Sight and Sound in a Kitchen

This is an audio blog, so a post about kitchen design might seem off-topic.  It turns out that for me the best place to listen to music in my house is in the kitchen.  And I have read a lot of books about kitchen design, and I can’t recall anyone mentioning the importance of good audio in the kitchen.  Yes, a kitchen can sometimes be a noisy place, but it can also be a fairly quiet place, and if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, why not be able to listen to your favorite music through a high fidelity audio system?

I’m not Jacques Pepin, but I like to cook.  And I like to read about kitchens and kitchen design, some interesting things to read are Johnny Grey (, Bulthaup (, Mick de Giulio (, and the Not So Big House (

So a little digression here about some firmly held beliefs.  You may think that what matters in a kitchen is the work triangle, or a fancy cooktop, maybe granite countertops?  I have a different point of view, what matters to me is:

a) how is the kitchen connected to the rest of the house?  This question is why I think a lot of people don’t get it – hence all the “kitchen design” stores focusing on the door style of the cabinets and other superficial characteristics, but with no thought about the interior architecture and how the kitchen space relates to other spaces in the house.  By the way, our wonderful great room/kitchen space was designed by Heidi Richardson AIA (  The lead architect, who came up with the design for many of the details including the fireplace, was Adam Barton (

From living in previous houses, we found that guests all crowded into the kitchen, and so having an isolated kitchen space isn’t for us.  Also, we inverted the common convention of the kitchen adjacent to or part of an informal “family room” and with a separate “formal” living space.  For us, a better solution is to have the kitchen be part of the less frequently used “entertaining” living space which does NOT have a tv, and the family room (termed away room by Susanka) with say tv is in a separate (perhaps nearby) space.

b) what are the sights and sounds in the kitchen.  I like to look out through the living space into the outdoors, and I love to listen to music while I prep and clean up.  In fact, listening to music is the major motivation for me to be in the kitchen cleaning up on weekend mornings.

c) lots of counterspace.

d) ventilation.

e) orientation – is your back to the room most of the time, or are you looking into the space?  Our kitchen has a big multi-level island with a large prep/cleanup sink, dishwasher, and the back wall of the room has the actual hot cooking equipment, ventilation, and a secondary sink.  This, to me, is the perfect arrangement.  Many kitchens have the arrangement backwards, with the island having the cooktop and a suspended vent hood (which doesn’t work as well as the vent hood against the wall), and the prep/cleanup and so on is behind.  Working in such a kitchen means that most of the cooking time is spent facing a wall with one’s back to the open room.  Glossy magazine ads for such island kitchens often show a cook smiling while stirring a pot, talking to friends standing or seated nearby the island.  The reality in our kitchen is that time at the stove is relatively short, and stirring the pot isn’t a constant activity, but washing, cleaning, prepping, those activities take a lot of time and are much better spent with a nice view and beautiful music.

Here’s the view from the main sink in my kitchen, looking out into the room.  Notice there is lots of light, and of course the audio system.

To give a perspective, the room is a cathedral space about 17 feet high in the center, 10 feet high at the side walls, 32 feet long, and 18 feet wide in the main portion.  More about the space in the next post.


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