The Kitchen Designer

Thanks for stopping by! I'm Susan Serra, certified kitchen designer, and my mission is to take kitchen design style, function and analysis to a higher level. Here's why the kitchen has the most honored place in the home - all five senses reside in the kitchen.  Best...Susan  Contact: susan@susanserraassociates.com

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« Kitchen Design Consulting | Main | Random Kitchen Musings »

Open Kitchen Floorplan Or Closed?

The results are in! Thank you for taking the survey! The topic of the kitchen floorplan survey was spur of the moment for me. I had just finished a marathon session designing my own kitchen (in a dreamlike state as it is at least a year or two off). Suddenly, grappling with issues and questions pertaining to a wide open (to the entire main floor) vs. a partially open floorplan, I thought it would be very interesting to hear what others thought...especially now. So, I put up a quick poll and noted it on Twitter.

Now, we are in, what many think, is a different time, a kitchen "evolution". Many of us are enjoying our homes in a renewed way. We're cooking more, entertaining more, we're together more, a mix of multi-generations coming together. We're becoming reacquainted with our homes and finding great comfort there. I'd written about how the kitchen was changing in the past 2 years prior to the "Great Recession" but that event put this trend on the fast track. We want to be together more. Therefore, more activities are taking place in the kitchen. Yes, even more than we've previously read about over the years in all the magazines. 

In the 80s and 90s, the walls suddenly came down between our kitchens and dining rooms or family rooms. That is why the island became the "must have" element in the kitchen. The kitchen became even more social. And, that trend continued. It's only increased in importance, as a social magnet, as the years went on. 

I predict that islands will become even bigger in terms of their size. I predict that little by little, our cabinetry will leave the perimeter walls, or at least one or two of the walls, and will become centered in the kitchen, where possible. I see a change. I think it's in the air, but still in the clouds a bit, perhaps. 

I think a lot about this topic, and I always have...where we are in our kitchens now, what we might want, how we live in them, contemplating the future.

So, on to the survey!

The survey had 150 responses, a good number. Next time I may keep it up longer. But, here's where it gets really interesting...

For a period of time on Twitter, I put out tweets with a link to the survey. Suddenly, I realized that I forgot to put the survey on my blog, but that was quite awhile after it had appeared on Twitter. I was very surprised at what happened next. 

The results from Twitter were markedly different from the results on my blog. I find that fascinating and here's why. On Twitter, I follow many designers, industry leaders, allied professionals and manufacturers of kitchen related products. THAT segment of the responses far and away responded to the survey from many to fewer responses in the order that the questions were asked. I did not capture those statistics because I did not expect this differing result, which was to come (afterward). Thus, far more responses on Twitter voted for a wide open, loft-like kitchen environment. 

Those who voted in the survey on the blog wanted their kitchens less open. I saw fast and consistent results in this pattern, as I monitored the survey.

Here are the original questions that were asked and the OVERALL percentages:

If you could choose, would you like the kitchen to be open to surrounding living areas or closed off?

  • totally wide open to surrounding living areas, loft-like 25.5%
  • open just to one living area 38%
  • partially open kitchen (barriers, 1/2 walls) 27%
  • closed off from all surrounding rooms 9.5%

These results tell me several things:

Forget about wanting to cook in private. We don't want to be isolated or need to be. That era is over for the vast majority of people.

Considering that there were more blog responses than Twitter responses (blog responses generally did not favor a loft-like kitchen) I think it's very interesting that the (overall) responses to the first question was as high as it was. We're moving toward wanting our spaces to be even more open. That's what that number of 25.5% tells me. I think it's impressive, and interesting.

The kitchen being partially open at 27% assumes that homeowners are comfortable being somewhat exposed to surrounding living areas. So, I'm thinking that if we put the first and second numbers together, they are sending a strong message toward designing the kitchen into an open floorplan. And, perhaps the 27% number represents those who currently have closed off kitchens, and are taking a small step visually toward a more open space, but not too open. But, I cannot be sure of this interpretation.

