Kitchen Psychology 101

Posted by — March 9, 2006

It's time to remodel your kitchen...time to start tearing pictures out of magazines, calculating your budget, interviewing designers and picking a color scheme, right?

Wrong, according to many designers, who say customers often dive right into the details of their remodels before they stop to really know themselves, their needs or how they really use their kitchens.

"The kitchen is the heart of the home...and that's what it's really about...your heart, your family," said Ellen Cheever, ASID, a well-known kitchen designer, industry educator and writer for Kitchen and Bath Design News. "People tend to get too focused on that certain cherry cabinet, or that particular granite countertop when they're planning for a remodel. Before they do all that, they should be asking themselves how they want the kitchen to feel when they are done. It may seem like a silly question, but it's the key to getting it right."

If you ask yourself the really hard questions first, smaller questions, like what kind of cabinet storage or appliance to buy, will just fall into place, say designers. Before your embark on a kitchen remodel, ask yourself these questions.

What mood do you want to set?Do you prefer the serenity of a modern, sleek kitchen, or the happy, cozy clutter of a more traditional kitchen? How you answer will determine which path you take at this important design crossroad.Customers who like the warm and cozy look are buying traditional cabinets and using accent cabinets with painted red or black finishes for extra pop, said Jan Aufderhar, marketing executive for Decora Cabinets, a line of high-end, semi-custom cabinetry sold through a network of 1,000 dealers nationwide. Or, they are eliminating the soffits around the upper cabinets and using the tops of the cabinets to display their favorite plants and collectibles.

How much activity do you really want in your kitchen?"Nearly everyone says they want an 'open kitchen' today, where the great room, dining room and kitchen flow into each other. But you can design it to be so open that it can drive you crazy," Cheever said. Do you want your kids or guests to chop vegetables right beside you? Then you need a "work around" island or counter space that's designed for more than one cook at a time. Would you rather have your guests just watch you cook while you entertain? Then you need a "barrier" island or counter--a taller counter space, perhaps with bar stools, which will allow your kitchen companions to stay close to the action, but out of your way, Cheever said.

Do you like to cook and entertain, or entertain without cooking?When you invite guests over, do you make every little thing from scratch, or are you more likely to just make the main dish and fill in the rest with potlucks or items from the gourmet deli? "A lot of our customers that are Generation-X age and younger are telling us that they love to eat gourmet food and entertain, but they are finding new, more productive ways to do it," said Aufderhar. "I think that's also feeding a trend toward not having so many upper cabinets for storing food and extra dishes. The cabinets they do buy are more likely to have special shelves and pullouts that make them work harder with less space." 

If you are a gourmet cook with bulging cabinets, then investing in that butler's pantry, extra spice drawer or wrought iron pot rack makes sense, Aufderhar said.

Are you a good housekeeper? (Be Honest)Do you leave crumbs on the counter and dishes in the sink, or are you a neatnik? How you answer should affect the materials you choose, Cheever said. "If you are naturally neat, then the sky's the limit. But if you're not, there are materials you should definitely avoid, such as tile floors with hard-to-clean grout, stainless steel appliances that show every fingerprint and painted cabinets that highlight every drip. Instead, choose vinyl or urethaned hardwood floors, wood-tone cabinets and stainless steel-alternative finishes that don't show fingerprints," Cheever said.

What are your favorite things to do in the kitchen?Do you love to linger over the morning paper with a pot of gourmet coffee? Then investing in a built-in coffee maker and special cabinets for storing your mugs and coffees makes sense. Do you love to bake? Then putting in a lowered marble counter space just for kneading, outfitted underneath with special drawers for your special baking pans, would be well worth the effort. Do your kids like to do homework while you are making dinner? Then a special homework perch with a raised kitchen counter might be the answer, with cubbies for storing backpacks. "Cabinets today are so specialized, you can create your own personal activity zones," Cheever said.

But perhaps the most important thing to remember, experts agree, is there is only one right way to design a kitchen: your way. "Just because other houses in your neighborhood have granite counters doesn't mean you need them. Maybe you'd be happier investing in a wine chiller or a walk-in pantry. Put your money where your heart is, and you'll ultimately make all the right remodeling decisions," Cheever said.--ARAFor information about this article, e-mail

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