Monday, March 30, 2009

Designing Kitchen

For many years now, I've been a big fan of traditional style coffee bars. Very linear designs that incorporate everything (including the kitchen sink) into them and now that it looks as though we might embark on another journey, I've been seriously thinking about them again.

Until just the other morning.

In a perfect world, you'd have cheap rent (sub $8/sq ft), lots of space (2,000+ sq ft) and the kind of volume you'd find on Main Street in Disney World's Magic Kingdom. But in the real world, you have real rent ($20+/sq ft), small spaces (600sq ft) and varying volumes. Add the downturn of the local economy and Hell has been delivered in a Hand Basket.

While sensible minds reduce their spending and shore up their defenses, the smart minds have been going to the US Congress and asking for "bailout money." And luckily for them, they've spent the last 25 years generously making campaign contributions and supporting both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Sad to say that I'm not in the "smart minds" group. Nor am I in the "sensible minds" group. Which means that I'm stuck in the ether somewhere in-between on the road to grand riches or financial ruin. Good thing I passed on that Ferrari last year...

As I was sitting around the house the other morning drinking a quite delicious french pressed Ethiopia Bonko "Black Sun" from Cafe D'Bolla and an "I am in Paris" almond croissant from Patisserie Poupon, it hit me: why am I so focused on linear coffee bars? Why? Is the linear design really that conducive to hospitality? Is that how we welcome people into our homes and our lives - by separating them with a 33" deep bar?

What I (and I think many people) enjoy is sitting around the kitchen with friends and family. Talking story, cooking, eating, drinking and even working. Kitchens are warm spaces filled with conviviality and sharing. Bars are places were creepy, cheesy guys hit on drunk women.

My home kitchen is quite spacious. It's bright and airy and tends to be the social center whenever people are gathered. The kitchen is the ideal place to welcome friends and hang out. The dining room is too formal. The living room is too detached. In the kitchen, everyone just spills out all over the place. By the stove, buy the fridge, in the breakfast nook - it's organic, it's relaxed. More importantly: it's comfortable.

Within just a fleeting moment, the question became not how to cram a linear espresso bar into the space, but rather: "how do we design and build a kitchen into a coffee environment while still meeting all of the foodservice standards and regulations imposed by the city?" Part of the reason for such a linear design is to separate the customer (public) from the work area but we want to welcome them into the work area - just as you would in your home kitchen. We want to eliminate the walls and barriers to make it open and friendly.

Oooh, it's one thing to merely design and build a great kitchen. But how does one achieve that same level of comfort and family while adhering to the regulations of the government? That's the tough proposition, and over the next few weeks, I'm going to be exploring just that conundrum.