The difference in who the respondents are...professionals primarily in the design industry on Twitter vs. the general public, my readers, who responded to the blog survey, is also interesting. While at first, the difference in the voting results between the two groups was a surprise, I think the "Twitter effect" must underscore the comfort level of design/industry professionals in regard to, perhaps:

  • wanting the eye to travel further in the space
  • a desire to have freedom of movement
  • a desire to unite several areas creatively under a common theme
  • an understanding that a dwelling with multiple people in an open space can foster relationships in a positive way, invite togetherness, along with a physical ease of communication

And, I'm sure there are other issues that these respondents considered. 

In short, it tells me that the Twitter respondents have a unique vision. The response of the blog readers tells me that they increasingly wish to be in a mostly open space, most likely for some of the very same reasons just mentioned. 

I know I've gone on forever. Please tell me your thoughts about this topic!

Images: KLMDesign (1) and Boligmagasinet (2)


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Reader Comments (25)

I love the open floor plan but despise the lack of privacy when cooking. Sometimes a chef needs to keep her secrtes and the open plan does not allow for that. Otherwise it is a super way to socalize while in the preparing for a dinner party. Everyone ends up in the kitchen anyway!

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPatti

I should have built a 40 x 40 kitchen,when the kids are at home,daughters(30-40 years),company,and grandkids are in the kitchen,maybe one son-in-law,watching races.Believe it or not,grandaughters are stiring pots,and putting things together.The two I raised,and like right arms,so things go together.Company,is learning lots of time,where its gravy making,cornbread dressing,or just a cup of coffee and cake.I keep my kitchen clean,and clean up as I go.If,I had it to do over,I would have a very large,open,well lighted kitchen.We,cook anything,from boil water to pastry,and now days people need to learn things.Storage,is always a problem,with my toys(as the kids say)!! People in general are lazy,and after seeing how easy,good food,easy prep,and clean up goes fast,the next word is,I can't afford those toys,but we waste,more than they cost!!Maybe not much on direct kitchen,but its main function is food,and as they say about a man,we are so direct.

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim-49

As I looked for a first home this fall, I realize now that I dismissed most houses immediately because of the private kitchens -- I think definitely for the four reasons above, but especially the fourth. From entertaining to staying connected while cooking for the family, the kitchen is too social to be closed off!

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Warner

I turned my adjacent family room into a dining room. I wish the whole room was wider but not enough to dig up my garden to add on. I like a tight work area and people out of my zone. I like the openness. The dining room with fireplace adds to the long view. Am planning to convert dining room into dining and library and I am going to cal it good.

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhome before dark

Open, open, open! I like companionship while I cook -- really, I'd prefer someone to be cooking with me, but short of that, at least keep me connected to them!

One of my favorite things my husband and I have started doing is having one of us read aloud while another one does the dishes. As our family grows, having this happen *in* the kitchen wouldn't be as ideal as having it happen within earshot of the kitchen.

Plus, I get claustrophobic when I'm shut in with all those pots and pans. Give me a little open space, let me watch my kids at play while I wait for the meat to brown, and I'll enjoy my job *much* more.

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I think I voted for partially open, with a half wall. That's what I had before our new kitchen was installed. The half wall was about 5" higher than the counters, thus shielding the occasional mess a bit better. On the other hand, the openness of the new kitchen forces me to keep it extremely tidy. Don't know which I like better. LOL


The question of open to closed is also depending upon the size of the kitchen. Ours is small (10'x10') and I would feel claustrophobic if it was closed, despite all the windows.

I personally don't like to have other people in the kitchen, even if it is a large one (we had them), but I like to be connected to the dining and living area. I can even watch TV while working in the kitchen, and the TV is in the living room, on the opposite side of the house.

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

it is interesting to observe how most people are turning towards in favor of more-open kitchen; and i think this change in trend may be due to change in cultures of many homes/families.

Compared to old times, kitchen is no more just a space for moms to cook while others are outside doing their own things. Nowadays,kitchen is more of a collaborative space for the entire family, and thus more people want it to be widely open to other areas so everyone in the house can connect more easily.

