Urban Kitchens Embrace Sleek Function

People often refer to “the city” as the urban spot closest to where they reside. Whether they live in the area’s heart, a surrounding suburb or a more removed rural area, people have an image of what “the city” looks like – fast walkers late for work, cars vying for a traffic lane, outdoor diners taking in the scene and tourists gawking at tall buildings.

For those who make their homes within urban boundaries, city life is different from any other place. For some, it means dealing with small rooms, sealed windows and inadequate storage. For others, sweeping views, abundant natural light and shared spaces are the norm.

Regardless of the stage, challenges abound for kitchen designers chosen to tackle these renovation projects. Between the logistical operations of dealing with high rises to desires for the latest technological wizardry to making multi-functional kitchens disappear when not in use, some skill sets are tested to the max when creating spaces for the urban dweller.

Urban Kitchens Embrace Sleek Function
Susan Klimala of The Kitchen Studio often recommends flip-flopping spaces to make room for larger kitchens.
Photos: Michael Alan Kaskel

LOCATION, LOCATION

While sleek and modern tends to be the first thought when picturing the interiors of city spaces, it certainly isn’t always the case. For older cities like New York, Boston and Chicago, homes dating back a few hundred years dot the landscape. And for coastal spots like Miami and Los Angeles, views often set the stage.

Susan Klimala, CKBD, president, The Kitchen Studio in Glen Ellyn, IL notes that, in the city of Chicago, there is a mix of style preferences. “The two most popular would be some type of vintage look that would be appropriate to a Chicago graystone, and also a more contemporary style that feels more at home in a high-rise building,” she explains.

From a countrywide perspective, Bob Bakes, president & CEO, Bakes & Kropp in New York, NY, doesn’t see a significant change in styles. “The demand for semi-traditional kitchens with transitional elements is as relevant in New York City and the Hamptons as it is in Florida,” he stresses. 

“The main driver for city versus suburban kitchens is the view that comes with the house,” offers Dan Thompson, owner/designer, DDK Kitchen Design Group in Glenview, IL. While some spaces have beautiful yards to draw upon, others need to take advantage of skyline views. “We always design around the features that surround the existing home,” he remarks.

“I think the design conversation now focuses more in responding to a project location and how we integrate it to the immediate environment rather to a specific design style,” agrees Sandra Diaz-Velasco R.A., principal architect, AIA-ASID-LEED AP BD+C, Eolo A&I Design, Inc. in Miami, FL.

“In the [past few] years, we’ve had clients with an interesting mix of design styles who are open to our approach of responding more to a place rather than following a particular style,” she continues. “Place, for us, is an important design factor – so much so that it defines and inspires our design concepts.”

And location doesn’t just affect the design style, according to Klimala. It can also determine the materials used. She notes that, among the considerations for working in the city – other than parking – is how to get materials to the site using an elevator or multiple flights of stairs. Because of this, sizes of islands, cabinetry and furniture need to be considered. 

“We are also more restricted in the city when it comes to moving mechanicals, as we are typically working with a mechanical chase that has some restrictions,” she explains.

Demands from clients living in the city tend to focus more on efficient use of time, technology, artificial lighting and available space, according to Miami-based designer Sandra Diaz-Velasco of Eolo A&I Design.
Photos: Emotion Works, Eugenio Willman

FORM & FUNCTION

Indeed, demands from clients living in the city tend to focus more on efficient use of time, technology, artificial lighting and available space, notes Diaz-Velasco, “whereas some of our suburban kitchen designs demand our focus be on kitchen appliances [that are meant to] perform for bigger crowds, available cooking space for more than one person, creative use of abundant natural light, and the blurring of lines between interiors and the outdoors.”

“I see similarities as they apply to functionality in the way that function is driven by ergonomics, use and culture. We use these parameters as general guidelines for every project,” she stresses.

“Our clients are very concerned about the functionality of their spaces,” reports Klimala. “They have lived for years with a space that has not functioned well for them in one way or another and they want to fix it.”

This often involves re-adjusting the footprint of the kitchen or even the entire home by “flip flopping” spaces to make the most of the home’s overall footprint, she explains. “I always ask my clients, ‘when was the last time you used your dining room/living room?’ Sometimes adjusting how rooms are utilized can do wonders for how a client uses their entire space.”

