On any given day, the three humans in my family battle for the right to plug in at the kitchen island’s lone electrical outlet. Laptops, iPhones, and iPads tangle together in a Gordian knot of indispensable connectivity. It is a constant power struggle at this central location. Yes, there are other outlets at perimeter counters, but they are inconveniently blocked by actual cooking appurtenances.
Obviously, my builder-grade house in the suburbs did not do a good job providing for the electronic imperatives of our new digital age. The standard in 2004, when it was built, was to install CAT 6 wiring throughout. I thought, when we bought the place in 2007, “great, we’re covered.” But au contraire, the CAT 6 was quickly monopolized by haphazard installations perpetrated by television-service providers. Gone was its utility as an Ethernet connection for rooms at a distance from the Wi-Fi base station. On the bright side, we have phone plugs in every room. Too bad we only need one in the entire house for our cordless phone system—while we hold onto our anti-quated landline.
Mercifully, we were spared the ubiquitous memorial to moribund technology: the niche for the 27-inch CRT TV above the fireplace. But I still see such style traps being set, even in today’s houses. Maybe the built-in media cabinet fits that sleek 46-inch LCD screen today, but what happens when everyone wants the 70-inch LED? Architects can provide a huge value by protecting homeowners from these and other missteps.
Still, no architect could have predicted how the kitchen would swallow up nearly every family activity we would throw at it. The latest AIA Home Design Trends Survey reports that more than half of the architects polled have seen an increase in “computer station” requirements in the kitchen/family room space. As with my house, this doesn’t necessarily mean a desk.
Style trends in modern kitchen design only exacerbate the problem of hiding our ugly habits. The fashion for installing only base cabinets, for instance, means anything on or above the counter is even more obvious. You may design a streamlined span of workspaces, but your clients will pile it high with the clutter of everyday life. After all these years, there’s still no neat place to put snail mail, which doggedly keeps coming despite the alternatives. I’m actually looking forward to the U.S. Postal Service pulling the plug on Saturday delivery.
The good news is that manufacturers are churning out some innovative solutions to these design nightmares. At the International Builders’ Show, I saw a number of handsome new USB charging plates from Leviton and others, ready for a seamless island install. And Legrand has re-cently introduced a sleek “pop-out” outlet that provides conventional charging for three devices in one module. Part of the maker’s Adorne line, the outlet pops back flush against its plate when not in use. It’s about time electrical outlets got prettier—and more practical. Now, if you could only get your electrical contractor to align them properly on the wall.
Yes, Pandora’s box has opened and it’s all landed in the kitchen. No doubt it will remain the most design intensive place in the house far into the future. That’s a challenge and an opportunity for residential architects. Bon appetit!