Also, as culture changes and people get busy, people spend less time cooking, and less often do they eat fancy food at home that takes hours to prepare. So closed-off kitchens are less preferred because people no longer want/need a workspace-alike kitchen that provides space-to-concentrate for whoever preparing a time-consuming meal.

I mean.. these are some of my thoughts on your survey results

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChuck

Busy last couple of days, but I've been reading these great responses!

Patti...you've aptly defined the love/hate common feeling about an open floorplan that I've heard many times. I guess there's "open" and there's "open!"

Jim-49, it sounds like you have a great time with your entire family in your kitchen. It also sounds like you could sure use that 40x40 space. Thank you for sharing your kitchen with me for a bit.

Julie...yes, it is a compelling draw, having an open kitchen for social reasons. And, why not? Life isn't always neat, and neither is the kitchen! I should say it the other way around...life gets messy and so does the kitchen. :)

homebeforedark...I love that you are very clear on what your needs are. You need that dining area. In my home, with our growing family, we need it too. Thanks for your insight.

Laura, thanks for sharing that piece of your life in (or near) the kitchen! It sounds absolutely lovely. And, come on, how nice is it to be able to watch family life while in the kitchen? I agree.

Connie, thanks for the picture, what a beautiful kitchen!! That is what I love...having windows all the way down close to the countertops. Looks like you have the best of both worlds...a very open feeling and a tall wall of good storage. Interesting to hear the "level" of openness that you and others are comfortable with. Very interesting.

Chuck, I think, too, with so many fast/easy ways to figure out what's for dinner (I get 2 Martha Stewart food newsletters every day with quick/easy recipes in them) the kitchen is not so much a place to do serious cooking during the week, so the emphasis is more on social connections, rather than on a serious task at hand. I think that's what you are saying, and I agree.

October 30, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

My thought when I answered the survey is that it really depends on the house. In my big old Victorian house, a totally open kitchen would not feel right, but I also don't like the way that in most of the old houses in my historic neighborhood, the kitchens are totally closed off and way too small in comparison to the rest of the house, as was my house when we bought it. We were lucky that we could tear down a wall and combine the existing kitchen with an adjacent small room that had no identifiable function in a modern home. This both enlarged the kitchen, allowing us to have a real eat-in space (many homes in my area use their formal dining rooms, which tend to be quite formal, for every day eating, or have very cramped eat in space in the kitchen), and greatly opened up the flow of the house. At the same time, to preserve the architectural integrity of the home as best I could (despite having torn out a wall) I wanted to keep some sense of separation. So we put in a peninsula and double-sided glass upper cabinets, that defined the space as it had been, while still allowing a flow around the rooms. The formal dining room is still separated from the kitchen by a butler's pantry and a swinging door. I'm very happy with how it "feels" even though I'm sure some would have wanted a more completely "open" plan.

If I were building a house from scratch to my exact specifications, I imagine I might design something similar. Although I like having a flow and open spaces, I don't think I would like the loft feel of everything being all one room. I'm a messy cook!!! I love when I make Thanksgiving dinner, and the food is finally all on the table, and the lights are dimmed, and the candles lit, being able to shut out the chaos that is the kitchen, until it is time to clean the table. It would definitely detract from the atmosphere if the dirty pots and pans were visible from the table where everyone is eating.

November 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

The debate can (an will) go on forever ... that's the fun of designing kitchens for real people in real homes! Clients ask for trendy until you ask them to think about their space and their own cooking/dining/entertaining style preferences.

I suspect the Twitter vs. blog results may stem from your readers thinking "what works for me in my home" while designers skew toward "what is beautiful (and looks good in a portfolio)".

With aloha, Oahu CKD

November 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOahu CKD

Hey there,

Enjoyed your posts so thought I’d congratulate you on this fantastically informative Blog,

Thank you!

November 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Myers

Jeannie, thanks so much for that very clear descriptive piece about your own kitchen. I do agree. The poll was simple, perhaps too simple, given different sizes and types of homes, but it was also interesting to know the general consensus.