 Klimala notes that most of her clients are in the western suburbs of Chicago, with children who are home or just beginning to leave the nest. “Functionality and flow through the work space is probably the most important element, along with the ability to entertain small gatherings in a space they can be proud of.”

“As a design company, it is our job to form the basis of functionality and then apply the styling,” adds Bakes. “Above all, the layout must be logistically correct and functional. It can look as pretty as a picture, but without proper planning, that’s all it will be.”

Function is so important in urban spaces because, very often, the designer is dealing with space constraints. Even in the most modern buildings, many rooms have multiple functions, with homeowners needing laundry spaces and even kitchens to disappear when not in use.

“For our clients who live in the city, multi-purpose spaces become more important due to space considerations,” stresses Klimala. Sometimes the kitchen is doing double duty as a laundry room or mudroom, so that has to be factored into the equation. “You are just working with less space,” she adds.

“In urban areas, space constraints require additional forethought to incorporate client needs,” suggests Bakes. “For instance, the client may choose multi-functional appliances, submit to a single dishwasher, a smaller sink, or request a built-in coffee machine to save counter space.”

Function also applies to cabinet interiors, notes Thompson. “There are certain ‘must have’ items for everyone’s kitchen – double waste bins, cutlery dividers, pot and pan storage, etc. However, we are now designing kitchens for clients who have already done one or two kitchens, and these folks spend more time and money outfitting their drawers and compartmentalizing large drawers to accommodate their specific needs.” He notes that clients will go to great lengths to make their kitchens function perfectly.

Dan Thompson of DDK Kitchen Design Group notes the importance of designing around the features that surround the home, such as this kitchen with its sweeping view of Chicago.

LEANING IN

As for what types of amenities city dwellers are interested in, sleek style, technology and multi-functional appliances top the wish list of many clients.

“In terms of aesthetics, we are finally moving away from the white kitchen, marble-look quartz, gray island and subway tile combination,” states Klimala. “We love color, texture and pattern, so we always present something that plays on these elements, but we’re finding that clients are taking more risks right now so they are actually making these selections.”

In terms of cabinetry colors, green and blue tones are very well received, as well as wood details, typically in white oak or walnut, she continues. “We love bringing texture to a space with backsplash tile and finishing touches via tastefully and thoughtfully mixing metals for plumbing, lighting and hardware. Paying attention to what our clients’ needs are as well as to what the space and the architecture has to offer is always an important element to the success of any great design.”

Thompson notes that a lot has changed in the last 10 years with regard to the design of these spaces. “Gone are the corbels and heavily detailed kitchens. We are designing more transitional kitchens, with white being the predominant color,” he remarks. “Two-tone kitchens with accent colors are also common and provide a feeling of elegance and enhance longevity.”

“We keep a pulse on the ever-evolving wants and needs of clients, however, the transitional style remains ever-relevant,” adds Bakes. 

In keeping with the faster pace of city life, the desire for cutting-edge technology is not a surprise. 

“Products that incorporate innovative technology and being able to connect everything to the home automation system have been in the top five of our design requirements for at least the last five years,” remarks Diaz-Velasco.

With regard to appliances, she notes that top-of-the-line ventilation systems are important for maintaining air quality. While that has been challenging in the past, there are a range of ductless systems now on the market to serve spaces that are difficult to vent.

Thompson adds that he is seeing a lot of interest in steam-convection ovens, larger wine units and 36″ cooktops with a griddle. “We have also become experts at specifying and designing dimmable LED undercabinet lighting set at the correct temperature to provide a more natural-looking light source,” he says.

Regardless of trends, many designers agree that clients continue to get more savvy via their exposure to HGTV, Houzz, Instagram and Pinterest, among other outlets. “There is a constant stream of design information available for everyone to look at, and design trends are happening in real time,” states Klimala. “Clients are sometimes right on my tail, which is actually very exciting because it can also make my job a bit easier. If someone has already seen an idea on Instagram for a new material, it makes it an easier sell to do something new and fresh.” ▪

Urban Kitchens Embrace Sleek Function