Murphy Brothers Blog

Cherie Poissant on Designing Entertaining Kitchens

With the shift to more indoor activities and planning holiday gatherings, we asked Murphy Bros. designer Cherie Poissant what she considers when designing kitchens for clients who love to entertain. Here’s what she said:

Cherie Poissant photo

Murphy Bros Designer Cherie Poissant

It is important to listen to each client’s individual needs and their current challenges when designing their new space.   For a kitchen, I inquire as to how many people they typically entertain and want to understand how they facilitate that (Casual buffet style? Plated dinners?). Do they want to keep people out of their kitchen when they cook or do they enjoy cooking in front of people?  There are many things that I consider when looking at layout options in terms of walkway spacing, sightlines, seating, counter heights and flexible-use plans.   For example, one client may need a flexible design that is conducive to casual buffet where they can expand the table or set up kid’s tables for family gatherings. For other clients, a space is designed with cocktail or dinner parties.

It is most typical to open the kitchen up to the adjacent dinette and living spaces.  This is considered a good Universal Design principal, as it allows for improved auditory and visual cues.  However, an open floor plan is not a fit for everyone.  Each client is individual in their needs and my role is to seek what the right design is for them.  Showing design concepts of their redesigned space in 3D allows for clear communication in an end result that will meet their needs.

Most of us don’t want to think about the fact that we are all getting older …or that we might have a knee surgery or a hip surgery at some point in our lives.  For some of us, it is easier to think about others we have had in our homes that have had physical limitations, whether temporary or permanent.  For others, they can recall the difficulty they had after a surgery and they want to plan for an easier time in the future.   Most people don’t necessarily want our homes to look like they were made for wheelchair use, yet we want to be able to adapt our homes easily if the need arises for ourselves, friends or family members.

The health changes with my own father helped inspire my desire to learn more. I have held a CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) designation since 2009 and have been on the steering committee at the Builders Association of the Twin Cities 50+ Housing Council, where I help work to educate other housing professionals.  The reality is that more people want to live in their homes as long as possible.  While not everyone seeks to design / plan their remodel for “aging-in-place”, it is true that most of us want to stay in our own homes and be independent as long as possible.

Universal design is about designing for all ages and abilities.  It can be simple things, ensuring then cabinet handle design does not catch clothing and bringing high use items into optimal reach range.   Lever style door handles on doors can be opened when your hands are full and are also easier for children and arthritic hands. With universal design, you make sure walkways and openings are wide enough in case someone is in a wheelchair or has a walker can properly access a space.  You put blocking in the certain walls in case you need a future grab bar.  There should be visual cues that indicate flooring height changes.  These design considerations can be quietly included in case they are needed in the future by a guest or homeowner.   It is just good design.   I am hopeful that through my educational efforts over the past 5 years at BATC (Builders Association of the Twin Cities), that more new home construction will start to include things that are less cost effective to modify later, like zero step entries.  

Everyone has a budget, but if there is one area where I recommend my client’s spend a little more, it’s in good lighting. Task lighting and ambient lighting are really important.  We need more 3X more light in our 60’s as we did in our 20’s to see the same thing.  I like to do an appropriate level of lighting and put them on dimmers to allow flexibility, so it can be reduced for entertaining and well lit for tasks like cleaning or cooking.

LED (Light Emitting Diodes) lighting technology is really changing our illumination options and we will continue to see more fixture options in the future.  It has now really progressed into the warm yellow spectrum range, which is much more pleasant than the blue/cooler lighting previously offered.  It is energy efficient, more environmentally friendly and the bulbs are long lasting (typically 25,000 to 50,000 hours).  It can cost a little more initially, but can save money over an extended period of time.

The space you have to work with often dictates which appliances fit as well as how people will use the appliances. Some people don’t cook very much and perhaps the warming drawer or microwave and refrigerator may be the most important elements.  For some clients, they prefer to have a more formal look and I conceal many of the appliances to look like cabinetry or furniture.

I like to get an understanding of how many people are working in the kitchen space.  I want to know if they prefer to cook or bake and what appliances they would like to have.  I try to capture the client’s needs, showing various layouts in a 3D conceptual design options that balance both cabinetry and appliance goals.  Once we have determined the optimal design layout, then the appliance selections are confirmed.

Some people have a definite preference when they come in, but often, we explore different options. Granite is beautiful because it’s a natural product and each piece is unique.  You should seal it every year.  Solid surface quartz products like Cambria are food safe and do not require sealing. Often appearance drives the selection and sometimes I mix the materials.   It is important to listen to what is important and how they use the kitchen to help guide people to the right material for their use.

There are many options and it is very individual as to what is important to each homeowner. I have done some creative solutions to hide televisions or sometimes I plan them into the space as a feature.  Some people enjoy surround sound and for others, it is not the right space or fit for their needs.  I plan laptop stations into hidden areas of the kitchen sometimes and have incorporated remote home security, lighting or music systems that can be controlled from a smartphone, iPad or computer.

Most people know what they like (and don’t like) intuitively and often do not know how to define their taste.  It is a discovery process and the vision sometimes changes during the design process as the selections are made.  Most people appreciate some assurance they are making choices that go well together.  For some clients, they prefer I do all the selections.

I work to marry a budget with the design, which is unique to the design-build process.  It is a relationship built on trust and I always work hard to quote what I believe to be realistic budget ranges for something befitting of their home, taste and goals.  There are always lots of little decisions that play into an overall budget and my experience allows me to “guide the ship” if needed.  If a budget is a bit conservative for the goals, I want to be sure not to overdesign and help direct them to choose things that will allow them to keep their goals in mind.  If a budget range has some flexibility, we sometimes explore different materials, add more artistic or unique features and it often creates more design possibilities.

Most people have a budget range they feel comfortable in, so I always want to understand where that is.  The end result is a project that someone feels they have paid a fair price for and received quality workmanship and materials.  I have been with Murphy Bros. for ten years now and I am thankful for all my repeat and referral clients.  It is not uncommon to phase projects.  I am on my 5th project for some clients, 4th for others…it is always fun to come back!

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