So, it seems that the kitchen’s relatively newly-found role as social hub of the house might be under challenge. A recent survey by Ofcom has highlighted the rise of the new, media-dominated sitting room as the favoured spot for families to gather together. This is largely driven by the new wave of flat screen televisions, too large often for more than one per household and lush enough to lure even teenagers back to the family fold. However, and this is important, once in front of the widescreen people now also tune in to other electronic devices, their phones and tablets, to contact friends or follow TV programmes on Twitter, checking their time lines and live-tweeting.
I spot a parallel here with our kitchen behaviour, where media ‘stacking’ or ‘meshing’ has been the norm for some time. The radio tends to be on while we consult recipes on tablets, a laptop brings our emails to the kitchen table and we’re likely to juggle oven, hob, food mixer and, e.g., a waffle-iron while listening to a docked iPod. (I liked the Guardian’s take, reporting we are ‘ a nation of media multi-taskers’ – see below). A contemporary kitchen feels a bit like a flight deck crossed perhaps with a small friendly bar or Nigella’s sociable culinary zone. It’s a place where the action is creative: welcome to the true centre of technology and sociability in the home.
How should we adapt our houses to make the most of new opportunities for engagement? In the sitting room big screens attract family viewing for great movies, series and documentaries. You could therefore put in surround sound if you haven’t already and perhaps upgrade the comfort of your seating, adding portable chairs or beanbags. Also a bonus are trays for real TV dinners and portable standard lamps to focus lighting for those who want to read, while keeping general light levels low for viewing. And because media use extends time spent in the kitchen too, it makes sense to add a second or bigger table and a central island with more work space for diverse activities, a platform for at least two to use at the same time.
The Grey family in the kitchen
Which room wins out in popularity? I don’t really mind. I welcome the rise of the new digital living room, while still probably spending my happiest hours around the kitchen table talking and media meshing with my wife, kids and friends. You could try and combine the functions of the two though I think having two distinct spaces makes for more comfortable living.