Make the Family Room More Family-Friendly

Filed in Design and Decor by on July 30, 2014

Photo Source:

Photo Source:

The wind whipped up again, swinging the creaking doors back and fourth. A tall silhouetted figure steps through and saunters to the bar, spurs piercing the un-tuned piano music with a shink, shink music of their own. the steely-eyed figure leans onto the bar rail, slides a dusty boot onto the brass foot rail, gazes through the back bar’s mural and mutters, “Whiskey.” The lanky bartender reaches for the bottle, deftly pours a shot and slides the drink down the length of the bar to the waiting cowboy’s hand.

Excuse me for my Western cliche, but I had to poke fun at the current fascination with island/peninsulas/buffet layouts in new kitchens. A long, thin bar-like top makes me smile in a cowboy sort of way … “Whiskey!” I would like to review the current kitchen arrangements and suggest a refinement to encourage functionality. Hang on.

I grew up in a four-square house with basically a country kitchen and informal dining room. Our kitchen had just enough room for a four-person round table slid next to the wall. (I had the pleasure of being the smallest in the family and tucked way back into the corner.) It was easy to make a meal and turn around to transfer it to the table, then sit down and enjoy the meal. Our four-person family was in close proximity to each other and had many good meals together even in a busy family. This was the 70s and 80s but it was a 50s lifestyle with a microwave thrown in.

Our dining room was informal for the reason that the half-wall dividers at some point in the house’s history had been removed, so the dining table was grounded only by the large hutch and bay window adjacent. With the seasonal table leafs stored away, it made for a good puzzle or game table setup in the overall living room space.

The anecdotal point that I’m trying to make is that most of us grew up eating in an informal dining room, eating at right angles or on a round table space. This seating arrangement allowed face-to-face conversations and slowed the eating ritual down to a comfortable pace, encouraging a good quality time to build family relationships.

Even with these arrangements, our society grew up watch Julia Child and other cooking shows with open kitchen layouts to allow for filming of the show, the camera having movement around the kitchen. Although this was a film stage, I believe it made an indelible mark on all of our minds as a fun arrangement that was different from what we had grown up in, basically a modern gourmet kitchen.

As new houses were built in our more urban-paced life, more kitchens were opened up to the rest of the house, and formal dining rooms were refined to informal spaces or deleted entirely. These new layouts reacted to our current times, making the kitchen the center gathering space for the homeowners and their guests.

Cooking islands and bar-height seating peninsulas became the norm for many of our newer homes. These buffets are great for hiding some of the cooking mess, making it easy to feed the family before running off to another function and even allowing someone to do homework or balance the checkbook.

As we build our new homes and begin to remodel this first-run set of gourmet-style, open-plan kitchens, I would like to suggest that we reconsider the eating arrangement and refine the layout to a slightly more conversational arrangement. Consider a more circular element at the end of an island or peninsula or a greater arch in the buffet to turn those seated more toward each other, not just to the cook. Conversations are much easier to have when facing one another.

I like the idea of a fmaily or couple having opportunities in their home for a nice, quiet intimate meal where all family members can face each other or sit at right angles for better connection to one another. Ironically, Julia Child’s own kitchen before she retired to California, was a quaint blue country kitchen where she hosted many groups in her day. She once was interviewed about this topic and, when challenged about the seemingly smal size of her kitchen,  replied that she liked the intimacy and the feeling of family. I think she was right.

by Philip Stahl

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