Dreaming of a kitchen-family room combo? Pick a plan for your clan. Today, the kitchen has morphed from an isolated food-preparation space into an informal dining area, homework station, snack stop, playroom, home office, media room, and all-around household command center. "Homes have evolved from many rooms devoted to individual purposes to fewer rooms devoted to a multitude of purposes", says Madison, Connecticut, architect Duo Dickinson, who has seen clients' needs change over his 26 years in practice. "The vast majority of homeowners no longer want any separation between where they cook
and where they entertain." The kitchen/family room combination holds particular appeal because it enables the multitasking that characterizes modern-day life. Mom or Dad can keep an eye on the kids while they cook or pay the bills, or involve guests or family in meal prep. At the very least, everyone can be connected and be part of the conversation. There are a variety of ways to create these modern-day hybrids. For instance, some people like a fully open combination, with no separation between the kitchen and family room, while others prefer partial enclosures to control traffic, noise, and views. In the following, we offer three sample floor plans, plus design tips from the experts on making a kitchen/family room layout work for you.

The most popular approach to combining a kitchen and family room is to create a sense of separation using architectural features — here it's done with broad arch­ways — while keeping the spaces mostly open to each other.
A windowed alcove with an antique farm table and built-in benches is an optional casual eating area (the house also has a formal dining room) as well as a place for homework and crafts projects.

The fully open kitchen/great room is the most spacious and light-filled configuration, with the emphasis on the togetherness that many people crave. Designer Damian Kelly created a 20-by-30-foot addition that incorporates a kitchen, family room, and dining alcove under a one-and-a-half-story vaulted ceiling. To keep the kitchen from overwhelming the space, Kelly converted the existing kitchen into a large pantry so the new, open kitchen could be centered solely on food prep and more sensitive to aesthetics.

In an open floor plan, there are no significant architectural dividers between the kitchen and living area. Instead, an island, peninsula, or table can separate the kitchen from the living space.

A fully open plan offers no place to hide kitchen clutter, though bi-level islands or counters can provide some camouflage. Still, open plans don't work well for pack rats or messy cooks. Layout, materials, and archi­tectural details should be considered as a whole when designing a joint kitchen/living area. But "rooms" need to stop and start, says designer Lyn Peterson. Columns, pilasters, ceiling height or level changes, or a switch in the direction of wood flooring can help define separate areas. High-ceilinged, open spaces with lots of windows and hard surfaces can be noisy, Soft elements like area rugs, fabric shades or curtains, and uphol­stered furnishings will help control sound.

Take noise levels into account when choosing appliances such as the dishwasher and fridge. Many manufacturers now offer ultra-quiet models.

Vent hoods, especially for commercial-style ranges, can be particularly loud. Consider installing one with an exterior blower so that most of the noise is directed outdoors. Even then, be aware that cooking odors are likely to travel throughout the space. Clusters of furniture and small seating areas oriented around the fireplace, TV, or coffee table can help make a large space feel more intimate.

Take advantage of technology to control noise — for example, cordless headphones for watch­ing TV, listening to music, and game playing. A personal-size TV in the kitchen lets the cook watch without disturbing others.

A mostly enclosed layout allows for the greatest separation between rooms and the best control over traffic. There may not be as much space for extra cooks in the kitchen, but it's easier to keep guests and children at arm's length. In this addition to a circa-1903 house in St. Paul, Minnesota, project designer David Heide placed the kitchen in the center of the 46-foot-long space, with pass-throughs opening up to a family room on one side and a breakfast room on the other. The kitchen is easily accessed from either side, but the workspace and cook are insulated by the peninsulas — a good choice for this busy household of seven. The entire space is unified by design elements, including white paneled wainscoting, lighting fixtures, hardware, oak floors, and maple cabinetry.

In this mostly enclosed configuration, peninsulas with upper cabinets divide the kitchen from the family and breakfast rooms on either side. Glass door cabinets separate the rooms while letting in light, and a large bracketed opening make communication easy.

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