Tuesday, December 30, 2008

If you can stand the heat...

Ergonomics in kitchen design ...

"Our increasingly informal lifestyles are transforming the kitchen from simply a place where we prepare food into the new social hub of the home. And the world’s cutting-edge designers are responding.

“A lot of it is about how we eat and entertain these days,” says the celebrated British chef Jamie Oliver.

By “it” he means the evolving design of our kitchens and, in particular, the way that they have increasingly become part of our main living spaces. He is well-placed to comment: in addition to his credentials as a media-friendly chef, restaurateur and campaigner for good food, Oliver has now become a kitchen designer. He recently joined forces with the upmarket German manufacturer Poggenpohl to create state-of-the-art kitchens for Jumeirah Golf Estates’ Water development in Dubai.

“The kitchen has become the hub of the home – the social hub, as well as the functional hub,” Oliver explains. And kitchen design – not just the colour of the cupboards but the very architectural framework within which the kitchen sits – has responded.

Increasingly, the kitchen plays the role of a family room, which may double as a semi-formal dining area, which, in turn, may be part of a larger living space that performs a more sociable and relaxed role and possibly even flows outside into the garden.

So the leading-edge kitchen manufacturers are employing a new breed of architect/designer. Rather than simply “kitchen designers” in the old, narrow sense, these include such stars of the design world as the Argentinian-born architect Alfredo Häberli at Schiffini, Antonio Citterio at Arclinea, Piero Lissoni at Boffi and Alessandro Mendini – a leading light in the Milan-based Memphis design movement – who has designed a kitchen for Alessi (manufactured by Valcucine). In doing so, they have turned conventional thinking on its head.

No longer is the kitchen shut off from the rest of the house; no longer does a cook work with his or her back to the room.

According to the architect Claudio Silvestrin, who has worked with the Italian company Minotti, among others, visual openness between the kitchen and the living area is essential, so that social interaction between the cook and his or her friends or family is constant.

Johnny Grey, a leading British kitchen designer and architect who has dedicated a considerable amount of time to researching the effects design has on the human brain, say: “It’s all about eye contact and encouraging social interaction. That’s why central islands have become an essential feature.”

As well as incorporating working elements, such as hobs and sinks, which face out into the social part of the room, those islands now come with bar counters or attached tables. The remainder of the functional elements – smaller machines, tools, dishwashers and all that other visually unappealing clutter – are kept discreetly in the background.

Antonio Citterio’s solution for Arclinea’s Lapis et Lignum kitchen is a monumental free-standing island sculpted from bluish-grey marble, behind which everything else is hidden in a run of floor-to-ceiling larch-fronted cupboards.

In the b2 kitchen from the upmarket German manufacturer Bulthaup double doors on the full-height wooden cupboards open to reveal everything you could possibly need to prepare a major dinner (almost Tardis-like in their deceptively large capacity, they are closer to the old idea of a pantry than a conventional kitchen cupboard). When closed, the room is transformed, becoming a beautifully clean space, where only the island unit remains – a stainless steel area that exudes an almost industrial efficiency, yet is beautifully proportioned, almost sculptural.

According to Grey, in all its stylistic glory the modern kitchen has moved backwards in cultural terms, not forwards. “It’s the surrogate hearth,” he enthuses. “It fulfils a primitive human need to gather around a warm and emotionally engaging space. We are returning to our basic instincts when we create a socialised kitchen that becomes the centre of our home.”    (Continued via The National Newspaper, Joanna Langley)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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