I think you did what many would do...take at least one wall down, and that is the most typical response to "yesterday's" kitchen plans. It never ceases to amaze me, even in relatively modern homes which can be enormous, that the thinking in the recent past was still to design a kitchen that may accommodate only a small L-shape run of cabinets and a small table in a bay window, for example. But, I'm digressing. It's also interesting for me to know what you would do if you could do it from scratch. That's the most fun, the dreaming part.

Hey Oahu! What you're saying is that it is a process. That's for sure! I don't think that the Twitterers were necessarily thinking of a portfolio, I think they were thinking toward a bigger vision in general...but I've been wrong once before (I love to say that!) And you're right...there's always that conflict of the every day kitchen vs. the entertaining kitchen. It takes time to sort through that!

November 2, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Susan, I am curious to hear your thoughts about this topic, the open kitchen, in conjunction with another popular topic you recently posted on: "the white kitchen". Do you think white kitchens work with open plans better than stained wood? It seems most of the white kitchens I see are fairly enclosed. However, I do notice that in open plans that have white kitchens, the white upper cabinetry seems to 'fade into the background' which I would think would be good. Any thoughts?

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLydia

well, to follow up on what I wrote last time, kitchen for my (or my family's) apartment seems to follow the trend that you mentioned in the piece as well. It might be coincidence, but as I move from one apt to another, I see nowadays that less apt actually have doors for kitchen (they are usually sliding doors if there's any)

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterchukcy

Do you have any problem with the smell from cooking traveling throughout the family room and/or dining room with open kitchen design? My other concern is when you wash dishes, and some members of the family are watching TV, Do you wish to have a door closed? I am in the process of designing my new kitchen, and maybe addition to the house, I am struggling with which design to go for? Open kitchen or separate kitchen ( with walls and doors closed )...

November 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVivi

Vivi, sorry, but that is a separate blog post which you just gave me an idea for, as I think it is not a short answer, and quite a few factors need to be considered. I hope to do that this weekend, it's a great follow up to this poll. Check back shortly.

Chukcy, I agree, and I see apartments as a separate issue. I have an apartment in New York City and when we bought it, the kitchen had walls around it. Then, we opened it up and it greatly expands the space. This is very common in small New York City apartments.

Lydia, it's very funny that you should say that, as that is the exact situation that I have in my new (not newly built) home, and I have thought about that very topic, as my current kitchen is 20 years old. Of course, every situation is different. As I think about renovating this kitchen which is wide open to an eating area and a family room, the ONLY living/family room in the house, here is my thought process.

First, the disclaimer is that there really is no right or wrong. That said, yes, the white fades into the background, but that is, in my case, because the walls are white in the entirety of my first floor. So, that works...to a point.

What doesn't work is that if you are designing a "typical" kitchen design, where it's one cabinet after another with busy door styles and appliances, then, my eye translates that into "utilitarian" as opposed to, say, a furniture feel, a feeling of lightness, an easy integration into the family space. I feel it has to do with how the cabinetry is designed, the message it sends. Can wood stained cabinetry work? Sure, it depends on how large the room is and how the cabinetry is designed. It's not a simple answer!

November 6, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

You said:

"While at first, the difference in the voting results between the two groups was a surprise, I think the "Twitter effect" must underscore the comfort level of design/industry professionals in regard to, perhaps:

* wanting the eye to travel further in the space
* a desire to have freedom of movement
* a desire to unite several areas creatively under a common theme
* an understanding that a dwelling with multiple people in an open space can foster relationships in a positive way, invite togetherness, along with a physical ease of communication"

Um. WOW. That sounds more than a wee bit condescending to people who don't agree, doesn't it?

Designers get excited about what's new and maximally interesting to them--NOT what is functional, livable, and practical. This is understandable--no one wants to do the same thing all the time. But people who must actually live in a house will have a very different reaction to it than people wanting nothing more than novelty and aesthetic stimulation in equal measures. Just look at the amount of open shelving that KDs now typically include--shelves that must be dusted weekly full of lovely dishes that must be washed before use if they are used less frequently than once every couple of days.

