Saturday, October 11, 2014

Couple Mysteriously Disappears in the Kitchen Triangle

     Thankfully, the Kitchen Triangle is not the hazard that the Bermuda Triangle is thought to be, and headlines like this one are few and far between. However, a movement has arisen to make the kitchen triangle itself disappear, doing away with this traditional design tool that has guided us for so many years. In my profession, I find myself torn as my hero, Raymond Lowey (greatest industrial designer ever)*, said “never leave well enough alone”. So which is it? Is the kitchen triangle dead like these upstarts are claiming or has it moved to a new plane?
     Developed in the 1940’s the kitchen work triangle addressed the efficiency of the relationship of three areas of your kitchen; the cooking area, the preparation area and the food storage area. The cooking area refers to the cooktop, oven and/or range; the preparation area included the sink, and the storage area, where the refrigerator and dry storage are located. The plan was based on a single person (one person, not someone who is single) cooking in a 1940’s sized kitchen. Since then the size of kitchens has increased dramatically and, today, more people are helping prepare meals, whether they are single or married.
     If you struggled with 10th grade geometry, this magical shape is the line connecting the stove, (cooking area), fridge (storage area), and sink (prep area), with each of these areas creating one of the points of the triangle. The basic rules were no leg of the triangle should be less than four feet or greater than nine feet and the sum of all three sides should be between 13 and 26 feet.
I recently attended a conference where they discussed the new “Kitchen Work Zone” theory, but when I realized that the work zones were the “cooking zone”, the “preparation zone”, and the “storage zone”, I began to zone out. It sounded suspiciously like new packaging for the old triangle - that they said was kaput!  Nevertheless, they did have a valid point regarding the size of new kitchens, which have grown over the years.
     In bigger kitchens (which will probably be outlawed by the current NYC mayor) you frequently are blessed with multiple cooking areas, additional preparation areas and a several areas of storage space. Does this mean we should abandon the triangle? Not at all. We just use multiples of them, keeping in mind that you want to avoid crossing the kitchen with hot pots and pans, making sure that the sink isn’t too far from the cooktop and that you have decent storage near (each of) your refrigerators.
     If more than one chef will be involved in the preparation of meals, then we need to utilize one triangle for each person. If they overlap, the two triangles will create a STAR! (You can try this at home with pen or pencil). In fact, I think I will give a lecture and call this concept the STAR kitchen design zones, just to confuse everyone.
      As usual, most design comes down to common sense. Once your designer has created a plan, review it carefully and make sure that the basics of the original triangle have been adhered to where possible and that nothing seems “out of whack!” If the fridge is 25 feet away from the sink, you’re going to be miserable, no matter how pretty the kitchen looks.

* Among a million other things, Raymond Lowey designed my favorite car, the Studebaker Avanti; my favorite locomotive, the GG-1; the interior of Skylab (back when we had a space program); the interior of the Concorde supersonic jet; the Coke bottle and their vending machines; the Shell and Exxon logos, etc. etc.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Counter(top) Intelligence

