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  • Johnny Grey


I believe we have a problem with the word ‘kitchen’. While language definitions are necessary for all sorts of reasons, the kitchen may be a place in need of a new label for its next phase of evolution. I would like to see our idea of it opened up with a name that recognises its multiple uses: practical, aspirational and even healing.

There is a great opportunity to channel the traditional spirit of the kitchen in imaginative ways. Attempts to ban or communalise people’s private kitchens have been dismal in Cuba and Russia, but more inspiring ‘co-kitchens’ are found in both retirement villages and student accommodation. These shared spaces bring people together around the pleasurable, creative activity of cooking. I have been working with National Innovation Centre for Ageing on a concept we call the four-generational kitchen (4GK), a response to the growing trend for generations to live together. This positions the kitchen at the centre of the household as the place people gather in practical and sociable ways, the generations learning from, enjoying and looking after each other.

Academic studies prove that eating well helps us all to live longer and crucially more healthily. Sourcing the ingredients we eat is best and most safely done by ourselves rather than being left to commercial companies. Deliveroo and their rivals offer fast food with time savings but rely on the gig economy that treats workers badly. As John Pelosi says, it suits those in cities better than rural or small town dwellers. As well as older people who have plenty of time to cook and long-practiced skills, the younger generation often love to cook, as chefs’ programmes on TV, apps and cookbook sales show. Our grown up children almost always willingly cook from scratch, even with busy lives, though maybe not every day. In future if automation takes over our jobs as predicted, we should have more time to cook rather than less and therefore will need our kitchens.

Designing kitchens for forty years has offered me the chance to make people’s home lives happier as well as explore the meaning and value of kitchens. I retain a great love for the idea of an architected room which recognises the role of light, external views, well-made furnishings, spots to perch and easy circulation. This is the place we can feel the most comfortable because of the primal instincts around food, its slow time, sociability and regular necessity. Moving on from the kitchen’s traditional role as a food preparation space, it has emerged as one where we are listening to our deeper instinctual needs. These will not go away. Open-plan layouts have liberated us, and so has feminism with shared domestic work. Elongated, sociably orientated central islands and flexible, round peninsulas offer specific response to our hard wired needs. Technology has freed up the kitchen too, as we don’t necessarily take ourselves off to a study to work or a sitting room to watch TV or communicate with relatives and the outside world. We do these in the kitchen, if there is room. Room is of course the crux. Axing the kitchen under space constraints may make sense for a developers or a minority, but is unlikely – I hope – to become the norm. It can even be argued that sacrificing the dullest type of kitchen with its run of units and work surfaces may not be the worst choice.

I do not, however, believe the versatile, creative kitchen is in danger of disappearing as our autonomy is at stake: instead it is going to broaden its scope as it adapts to new circumstances. Why not, for example, go with installing hidden kitchens in small apartments that expand at the weekends into a full-on working kitchen? Or have an appliance tower or freestanding furniture as a flexible way of refreshing the look and accommodating additional functions or equipment, along the lines of what a traditionally furnished room offered. (see image).

Expressing love for our families and friends through cooking is a deep-seated behaviour. No one I know would be happy to fully delegate to commercial cooks such a personally rewarding activity. Meanwhile the difficult challenge is on to find a new, non-silly, word for ‘kitchen’.

Apartment kitchen concept - artist's illustration

Apartment kitchen concept that expand at weekends, with a separate appliance ‘accommodation tower’

Sociable kitchen island design

An elongated, sociable island can accommodates a wide range of activities and behaviours

This appears in KBB Review along with the comments of two kitchen designers, Sandy Armitage and Simon Pelosi'


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