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Open-and-Shut Case on Dining Rooms

November 28, 2000|From Washington Post

Americans have a split personality on the subject of the traditional dining room. We like the casual atmosphere of space open to the kitchen. Yet we also want the formality of a room away from the clatter and mess of pots and pans, especially at this time of year, when so many festivities revolve around the grand meal.

A new survey by the International Furnishings and Design Association, a Washington-based trade group, finds that group members reflect the same split: About half say the dining room as a separate space within the house is a thing of the past. The other half says it's here to stay.

"We talk to clients about this all the time," says Washington architect Dale Overmyer. "There's a real conundrum. You can combine a kitchen and dining room and dramatically improve the feeling of your home, but it's not for everyone. The more you open up one room to another, the fewer walls you have for cabinets and the more things you'll need to hide."

Design professionals say there are ways to get the best of both worlds: a kitchen-dining room arrangement where nobody will feel closed off, but with screening devices to add a sense of separation on occasion.

Interior designer Sarah Purdy, the principal in SPI Design in Alexandria, Va., suggests a piece of beaded or etched art glass suspended from the ceiling. "It would let light in, but obscure the dishes," says Purdy. A ceiling-mounted, tambour-style slatted shade in jazzy colors to pull up or down as needed might also work, she adds.

To minimize kitchen clutter, Overmyer suggests an extra-deep sink--10 to 12 inches--so stacked dishes are less visible from the table. He says even something as simple as an overhead pot rack can create a sense of separation. For a high-tech setting, he suggests a sliding drapery made of stainless-steel mesh.

Gary Hare, an owner of Alexandria (Va.) Kitchen & Bath Studio, says a two-level island or counter that jogs up a few inches higher on the dining-room side is one of the easiest ways to block the view of the food prep area. He also likes the way columns create a visual barrier while leaving a sense of openness.

McLean, Va., architect Susan Woodward Notkins recommends an updated version of an old standby--a pass-through. For a contemporary touch, she would add an angled buffet counter on the dining-room side and in the kitchen, a raised backsplash to keep the sink out of sight.

Sara O'Neil-Manion and Bill Manion of O'Neil & Manion Architects in Bethesda, Md., create visual separation by raising the whole kitchen two or three steps above the dining room. "Having the kitchen at a slightly higher level helps block sight lines," says Manion. They advise that both spaces have continuity of trimwork and detailing. "In open plans, everything should tie together in a design sense," O'Neil-Manion says.

Jack McCartney of McCartney Architects in Washington likes pocket doors that disappear into slots on either side of a generous opening between rooms. And if you're thinking about remodeling, he says, you'll make life easier for yourself if the kitchen ends up at the "narrow end of the dining room and not parallel to the wide side. Less of it will show," he says.

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