What’s cooking, good looking?

Less fuss, less mess: modern day kitchens are clinically clean and exactly exact. (Photograph: Optima Kitchens.)

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, it is most certainly a modish looking muscle these days, as I discovered researching this piece for the Life section of the Sunday Independent.

IF you can’t stand the neat, get out of the kitchen…because 21st century kitchen design is all about order, elegance and precision. Gone are the knobs, bits and bobs that cluttered the shelves and counter tops in grandma’s day. Gone are the jars stacked up high and the rows of pots jingling nearby. Gone are the ornate, cottagey chairs and the “his and her” aprons hanging in pairs. These days it is all about high-gloss exactitude, clinically clean surfaces and no-show appliances.

According to Stefan Marais of Johannesburg-based Optima Kitchens, the very clean, very white and very modern kitchen is “very in” in the international circles. He confirmed this in April when he attended one of the world’s largest kitchen exhibitions, Eurocucina. The fair takes place in Milan in Italy every second year and, this year, presented the fantastically swish kitchen furniture, fittings, appliances and technology of more than 145 exhibitors from far and wide.

“The first thing I noticed at the exhibition was the extensive use of glass for counter tops,” says Marais. “Moving away from more traditional counter top materials like granite and wood, specially-treated, often spray painted glass features widely in modern kitchens.”

Glass used for kitchen tops is either left in its natural hue or painted in a variety of colours and patterns. It is easily cut into different shapes, making it versatile and simple to work with. For some designs, it is textured to create a more interesting effect and/or to help disguise smudging. Built-in LED (light-emitting diode) lighting adds an even artier effect by filtering light from beneath the transparent surfaces.

Then, as if glass does not provide a smooth enough surface, contemporary kitchens, says Marais, have also become handle-free zones: “Cupboards have seamless, flat surfaces and various finger grip devices are incorporated to allow you to open and close doors and drawers.”

Other high-tech kitchens use computer technology to open and close drawers. One system on show at Eurocucina requires a simple nudge to activate the computer and begin the opening or closing action, while another device makes use of remote control to release and shut kitchen cupboards.

But handles and knobs are not the only things go incognito in fashionable kitchens. In keeping with the desired sleek, smooth designs, appliances are increasingly built into drawers and cupboards. Dishwashers, refrigerators, wine coolers and microwaves have, for all intent and purpose, gone back into the closet.

Whereas, not too long ago, it was in vogue to show off your magnificent new stainless steel refrigerator with its high-end logo, nifty icemaker and built-in television set, it is now passé. The culinary bling of yesteryear is deftly concealed in drawers or behind silky cupboard doors, which blend together around the room in an immaculately monotone mode.

The pristine look is upheld by locating all things inevitably unsightly – and the kitchen sink – in separate sculleries hidden from view: “More and more homes include sculleries adjacent to the kitchen in which to hide all things messy,” says Marais. “That way, the kitchen is functional but – particularly where it is part of an open-plan area – it remains stylish and clean in all instances. ”

Stylish, pristine and monotone? So what happened to the old notion of the kitchen as the heart of the home? Is this outmoded too?

“Not at all,” he says. “Most modern kitchens feature tastefully designed bar counters and barstools, which provide comfortable seating from which to eat or socialise. Just because it looks so trendy, does not make a kitchen less comfy or welcoming. And, where you want to incorporate something natural and/or colourful, you can add a bit of wood to the design or arrange a large bunch of brightly coloured flowers on one of the counters. It’s that simple.”

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Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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