Mar 30, 2012

Defining the Heart of the Home – MSA on Kitchens

As NYC residential architects, Murdock Solon Architects often redesigns one of the home’s most important rooms – the kitchen. With so much importance on everyday living, this room is often the most personal room to define. Partner Kelly Solon, AIA, discusses Murdock Solon’s experience and approach to taking on kitchens. 

Sackett Street Residence

How often do you work with kitchen design?

Since kitchens are used in both residential and commercial projects, we encounter some aspect of kitchen design in nearly every project we do. However, the kitchens we design for residential projects are definitely more involved. Families and guests always converge in the kitchen, whether the plan of the house encourages gathering there or not. We love the kitchen open to the living space, but we have also done several kitchens that are completely separate. It all depends on how the family lives, eats, and spends times together.

Describe the challenges that come with kitchen design in the city versus in bigger homes outside Manhattan.

It is always a luxury to design a big kitchen! There are so many ways to maximize the potential of the most important room in the house. In the larger kitchens we have worked on, we often add a breakfast nook, built-in bench seating, book shelves for cookbooks, a desk for a mini home office – the possibilities are endless for creative ways to program and design this room.

Brooklyn Brownstone Residence

Of course cooking and eating take center stage. I love to cook, so I am always interested to learn about the ways that different families prepare food, what kinds of appliances they use, etc. For example, one of the brownstones we renovated in Brooklyn was for a multi-generational Chinese family who did a lot of cooking in an enormous wok, so the whole cooking experience was centered around preparing and cooking food in this way. (View the Sackett Street Residence)

At another Brooklyn Brownstone project, the owners loved to garden and entertain. To take advantage of the backyard, a rare luxury in New York City, we moved the existing second floor kitchen to the Garden Level, and installed a glass wall across the entire facade. This opened up the lower, ‘basement’ level to the outdoor space, making an otherwise dark room into an airy, light-filled kitchen and potting area enclosed in a glass box off of the kitchen. (View the Brooklyn Brownstone Residence)

What do you think that clients often forget about or should think about more when designing a new kitchen?

What you had / have now is not necessarily the best layout for your kitchen. Because we use our kitchens everyday, many people – including myself – default to what they know. Habits are difficult to break, and sometimes we miss the bigger picture by trying to hold onto some aspect that really could be improved through better design, or is not necessary at all.

Montauk Beach House

That being said, I think architects and designers also need to listen to their clients. For the most part, people are aware of their habits more so than any designer they can hire; their kitchen workflow, the sorts of food they tend to cook, etc. For example, if a home cook regularly uses high-heat cooking methods (like our Chinese family mentioned above), we are not going to specify a re-circulating exhaust fan. Appliances are critically important for both the look the design is trying to achieve and obviously, the function. A big part of designing a successful kitchen is extensive knowledge of appropriate appliances, how to specify them, get them installed correctly, and look great!

For others, their cooking and eating space is primarily for entertaining; for example at the Rhinecliff Residence in Dutchess County project, the husband was a virtuoso pianist and the wife a sommelier; the whole kitchen (and house!) is designed around playing the piano and enjoying food and wine with friends and colleagues. (View the Rhinecliff Residence)

Likewise at the Montauk Beach House; the kitchen opens up to the living area with views of the oceans so guests can circulate freely to enjoy the view while hanging out with the owners (who also happen to be gifted cooks!) preparing the evening’s meal. (View the Montauk Beach House)

TribeCa Loft

Designing kitchens in Manhattan has a different set of challenges, but equally as fun. We have taken the tiniest spaces and made them more functional, more spacious, through a few simple design moves and careful selection of finishes.

At the a residence in Brooklyn, NY, we used anigre wood and a streamlined cabinetry design to minimize visual clutter and maximize the sense of light and air through the use of natural materials.

At the TribeCa loft project, the owner used a classic Shaker style cabinet painted white to achieve a classic yet updated look that was contiguous with the rest of the space. (View the TribeCa loft project)

Are there any special kitchen features that you always like clients to add? 

This totally depends on the client; preparing and sharing food with family and friends is one of the most personal and intimate experiences we do in our homes.

Next Week: Check our blog next week for more on kitchens and read our interview with Shelly McClure, MSA’s Senior Designer for Kitchen & Bath projects.