The Heart(h) of the Home: Reflections on Kitchen Design

Written by Susan Orfald




“Back in the day” the kitchen used to be confined to a back room; it was utilitarian, small, and hidden from view — a scullery of sorts. Over the years, the role of the kitchen has expanded considerably. Often referred to as “the heart of the home” it now includes activities previously relegated to other areas of the house, such as the family room, home office, playroom and dining room. It has become a hub of domestic life, a gathering place where stories are shared, recipes developed and memories created. It is a comfortable place to read, study and do homework, as well as a place to entertain friends, alongside the more functional aspects of cooking, cleaning and storage. No matter how small the kitchen, it’s the place where people like to be. I often refer to the kitchen as the real “Living Room.”

These changes in the kitchen’s function have affected the role of the dining room. In the past, formal dining rooms were often reserved for family holidays or special events. I encourage people to utilize their dining space more than a couple of times a year. The current trend is towards opening up the dining area to the kitchen, thereby bringing together the experiences of cooking, eating and connecting with others.


A kitchen renovation can open spaces, and connect different areas and activities

A kitchen renovation can open spaces, and connect different areas and activities

Considering Changes

If you are contemplating changing or remodeling your kitchen, there are many aspects you need to take into consideration. No matter what size or shape the room is, a good kitchen design is critical to the function and efficiency of the space. An experienced kitchen designer is a real asset in terms of helping you to create a design that is functional as well as beautiful, has longevity and flexibility, and works for you, while also considering the home’s resale value. Communication between the homeowner and designer is key to a successful outcome, in terms of budget as well as the finished project.

In my 28 years of designing kitchens, I have found that each space is as unique and individual as the people who use it, and each has its advantages and challenges.

The first meeting with your designer is the time to discuss questions about the spatial and relational dynamics of the individual or individuals that will be utilizing the space. Are there any mobility, special needs or age considerations? Who typically does the cooking? Is there more than one cook in the family? (This often gets a laugh.) Are there children, and if so what ages — and do they like to help in the kitchen? This can also help to determine if there is a requirement for seating at an island area, or an area for homework.

Explain what you like and dislike about your current arrangement and share your ideas for what you envision for your new kitchen. It is helpful (although not essential) to have some images gathered and an idea of the kind of styles you like. When considering appropriate styles for a space, I take into consideration the age and architecture of the house. I will also inquire about the wish list of appliances and make recommendations on what would work well within the space.

It is important for your designer to understand how you cook, what your storage requirements are, and if there are certain elements you want to incorporate into the design (pantry storage, display space, extra height cabinetry, accessories to integrate, island eating space and desk areas to name a few.) Among other considerations that come into play when designing a kitchen are the rooms that are adjacent to the kitchen, their roles and how the traffic flows. It is essential that thought be given to flooring material in terms of function and continuity between rooms.

Lighting is a very important aspect of a good kitchen design. It is another area that has changed, (and will continue to change) with new technologies and innovations. From ambient, to task, to accent lighting, it takes a lot of experience to know the best lighting application for designated areas. Location of lighting with reference to the task areas, and working in conjunction with a contractor and electrician are essential elements of the kitchen renovation.


Creating a Plan

Give thought to the timing of both the planning and research of a kitchen renovation, and not just to the executing of the project. Depending on the scope of the work involved, (as well as the ability to make timely decisions), the planning can take from one month to several. If you’re planning a major kitchen renovation (replacing or moving windows, moving walls and doorways, reconfiguring plumbing and electrical, etc.) you may want to consider the possibility of cooking outside, or setting up a small interim work area.

Keep in mind that custom cabinetry typically takes between eight to sixteen weeks from order date to installation, depending on the scope of the project.

The more decisions that can be made prior to beginning the de-construction of the existing kitchen, the easier it is on the homeowner. Renovating a kitchen includes many selections, choices and details, and it is best for all involved that such a project flows smoothly, in order to disrupt daily life as minimally as possible.

Time spent planning your kitchen renovation properly pays off in the long run and rewards you with a project that you will enjoy for many years to come.

As a kitchen designer, my greatest satisfaction comes when visiting clients after their project is completed, to hear that they wouldn’t change a thing!



SUSAN ORFALD is an Interior Designer with Hutton Bielmann Design Inc.

About the author

Susan Orfald

Susan Orfald is an Interior Designer who has been designing kitchens (and many other spaces) for 28 years. She works at Hutton Bielmann Design Inc. in London.