At the onset of the pandemic — during the era of banana bread and sourdough starters, to be exact — lots of different ideas were being thrown around about what the new home kitchen would look like. Would touchless technology and antimicrobial surfaces take off? Was there room for bigger appliances (two sets of dishwashers, even!) to keep pace with all of the home cooking happening in the absence of restaurant dining?
1. Kitchen islands are getting way bigger.
It’s true — kitchen islands have officially been promoted. “The kitchen island is the new dining table, the new cocktail bar, the new focus, for sure,” explains Randolph.
With this move away from the more formal dining room and into the kitchen, Randolph says his clients have been investing in top-of-the-line bar stools (think: custom-created, hair-on-hide seating) to encircle the island and bring people together like a swanky cocktail bar.
The demand for a more pronounced kitchen island is influencing the way homes are being designed from the start, with clients wanting an open-flow kitchen with free-standing islands that don’t require a singular path of circulation, says Courtenay Wright, interior designer project manager at Forum Phi Architecture in Aspen, Colorado.
“We find that it’s a lot easier for entertainment when people can stand all around an island, and it allows for ease of flow,” she says.
2. Double kitchen islands (yes, as in two!) are a thing.
Years from now, when people look back at the origin of certain kitchen design trends, they’ll be able to pinpoint this as a time when an interesting trend came to be: the double kitchen island.
“The kitchen has always been the most social space in a home, and with new work-from-home habits for adults and kids needing a place to work on their school assignments or congregate with friends, having double the space is an understated luxury we didn’t know we needed until the pandemic,” says Annapolis, Maryland-based architect Cathy Purple Cherry, the founder and principal of Purple Cherry Architects.
She’s seen a major uptick in clients requesting second islands for their kitchens and would go as far as to say it’s emerged as the most valuable kitchen amenity in the mid- to post-pandemic era.
Andrea Harvey, principal designer and owner of ASH Interiors and Design in Maryland, is fielding the same kinds of requests for double kitchen islands — one island for cooking and prep work, another dedicated for entertaining. Her clients, she says, want to incorporate banquet-style gatherings for a more integrated dining experience.
3. The restaurant and bar scene are serving up inspiration.
When restaurants shut down and indoor restrictions were put into place, people started recreating the dining magic at home with micro-upgrades. They’ve invested in their own espresso makers, wine fridges, and beer taps — honing in on items that have social aspects too, Smith-Shiflett says.
Randolph has been designing distinct, special places, like the Champagne bar that’s off a dining room and a handsome bourbon bar in a pool table room. And some clients, he says, want to complete the cocktail bar experience right down to the ice they use, spending hundreds (even thousands!) on pellet ice machines that make those soft, round, crunchy nuggets you’d associate with Sonic’s Drive-In or an $18 Moscow Mule on the menu at a craft cocktail bar.
Taking this trend to the next level, though, are some homeowners who want to mimic the front-of-the-house, back-of-the-house nature of a restaurant, with a show kitchen as well as a prep or chef’s kitchen, Wright says.
“The delineation and the separation between the two is something we’re seeing more and more so you can have serviced parties and dinners without seeing the behind-the-scenes work,” she says. “This out-of-sight, out-of-mind moment is something people are starting to latch onto.”
4. Pantries are now multi-functional.
Designers say there’s also heightened demand for multi-functional pantries that have plenty of storage. There may be some psychological reasoning driving this trend, as grocery runs were limited at the onset of the pandemic and supply chain disruptions are still affecting grocery store aisles.
Harvey says she’s noticing demand for bigger refrigerators plus added pantry spaces so that homeowners have everything “in stock” that they need. But there’s also an entertainment angle to these made-over pantries.
“Pantries aren’t just pantries anymore,” says Smith-Shiflett. “They have bars, coffee bars, and food storage.”
5. Kitchens are show-and-tell stages.
When Harvey meets with a client, one of her first questions is: “Describe the first event you plan to have after we finish the project.” She can glean a lot about how a homeowner plans to use their kitchen from that one query.
Whether there’s a large and lavish gathering on the calendar, or a few small, intimate ones, the excitement over entertaining remains huge right now. “It only makes sense as we’ve all been cooped up for so long and practiced our baking and cooking skills while locked down,” Harvey says.
Not only are people excited to show off their honed culinary skills, but also modern kitchen designs maximize storage to reduce clutter, and show off what is left on display.
Andre Jordan Hilton, principal interior designer at Jordan Hilton Interiors in Atlanta, says he’s noticing people gravitate towards “stylish minimalism,” where kitchens are both functional and artistic. This takes shape by doing away with upper cabinets and replacing them with open shelving to allow art and beautiful dishes to be on display or have a bar cart that can put unique bottles and beautiful glassware at the forefront.
6. The open-floor plan is evolving.
People typically fall into two camps when it comes to the open-floor kitchen plan: love or loathe.
During the height of the pandemic when homes worked overtime as office spaces, virtual classrooms, gyms, and more, the idea of having designated spaces gained appeal. But just because you might not want an open concept, that doesn’t mean you have to block off everything with walls, Smith-Shiflett says. There are so many ways to create separation between rooms, she explains.
“A few examples include drywalled arch openings and glass wall partitions,” Smith-Shiflett says. “These tactics all help define the space without feeling constricted.”
As a counterpoint, the pandemic also justified the open-floor plan, with the removal of walls between kitchen and dining rooms or living rooms, Harvey says.
“Because people have been isolated for so long, and have been at home, there’s been an influx of creating kitchen spaces that serve also as communal eating and entertaining spaces,” she says.
Have you upgraded your kitchen to entertain more often? Tell us what you decided to change, or better yet, send us photos.