Why I Will Never Switch to an Open Kitchen

published Nov 28, 2017
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(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

I can get behind a design trend just as fast as the next person. Exposed brick? Sliding barn doors? Reclaimed wood? Check, check, and check! I dream of a farmhouse sink and a subway tile backsplash and am about to do the all-open-shelving thing in our kitchen. But there’s one seemingly mandatory design decision that I have zero interest in making: adopting the open kitchen.

In our 1890 home, the smallish kitchen is at the back of the house in a textbook-style late-Victorian floor plan. It’s on the small side — relative to the overall size of the house — because, according to a library book on the history of American kitchens I read when we bought the house, at that time “the woman of the house” would have had “only” one helper. So the kitchen didn’t need to be that large. And because each room was heated with its own fireplace (including the kitchen!) the idea of an open floor plan would have been absurd. Instead, people of the time could just close the pocket doors and stay nice and cozy in just one room.

Fast forward to every home show on television this millennium: the absolute must-have is an open concept. Other niceties are appreciated, but by golly, you’d better have a clear sight line from the kitchen sink to the dining room (area? Zone?) to the living room to the front door. Because apparently everyone with an open kitchen is an immaculate housekeeper and never has a dirty dish in sight — that or they just don’t mind having visitors seeing the detritus of dinner.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

This is not me. Our kitchen has four walls the way the builder intended, and while the doorway to the hall and to the butler’s pantry (there are benefits to these old houses!) are open, we have double doors to the dining room that we can — and do — close. I wouldn’t trade that instant kitchen privacy for all the exposed brick in the world. And while I know that the next people who buy this house may very well come in here with the battle cry of tear down that wall, I have a hard time understanding why.

Look, when we have friends for dinner, sure, it’s fun to gather in the kitchen sipping bourbon while we (okay, mostly my husband) put the finishing touches on dinner. But it’s an awkward layout that doesn’t lend itself to clean-as-you-go cooking (we can’t have the dishwasher door and pantry door open at the same time, for instance), so by the time dinner is on the table, the kitchen is in shambles.

A nicely set table, fresh flowers, candles, and music are well and good, but if you have to look at a heap of pots and pans while you’re eating, that special effort you’ve put into dinner into is lost. Guess what? Close the door. Problem solved.

Out of sight, out of mind; we can linger at the table without the sight of dirty dishes pulling us into the kitchen to clean up and interrupt a perfectly lovely evening.

And maybe it’s something about living in an old house like this but even though we’re just as likely to take trays to the TV room or sit at the kitchen counter, there’s something kind of fun and throwback-elegant about emerging from the kitchen into the dining room bearing a platter of whatever you’ve just made. Throwing open the doors is an instant boost to dinner presentation, even if we’re just talking a simple beef roast.

And for the clincher, an unexpected benefit made itself known recently during the curious case of the exploding glass cookware. When a glass baking dish shattered in the kitchen, we were able to quickly close the doors and baby-gate the hall doorway to keep our friend’s toddler and our two pups out of harm’s way until we could get all the broken glass off the floor.

So all those folks on HGTV can gush over their open concept, but I’ll happily keep my separate kitchen.

Are you Team Open Kitchen or not?