4 Tips for Kitchen Design That Court Family Togetherness

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Maybe for dinner, you inhaled a Pop-Tart while perched on an ottoman, your spouse ate chicken while reading magazines at the kitchen island and your kids gulped down pizza in front of the TV.

Or maybe your dining table holds so much clutter that it functions more like a desk instead of a place for food. Or the hassle of bringing out plates and silverware puts a damper on the idea of gathering the family at the table for dinner.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Thoughtful design for home dining areas can make it possible to enjoy meals as a family. Jumping on these evolving trends can make eating together easier and just downright fun.

Take advantage of open floor plans.

Modern floor plans have done away with walls and partitions between kitchen, dining and living areas and encourage families to spend more time together, especially around mealtimes.

Great rooms and open floor plans “Just seem to be a better match for how people live, versus having formal dining rooms,” says Nancy Barisof, head of her own Seattle design firm.

The trend to larger, professionally equipped kitchens has helped undermine the formal dining room. “People gravitate toward whoever’s cooking,” Barisof says.
Welcome kitchen diners by incorporating comfortable furniture into the kitchen, even adding a table lamp to help establish a gathering-roo feel.

A well-designed kitchen island can make quicker meals, like breakfast, more meaningful.

Kitchen stools that swing out when needed and can be tucked back under the island when not in use are the new favorites of Kerrie Kelly, owner of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab, Sacramento, Calif., and the author of “Home Décor” (Oxmoor House, 2009).

Barisof advises clients who are installing a new kitchen island to put a curve in it, making it semicircular so that family members can see each other. “Part of the experience of dining is to connect with other people and talk with them,” she says. “It’s much easier to do that when you face someone than when you sit alongside them.”

A mixture of furniture in the kitchen can help set the stage for socializing. You don’t have to default to a long dining table with matching chairs. In fact, think benches. “Banquettes have been hot on the scene,” says Kelly.

Consider mixing aesthetics.

Pair an antique or rustic table with minimalist chairs.
“Mixing up styles is a big trend, but I think it lends itself to less formality,” Barisof says, “especially if you want to have an everyday, kid-friendly, family environment.”

Toy with furniture placement, moving a table against one wall rather than centering it. Or, if space is an issue, use shelves instead of a sideboard.“Choose the furniture for comfort,” Kelly says, “and arrange it for ease of movement.”

Be Kid-Friendly.

When it comes to kitchen appliances and accessories, think convenient and kid-friendly. Find ways to simplify setup and cleanup. For example, a freestanding unit with open shelves near the dining area can hold flatware and dishes, Barisof says, making everything more accessible.

Having young children doesn’t mean you’re forced to cover everything in vinyl to protect furniture. Treated upholstery fabrics – Barisof is a fan of the Nano-Tex finish – allow families to have spill-resistant, fashionable chairs and benches.

And if you have a more traditional, separate dining room that you’d like to use more often for everyday meals? Think outside the box. Buy a can of chalkboard paint and use it on an entire wall. You could write family meals there, or just unleash the kids on it. “You could take that room,” Barisof says, “and make it appealing for kids to eat there.”

Tags: kitchen, family-friendly, dining