With Australians enjoying a love affair with their home, more and more of us are taking the time to invite friends and family to join us so we can show off not only our skills in the kitchen but spend quality, relaxed time with our loved ones. This new-found passion for the home has resulted in a huge swing towards open-plan kitchen design — with the kitchen as the focal entertaining space in the home — as well as sparking a new generation of kitchen gadgets and appliances, all designed to make entertaining at home a valid option.
Current HIA 2006 Kitchen Designer of the Year, Kim Duffin of Sublime Cabinet Design, understands the challenges involved in designing kitchens with a focus on entertaining. “Kitchens have gone from being enclosed in three walls to being more open-plan,” he says. “There is a need to encourage the flow between all areas used for entertaining and the kitchen needs to reflect the style and mood created by these areas.”
Kitchen design in the last decade has grown in leaps and bounds to now include a plethora of choice for every homeowner. The kitchen has grown in dominance to a point where many home designs centre around this space and it is this room that then determines the style and tone of the rest of the home. “It’s important to incorporate designated areas into a kitchen design, such as food preparation, seating and cooking, when you want to have a focus on entertaining,” adds Kim. “These areas allow the activities in the kitchen to flow freely and make the experience more enjoyable.”
Families, whether small or large, tend to congregate in the kitchen and open-plan area to socialise at the end of the day, catch up on the weekends and plan family activities. Children can often be found completing homework at the island bench while the parents prepare the evening meal. The cook is no longer relegated to the rear of the house while guests sit in the “good” sitting room sipping a pre-dinner sherry. Now, the cook can be a part of the action, chopping and mixing, dicing and slicing while chatting comfortably with family and friends, who can even be roped in to help when necessary.
Kitchen designer Steve Mahlo from Nouvelle Designer Kitchens is the designer responsible for the HIA 2006 Kitchen Project of the Year and is no stranger to designing entertainers’ kitchens. He feels that the island should be the central focus of any kitchen design and it is this element that will dictate how well the space works. “The most important thing with the island is creating flow,” he says. “Because it’s a large area you can use it for serving and prepping as well as plating-up.”
The island can take many forms and serve many purposes, which is what makes it such an invaluable part of the open-plan space. It is often the item that integrates the kitchen with the adjoining rooms and can mark the border of the kitchen. The island also creates entry and exit points to the kitchen, assisting with ease of traffic flow. In addition, the island often provides additional preparation and serving space when entertaining for large crowds, further cementing its place as an indispensable kitchen item.
A popular design element is to include a number of items within the adjoining rooms that mirror the finish of the kitchen, to help the space act as a whole. Dressers, entertainment units, office spaces and a range of other furniture items can be designed to match the cabinetry of the kitchen, creating a seamless flow through the rooms.
Australia’s climate lends itself perfectly to alfresco dining and many of today’s kitchens are specifically located to provide excellent access to outdoor areas. A neat option is to include service access through a retractable window, to allow the cook to pass out platters of freshly prepared food as well as keep them in touch with the flow of conversation. This location close to outdoor areas also enables the kitchen to take advantage of plenty of natural light, making the room warm and welcoming and allowing the designer to concentrate on the placement of task lighting, as needed.
Steve feels that the type of kitchen design he produces is very much influenced by the increasing trend to entertaining at home. “My designs are centred around creating easy flow and easy access within and around the kitchen,” he says. “We always look for ways to open up the space by taking out walls and looking at using the indoor and outdoor space most effectively.” In addition, Steve is finding that homeowners are proud of their kitchens and are happy to have them as a centrepiece within the home. “I’m using more elaborate materials and treating the items within the kitchen more as pieces of furniture. Lighting is very important with many clients choosing to incorporate feature pendant lighting, for example, to highlight the island area,” he adds.
If your dream is to create an open-plan entertainer’s kitchen, there are a few points to consider before embarking on your project. “You have to be able to see your guests and talk to the people you are entertaining, so the design will be effected by whether or not walls can be removed to open up the area,” says Steve. “But be careful of removing too many walls as this can create a placement issue — for example, where do you put the refrigerator and cooker? Keeping a flow through the area is also a challenge with open-plan design as you don’t want to create any dead ends.”
Steve adds that it’s important to consider your personal aversion to dishes and preparation mess. “Most people, much as they want an open-plan kitchen, don’t want messy dishes to be seen. The most obvious solution is a raised bench that can hide the sink area. Plus, it’s essential to have a powerful and effective rangehood so soft furnishings don’t pick up cooking smells. I’m finding that undermount rangehoods are very effective and very popular at the moment,” he says.
As an experienced designer, Kim feels there are three major considerations when designing a kitchen that will be used extensively for entertaining — space, budget and storage. “It’s crucial to get enough space to design a kitchen that meets the client’s objectives,” he says. “But we need to make sure that the kitchen looks aesthetically appealing while taking into consideration their budget and the existing fixtures and finishes. Traditionally, clients who entertain have a wide range of appliances and other equipment that requires specialised storage solutions.”
There’s no better time to enjoy Australia’s climate than during the warmer months and many appliance manufacturers have spotted an opportunity to expand their range with products to meet the needs of outdoor entertaining. Melissa Lanzarone is the Kleenmaid In-Store Kitchen Design Manager and believes that the outdoor kitchen is evolving to become a reflection of our preferred lifestyle. “Designs are becoming more user-friendly and thoughtful and so, too, are appliances,” she says.
The traditional idea of what constitutes an outdoor appliance has tended to centre around the barbecue, whether a simple model or the latest machine with every gadget imaginable. But there are a host of other appliances that have been specifically designed for installation outdoors such as refrigerators, dishwashers, sinks and specialist ovens. “Kleenmaid’s outdoor lifestyle products are designed for open-air living,” says Melissa. “They make alfresco entertaining even more relaxing and enjoyable so there’s less time rushing inside and more time relaxing outside.”
Other appliance manufacturers have focussed on indoor appliances that can be used on a nightly basis to create the family meal but have a dual purpose in that they are also fantastic when entertaining. Many kitchen designers now incorporate a temperature-controlled wine cellar as well as a standard refrigerator into the kitchen’s design, to allow for the optimum storage of your favourite tipple.
With a host of specially-designed appliances and kitchen designers with a focus on creating an entertainer’s dream, it’s no wonder that many of us are showing off our favourite place and taking the opportunity to entertain friends, family and business colleagues — at home!