Open up your kitchen

The kitchen has long been considered the heart of the home, yet its role has been reinvented in recent years. Now it has become an extension of our living space.

An open-plan, multi-purpose space is one of the hottest trends in kitchen design, a room that blurs the boundaries between cooking, eating and entertaining, making it more of a hub than ever. “We’re demanding more from our space, so the most popular layouts are large open-plan kitchens,” says Paul O’Brien, business development director of award-winning Kitchens International. “Kitchens have evolved to incorporate multi-media, living areas and all the day-to-day elements of our lives.”

“A multi-purpose kitchen can be achieved either by knocking down walls to combine rooms, or extending into the garden with a large, predominantly glass, extension. Formal walls are being removed to make one big room where everyone can live.” adds Paul.

Now the kitchen can be transformed into a cosy, den-like retreat where you can spend leisurely weekend mornings enjoying breakfast while working your way through the newspapers. Or a place where the children can tackle their homework or watch television while you rustle up dinner.

It’s also the perfect spot for entertaining. If you love cooking for friends and family, then the open-plan nature of the room allows you to remain at the heart of the action and interact with your guests.

“Open plan kitchens are great for socialising, keeping an eye on smaller children and becoming the centre of the home,” says Paul. “Generally, living is more informal. We entertain on an informal basis more readily and cooking has become a pastime to be enjoyed together rather than a chore. Many people spend the majority of their waking time in the kitchen, hence its importance.”

If you are thinking of renovating, think about what you want from your new kitchen. Will it be a relaxed haven for family life, where you do everything from eating together to curling up to watch TV? Or if entertaining is a priority, perhaps you’re after a sophisticated, grown-up space for hosting seriously stylish soirees? The space should be divided into well-defined sections, but the overall feel has to flow.

“Consider using different colours or textures to create distinct areas and ambiences in each space but don’t go too far – there should still be a link throughout the room,” advises Graham Ball, chief executive of the Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Specialists Association (KBSA), a national trade association which promotes excellence within the interiors industry and champions consumer protection. It has around 300quality retailer members throughout the UK.

He continues: “Ideally, kitchen units should be fitted along two adjacent walls to create two different areas; one for the cooking, storage and washing up and a relaxing area for dining, socialising and entertaining.”

Paul O’Brien adds: “Kitchen islands are the link between the boundaries of cooking/dining and living but the whole room must be looked at in its entirety so it flows from one area to another.”

And he says even compact kitchens can benefit from this layout too. “With clever planning and professional design an open-plan kitchen can be created, perhaps by introducing a galley kitchen, in part of a large living room. In a compact kitchen, a less conventional approach to design must be achieved to get the right result.”

The rise of the open-plan kitchen also dispenses with the need for a formal dining room. “Formal dining rooms are out of favour because they may only be used for a few days a year whereas the kitchen is a 365-day-year room,” says Paul.

“Instead, in open-plan kitchens people opt for a breakfast bar for casual eating then have their dining table at one end of the kitchen. The table is often extendable, so it can be used for all types of functions. This type of layout provides a far more flexible social space than a formal dining room.”

Lighting is very important in a room with such different functions, so it is wise to think about opting for brighter lighting such as spotlights in the kitchen area and dimmers in the entertaining space.

With the kitchen morphing into a second living room, naturally those home comforts play a key role. “For the wow factor, your whole room has to tell a story,” says Scottish interior designer, Mary Leslie ( “Once you have decided on style, whether it’s sleek and modern, traditional farmhouse or what I would call cosy contemporary, make sure that the same theme runs through the whole design.”

Mary adds “A sideboard or console table is a good barrier between the dining table and the sitting area, and if you’re having a sofa or chairs in the sitting space remember how deep a sofa needs to be in order to be comfortable. "The sofa should also be far enough away from the TV screen to be easy to watch, and you need to get the screen at the right height from the floor – ideally not above a fireplace which is usually too high, but high enough to be able to see it over the top of the other furniture if you want to be able to watch it from the cooking zone.

“The dining area should seat at least eight in comfort with room to circulate around the table in all directions. Round tables take up much more space than oblong or D-ended ones.” says Mary. “A very efficient, quiet extractor over the cooker is vital if you have a multi-function kitchen in order to keep cooking smells down.”