Multi-Functional Kitchens

Mary Cook contributed to this story. Cook is the founder and president of Mary Cook Associates. Her new book, “The Art of Space: Seven Fundamentals That Guarantee
Great Interior Design” demystifies interior design and makes it accessible to everyone.
It’s available on

Just as today’s kitchens are a lot more than a place to cook, real interior design is a lot more than “decorating.”

In my book, The Art of Space, I explain the seven principles to successful interior design. Chapter two of the book is entitled “Function,” and it particularly applies to the contemporary kitchen.

A hundred and fifty years ago, the sole function of a kitchen was to provide a place for the preparation of food. It wasn’t even in the house! Back then, it was even considered bad taste to allow your guests to be exposed to the aromas of dinner being prepared.

Then, the kitchen moved indoors. Though it was still primarily for food preparation, a table and some chairs worked their way in there. Nobody knows exactly when it became acceptable to be able to smell “what’s cooking?” but we’re sure glad it did.

In the post-World War II Baby Boom household, the kitchen took on added functions. In addition to a place to eat, the kitchen table became a desk, a family game table, a baking work surface, a buffet for dinner parties and a bar on New Year’s Eve. Those are a lot of hats for a single table to wear.

Today’s kitchens need to do that and a lot more. They’re also the main gathering place at parties. They’re the nerve center of the home. And with the explosion of technology, kitchens have to function in more ways than ever.

And the key to a successful design for the multi-functional kitchen is to think it through. Think of all the possible uses for your kitchen so it can be designed to meet your needs.

Chances are, you’re going to want your kitchen to be as versatile as possible.

Home buyers are focusing on family gathering spaces. Kitchens open to family rooms and eating spaces. As a result, their interaction with each other becomes critical to enhancing how the spaces “live.” Since the kitchen is the heart of the home, designing it to work with its adjoining open spaces is crucial.

So, here are some tips that are universal for a multi-functional kitchen.

1. The Island
Since the kitchen island is at the center of family gathering spaces, its design will impact how well the spaces will live. Always design all four sides of your island so it can promote interaction with the open rooms around the kitchen. Check lines of sight. The more you and your guests can see from each side of the island, the better.

2. Multi-Levels: Just Say “No.”
Design the island countertop to be single height. It promotes a sense of openness and reduces barriers to interaction.  You’d be surprised how a two-tiered countertop can isolate guests and block conversation.

3. Spread Out!
Integrate function wherever you can, but make sure you keep specific functions away from each other. In that Baby Boom kitchen, everything happened at the table. And it was crowded. By spreading different functions around today’s larger spaces, you can have more than one thing happening at a time. Comfortably. Easily. Without stress. And that includes your television. Strategically position it so it can be seen from most, if not all of the spaces.

4. Pulling It All Together
One of the challenges of multi-functionality is compartmentalization. You don’t want all of your function areas to look out of context.  So, choose finishes, materials and colors that flow through the spaces. This allows people and activities to spill over freely from one area to the next and lets your rooms live as large or small as the number of people dictates.

For more multi-functional kitchen ideas, please visit Toll Brothers’ Kitchen board on Pinterest, and to watch Mary Cook’s “Multi-Functional Kitchens” segment in Episode 3 of Toll Lifestyle TV, please visit the website.

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