The New Classicism

Is the open kitchen closing up shop? In a return to proportion and with an emphasis on efficiency, kitchen design is undergoing a sea change, and women are leading the charge

Change is coming to the American kitchen, which has become almost supersized and part and parcel of the family room. A new classicism is emerging: a return to proportion, clearly demarcated spaces, and supporting rooms that serve as hidden storage, sound barriers, and serene retreats for the home chef.

The concept of proportion in the kitchen dates back to the early 20th century, when the kitchen was in dire need of a complete design makeover. A Museum of Modern Art exhibit (“Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen,” through March 14) examines the evolution of today’s kitchen and highlights the iconic 1920s “Frankfurt Kitchen” designed by Grete Schütte-Lihotzky, which emphasized efficiency and workflow, and found new ways to integrate appliances and storage in limited spaces.

Women are again stepping forward with a special insight and sensitivity to size and scale. As designer and historian Sarah Blank, whose own kitchen is featured here, says, “Proportion feels good.” And the kitchens that follow—each designed by women and each exemplifying a shift from open kitchens to scaled spaces—feel nothing short of fabulous.

Gabriella Albini

For real organization, think less is more. Working with partner McKee Patterson, Gabriella Albini of Austin Patterson Disston created a tightly efficient 113-square-foot “alley” kitchen for Alix Hughes and Dave Maloney’s new Greenwich townhouse. “I was adamant about clean countertops,” says Hughes. “We needed enough space to put things away.” That space was created with two supporting rooms: an entrance hallway lined with cabinets and closets, plus, within the kitchen, a shelf-lined pantry tucked behind pocket doors. “The pantry was Gabriella’s solution to the challenge of keeping the kitchen tidy—and it’s big enough that you can walk in and really feel like you are in a room,” says Hughes. In a smaller house, explains Albini, it’s integral to provide for “a series of rooms.” Perhaps counterintuitively, closing space off was key. “An open space doesn’t necessarily always feel larger,” says Hughes, who admits to some nervousness upon first seeing the kitchen, a change from a more open floorplan in her previous home. While a generous opening allows for connection to the adjacent family room, the elevated dining bar hides the kitchen commotion below eye level. “Gabriella created visual separation between the eating space, the kitchen space and the family space,” says the happy client. “She and Patterson were very successful in maintaining a symmetry, but creating a semi-open environment and demarcation of individual rooms—which is really nice, because the alternative would have been everything kind of pulled in together. We wanted open spaces, but we didn’t want one room just running into another.”

Photographs by tria giovan


Photographs by Curtis ryan lew

Sarah Blank

According to Sarah Blank, the kitchen of tomorrow might look more like the past than the future. “There’s something really nice about the way a house was built in the past—when it had a definite front of the house and back of the house,” says Blank, who teaches a class on classical architecture for the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America. Blank prioritized proportion when designing her own New Canaan kitchen, where a breezeway functions as a mudroom. That supporting room often serves as the active cook’s preparation hideaway when there’s a crowd in the kitchen. Wooden sliding barn doors further close off the kitchen from the dining room and insulate the workspace from the intrusion of sound. “Cooking is like therapy,” Blank says, and requires the attendant serenity. How best to achieve that peace? Proportion. “It feels better to have a kitchen that is smaller and not as massive.” Architecturally, she adds, “a home works a lot better when you delineate the spaces.” Not too delineated though: “I will purposefully put a turkey in the oven at about nine o’clock at night,” says Blank, to lure down her college-aged son and friends.


photogrpahs by robert grant

Terry Scarborough

When the owners of a meticulously appointed Fairfield home called Terry Scarborough of Kitchens by Deane, they had an isolated project in mind: a new island. One visit later, Scarborough advised them not to proceed. “There just wasn’t enough room,” explains Scarborough. Instead, Scarborough was hired to completely renovate the kitchen, which she made “human-scale,” rather than sprawling, for the couple and their five-year-old daughter. “I think people are rethinking these large spaces,” she says. “It’s the whole concept of ‘right-sizing’ your home: not making it bigger or smaller, but using the space that you have appropriately for your lifestyle.” In Fairfield, Scarborough focused on “being thoughtful about the usage of space,” adding narrow pantry shelves, moving and enlarging a window to provide both light and increased cooking space, and tucking a message center away in a closet. Everything is designed for functionality, down to the “duplex” cutlery drawer: Its bottom level hides sharp utensils from little hands—a touch perhaps only a woman would think of. “For several reasons, I think women are more efficient in their lives. We think ahead, we multi-task,” says Scarborough. “We want things right there where we need them—we don’t have a lot of time.” The owners are thrilled and feeling great to boot. “We didn’t just get a new kitchen, we got a healthy lifestyle,” note the homeowners: After giving them the kitchen of their dreams, Scarborough introduced them to her naturopathic physician as well as her beloved Ambler Farms in Wilton. Now visible through that gorgeous kitchen window? A new backyard vegetable garden.



photographs by robert grant

Rose Adams

Their kitchen project was 21 years in the making, but the wait was worth it. “We’ve gone from a kitchen no one wanted to spend time in—myself included—to a kitchen no one wants to leave,” says Cynthia Dubey of her 1826 Chester home’s new cooking space, designed by Rose Adams. Starting with three “poorly utilized” rooms, Adams created a series of alternate spaces. “Now there’s a wonderful kitchen, plus a wet bar and a smaller mudroom. Everything is in proper proportion for everyday living in a wonderful house of that stature,” says Adams, who acknowledges the trend of moving away from gigantic kitchens. “Things don’t need to be ten feet away from each other. They need to be close and workable and very comfortable.” Does being a woman add to that spatial perspective? “Not all, but most females,” laughs Adams, “spend so much of their lives in the kitchen that they actually understand the function of the kitchen. So you bring to that your organizational skills and how you like to store and keep things. Ultimately, the kitchen is the heart of the house, so everyone meets there. You want it to be cozier and feel a lot more user-friendly.” And for the user in question here, Dubey, who is a passionate cook, “It’s a great feeling.”

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