Outfitted with dream amenities like warming cabinets and custom ranges with French tops, kitchens are becoming the pièce de résistance of many homes.
—by Jeanne O’Brien Coffey
From banana bread fervor to virtual master classes with Thomas Keller, the pandemic has reinforced our deeply rooted instinct to seek comfort in the kitchen. And with restaurants closed or limiting to in-person dining, many of us are turning the room often called the soul of the home into a five-star residential experience.
Our new love affair with all things culinary is not surprising, says Vanessa Kimball, author of two books on sourdough baking and bounder of the Sourdough School, which offers virtual and in-person classes from her workshop in Northamptonshire, England. “Strip everything away from a human, and there are two or three things that are actually instinctive. The first is to feed, nurture, and nourish the people they love,” Kimball says. “At a time when it’s high stress and things are uncertain, baking is a refuge, a place of sanctuary, and a place of creativity.”
To support increased time in the kitchen, homeowners are doing everything from updating their appliances to launching wholesale renovations of their kitchens, says Maria Moraes, design director at L’Atelier Paris, a kitchen design specialist with showrooms in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Paris. “People are really digging into upgrading their kitchens now that they’re spending a lot more time at home,” Moraes says. “Becuase we could not go out to restaurants, especially in the beginning, we were forced to cook more. That has completely changed the way people look at spending time in the kitchen.”
The result is more focus on making the space warm and inviting, incorporating elements of wood grain—perhaps even showing through on painted cabinetry—and seating areas like breakfast nooks or couches.
The Sourdough School’s Kimball likes to repurpose antiques in her kitchen at home—her proving cabinet for setting bread to rise is an old French laundry cupboard, outfitted with heating pads for warming the dough. “I think there’s massive joy in finding a piece of furniture and basing what you do around it,” Kimball says like incorporating a family heirloom table as the centerpiece of a kitchen redo. “You can mix styles up,” she adds. “You don’t have to be all modern or all old.”
The desire for change is partly driven by missing familiar places, says Kathy Corbet, principle of Kathy Corbet Interiors in Richmond, Virginia, who notes that some clients are hoping to replicate the atmosphere of great restaurants and distilleries that have closed. “I call it an Instagram moment,” Corbet says. “I am finding my designs need to provide that yummy experience my clients are now deprived of—a place where they can snap a selfie with a great feature in the background.” Because of that, Corbet says, each wall needs a texture, a pattern, a cool light fixture, open shelves, or a window with a view as a backdrop for social media posts.
“If your home has a super-special range that nobody else has, you have an advantage”—Maria Moraes, design director at L’Atelier Paris
Beyond decor, many clients are upgrading their stoves, Moraes notes, likely inspired by a newfound need to cook. “People really want to feel the professional power” of a high-end range, Moraes says, noting that customers often say they think their cooking will improve with a better appliance. A custom range can have everything from a French top (a flat cooking surface heated by a single high-powered gas burner) to induction plates and even a lava-rock grill. And, of course, a warming cabinet, which can do double-duty for proofing loaves of home-baked sourdough bread.
Upgrading to a custom range can serve you long after quarantining is a distant memory, Moraes adds. It can even boost the home’s sale value. “If your home has a super-special range that nobody else has, you have an advantage” when selling, she says.
Another advantage when selling is counter space—a vast island can make even professional chefs drool. “The amount of counter space people have blows me away,” says Suzi Maitland, chef and co-owner of three Boston- area restaurants, including Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville, Massachusetts. Maitland has been teaching Zoom cooking classes during the pandemic and got to peek into a lot of people’s kitchens, seeing islands that are stunning. However, one of the nicest kitchens she spied wasn’t even indoors. As a guest via Zoom on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: Takeout, she dropped into the celebrity chef ’s outdoor kitchen to teach him how to prepare a Spanish octopus- and-potato dish.
“His kitchen was gorgeous—and that was only his backyard one,” Maitland recalls. “It had everything: a wood-burning grill, lots of counter space, and every appliance you could ever think of.” But even more important than all the bells and whistles, she says, is that Fieri had his sons and his nephew all helping out, and they seemed to be having a great time. “Guy is a professional through and through, and they all were just having fun—hanging out and enjoying family bonding.”
Even if you haven’t been cooking baby octopus or nursing your own sourdough starter, there are plenty of rewards for crafting an inspiring kitchen.
“Whether you’re cooking dinner or drinking wine and eating cheese, everyone ends up finding their way to
the kitchen,” Maitland says. “That’s where people have always hung out.”
Bring the world to your kitchen with these delicious foods.
Baked Goods: Flour Bakery + Cafe’s Joanne Chang, a James Beard Outstanding Baker award winner, shares kits for making some of her popular offerings, including sticky buns and raspberry pop-tarts. flourbakery.com
Cured Meats: You can’t go wrong with a Spanish Mangalica ham from D’Artagnan, purveyor of meats favored by celebrity chefs Daniel Boulud,Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, and Thomas Keller. dartagnan.com
Seafood: Evoke summer vibes with a fried clam kit direct from Woodman’s of Essex, which has been cooking them up since 1916. woodmans.com
Soup: You can make fabled chef Daniel Boulud’s authentic bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal seafood stew, at home with a kit from Goldbelly, which offers meal kits and gourmet foods from across the U.S. goldbelly.com
Steak: Like its Japanese counterpart, Vermont Wagyu beef is prized for its marbling. Tender and flavorful, this meat regularly appeared on the menu at GramercyTavern in NewYork. vermontwagyu.com