Hide the mess with an invisible kitchen

While keeping all that we love about open-plan design, the latest trend reclaims the kitchen as a (partially) private domain.

Broken versus open plan

An open-plan layout has become the defining feature of a modern kitchen, but it has its drawbacks. With no walls, there’s nowhere to hide cooking mess – and the clatter of dishes and rumble of the dishwasher can intrude on quiet time in the living zone.

The ‘broken-plan’ kitchen concept goes a long way to solving these issues, using smart design and a variety of screening and zoning devices to partially disconnect the kitchen from the living area. “While thinking of your space holistically, you can create zones for different functions,” says interior designer Beth Bieske of The Navy Edit.“You want to keep the great things about open-plan living, like openness and light, but the zones allow for more privacy when needed.”

Grand design

Before you start ripping down walls, there are some smart architectural solutions that can deliver both separation and connection. The butler’s pantry essentially splits the kitchen into two spaces: public and private. “Butler’s pantries create the opportunity to hide preparation and cleaning zones so the main kitchen can remain as a showpiece, even in times of active use,” explains Lisa Mayski of Kaboodle.  

Using visual trickery is another way to separate the kitchen from adjacent spaces. Setting the kitchen area under a bulkhead can be effective, with the lowered ceiling setting the space apart. A similar result can be achieved at ground level with a change of levels. “Several steps between a kitchen and dining space can act not only as a physical change but also as a mental change between cooking and dining,” says Beth Bieske.

 

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Butler’s pantry; in this Kaboodle kitchen, the butler’s pantry has lots of storage and an extra sink, keeping the main space clear

Disappearing act

Screening can be effective at hiding work areas. See-through dividers, for example, vertical timber slats or open shelving, can help break up the line of sight while still letting in light. Half walls are good for allowing conversation to flow between spaces while hiding clutter from those at seat height. For a well-ordered kitchen, an upstand – a 10-20cm divider across part of the island bench – may be all that’s required to block a loaded sink from view while creating a divide between work zone and social space.

dining area
Positioning; place the dining table at a right angle to the bench so guests aren’t looking directly into the kitchen

Match your appliances with your kitchen

Appliances can be the visual and acoustic enemy of free-flowing design. A butler’s pantry can come into its own here, potentially containing the dishwasher and any noisy small appliances. “An appliance cabinet to hide your toaster, kettle or other everyday appliances will help make everything look not only neat and tidy, but streamlined,” adds interior architect Sally Rhys-Jones.
Choosing integrated models – where appliances have the same fronts as the cabinetry – for the dishwasher and rangehood will render them virtually invisible. Disguise the sink by selecting an undermounted version and considering the colour. “A white or black sink may blend in better with your benchtop material,” says Beth Bieske. Simple tap lines are the best pick for maximum discretion. 

With appliances you can’t tuck away, you have two main choices. Either lessen the visual impact with a ceramic or induction cooktop paired with a built-in oven, reducing their presence to two sleek squares, or you can take the opposite route and make your cooker a focal point, suggests Sanja Kandic, marketing executive at Omega Blanco. “You want to make sure you can engage in the conversation while cooking or preparing the food,” she says. A handsome, freestanding piece can be a scene setter.

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Internal glazed doors between areas allow you open up a space or close it off without losing the light. This is also helpful if you want to heat or cool separate rooms

Easy on the eyes

Typically, there’s a visual disconnect between kitchen and living space in an open zone, with the former all slick, hygienic surfaces and the other a nest of warmth and soft textures. The trend here is to ‘hide’ the kitchen in plain sight, using the same cabinetry fronts in the dining and living zones for a seamless flow. 
Choosing a softer and more tactile surface for the cabinetry is very effective – think texture and matt over gloss. Minimise the number of knobs and pulls in the kitchen, using discreet grip handles or push catches instead. “There’s nothing worse than seeing a sea of handles in the kitchen – it can look really busy and draw the eye to the kitchen,” warns Sally Rhys-Jones. 

Even that kitchen essential, the island bench, can be disguised by giving it the appearance of a piece of furniture. Echo materials in the rest of the room and consider adding a chef’s table. “Creating a dining table as an extension of the island, positioned at a lower level and using a different surface, will help maintain an open space while creating defined zones for different uses,” says Lisa Mayski. “This will also help to create visual layers in the space.”

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Kitchen tips

“A walk-in pantry is a great idea for keeping the kitchen looking great at all times. You have space to hide pots and pans,” says Jim Mavropoulos of Bellini

“If the plan allows, a window splashback is perfect, as it lets in lots of natural light that can sometimes be lost in broken-plan kitchens,” says Beth Bieske.

Great storage – and plenty of it – is an important factor in keeping the main kitchen surfaces clear and freeing up the space to function as an informal entertaining zone. 

kitchen island

Create your invisible kitchen

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