Kitchen Design

I'll Never Look at My Kitchen the Same Way Again

Author of ‘The Perfect Kitchen,' Barbara Sallick, believes this year will shape how we design future kitchens—to not just look good, but feel right.

July 18, 2020
Photo by Laura Resen. Designer: Thomas O’Brien for 'The Perfect Kitchen'

In Our World, Before & After, we're asking our favorite culture writers, cooks, and home/design experts to describe how life will be different after COVID-19—with essays on cooking and being at home, the new ways and foods we’ll eat, plus travel guides (both real and imagined).

I don’t think any of us ever imagined such long stretches of time in our homes. We are a peripatetic lot: We dash to the office, jump on the next flight, race to the market, take off to sporting events and create elaborate visits with friends and family. None of these, nor countless other activities, left too much time to stop and think about our homes, how they functioned, how they looked and, most especially, how we truly wanted to live in them!

Today, months into self-isolation and social distancing, home is on our mind 24/7. By now, we’re done with the housekeeping drill: we've cleaned out the clothes and toy closets, made multiple trips to Goodwill, tossed expired spices, reorganized pantries and jotted down lists of future projects. When it comes to the next step, though—re-imagining our actual lifestyles (because I’d like to think we’ve been given an opportunity to)—the kitchen assumes tremendous significance.

So, how will our kitchens change? For some, that could mean buying (and, I hope, actually using) more advanced tools and appliances—ones that are more intuitive, perhaps even voice-activated, that cut down prep time, or maybe do the cooking for you. But I prefer to think about how to transform a kitchen into a hub for communing, in a true modern sense: the swirling nucleus of the household, the pivotal place where important conversations happen, homework is done, celebratory moments are created, food experiments and preparations are explored.

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Top Comment:
“I too have been going through and de-cluttering. Gadgets that were meant to save time that in the end were a waste of money, now occupying valuable space in my small pantry. Sorting, organizing and getting rid of items. Really how many bottle openers does one person need? Countless spices that I used for one dish, wasted money now in the trash. I still have a long way to go, but with each small achievement comes a great deal of satisfaction and I too find myself wanting to be in my kitchen more. I’m spending more time enjoying meal planning and cooking. ”
— Cynthia

For many of us, me included, the kitchen has emerged from the grab-and-go-on-my-way-to-somewhere-else spot in the house—an attractive and high-functioning pass-through—to a space where creativity and conversation prevail. The question then is: what can we add or subtract to improve this mindful equation?

Barbara Sallick's kitchen table, where she finds herself spending the most time. Photo by Waterworks

One of the ways to achieve this next-generation kitchen is to clean up and clean out. Having prepared countless consecutive meals over the past few months, I have a new and profound relationship with my kitchen. I recognize its shortcomings—most of which I can fix myself by rearranging the shelves and prioritizing their contents. (The others are there to stay.) The key is to be prepared to make disciplined choices.

While function is the word most associated with the kitchen, the first word that resonates with me is comfort and reassurance. For me, it implies a space where everything that I need for the next meal (and the many after that) is readily at hand. On a very personal level: Before the coronavirus changed our lives, I never expected that I would ever cook 125 consecutive meals at a stretch and give my kitchen the kind of workout that I have. But it goes beyond the cooking and eating. For instance, I had never factored in the importance and versatility of my kitchen table. It has become my favorite place to conduct IG Live interviews, take Zoom calls, birdwatch and generally stay—and feel—connected to the outside world. The window facing the terrace, the greenery, the shifting shadows all create unexpected zen moments that inspire me and help keep my spirits up.

Photo by Waterworks

The other aspect of comfort involves style and design. Kitchen planning often focuses on how one can possibly fit the maximum number of cabinets, drawers, and shelves into the space at hand—functionality at its core. But you’ll find a better opportunity for change by asking yourself how you want your kitchen to feel; how should the materials relate to one another—the counters, backsplash, cabinets, hardware, chairs, and decorative objects? The objective is to layer elements in a way that creates beautiful visual, but also emotional, experiences day after day and year after year.

And that’s critical because the kitchen’s primary function, as a place to prepare meals, has morphed into something so much more. The prevailing psychology is that the food you prepare nurtures the soul. Thoughtful meal preparation, creative combinations of tastes and textures, and delicious aromas should ideally all align with the physical and emotional experience you create through your design choices. That’s where the best kitchen memories begin.

What does your reimagined kitchen look/feel like? Tell us in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rucy
  • Peaches
  • M
  • Cynthia
  • Peony
Barbara Sallick

Written by: Barbara Sallick

Waterworks cofounder and author of 'The Perfect Kitchen.'


