You can still prepare food in them of course, but today’s style-driven kitchens are now considered a piece of the furniture. 

While the relationship between the kitchen, dining and family living areas has always been important, it is now becoming even more prominent. No longer an isolated cooking area with a few cupboards hung on the wall, today’s kitchens are part of an open plan design, integrating the kitchen with the other key living spaces of the home. Pam Carroll looks at how to meet the challenge.

The kitchen as furniture concept is in part being driven by home theatre systems, which are an increasingly common feature in integrated kitchen and living areas. They are having an impact on kitchen layout, acoustics and storage.

For example, the proliferation of cooking shows has led to a rise in the use of video cook books for those who want to watch instead of read their recipes. Yet however useful they may be, people don’t want a TV screen constantly on display, so the need to hide them behind roller doors or by other means has become another kitchen design challenge.

Screens, sound systems and indeed all other appliances have to blend in to the interior environment of the kitchen, as furniture does in other living areas.

Design trends

European kitchen design has long held considerable influence on Australian kitchens. In 2004, the European minimalist look is still maintaining its push. Sleek lines, long drawers, flat faced doors, long handles and thicker bench tops are very much the order of the day.

‘In keeping with European theme of long continuous lines, many kitchen designs now eradicate doors in kitchens altogether,’ says Nouvelle Designer Kitchens’ Simon Hodgson. ‘It was previously hard to do, but now we’re even designing drawers around the sink cabinet.

”Horizontal lines in the kitchen are also being carried through to horizontal grain lines on veneers. The affect is stunning,’ added Hodgson, who is also the Chairman of the Kitchen and Bathroom Association of NSW for the Housing Industry Association, and the Vice Chair of its national association.

The European influence is strong, concurs designer Andrew Dee of Wonderful Kitchens. ‘As kitchens are visually on show at all times, there is a great deal of attention to joinery – finishing lines and shadow lines are important. Kitchens are the nucleus of the home and it has to work with other living areas.’

Robert Bayly, a designer at South Australian-based Jag Kitchens, says: ‘People are looking for simplicity in their life and this is being reflected in kitchen design. Kitchens are becoming cleaner visually, with less clutter.’

Bayly sees more galley kitchen layouts, not the old walk-through type, but rather parallel work benches at one end of an open plan space. Again, a galley plan brings clean lines to the fore, with separate cooking and wet areas. Island benches with seating accommodation for quick meals are also popular.


Quiet please

With home theatres adjoining more kitchens, noise has become an issue. This has given rise to quieter runner systems with lifts, door bumpers and shock absorbers.

To avoid slamming, Vagn Madsen of Dan Kitchens often uses ‘airmatic’ closing systems, where doors and drawer fronts hit an air brake when they are 40mm from the cabinet, so they close gently with no sound.

Keen on clean

The sleek, clean-line look is also being carried through in the choice of finishes, with glass surpassing tile as the splash back of choice. Without grout lines, it is easier to maintain and it can be tinted to any colour. Glass is no longer considered a risk to install, as manufacturers have improved the quality and cut lead delivery times.

The key when using glass splash backs is to make sure the tolerances are correct and all wall surfaces are flat and true.

Let there be light

Kitchen lighting too is becoming more sophisticated. High impact kitchen designs are utilitising down lighting both from the ceiling and overhead cabinets.

Dan Kitchens’ Madsen says low voltage lights can now be fitted into very thin shelves.

‘We have a slim-fitted light from Europe that can be installed in a 16mm shelf. The cabling is completely hidden in a groove in the middle of the shelf and the transformers are tucked in the cabinet out of the way,’ he said.

Madsen also sees more kitchens incorporating automatic cabinet lights. They turn on whenever the door opens, much the same as a refrigerator light.

All these can be used to stunning effect, but care needs to be taken to avoid unwanted reflections from glass splash backs, he warns.

Smart appliances

Industry consensus is that the acceptance of Internet refrigerators and other web-ready appliances will take some time. Whatever practicalities there may be are not yet widely appreciated. But a few manufacturers are finding a ‘smart’ middle ground – some dishwasher models now include a laptop plug-in to help technicians more quickly pin point trouble spots on service calls.

In keeping with the move towards considering kitchens a part of the furniture, the major trend in appliances is really the move to a totally integrated look. Refrigerators and dishwashers can match cupboard finishes. Manufacturers are also releasing completely integrated product ranges, from major appliances to matching built-in coffee machines and toasters. Stainles steel is still a popular appliance alternative as are cooktops and ovens with a ‘semi-industrial’ feel.

There is also a much wider line up in the choice of appliance functionality. Multifunction ovens and cooktops with both gas and ceramic hobs are common. Nor are designers stuck with traditional appliance sizes anymore. There is a growing selection of both compact and larger commercial sizes, with the appliances themselves actually internally resized for the space.

The traditional bench top kettle is also under threat from new ‘billy’ sink taps. A billy has two levers that provide instant boiled or chilled purified water from heating and cooling modules located under the sink.

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