the mechanical in the room (plumbing & electrical)
  • They would consider some minor interior door modifications
  • They wanted new appliances including a cooktop, wall oven and microwave
  • Mom and daughter liked to bake so a designated baking area would be nice
  • They would consider not having a kitchen table but would want a dining bar for four
  • Better flow was important
  • Their décor style was classic

Here is what I came up with 20 years ago!

Kitchen Option A

In this layout I kept all of the door openings as is and explored a Kitchen Design using a free standing table.

The 42″ round table would accommodate the four family members and the angled cabinets in that area would allow for better flow in the room.

As with all of my Kitchen Designs I plotted the Food Flow Zones for the layout so that the client could easily see how the Kitchen would function.

The Food Storage Zone includes the refrigerator “built-in” with gables with a pullout pantry beside it.

The microwave/wall oven cabinet was also placed on this wall to allow all of the tall, deep cabinets to balance each other.

The angled base cabinet on the end provides a safe drop off counter for hot items coming out of the ovens.

The Prep Zone and Cooking Zone are on the opposite wall with the Clean-Up Zone around the corner.

This sink is in it’s original position but I purposely placed the dishwasher around the corner to avoid having it between the sink and the cooktop.

If a cook likes to clean-up as they cook, avoid placing the dishwasher between the Prep & Cooking Zones. They will constantly be tripping over it if you do!

To bridge the area between the refrigerator and sink/cooktop area I suggested a portable butcher block.

This mini island on casters would allow the cook to move it to wherever it was needed in the Kitchen.

The Serving Zone in this option consists of a group of tall pantries, 12″ deep. This is the same depth as wall cabinets so perfect for tableware, casserole dishes, salad bowls and dishes.

This design really opens up the space and would be fairly economical renovation.

Kitchen Option B

Option B also kept all the existing doorways in place, but this time I explored a dining bar for the clients.

The dining bar is placed on a peninsula that is radiused to accommodate 4 diners comfortably.

The Food Storage Zone in this design includes the refrigerator, the open shelves on the wall and the base cabinetry below.

The open shelves would be great for glass jars of dried goods, while the base cabinet drawers and corner accessory could store a variety of packaged goods.

Light weight items like cereal and cracker boxes would be stored in the deep cabinet above the refrigerator.

This design has tons of counter space with lots of room for prepping and cooking.

There is definitely room for two or more cooks to work in this kitchen simultaneously.

A big bonus with this layout is the designated baking center.

It is placed under the window for lots of natural light and the counter could even be dropped in that area if the bakers would like.

The Clean-Up Zone has the sink relocated to the window that overlooks the back yard.

This option offers a better view than the one out the side window to the neighbor’s house.

This layout offers the homeowners the ample storage they requested and a multi-cook Kitchen, but there are a few more options to explore!

Kitchen Option C

Option C is the one design that offers a desirable island layout.

An island is an element that many homeowners want to include in their Kitchen, so I will always work hard to develop an option to include one.

To accommodate an island in this room, cabinetry could not be placed on the backwall.

A positive though, was this provided a clear traffic path from the back entrance to the hallway.

This layout avoided major traffic cutting through the work triangle.

The island in this design is also a great size at about 6’6″ by 3’6″.

It easily accommodates the four stools requested and gives a large open counter area for the Prep Zone.

The Cooking Zone is conveniently located across from the island with a good amount of countertop either side of it.

By recessing the wall oven and microwave into the corner an expansive Bake Area was designed under the large backyard facing window.

The base storage in this area would accommodate all of the client’s baking ingredients.

Tray dividers would be specified in the deep cabinet above the ovens for easily accessible storage for cookie sheets, muffin tins and baking pans.

To find room for the Food Storage Zone this layout recommends moving the dining room door down the wall a bit.

By doing this there is enough room for the new refrigerator and a 12″ deep, 27″ wide pantry facing the sink wall.

I specify this type of pantry a lot because it allows items to be stored one or two deep for easy viewing and eliminates having to purchase an expensive pullout pantry system.

The Clean-Up Zone in this plan stays under the window in it’s original location and has open shelves above for easy retrieval of everyday dishware.

This Kitchen Design offers a great contemporary design (especially for 2002), but let’s look at one more option I presented.

Kitchen Option D

The goal of this design was to eliminate traffic flow directly through the Kitchen work triangle.

This design would require some additional renovation to connect the back entrance with the hallway but it was a layout worth considering.

The layout for this Kitchen is the traditional U-Shape but much more functional for this family.

This design has the back entrance door into the kitchen closed off to provide a large space for the Kitchen Design.

Beginning with the Food Storage Zone, I specified the refrigerator at the end of one of the legs with a large pantry beside it.

This setup would more than accommodate the families food storage needs.

Keeping all the deep, tall units together the microwave/oven tower is beside the pantry with great drop off counter to the left of it.

This corner would become the Bake Center with all the baking goods stored there.

The sink under the window, as mentioned above, provides a great view of the backyard.

The Prep Zone to the left flows easily to the Cooking Zone and then to the Serving Zone.

With the distance between the two outside legs of this “U” quite wide, the portable butcher block highlighted in Option A could work in this layout as well.

The real focal point of this kitchen is the built-in banquette with large pullout drawers below.

I must admit when I saw this in my design it made me smile. We often think that when something like banquette seating becomes popular on Instagram it is a new idea!

It was fun to see I was specifying banquettes and floating shelves more than 20 years ago!

Probably the best part of this layout though, is that the traffic from the back entrance completely bypasses the Kitchen.

I knew this was something that would intrigue my client.

So, if this was your space and the new Kitchen needed to remain within the existing 4 walls, which Option would you choose?

I’d love to hear from you so leave your answer in the comments section below.

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Jan Rutgers B.Sc. H.Ec.

Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

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