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Open floor plan puts kitchen at center stage

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
C.J. Handron
The Handron's redone kitchen also includes a home office area.
C.J. Handron
The Handron's redone kitchen also includes a home office area.

Far from the narrow galleys that once cramped a cook and a helper, modern kitchens are going with the flow.

They have flowed into greater use in entertainment and family life as well as cooking. In doing so, they have lost walls but have sidestepped problems that might seem unavoidable

Designer Mark Uchida from A ReMarkable Kitchen in Blawnox, for instance, says losing wall space can reduce areas for cabinets or appliances. But those issues do not seem to impede plans.

“Sometimes it is a matter of using fewer, bigger cabinets instead of more, smaller ones,” he says.

But that kind of space is not always lost. C.J. Handron and his wife, Jessie, redid their first floor in O'Hara from a classic, walled-in four rooms into a dining room and living area that uses the rest the space. He believes the new layout has given them “three times the storage area we had before.”

Interior designer Marc Scurci, who has offices in Squirrel Hill and Greensburg, says opening the kitchen has become popular because it “can expand space without the need for an addition.”

Natrona Height architect Bob Barrage sees that space playing a big lifestyle role.

“The open kitchen is also a reflection of the shift from seeing the kitchen as work space to be hidden from view, to a center of family interaction,” he says. “The musty tradition of entertaining guests in a ‘parlor' or the formal dining room has also given way to the more informal pattern of seeing the kitchen as a focal point, if not necessarily a gathering area, for entertaining guests.”

Mt. Lebanon architect Kathleen Hrabovsky says she has not designed a classic four-wall kitchen since she started her career in 1985 and can't see that happening in the future.

“How can I argue against the desire to feel more spacious?” she says.

Mostly the open-kitchen decision seems to be about entertaining.

Not only has entertaining moved away from its formal locations, but many homeowners also take some pride in showing off the appliances and work areas in the kitchens, design experts says.

They want guests to join them as they take care of hosting activities.

“It's all about lifestyles, entertaining and visibility,” Scurci says.

Handron says the visibility issue is a great benefit to the open area. By having what was a three-room area now open, they can keep track of everyone's activities, including those of their 3-year-old and 7-week-old children.

He says they have even moved home office activities to one area in the kitchen, creating a space for practically all everyday activities.

The entertainment function also is an important one. It only makes sense to link space to the kitchen, he says, “because that is where we spend most of our time anyway.”

Designer Uchida says that manner of entertaining creates a function for the room that shapes its use. Formal parties that use staff or caterers establish a completely different role for the kitchen than the among-friends style of hosting.

It makes the kitchen the place where the workers take care of business, removed from service or partying. That creates the call for a kitchen with walls that can block off visibility.

He says he has heard talk and read articles on the return of the traditional kitchen because of the comeback of more formal entertaining.

Such a return could be big with some hosts, but most middle-class parties are not going in that direction, he says,

“I just don't see it happening,” he says.

Practicality and pride can be issues, too, but problems can be solved.

Uchida says one common fear of the open-kitchen design is ironically linked to the desire to show off a kitchen: If you want guests to hang around while preparations are being done, chances are they are going to see some pots or dirty dishes.

But there are ways to avoid that, Uchida says.

Putting a 42-inch-high counter over a 36-inch-high sink creates a lower area to put dirty dishes out of the way. That counter or peninsula also can create a dividing line that keeps guests handy, but also does not put them in the middle of work.

The storage issue also can be easily handled.

“Storage space is always a concern, but the lack of some wall space can be balanced by the more efficient use of what cabinet space is left,” Barrage says. “Lots of innovative cabinet hardware gadgets are available to maximize the space.”

A simple example is lazy-Susan shelving for corner cabinets that allows full use of what can otherwise be inaccessible space, he says.

Hrabovsy says she often tries to include a pantry or a mud room in an open-kitchen design where homeowners can store items in bulk. That way, she says, they don't have to have a great deal of storage space in the kitchen itself because the items they need are handy.

Barrage says it is all a trade-off.

“Open planning trades off storage space for a greater sense of openness and togetherness,” he says. “Every home owner must decide which trade best suits their needs and desires.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7852 or

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