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Design : The Pace-Setting California Kitchen : Five Designers Tell How to Make a Complex Room Really Work

October 07, 1987|VIRGINIA GRAY | Gray is associate editor, Los Angeles Times Magazine

The kitchen always has been the heart and soul of the American home, although today's kitchens are designed for more than just the obvious tasks of cooking and eating. Kitchens now incorporate such facilities as preparation and cooking islands, greenhouse windows, laundry rooms, family rooms, media centers, mini-offices and conversation and game areas.

And in the design world, it's the Southern California kitchen that is setting the pace for the country. Why is the California kitchen being emulated? What makes our kitchens unique?

We asked several local design experts to show us kitchens they have recently completed and to tell us about their design philosophies.

DeWitt Talmadge Beall, an affiliate of A.S.I.D., is a unique design professional who has been working exclusively on kitchens since 1980. His father was in the kitchen business in West Virginia, so he has been influenced by kitchens and their designs most of his life.

"The kitchen is the most complex room in the house, the busiest in most homes, and the one that wears out," the Los Angeles designer says. "Likely the kitchen was not really designed to begin with, beyond saying that the sink should go under the window. Kitchen design is a fairly recent phenomenon. Nothing about the way we live has changed so much as the way we work in a kitchen.

"Though we might want a kitchen to look as it might have looked in the 18th Century, its style and function are inseparable in kitchen design," Beall said. "It has to work for our eyes, as well as our hands. How it feels to us is as important as how it works. A poorly designed kitchen may mean that a major meal will take 10 to 25 minutes more to make because of wasted motion, wasted energy and wasted time."

Beall admits "designing a small kitchen can be just as costly per square foot as a large one, the average kitchen (about 350-375 square feet) running between $30,000 and $40,000." He breaks these costs down to approximately $10,000-$15,000 in cabinetry, $6,000 in appliances and $10,000-$15,000 in construction costs.

"The first thing I ask clients to do is to give me a list of everything they want in a kitchen, even if they think some of their wishes are out of their price range," Beall says. "It's surprising how these things can be adapted and worked somehow into a plan.

"In Southern California we treat our kitchens like the classic great rooms of the 18th Century," he adds. There are many functions we like to perform here."

"We live in our kitchens and do most of our entertaining in the kitchen. And, everyone wants to be able to eat in the kitchen, even if they have a separate dining room (which is only used on more formal occasions). This is how a great room functioned. I've even been called on to make a great room out of a small bowling alley of a room and made it work."

Note: More than two-thirds of Beall's clients want country-style kitchens.

Bill Peterson, both an A.S.I.D. and I.S.I.D. affiliate, a certified kitchen designer (C.K.D.) as well as a contractor, has been in the kitchen business for 61 years, having gotten his start in his grandfather's cabinet shop in Southern California. He has been affiliated with such prestigious kitchen cabinet manufacturers as St. Charles and most recently Wood-Mode. Peterson has been an instructor in kitchen and bath design for 10 years at UCLA. Although he recently cut back his Santa Monica-based design business to about five major jobs a year, he has created as many as 200 kitchens a year.

"A California kitchen means openness, casualness and size," Peterson says. "We have the space to devote to a kitchen here. Because we literally live in our kitchens, family rooms and breakfast rooms are most often combined in kitchen spaces. And when these spaces open out to the outside, which so many of our kitchens do, the entertaining possibilities are more than doubled."

Peterson feels that the most important aspect of space planning in kitchen design is "to reduce the number of steps a cook has to take and to plan storage around a plausible working pattern. A good working pattern does not necessarily put the cook at a sink under the window--that's a real fallacy," says Peterson. "If the sink should be in the island, then that's just where I put it. As a matter of fact, I like to install two sinks anyway--a cleanup sink and a preparation sink."

Another important point Peterson feels that people should consider is the use of the so-called commercial or restaurant-style ranges. Not only are they a possible hazard to small children because of the intense heat they emit, he claims, but the spaces around them have to be properly fire-proofed before they can be legally installed.

Here how interior designers Maxine Smith and Celia Cleary of Beverly Hills see the California kitchen:

"For years women wanted to be out of the kitchen. Now, it's where everyone wants to be--the gathering place. It's the family room of the '80s, a place that warrants comfort, warmth and personality," says Smith.

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