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The kitchen moved from its position of isolation and disengagement without us even noticing. It’s where the action happens. It’s where we cook, eat, socialise and meet – and it’s starting to look a lot different.

The repositioning of the kitchen over recent decades represented a huge shift in the way we live yet its aesthetic has long remained ‘kitchen’, namely one benchtop and one joinery material with a connecting layout to form a ‘U’ or an ‘L’ shape. The result of which created a somewhat unremarkable vision. A later version included the much lauded island bench, which enabled a more social aspect to the space and presented an opportunity for decorative embellishment.

The new kitchen is viewed widely from many aspects and has developed into a piece of furniture unto itself. The tired visual notion of ‘the kitchen’ is putting on a pair of heels and elevating itself to sit beautifully alongside the dining and living spaces it adjoins.

Door profiles have virtually disappeared and we rarely use only a single benchtop or cupboard material. Its no longer seen as one piece of joinery but more a combination of pieces that integrate to create a collective piece of furniture. Island benches now have legs, which have given a mighty kick to waterfall edges that are long gone. Breakfast bars are becoming dining spaces incorporated within the kitchen and used as a table rather than a bar at which to sit side by side. A larger or more formal dining setting can still sit comfortably close by.

Joinery cabinets are tall and often extended to the ceiling (sometimes with a bulkhead overhead for seriously high ceilings) to create a space, where previously joinery was installed into a space already defined by plasterboard walls. Benchtops are fine, say, up to 20mm thick and bench units themselves are wide, offering plenty of benchtop space and storage. Display shelving is ultra fine, up to about 10mm and perfect for displaying like items. The overall effect is sleek but not minimalist. Above all, it is beautiful.

Natural finishes of timber, metal and stone still rule and are used in a concept of two or more benchtops and joinery materials that contrast in colour, texture and finish.

If your look is relaxed, turned legs on an island bench bring softness and style. They look great painted black, white, a bright colour or subdued in natural timber. Black or white always pairs exceptionally well with natural timber. Dark colours are particularly in vogue right now however they’re inclined to scare people off on the basis they will ‘make the space seem smaller’ or make too bold a statement. Instead, consider the dramatic effect darker colours can make in addition to the sense of warmth that is perfectly suited to our climate.

Feature lighting is part of this new dynamic and can be used to great effect. We’ve moved well away from multiple fittings evenly spaced to something more eclectic. Feature fittings placed centrally look great oversized and multiple fittings positioned asymmetrically will loosen the structural hardness from geometric lines. Along with task lighting over designated areas, use feature lighting in the kitchen to bring forward glamour that was previously left to dining, living and entrance areas.

Handles are subdued in this new look and cupboard openings are discreet or invisible. Electric mechanisms are fast becoming more accessible, yet if you’re not this in league, self close mechanisms, shadow lines and overhanging the front face of lift up overheads can all perform the same trick. Discreet handles assist to create the new kitchen’s disguise.

Appliances are slicker than they’ve ever been. I recently saw a cooktop that comprised individually recessed hotplates into a stone benchtop. The craftsmanship required to create the spectacular result catapulted this utilitarian object into the realm of furniture. Clunky exhaust fans are also a thing of the past, being replaced by discreet retractable in-bench vents, ceiling systems or stand-alone units that create a decorative statement.

The microwave has long been relegated to the pantry and in the new kitchen it’s staying hidden along with its close relatives the integrated fridge and freezer.

Above all else, the new kitchen must serve as a place to share, congregate, laugh and live. After all, isn’t that what makes it beautiful?

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