Busy lifestyles mean that many families are solution-driven. The key to contemporary design is to find a way to do it all in one room. One solution is to “zone” the kitchen. Homeowners are no longer tied to the traditional kitchen countertop. They're taking advantage of today's innovative marketplace to create a “mix and match” approach that gives them the utility they need with the aesthetics they want.
Creating Kitchen Activity Zones
Today's zoned countertops are true taskmasters. Some get a daily workout as the center of busy family meal preparations or cleanup. Others are essential spaces for baking or fresh food preparation. Some serve as showpieces. Yet others have become one-stop home offices with room for phone, computer, and work space for parents or kids.
By creating activity zones with counters of appropriate heights and materials, the traditional matching countertop look is disappearing from the kitchen. Even backsplashes, which always used to match the countertop, are part of the new mix and match.
There's a new rule of thumb in kitchen planning and design - “The richer the mix, the better,” says Gin Guei Ebnesajjad, manager of product styling and development, Dupont Surfaces, Corian and Zodiaq. Customers are selecting mixes of colors, textures, and surfaces to meet their individual needs.
No More Uniform Counters
As with the rest of the home, the kitchen has become part of a design fusion, with more visual interest and more complexity. That trend is showing up in furniture-style cabinetry and customized countertops, distinguishing each area by its surface material and function.
The center island has become standard in any new kitchen layout. It can function as a food preparation, dining, or homework station. Counter peninsulas also do service for baking, dining, and food preparation. Countertops are available with various surfaces, at varying heights, and with insets and additions to match any task. Countertops can be deeper than standard or built to include leg space for desk and dining areas. Defining the task and applying creativity are the two skills required when designing today's multi-tasking kitchen counters.
Designated Work Spaces
Food prep area. For those who love their food fresh, a counter with a comfortable drop-down surface is often the option of choice. For tasks like mixing or beating, a 27-inch height may be desirable. A food prep surface might include a wood chopping block or a stainless-steel prep area, once common in commercial kitchens and now popular among home chefs.
An integrated sink allows fruits and vegetables to be cleaned and scraps disposed of right at the preparation center. Raised strips of metal set into the countertop will support hot pans and protect the counter against scratches. Drainboards, too, can be integrated into the sink-side countertop for convenient cleanup.
Entertaining. For some homeowners, food is all about sharing -with friends, family, and company. Granite and marble have long been popular as food staging and serving counters. New solid-surface, concrete, and e-stone selections also offer some striking options for display and dining counters.
Baking . For those interested in baking, a proper countertop is essential. That might mean installing marble or granite countertop sections that will maintain the cold for proper dough rolling. Depending on the height of the home baker, the tasks of kneading and rolling dough can be made more comfortable by lowering the countertop from the standard 36-inch counter height. Experts recommend a rolling counter that is 7 to 8 inches below the elbow for a baking and mixing countertop.
Kitchen office. Even today, the kitchen remains the center of the home. Because of that, kitchens often require a zone that includes space for a phone, computer, message board, bill paying, and other household work.
For the tasks at hand, an office zone may require a multi-level counter. Counters from 30 to 34 inches high with adequate knee space will accommodate a chair for desk space. A stool can be used for higher counters and as homework or snack spaces for family members.
Surface choices here may go beyond the function and look to the feel or the “hand” of the surface. Having a warm or cold surface, one that is hard, or one that is giving can give real character to the desk area.