The contemporary kitchen, the cornerstone of everyday family life, sets the scene for the home and says the most about who lives there. "It is the engine room of the house," says designer Ruth Levine, "it needs to be efficient as well as beautiful."
More than just a place to cook, it requires strict functionality so as to accommodate family by day, and dinner, drinks or social gatherings by night. Oh, and it should look super stylish.
Experts reveal the key design elements required to create a kitchen that is not only functional, but stunningly beautiful too.
"There isn't one layout that is efficient for everyone," says architect Thom Perry. "If you want efficiency, analyse how you move and operate, and base the design around that."
Consider its primary users. "A stunning kitchen is not necessarily a well-functioning one," says Simone Stephens, senior designer Fisher & Paykel Appliances. "Today's kitchen operates in different ways - for kids to do their homework, drinks with friends, and a place to work on your laptop. It needs to tick all the boxes."
Clearly establishing your kitchen's needs allows you to determine work zones and conjure up generous floor space without having to add to your home's footprint. "If it is used by one person, then the traditional work triangle is great," says Stephens, "but if it needs to accommodate more people, this should be addressed in the planning stages. "
An integral part of carving out zones is establishing where the immovable fixtures will be placed. "My personal bugbear is the centralised sink," says Perry. "Keep your preparation areas open and clean. In commercial kitchens, the wash-up area is separate to the work area. A sink in your workbench is an island of uselessness and a magnet for clutter and dirty dishes."
Similarly permanent are the cooktop exhaust and bench spaces. "The exhaust is the first and most technical element to get locked in place, and everything else is designed around it," says Perry.
To ensure well-oiled productivity, understanding the cook's habits and requirements is paramount. "The kitchen has arguably the most expensive equipment in the house," says Levine, "so clarify who the cook is and what they cook. It will dictate the appliances and workstations they need. Are they entertainers? They may need additional dishwashers, steam ovens, built-in coffee machines or plate warmers. These are the questions and answers that will define your choices."
Stephens agrees. "There are products that can simplify life. For example, young families love Fisher & Paykel's Double DishDrawer because it is a quick fill and run-through. It's much more practical than one large machine that takes time to fill up and run-through. Smart appliances really make a difference to everyday life."
For homeowners seeking the most efficient appliances, Fisher & Paykel's Experience Centre is an integral step in ascertaining exactly what will work best. Specifically designed to give customers access to the full range of kitchen products, it also includes interactive technology, and design and cooking specialists who provide personal advice on how to utilise the products best in their space.
"Cold storage is another area that is hugely important," says Stephens, "and our CoolDrawer is a real game-changer. It can be put anywhere, and because it has five temperature settings, can be a refrigerator, freezer, pantry or wine fridge at the touch of a button."
For optimum functionality, consider regular related-activities. "Try and group activities together," says Levine. "Put the pullout or touch-open bins under your cutting area instead of under the sink, and place the dishwasher near your crockery storage so you can stand in one spot and unload. It makes all the difference."
A common challenge for homeowners is marrying aesthetics and function. "It has to be a blend of both," says Perry, "it can be difficult for homeowners to visualise the end result, so my advice is to start with function, then take on the challenge of making that function beautiful."
Given the kitchen's rise in status and location, ensure its good looks are consistent with adjoining spaces. For timeless appeal, use a white or neutral palette and layer with high quality fittings and fixtures that complement the rest of your home.
"As part of the dining and living experience, the kitchen today is a focal point," Levine says. "It demands the same high quality of cabinetry as the adjoining rooms."
Perry says simple styling is key. "My advice is to avoid too much ornament. Nobody really thinks you use those copper pans hanging ostentatiously at eye level. They just distract from the magic you are performing. It adds nothing to the interactions that take place there.
"The romance of the kitchen is about what you create. The space itself should always have that as its primary, if not its sole, purpose".