Soon the only way you may be able to distinguish the kitchen from the rest of the house is by the aromas emanating therefrom. Once the distinct domain of the woman of the house, the kitchen is now a democratic space for all members of the household, less a self-contained room than a subdivision of a larger space that typically includes the family room or great room, dining NTC room, or living room.
The blurring of the boundaries between kitchen proper and adjacent rooms is having an enormous impact on the way kitchens look. Their utilitarian nature is being erased in an effort to make them more civilized, more genteel and more compatible with the neighboring rooms from which they are clearly visible.
The evolution of the trend toward integrated kitchens can be traced back to those early holes in the wall known as pass-throughs that appeared in the '60s. In the '70s, the pass-through was enlarged to become a breakfast bar. In the '80s, the whole wall between the kitchen and the dining room or family room came tumbling down altogether, often replaced by an island that distinguished one space from the other.
As liberating as all this was for the kitchen (and the cook or cooks), it created a thorny problem: The blatantly utilitarian elements of a typical kitchen seemed out of visual sync with the graciousness of the family room or the living room.
Recent trends in kitchen design and the design of appliances, though, are beginning to make the kitchen all but invisible. Some of the developments helping to foster this kitchen coverup include the following:
* Cabinets are beginning to look like furniture. Manufacturers are embellishing cabinets with dentil moldings, cornices, raised panels and other ornamental detail heretofore reserved for furnishings such as chests of drawers, china cabinets and highboys. Some cabinets now bear a strong resemblance to free-standing vintage armoires, Hoosier cabinets and Welsh dressers.
* Appliances are fading into the background. There are two important innovations here. First, dishwashers and trash compactors are being outfitted with cabinet-matching panels to camouflage their original heavy-metal character. Second, appliance manufacturers are re-engineering refrigerators, dishwasher and ovens to make them flush with cabinet fronts or, in the case of built-ins, the surface of the walls around them. No longer do the doors or handles on wall ovens, refrigerators or dishwashers protrude beyond the face of the walls or cabinets they are set into. Much the same is true of cook top. The newest smooth glass-topped models are made to be recessed into the counter top. Burners and control knobs no longer stick up above the surface of the counter.
* Chrome is vanishing. Chrome handles on appliances and chrome faucets are turning white to blend in with popular all-white kitchen color schemes. Hardware -- knobs on appliances and hinges and pulls on cabinet doors and drawers -- is also changing from chrome to various other colors or into classier metallic finishes, such as copper, pewter and gold.
* Mood lighting is mellowing the kitchen. Now, in addition to task lighting that keeps you from dicing your thumb, mood lighting gives the kitchen a more dramatic character. Recessed ceiling fixtures, ornamental sconces and strip lighting both below and above cabinets, all controlled by dimmers, bring dining room-caliber illumination to the kitchen.
* The kitchen is being embellished with more and more architectural detail. In addition to more detailed cabinetry, more architectural elements are going into the structure of the room itself: cathedral ceilings, crown moldings, ceiling beams, hefty woodwork around doors and windows, high-style arched windows and, instead of sliding patio doors, French doors.
* Living room-, dining room- and family room-caliber furniture is replacing "kitchen furniture." Chrome and plastic laminate breakfast tables and chrome-legged chairs are being replaced by antique pine tables and vintage Windsor chairs. Upholstered wing-back chairs and even sofas are beginning to insinuate themselves into the kitchen. Also, more curtains and valances are adorning kitchen windows. Combined, fabric and mellow woods are helping to soften the look of the kitchen and make it seem more inviting and comfortable.
In short, more attention is being paid to the visual character of kitchens these days because kitchens are more visible from other rooms than ever before.