Contribution by Ellen Arnison from ellenarnison.com | March 2015
Ellen has a husband and three sons and lives in Scotland.
Our home was like hundreds of thousands of homes up and the country when we moved in: a bog-standard three-bed semi. It had a boxy kitchen, a boxy dining room, a boxy sitting room and there were a couple more boxes upstairs. Squarish and all about the same size. This is all very well if your family and the things they like to do fit into neat boxes, but mine – like most – doesn’t.
It wasn’t long before the kitchen and dining room started to tick the box of deep dissatisfaction. The kitchen was, on the face of it, large enough for a small table but in reality this meant that someone was in my way wherever they sat to eat.
Obviously the solution could easily have been to use the dining room – after all that was what it was for, wasn’t it? Fine in theory. However, have you counted the number of times you need to leave the family dining table to get something - juice, salt, a mopping-up cloth - during the average meal? No, me neither, but it’s a lot.
So we decided to knock through and make an open-plan kitchen and dining room. It’s one of the best home improvement projects we’ve done and here’s what I learned:
Think long and hard about it. Putting the kitchen out of commission for any period of time in a family home causes pandemonium. Therefore, you aren’t going to want to do it more often than you have to. Get it right first time.
Stuff expands to fill the available space. My mother has a fabulous big kitchen with lots and lots of storage. Twice as much, at least, as I’ve got. However, her cupboards are packed with… well, I’m not actually sure what they’re packed with as most of the contents haven’t seen the light of day for years.
Work out what you actually need. My wrong-sized boxy old kitchen did, at least, have the right amount of cupboard space for the things this family needed to store, so I counted the number of cupboard units and worked the new designs around that.
Consider your cooking style. I like to get creative, I like company but I hate it when people get in my kitchen space, so I built it around that.
A breakfast bar is not always just a breakfast bar. Sometimes it’s a barrier. A great big barrier between me in the kitchen and the rest of the family over there… just where I like them.
Keep it smooth. I hate housework so I tried to minimise it with my kitchen choices. I picked units with smooth fronts (less ledge to catch dust) and put smooth counter tops up the walls too to avoid having tiles with grotty grouting.
Dining will only be the start. Our kitchen/dining room is used for so much more than food preparation and consumption. It’s where family meetings happen, secrets get shared, homework is done and games get played. Our new space changed the way we used the whole house and became the heart of the building and the family… something worth thinking about when designing your own.
I have no idea whether creating an open-plan kitchen dining room has increased the value of my house, but it has improved the way we use it – it’s a move I would recommend to anyone battling with a series of boxes in their home.