The kitchen remains the heart of the home and the hub of social interaction and family celebrations. It’s a place for not only meals and midnight snacks but also late-night talks, homework, and command central for activities. As more families get busier and “eat on the go,” one of the biggest trends in home design has been the eat-in kitchen.
From the traditional English cottage and other rustic-style homes that featured eating areas within the kitchen, modern homes are keeping up with the trend of having their own updated version of an eat-in kitchen. With dining becoming more casual and informal, an eat-in kitchen is the convenient and practical answer to cooking, serving a meal, and cleaning up without the back-and-forth of setting up in a separate room.
A 2-story, 4-bedroom Craftsman style home features this all-white eat-in kitchen with an island that has a built-in eating bar (House Plan #195-1195).
Eat-in Kitchen vs. Formal Dining Room
What lies ahead for the formal dining room given the popularity of the eat-in kitchen? While the formal dining room may be losing its appeal among homeowners, that doesn’t mean that it no longer exists. Families who want to keep the custom of large gatherings during holidays keep their formal dining room just for this purpose. Others have found other uses for the dining room – sometimes converting it into a den, home office, family room, playroom, study, library, or even a guest suite.
The important question is: how often do families use the dining area? Is it used on a daily basis, or is it only reserved for holiday dinners and get-togethers?
Advantages of a Separate Dining Room
Traditionalists find some decided advantages to having a dining room instead of eating in the kitchen.
Who wants to look at the “mess” in the kitchen after all that meal preparation? Remember not all cooks put away their utensils and ingredients before serving the meal.
Some people like to eat the meal away from the kitchen - where they can sit back and relax in a room that’s beautifully set up.
Cooks may actually find respite in a peaceful room before heading back to the kitchen to clean up.
Wouldn’t you love to share a meal with family in this beautifully furnished formal dining area in a 2-story, 5-bedroom European-stye Country-style home (House Plan #161-1030)?
Pros of an Eat-in Kitchen
For families who live a fast-paced, casual lifestyle and don’t follow a tight schedule for meals, the preference is an eat-in kitchen. This layout allows them to chat and do homework and other chores while cooking.
In an eat-in kitchen, family members with different schedules can just grab something to eat on the go – without the formality of sitting in a separate dining room.
There’s a more communal feel in an eat-in kitchen with its informal setting.
There are obvious pros and cons to a formal dining room and an eat-in kitchen. But ultimately, the homeowner has to decide which is right – and what works – for the family. And these days, families are opting for both – an eat-in kitchen for daily meals as well as a separate dining room for huge family gatherings during special holidays.
Design Ideas for Eat-in Kitchens
From window counters and portable kitchen islands in apartments to countertop space in smaller homes, there are a number of attractive, comfortable, efficient, and practical eat-in kitchen design ideas. Why don’t we look look at some?
Let’s start with the kitchen island, which is perhaps the most efficient way to add counter and storage space as well as seating in the kitchen. Dating back to Colonial times, when it was a basic work table used for preparing food, and later for eating, today’s kitchen island not only functional but can be stylish, elegant, and sleek. It’s usually equipped with a sink and cooktop – and seats for family meals.
Whether you have a huge or small kitchen, you can customize your kitchen island to fit your family’s needs and lifestyle.
A 3-bedroom Ranch style home includes this spacious open concept kitchen with a kitchen island equipped with a sink, countertop for food preparation, cabinets for storage space and seating for family dining (House Plan #106-1286).
Described as a “connected island”, the peninsula is the best choice for a kitchen that is not big enough to fit an island. It offers prep and storage space just like the kitchen island – but more seating space. In kitchens that feature this design option, the peninsula becomes a divider between the living and cooking spaces. While it still allows socializing in the kitchen, the peninsula offers a little bit more privacy for the cook.
Instead of a kitchen island, this 3-bedroom Craftsman Ranch style home plan features a peninsula/eating bar (House Plan #169-1016).
A variation of the peninsula/eating bar, an extended countertop space – where diners sit on stools – is also used in small kitchens. As with the peninsula, family and friends can sit at the counter for informal occasions and have the option of moving to a dining table or a breakfast nook for meals.
This eat-in kitchen in a 2-story Country style home comes with an extended countertop that doubles as a prep station and dining space (Plan #108-1891).
Need more space where you can enjoy your hot or cold beverage? Or for more family and friends who show up? You can create a breakfast nook specifically for light meals and to accommodate more people in the kitchen area. In big kitchens, it’s always easier to find some corner where you can put a small table and some chairs – for your breakfast nook. But even in city apartments and smaller homes, you can be imaginative and make something cozy with window seats and counters.
Top: A 2-story, 4-bedroom European style home features this very bright, airy, and traditional breakfast nook (House Plan #101-1291). Bottom: For charm and coziness, there’s nothing like this breakfast nook with seating for one (courtesy House Beautiful).
How about a built-in banquette for the eat-in kitchen? This is another stylish idea for casual kitchen dining that a number of interior designers have added to their islands, counter space, and breakfast tables. In a small spaces, a built-in also solves storage issues. Some innovative touches include using a portable island for a table as well as a prep station.
Top: A splash of color in the banquette and portable island/table add to the warmth and comfort of this eat-in kitchen. Store the island away, and you can sit back and relax on the banquette (courtesy Southern Living). Bottom: A built-in banquette booth is the answer for the dining needs in this small kitchen space (courtesy She Knows).
A Step Back in Time
During Colonial Times when the upper classes had servants who cooked for them in the kitchen, meals were served in a separate formal dining area. With the Industrial Revolution came a lot of technological changes – including cleaner and more-efficient kitchens. By the 1930s and ‘40s, kitchen designs became more stylish and featured beautiful interior design.
By 1960, the kitchen became a “source of pride… a source for honing culinary crafts, displaying designer cookware and served as the hub for social activity”. By the 1980s, the idea of the open concept kitchen came into being. And with food and conversation being the main focus, families were soon congregating in the kitchen to eat their meals.
An eat-in kitchen makes the most sense in an open floor plan concept where there is an unrestricted flow between the kitchen and living areas. Because eating and meal prep are in the same space, “cooks” are not isolated from the action. They get a chance to chat and socialize with family and friends while going about their work. Entertaining, keeping tabs on younger kids, and doing other household tasks become easier in an open plan concept kitchen.
With food and conversation going hand in hand, isn’t it time to bring the party to the eat-in kitchen – and keep it there?
Footnote: The lead image in this article is the kitchen in a 2-bedroom Craftsman style home plan. For more information, click here (House Plan #161-1072).