So much of a family’s life takes place in the kitchen: counters are used for test prep as well as meal prep; homework gets reviewed, along with recipes and you’re as likely to find a school bag as a grocery bag near the fridge.
Unless you’re an empty nester — and sometimes even then — you’re going to want a kitchen that addresses the family’s needs, not just the chef’s. It’s not uncommon to factor grandchildren or aging relatives who frequently visit into your kitchen planning, too.
Some kitchens incorporate specific kid-friendly zones. These might include an under-counter fridge that holds their drinks and after-school snacks, storage space for non-breakable dishes and glasses they can reach themselves and possibly even an easy-to-reach microwave for older children.
There could also be a family “landing zone” to corral everyone’s bags, papers, chargers, keys and mail. These are ideally situated at the edge of the kitchen near a common entrance. These zones should have an electrical outlet and some closed storage to reduce visual clutter. A basket for each family member provides a convenient spot to toss their mail and school papers.
Seating for snacks and meals is also important for family kitchens. If eating is commonly done in the dining room, a few counter stools at a peninsula or island are all you really need. If meals are taken in the kitchen, you’re going to want table-height seating for everyone, as well as walk space behind it. Seating zones should never be between a prep counter and work zone, especially where cooking takes place.
Appliance and Fixture Considerations
If your children are mature enough to operate a microwave, you might want to put one in a base cabinet so they can make their own snacks or reheat dinner after practice. An over-the-range micro hood is not ideal for most children because of the awkward position over a hot burner. It also might not have the vent power your cooking surface demands. Poor ventilation will result in food grease ending up on your family’s skin, hair and clothing, rather than leaving your home.
A refrigerator drawer or beverage center can also be smart family-friendly appliance, as it will keep kids from holding the refrigerator door open for extended periods looking for their favorite treats or drinks.
Another family-friendly appliance is an induction cooktop or range. It only gets hot directly under a pot or pan, reducing the chance that your child will burn his or her fingers on it. It’s also extremely easy to wipe down should your young one’s cooking effort needs a massive clean-up project.
When kids return to school, they often bring home with them germs, so a hands-free faucet can be a good option for cutting down the spread of germs.
Drinks spill, food drops, fingers leave prints (and worse) and running children fall. A good deal of thought should go into the surfaces you choose for your kitchen. Low maintenance, durable surfaces are generally the most sanity-saving for busy families.
For countertops, engineered stone (often known by brand names Silestone, Cambria, Zodiaq and Caesarstone) are a good option. You’ll never have to seal them against staining and they’re very easy to clean. Porcelain and ceramic slab, as well as its hybrid versions (like Dekton), are good options for the same reason.
Solid surface, (e.g., Corian, Staron, HiMacs) countertops are another good option. While not as hard as engineered stone, they are repairable if Junior decides to jump on an overhang and breaks it or a baking project scorches it. They are also easier on any body parts that bump into them (and on glasses or plates dropped onto them).
Flooring can be reclaimed wood that won’t show wear and tear so quickly, rectified porcelain non-slip tile, (which has less grout to stain), affordable laminate or hypo-allergenic linoleum. Not recommended is polished natural stone, which is a slip hazard for children and seniors alike.
Cabinet fronts are best kept simple if your children are very young and active, otherwise you’ll be cleaning food particles out of crevices with a cotton swab — and life’s just too short for that! Similarly, glossy finishes will show every fingerprint, so use them strategically (possibly for cabinet uppers with hardware), rather than everywhere.
If you have window coverings, banquette or counter stool cushions, consider washable outdoor fabrics for them, rather than anything dry clean or delicate.
It is possible to have a beautiful kitchen that’s also hard-working and family friendly. It just takes some professional planning. When it’s finished, be sure you’ve found a nearby spot for a fire extinguisher, too.
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Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCTWC is a wellness design consultant, Certified Kitchen Designer and the author of the New Bathroom Idea Book and New Kitchen Ideas That Work, (Taunton Press). Jamie can be found online at jamiegold.net.