The character of the kitchen and the way we use it has changed dramatically in just a few generations. Up until the mid-20th century it was the domain of the housewife and her family entered at their own peril. Cooking, washing and ironing were the focus of the room and much of the equipment was industrial in its appearance. The kitchen table, if there was one, was a heavy wooden affair that was capable of withstanding the pounding of bread-making and veg preparation. Often this style of kitchen was small and had no room to waste on chairs.
The post-war boom of colour and style revolutionised the way people looked at home decor and the kitchen was far from immune to these timely changes. Sleek new appliances, colourful tiles and space-age materials banished the old-fashioned image of drudgery. And with these changes the kitchen became a place for the family to spend time together.
Houses often had a separate dining room or a section of the living room that was set aside for dining. In larger houses, where space is plentiful, it makes sense to retain a separate dining room which can be dedicated to dinner parties or more formal family eating. However if your living space is more limited you should probably consider moving your dining space into the kitchen itself.
Serving meals in the kitchen fits in with the less formal ways of modern eating. It seems like busy work schedules, convenience foods and the demands of TV and internet-gaming have finally laid family meal-times to rest, so it makes sense to have a relaxed space to eat which is away from the dedicated dining room with its more formal ambience.
Dining in the kitchen brings its own distinct advantages:
Cooks are not cut off from their family or dinner guests while the food is being prepared;
Family members are more likely to get involved in cooking their own meals or helping the designated cook with food preparation;
Meals can be served directly from the oven or the microwave, eliminating the need for serving dishes and the back-and-forth journey from kitchen to dining room;
Dirty dishes and used kitchenware can go directly into the sink or the dishwasher;
Most importantly, the kitchen is a generally more convivial space that can help maintain family cohesion as day-to-day family-life becomes less formal.
The most important limiting factor to dining in the kitchen is the amount of floor-space available for the necessary furniture. In very small kitchens you may find the only solution is a breakfast bar that folds away when not in use teamed up with collapsible stools that can be stowed away in a pantry orhung from the wall.
In medium-sized kitchens you might opt for a table that can double as extra workspace and team it up with backless stools that fit under the table when not it use, allowing free access around the table's edge.
In larger kitchens the ideal solution becomes possible, a full dining table with proper chairs that stay permanently by the table.
Unless you have an existing country-style kitchen that demands traditional-styling, you are likely to be looking for contemporary dining furniture. Modern dining chairs have the advantage of being generally straight-backed which means they take up less horizontal space and have less impact on movement around the table, especially important for whoever is serving the food. Before you choose your dining furniture it is important that you are realistic about the space you have available in the room. The best way of checking this is to get a tape-measure and do a quick survey. Use these measurements to make a scale-drawing of the floor space you have available. Make sure you remember it is not only the table that needs to fit the space, it also has to have room around it for people to pull out and use the chairs. Also be careful to measure the width of kitchen cabinet doors that are close to where the furniture will be placed and draw an arc on your floorplan to show where they swing when opened. This will show you the amount of space that must be left without obstruction in front of each door.
Once you've embraced the idea of making the kitchen your main room for family interaction you may become reluctant to be constrained by its existing proportions. If your separate dining room is next to the kitchen it may be possible to "knock through" and incorporate the two spaces in one. If this is not possible there is the rather more expensive route of building an extension onto the house to enlarge the existing kitchen.
Article by Melvyn Fickling
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