If you’ve watched any of the house flipping shows on TV, you would have noticed that the first thing the designer/flipper says upon walking into an older home, “We can take down this wall and open up the kitchen.” Cue graphics of a wall disappearing and a chic breakfast bar taking its place. The open plan kitchen brings the most important room in the house, right into the center of the action. Easy access to food, the TV, and everything going on in the home means that food prep and cooking no longer has to be a solitary undertaking. Equally, snacking in front of the big screen is easier than it’s ever been. It’s meant that the modern-day kitchen can’t drag behind the rest of the house aesthetically. Raggedy cabinets and appliances are a thing of the past in these homes as they have to keep pace with the living room, ushering in a new realm of kitchen design.
A Brief History
Open-plan kitchens have been in vogue since the early 1990s and were generally reserved for new constructions as aligning the support joists in the house plan allowed for a free-flowing layout. It was a lot easier than tearing down walls and hauling in heavy beams. Five years ago, the New York Times caused designers’ eyebrows to raise in an article proclaiming “The Closed Kitchen Makes a Comeback.” So far the evidence is limited.
In New York, most new condos have open-plan kitchens, and townhouses have been getting in on the act too. Some older condos and co-ops, however, will strictly forbid the tearing down of interior walls to modernize an apartment. Some think it’s just as well. This begs the question, is an open plan kitchen all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Open Plan Kitchens NYC Townhouses
When New York City townhouses were constructed over a century ago the kitchens were usually located on the basement level, which was sometimes where the servants worked. Recently there’s been a trend to move these kitchens up to the parlor floor, making them the centerpiece of the home. Any renovation work in a hundred-year-old townhouse is likely to be a costly occurrence, breaking into brick walls to re-run pipes. Often this is accompanied by blowing out a back wall to create a light-filled centerpiece to the home. Large, glimmering marble or quartz islands and breakfast bars along with state-of-the-art appliances and chic light fixtures have helped redefine the modern-day New York City townhouse.
Almost every newly constructed or renovated condo, including many of our listings in Brooklyn and Manhattan, have an open-plan kitchen. With luxury appliances coming in ever more compact sizes even a 500 square foot condo is likely to sizzle with glitzy ranges and refrigerators, in state-of-the-art kitchens, with the rest of the condo flowing around it. That said, larger condos in more formal buildings have recently been reverting back to the idea of separation as the New York Times article reveals. In these cases, a sliding door is an invaluable asset.
Over the last decade or so kitchens, especially in fashionable cities, have embraced color. Appliances are no longer limited to being stainless steel and cabinets boring brown wood or stark white. Now every luxury brand from Gaggenau, Miele, LG, GE, Viking, Blue Star, Bertazzoni, and more have a cool appliance line to compete with the rest of the home. Blues and grays, and metallic slatey type appliances have been popular in 2021. There is also the alternative of simply buying panel-ready appliances and matching them to your colorful kitchen cabinets which is the route many designers choose to go to create a seamless flow throughout the home.
The Case For Closed Kitchen
An open-plan kitchen is a bit like dating a trophy spouse. There’s always an expectation for it to look good. If staying on top of the latest in kitchen design trends, making sure everything always put away and spotless is a little too much pressure for you then there’s a valid argument to have a wall separating it from the living room.
Serious Chefs Don’t Want Distractions
“Stay out of the kitchen,” is a retort many people of a certain age will remember their mothers saying. When there’s some serious cooking to be done, the chefs in the family often like to be left alone. An open-plan kitchen means that can never happen.
Some Smells Belong Behind Closed Doors
Boiled cabbage, steamed fish, chopped onions. Some smells belong behind closed doors. Inviting the rest of the house to know what’s going on in the culinary engine room— unless you’re baking oatmeal raisin cookies — isn’t always appreciated.
Small Children and Hot Pots Don’t Mix
If you’ve got small kids, hot pots, pans, and dishes, let alone sharp knives and laundry detergent are an accident waiting to happen.
To be or not to be open, that is the question. And it’s a question that can only be answered by individual taste. However, if your preference is for a closed kitchen the odds of finding one in a new or renovated home are stacked against you. Rather, you might be able to find a happy medium where only part of the kitchen is open for easy access to the dining room and the rest remains closed. There are though, still many closed or galley kitchens in older homes and condos that might be just what you’re looking for.