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The latest trends for the sustainable home’s heart

The Kitchen Reinvented

Katherine Gustafson

The latest trends for the sustainable home's heart.

Modern kitchen design is a lesson in changing lifestyles. Kitchens used to be cordoned off from living and dining areas, with the emphasis more on food prep than on socializing and family life. Today, while many homeowners are just as—or even more—enthusiastic about cooking, they also see their kitchens increasingly as the hub of their living space. 

“More and more people want it to be part of the living-dining-entertainment area,” said Andreas Charalambous of FORMA Design. “It’s rare that people want the kitchen to be separate from the rest of the house.”

It’s telling that designers often start the kitchen design process by asking clients about how they cook but also how they live. Is cooking a central part of family life? Is it preferable to have the room open to the rest of the house?

Most of Charalambous’s clients answer yes to these questions, and are also typically enthusiastic about introducing sustainable elements into the design, another decidedly modern trend. Natural gas, Energy Star appliances, LED lighting, low-POV paints and use of natural light define many modern kitchens.

For example, for a modern renovation of a Craftsman-style home in North Arlington, Virginia, Charalambous created a floorplan that folded the kitchen intimately into the home’s living space. The resulting large, light-filled room, designed in conjunction with kitchen consultant Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Ltd., is incredibly sleek and uncluttered, just like the rest of the refreshed house. High ceilings with recessed lighting and minimal above-counter Decor cabinets help the kitchen fit in seamlessly with the larger living area.

“We try to have the kitchen not really look like a kitchen, if possible,” summed up Charalambous.

The same was true for another of FORMA’s projects, a complete renovation of a townhouse in Rosslyn, Virginia, which won a Bronze award for residential interior design by the International Interior Design Association. The kitchen, created with consultation from POLIFORM/Sagart Studio, is a vision in sleek white simplicity. Its white upper cabinets form a smooth band along a red wall, and a tall set of white cabinets in the corner unobtrusively incorporates a white-fronted refrigerator and double ovens. Looking back into the open-plan house from the front living area, it isn’t clear exactly which part of the space is the kitchen.

Another FORMA project in Arlington—a brand-new loft apartment that the client wanted to infuse with vital energy—creates a similar effect. The kitchen serves as an extension of the living room, separated only by a countertop lined with stools and sharing the abundant light from the two-story bank of front windows. Additional lighting is provided by an under-counter LED strip that illuminates a glass backsplash, which complements quartz countertops. The upper cabinets, refaced with glass, enhance the space’s contemporary, open sensibility.

Charalambous noted that “not tearing out things that don’t need to be torn out” is its own form of sustainability in a world of modern design that can be obsessed with making everything brand new.

Gregory Kearley of Inscape Studio, a firm focusing on architecture that is socially responsible and environmentally sensitive, also finds many ways to bring sustainable elements into his designs. That includes sourcing countertops with a lot of recycled content, introducing Energy Star appliances, designing to enhance the natural daylight and minimize energy use and incorporating natural gas.

“Natural gas is a clean energy, so using it for the cooktops and ovens is almost a no-brainer for us,” he said.

Like Charalambous, he finds that his clients are interested in integrating their kitchens intimately into their homes.

“This isn’t 50 or 75 years ago, when someone went into the kitchen and brought the food out to folks,” he said. “Today, the kitchen is usually the hub of activity—we try to make that open to the living space so it becomes an extension of the living space.”

For a complete home renovation in McLean, Virginia, Inscape sited the kitchen right in the middle of the open-plan lower floor. There's a dining area on one side and a living area on the other, each separated from the kitchen by only a countertop with no overhanging cabinets. The homeowners, a family with young children, wanted the kitchen to have a warm, fresh energy and serve as a hub of family life. The Inscape team faced an entire wall of cabinets and all the cabinets under the countertops in bright red, giving the space its own personality in a house that is generally more subdued.

“You have this sort of stark white house, and then we want to have a sort of ‘wow’ factor with the kitchen,” Kearley explained. With its openness to the rest of the living space and its bright color, the kitchen naturally draws attention and activity.

Kearley and his team took consideration to design the kitchen with environmental sensibility in mind. The stove uses natural gas, the quartz countertops have a high content of recycled materials and the appliances are all Energy Star rated. The layout captures a lot of natural light, reducing electricity use. And as usual with Inscape’s projects, this house incorporates low- or no-VOC paints and sealers.

Kitchens have come a long way in 50 years, not just in aesthetics but also in layout, functionality and sustainability. The modern kitchen is often a home’s beating heart—a central space with vital energy. - Katherine Gustafson 

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