Rucy November 14, 2020
I'm that person who brought homemade food into the office. Lots of sweets - cookies & macaroons & cakes & chocolates. I was the threat to the seams on your jeans. Now I don't work in an office and my company has made the decision that remote work is permanent. So what to do with all that kitchen gear that helped me make those foodstuffs? Well, I completely restarted with a minimally-supplied kitchen. I pull a tool out of storage when I really need it but by the end of this holiday season I plan to donate or sell the remainder. I'll keep that stand mixer, with the multiple bowls, because it reminds me of my late mother and it makes my life easier. The multiple other 'must have' gadgets? Time to let those go. Especially since I'm realizing that downsizing the house is in my near future (I honestly didn't need even half my house space during the pandemic). Everything is up for reconsideration. Do I want to continue entertaining at home? No, I'd rather have my home as my personal and private sanctuary. When it's time to dine out I'd honestly rather meet my friends in a local restaurant. As for rejoining an office setting, and being the person who brings in all those desserts, no more. I'm ready to donate my chef's toque AND all the gear that I once believed I needed.
Peaches August 4, 2020
As I wait for my contractor to free up his time on other jobs, I've had plenty of time to explore what I really want and need in my kitchen. The first thing I planned was an adjasent narrow butler's pantry in place of the old pantry/laundry room. The plan is to move the refrigerator out of the kitchen and into the BP. We will also add a coffee bar to the BP with a prep sink. Next we plan to remove all the upper cabinets over the sink and dishwasher and expand the window over the sink 2.5 times its size so that we can enjoy the gorgeous view to the West now only seen if you are at the sink. Replacing the far away L-shaped counter with an island, seats facing our new view. At one end of the island, we are having a wine/liquor cabinet built (replacing the liquor cabinet in the dining room and freeing up space there). I am also playing with color by making the island a distressed satin black with a light granite top, and the stove/sink cabinets with wood tone lower cabinets with brushed champagne hardware and a dark grey granite top. The third wall will be a combination of the two with a black box and wood framed glass for top cabinets, wood on the bottom. Must haves for appliances: separate refrigerator and freezer, warming drawer, (British fiance must-have) steam/convection oven, speed/microwave oven, and an induction cooktop with a fab fan. Last but not least, we will install what we all now call, (including the sales appliance) the "sucky drawer" or glorified food saver unit. So where I'm normally not so patient, the construction delay has paid off. But now I can't wait to enjoy it all. Cheers
M July 21, 2020
Other than the fact that with the rise of the internet, many live (and not just imagine) long-stretches in their homes, the intro is the key to what we need to do -- think about how our homes look, function, and work for us. It means re-thinking how we talk about style and trends, and refocusing on how to embody a specific need-set or life, rather than dictated trends that make us shriek in frustration when we actually have to USE them. It doesn't mean we can't add style and impracticality that changes with the wind, but it should be an element, not an encompassing methodology that fails everything task other than looking trendy.

My reimagined kitchen would have cabinets that stretch to the wall/floor/ceiling and don't stop short and create a ton of wasted space, a backsplash that's beautiful but won't stain and will be easy to clean, no impossibly deep cupboards, a stove vent that properly sucks up smoke and moisture, clever stools/ladders that fold into the design, all counter height being enough for tall mixers and food processors, and walls covered in an attractive pegboard-like system that let me change how I hang and organize things as my needs change.
Cynthia July 19, 2020
I too have been going through and de-cluttering. Gadgets that were meant to save time that in the end were a waste of money, now occupying valuable space in my small pantry. Sorting, organizing and getting rid of items. Really how many bottle openers does one person need? Countless spices that I used for one dish, wasted money now in the trash.
I still have a long way to go, but with each small achievement comes a great deal of satisfaction and I too find myself wanting to be in my kitchen more. I’m spending more time enjoying meal planning and cooking.
Arati M. July 19, 2020
I love this, Cynthia :)
Peony July 18, 2020
Old TV with a VCR - gotta love it.
Arati M. July 19, 2020
All the little things that bring us comfort, eh? :)
Liz S. September 13, 2020
Ha, I just read this post (late) and noticed the older TV also ... probably because I just got rid of a 20 year old tv with DVD :)

This article made me think. I have worked from a home office (self employed computer programmer) for 35 years. I live rurally with a dog and cat and generally keep a full frig/freezer/pantry. I LOVE to cook and am a sourdough baker: breads, crackers, sweets. I lost my love of restaurants years ago. All to say, the "stay at home" thing is not a change or me at all EXCEPT for the background of all that is going on which has made me appreciate my home even more. I am not quite a minimalist, but I don't like clutter or cupboards/closets that make it difficult to find things so I tend toward the weeding out regularly.

My kitchen opens to a sunroom (french doors) that is my home office. Except for sleeping, I really live in the kitchen/office and have a small sofa/reading area actually in the kitchen ... which I love. Several years ago I added a kitchen island to get myself away from eating at my desk and it has worked for me.

I chose simplicity (lifestyle) and a kitchen/office that works for me, but I am always tweaking a bit and love reading things like this article which make me think. Thank you!