I've seen gorgeous magazine kitchens in real-world use. Some stand up to the challenge. Others don't at all. Those who don't should have questioned their KDs much more closely and not gotten swept up in their enthusiasm.

November 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMimi R

Mimi, the running theme throughout each of the sentences in your comment exhibits an obvious negative view of kitchen and interior designers and I disagree with your points. I will not attempt to change your view, you are entitled to it, although I find it regrettable and misguided, of course.

I will, however, say that anyone who is a regular reader of this blog or who knows anything about me knows that my philosophy is to guide my clients and my readers toward finding what works for their personal needs and desires in their kitchen interiors.

November 28, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

I just moved from a 1928 house to a 1990 house. The newer house is much more open. After living in it a few months, here are my observations:
1.Everything is louder and it takes adjustment to have the noise of the living space in the kitchen and vice versa.
2. The island, while horribly ugly, is a magnet for our teenage daughter. She would disappear into her room in the other house, and now she spends her time at the island. HUGE difference.

We need to try and abate the problem of #1, but #2 is gold.

December 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdrienne

mimi is quite right in her analysis. Professionals tend to get mroe swept up in trends than normal people. The idea of an open kitchn seems to have mostly plusses, but taken to the extreme loft style it definitely is not for everybody. No one has mentioned "smells" until now. I don't cook spicy or particularly ethnic foods, but still, when I cook anyhting involving the oven or frying pan the place tned to smell of food. I just bought a new house and we are goign to make the kitchen much more open, but I am still leaving half the wall closed (structurally I cannot fully get rid of it anyway) and make some pocket doors, so I can have the kitchen accessible, but I can also keep aromas from getting into the whole furniture.

January 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstephen

A closed floor plan is best. An open floor plan is the equivalent of living in a barn. Have some class: go with the closed floor plan. Within a few years stainless steel appliances along with granite countertops will be as dated as the 1970's. We'll look back and say, "what were we thinking?"

January 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjohn

I wish I had found your page earlier because this issue is consuming me right now. We are planing our new house and for a while, we have struggled to decide on the layout of the kitchen. We prefer a more closed kitchen for several reasons. First of all, I fully agree with Jeannie who lives in a Victorian house. After cooking, my kitchen is messy and I love to close it in order to enjoy dinner without seeing the working space. Also, I prefer not to have all the kitchen fumes penetrate the whole house. Another important observation, my children stay closer to the kitchen, in the adjoining tv area, if they are not disturbed by loud kitchen noises. If those noises interfere with them watching tv, they retreat to the game room. I can relate. If I am watching a movie and someone starts unloading the dishwasher, the first thing I do is to close the door. A completely open kitchen would be a problem for me. I agree with on reader, most likely the trend will revers in a matter of time and we will ask ourselves... "What were we thinking?" Still, it is true that the kitchen is a gathering place. So, we are hoping that the design of a rather big kitchen and breakfast area will provide a gathering space while we are trying to make the kitchen easily accessible, yet rather closed at the same time.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

I live in India and we are buying a new apartment.. so I've been doing research on an open vs. closed kitchen. The kitchen in the apartment is quite spacious and well-ventilated.... I love the idea of an open kitchen,at the same time I dont want to regret having an open kitchen.I have been toying with idea of knocking down a part of the wall and making the kitchen more "open". I enjoy cooking for family and friends ,at the same time I do feel left out while I am in the kitchen. My main concern is smell.. I dont want the entire house to smell of garlic everyday.. Am still undecided.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRuchi

I have been looking over kitchen websites for the last couple months and just found your website Susan, and now find myself drawn to it. Love the practical information. Thanks. My husband and I are in the stages of planning our next kitchen,and after coming from an open kitchen right now, I prefer less open. The social aspect can still occur in less open designs, especially since kitchens of today have the big islands which people can sit and talk to the cook. I don't mind the living room area being a little off to the side more secluded from the kichen as some prefer a little less action than in the kitchen area. The one thing I love in a kitchen is windows to enjoy nature, very calming and centering for me at any time. danalee

March 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdanalee

Thank you for share. This information is useful for me.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

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