Is the era of the “in-home commercial kitchen” closing? Homes are being built with minimalist kitchens that look like little more than a countertop, some cabinetry, and a few small appliances. Are kitchens shrinking by choice or by necessity?
“According to the report, space dedicated to food preparation peaked in the 1960s and is now 13% smaller in new-build homes.” – Guardian
For years, kitchen grew as houses grew, and families, too. It took a lot of food for those big Baby Boom dinners. More labor saving devices used up more room, including the addition of appliance garages. Buying in bulk grew the need for storage in pantries, refrigerators, and freezers. Then, foodies turned meals into productions worthy of displaying while guests waited and watched. There’s still a demand for pasta pot fillers, double ovens, double dishwashers, and dedicated wine coolers. Thanks to Julia Child and the Food Network, home cooks can create meals that may surpass their local restaurants. A bonus, not having to make reservations, park, stand in line, order from a menu, wait for a waiter, and generally make a meal last all evening. Enjoy that glass of wine without having to worry about drinking and driving, or the cost of the glass compared to the bottle back home.
And then came the revolution in deli food. An appreciation and exploration into diverse foods provided a market for multi-cultural cuisine available for delivery or from the supermarket’s counter. The hassle and cost of keeping up with all of the necessary gadgets and ingredients makes it more appealing to eat Korean tonight, Italian tomorrow, and Caribbean after that. Prepared meals are so popular that their price has fallen below some homemade, cooked-from-scratch recipes. Why spend hours roasting a chicken when a rotisserie chicken is already ready, and available with a series of side dishes?
The short answer is that there isn’t one answer to explain the evolution of the kitchen over time. It may be that while the kitchen may be shrinking in size, it isn’t shrinking in functionality – except by choice.
Neither home cooking nor deli food are going away. They’re learning to play with each other, providing the best of both.
Especially in today’s urban housing like condominiums, square footage is valuable. Anything that can be done to save floor space is worth considering. So, shrink the refrigerator. If a good pizza can be delivered in the time it takes an oven to preheat, then design for delivery. That means ovens and freezers don’t have to be wide or deep. Storing leftovers can be more important than storing raw ingredients.
Combination convection/microwave ovens are very versatile and can sit on a counter and are big enough for places with fewer bedrooms. Their designs have improved far beyond rattly toaster ovens. Slow cookers are back, as well. They may be an extra appliance, but they take up far less room than an oven, use less energy, add less heat to the room, and can be inexpensive.
Cooktops are commonly combined with an oven to create the modern range, but without a big oven beneath it, maybe it isn’t necessary to have four burners. Maybe two will do. With the advent of modern induction elements, it is possible to own as many burners as desired, and store them on their side, like books in a bookcase. They’re also portable, so a burner can work indoors, or be taken to the deck for something a bit smokier, or to keep the heat outside on a summer day.
As the amount of cooking decreases, so does the need for lots of cabinets and voluminous pantries. Besides, if finished meals can be delivered, so can ingredients. Notice the popularity of services like Blue Apron where foodies get just what they need when they need it. With less cooking occuring, there’s less need for a dishwasher. More space freed.
Expansive kitchens will remain popular, especially in places where space isn’t as precious. The growth in outdoor kitchens proves that demand. But, they’re more likely to happen in the suburbs and rural areas where there’s room for a dedicated pizza oven, barbeque pit, and grill. It is handy having a wine cooler outside within a few steps of the hot tub. That demand won’t vanish.
What is vanishing is the idea that there’s only one kind of kitchen as if there was only one kind of lifestyle. Urban dwellers may want to spend less time at home and more time living in the city they’ve moved to. People with acreage can spread out and are more likely to create their own entertainment. Ironically, the city ideas are translating beyond the city limits as homeowners begin to equip guest cottages, generational spaces, and vacation homes – places that can benefit from compact kitchens. Trends tend to start in one place, and spread out as their innovations are recognized. This one may just be starting.