The Kitchen –An Open or Shut Case??

Mealtime is family time. Women enjoy serving their families and making sure everyone has had their healthy fill. Stir-frys, dosas, and hot grilled sandwiches are some favourites and taste best when served fresh and hot.

However, many times the isolation of the kitchen is what keeps women from staying in the kitchen. Making elaborate foods or trying new recipes is postponed.

An open kitchen, open with no doors and that opens to the dining or living area where the family is around, may be the solution. Having an open kitchen is common in the west where there is no domestic help but in India, the concept is relatively new. So before tearing down any walls there are some facts to consider, let us weigh the pros and cons.

Pros

  • you can spend time with the family while cooking
  • you can keep an eye on what is happening outside the kitchen such as kids’ homework
  • the family always has easy access to you
  • serving hot food becomes easier, especially food that has to be eaten right off the tawa such as dosas and grilled sandwiches
  • if anything is forgotten or anything more is needed while eating, cut onions for example, an open kitchen offers
  • easy access; the person getting the items does not miss out on family time
  • serving food becomes more of a pleasure than a chore
  • the place where there is supposed to be a wall can be utilized as a counter or breakfast bar

Cons

  • the smells of tadkas, curries, and spices permeate throughout the house even with an exhaust fan
  • the sound of dishes being washed can be loud
  • our Indian cooking, even simple sabzi roti, is a messy affair and all this can be seen with the open kitchen
  • hired help will always be seen and heard. You can be seen and heard as well, in other words, privacy is lost
  • the kitchen has to be kept very clean and clutter free at all times as it is seen by everyone who enters the house

As a rule if help does the majority of cooking and there is no separate wash area, then an open kitchen may be more of a nuisance. “When the kids were small and I did most of the cooking my open kitchen was great,” says Meena Kapadia. “But now they are grown and have different schedules and I rarely serve them. I find the open kitchen troublesome these days. The help make a lot of noise,” she says.

Design
If you are designing an open kitchen here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Flow –the kitchen should flow with the rest of house and especially the adjoining room. Different materials and colours can be used but with sensitivity to the treatment of the adjacent dining room or family room.
  • Separation –There are different ways to separate the room. A breakfast bar or a dining table work well to allow distinction between the two rooms. Having the rooms on different levels also works well, a step up or down to the room always gives a feeling of entering another room.
  • Placement of Stove – When designing the kitchen, ensure that your back is not to the bordering room. The front or side should be facing the family in the next room. The point of an open kitchen is to be able to interact with the people in the next room while working in the kitchen.
  • Smoky Signals –A good chimney and exhaust fan are necessary for open kitchens. Install the duct through the false ceiling so the beauty of the kitchen is not destroyed.
  • Dishwashing Area – If possible, keep a separate area for dishwashing. The cooking triangle of the fridge, stove and basin should be amenable to the person cooking. If there is space for another basin for washing then make this provision.
  • Many architects agree that however much people try to design their home for the long term, many times it is not possible for a home to be everything for everybody at all times.

Peoples needs change over the years and the kitchen is no exception. The lady of the house may be taking a break form her career after many years and take up cooking. She wishes her closed kitchen could be an open one. The reverse could hold true for a person who has lost touch with cooking and prefers to allow the cook do most of the job. So be prepared for needing a change and plan accordingly.

Published in BBC Good Homes January 2009