            Archeologists have found, even before recorded history, that people have had an area in their home devoted to food preparation. Traditionally referred to as “THE KITCHEN”, over the millennium this specialized subdivision of the household has developed from a simple work surface to the exciting kitchens of today. And, one of the most exciting parts of a new kitchen is the countertop.
The countertop, and its vertical counterpart, the backsplash, can add to your kitchen’s distinctive style, but choosing a material for the surface is not as easy as it was a thousand years ago. There are so many types of countertops available today that it can be very confusing when you decide to get a new one.
            Although certainly a factor, your kitchen’s work surface should not be chosen solely for its aesthetic value. When you’re ready for a new counter, find a contractor who will take the time to review your specific needs. What types of foods do you prepare? How much do you cook? Do you have kids? The answers to these questions will help determine the appropriate counter material for you.
The laminate counter, referred to by many as “Formica,” is the most economical of all the choices and, with proper care, can last twenty years. Easy to clean with good stain resistance, it does have limitations: you can’t cut on it and it will scorch if you place anything hot on the surface. Once a laminate top is damaged it is difficult or impossible to repair.
The most popular countertops today are those made out of stone, which, by the way, is just what the archeologists found in the kitchens of yesteryear. The most popular stone materials are granite, marble and the new tops made up of crushed quartz. Granite, the traditional standby, is considered by many as the most beautiful surface available because granite has movement! Movement is the suggestion of motion in the elements making up the finished surface. The swirls and patterns created by nature cannot be fully duplicated in a stone that is fabricated. If you exercise a little care with granite, you can avoid stains and scratches, and have a work surface that will last until the next batch of archeologists digs up your home. Granite should be sealed when it is installed and at least once a year afterwards to avoid staining.
Quartz, sold under the trade names of Cambria, Caesarstone, Silestone, etc. is the second most abundant mineral on earth, and is a basic component of granite. In a typical quartz countertop, the raw quartz is crushed and combined with pigments to give it color, and resins (sticky stuff) to hold it together. The resulting process creates one of the most durable countertop surfaces on the market today. It is harder than granite, more scratch and stain resistant, and non-porous. For the geologists who follow the K&B Insider, quartz ranks #7 on the Mohs hardness scale! Only diamonds, sapphires and topaz are harder. The cost of quartz and the average granite slab is comparable.
The newest offerings in countertops are the eco-friendly products such as PaperStone and Richlite. They are made from recycled paper and/or cardboard and come in several colors. IceStone is made from recycled glass (supposedly beer bottles), and Portland cement. These products are great for the environment, however, as with most “green” products, they are usually more expensive than their traditional counterpart.
            As with all decisions in upgrading your home, don’t rush in making your selection for the countertop.  Thoroughly investigate all the possibilities with your contractor and select a surface that is suited to your needs, as well as visually pleasing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Professionals Admit Refacing Finally Acceptable!

It took over twenty-years, but finally refacing is being recognized by the kitchen and bath industry as a legitimate remodeling solution for the consumer. In the January issue of Professional Remodeler magazine, for the first time ever, refacing is not only mentioned, but included as the fourth item in their list of “Kitchen and Bath Design Trends for 2014”.
So what made the kitchen industry leaders finally accept this alternative remodeling technique? Apparently, so many people are choosing to reface, rather than replace their cabinets, they didn’t have much choice. Especially since the results are not only beautiful, but with additional accessories, rival the functionality of an all new kitchen. The process couldn’t just be ignored any more.
            Granted, in the past, refacing, (or resurfacing as it is also called), used to conjure up a less-than-beautiful kitchen, where the material covering the cabinets and doors didn’t look real and would peel off in a few years. While this may have been true 20 years ago the materials and adhesives used for refacing have improved dramatically. Most contractors who offer this service now replace the door and drawer fronts and cover the cabinet with the same material the new fronts are made of. Today, a custom refacing job, if done properly, looks just like a new kitchen and lasts just as long.
            The selection of replacement fronts has expanded exponentially over the past few years. You can now get real wood, and select from maple, cherry, alder, birch, pine and exotic woods. If you want to go with laminate fronts there are close to a hundred colors to chose from, and now the laminates can be hand-crafted with a glazed finish or Italian high gloss lacquer, just like real wood. Add to this all the modern internal conveniences that you find in new kitchen cabinets and refacing becomes a viable alternative.
            Over the past twenty-years, I’ve found that the two most popular reasons for refacing cabinets, rather than replacing them, are convenience and cost. With our hectic schedules, many people don’t want to have their lifestyles disrupted any longer than necessary. It’s hard enough getting everything done that we’re supposed to each day without having construction going on for several weeks. Refacing takes much less time than replacing a kitchen and is much less stressful than a total renovation.
And in most cases it’s usually much more economical than a new kitchen. I say “usually much more economical” because there are factors that can increase the costs of refacing. When you select thermofoil replacement fronts the cost is about 50% less than buying and installing new, all-wood cabinets. However, if you choose special shapes or wood fronts the savings begins to diminish. Another factor that can add to the expense of refacing is changing the layout of your kitchen. You realize the greatest saving when no alterations are made to the floor plan. If you intend on changing more than 10% of the cabinets in the kitchen it makes more sense to think about replacing all of them.
            If you are thinking about renovating your kitchen, bath or wall unit, it certainly would be worthwhile to investigate all the possibilities. Especially now that the taboo associated with refacing has been lifted, it’s a good idea to visit showrooms that offer both new cabinets and refacing. And, with the wide range of replacement fronts available you may be pleasantly surprised.