15 March 2010

Kitchen desks: absolute necessity or absolute waste of space?

So the yahoos at Apartment Therapy ran a post last week that touched a nerve. The post was about kitchen desks, but that's not grand enough so they refer to them as kitchen offices. "We spend lots and lots of time in out kitchens and we're so busy nowadays we'd be lost without being able to run our empire from a super cute kitchen office like this one." I'm paraphrasing but not really.


The gushing was directed toward the desk in the photo above. I suppose that if you're a nine-year-old and your empire consists of a front yard lemonade stand, a desk such as that would be fine. For anyone over the age of nine, it's going to come up pretty short.

I rip out kitchen desks so often it's practically a side line. I rip them out and replace them with something meaningful, like a pantry, because nearly every kitchen desk I've ever encountered was the size of the one above. The current owners can't use it as a desk so it ends up the repository for the junk that has no other place to go. Here are a couple of shots from my Before files.




The owners of those desks would be mortified to see them plastered across the screen like this, but they prove a point. Kitchen desks are a waste of money and space. Besides, who sits at a desk in the kitchen anymore? Am I wrong? Do you have a desk in your kitchen that you use and love? Or is it the junk repository?

38 comments:

  1. Yahoos....love that word. Made me laugh out loud this morning!

    I don't have a dedicated kitchen desk, but I must confess my worktable/island is usually covered in unsorted mail, a glove or two, a cereal box that someone didn't put away, assorted cookbooks, school papers I was supposed to fill out and return two days ago--you get the picture. So instead of having it all out there in the middle of the kitchen, I can see why people would be attracted to the idea of a nook or desk to pile it all out of the way.

    After all, a piled up desk could be interpreted as BUSY, not just MESSY. :-)

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  2. Junk repository. We have a kitchen desk on a smaller scale, a built-in telephone table...if that's what it's called. It's stupid and I want it out of there. It does nothing but collect trash.

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  3. Oh Boy oh boy! You have hit a nerve with me also. Desks are a product of the 80's along with the sit down vanity in a bathroom. ( if a client can convince me they will use a sit down vanity then I will so it but is very rare but never a desk in a kitchen)! I do understand busy moms needing a spot for soccer schedules, shopping lists and such (being a busy mom myself!) so I will design a " "command central" that might be adjacent to the kitchen say in a utility room or mistook or maybe even inside part of a tall cabinet. But say bye bye to the desks! Do apt therapy folks ever talk to designers of kitchens and baths?? Sometimes I wonder!!!

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  4. Oh gosh! So much for commenting while in waiting room of doc office on an iPhone! I meant "mudroom" not whatever mr iPhone said above!

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  5. Meredith: I almost always build a command center (to quote Cheryl above) into a kitchen. There has to be a landing zone, a place to charge phones, a place to set mail a place to work on a laptop, you get the picture. My goal is always to make my clients' lives easier, more efficient and more orderly. Kitchen desks a=in the sense that AT is talking about fail on almost all counts.

    Melody: You are certainly not alone.

    Cheryl: Thanks for your input. I say it all the time. We are two peas in a pod.

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  6. We have a double-wide "desk" in our kitchen, except that it's not lowered so you'd have to sit on a stool to use it. I consider it a massive waste of space because there could have been so much more cupboard space in the kitchen instead. We get PILES of paperwork/mail/cookbooks that end up there!

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  7. Everybody keep making my point for me.

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  8. Count me in, although mine situation is worse because the desk sits on one side of a sliding glass door. To balance the composition, the first owner had a small built-in buffet placed on the other side. Both are too small to be worth anything and are slated to be ripped out with our kitchen remodel (a few years down the road). In their places I'm going to put matching bookshelves to hold my cookbooks and prettier serving pieces.

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  9. So if not a desk, what does the "command center" you design look like? How does it incorporate into the kitchen and become a landing zone etc without turning into the before pictures above (or my work table)?

    And yes, I know I should just go pick up my crap and put it away instead of commenting on this blog. ;-}

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  10. Raina: Thanks! I'd love to see a photo of your unusable desk and buffet.

    Meredith: They vary widely from project to project, it depends on what different people need. Mostly though, it consists of a dedicated spot to put away non-kitchen-y stuff like mail and phone chargers.

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  11. It seems like most of the kitchens I've done that have desks in them were demanded by the homeowner. Often they are delegated to spaces in kitchens (or areas adjacent to them) that have an over-abundance of space and these locations don't seem to make sense for anything else (except --and I agree with you on this-- pantry space).

    My favorite design for a "kitchen desk" was one that was never intended to be used that way. It was a command center. The drawer was counter height with a shelf below. The space above the counter was a message center and had docking facilities for cell phones and ipods. The drawer was made a special depth to accomodate the owners medications. The shelf below was for pet food and the pet's dishes sat below out of the walk way. There was a separate pantry so this space was not sacrificed for that.

    If the home was ever sold, it could be used as a traditional desk. A stool could be added to replace the pet dishes.

    Yes, this spot was a landing spot for mail, homework, etc. It was always meant to be. These people were messy by nature, and remodeling their kitchen didn't change that. If it were not for the command center, their counters would have probably been more cluttered than they already were.

    I think bars and peninsulas usually end up as landing places in families. If there is a desk in the picture, it will be too. At my house, it's the kitchen table. It's a constant struggle of me nagging daily. It's also the laptop station when we're not eating there.

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  12. We don't have a desk in our kitchen, and I don't feel like we're missing out on anything ;-) Hubby does have a habit of dumping stuff (mainly mail) on the end of the peninsula. So I can imagine what our kitchen desk would look like if we did have one!!

    Kelly

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  13. Love this discussion - definitely junk repository. We had a computer on our desk that my 4 year old took over and has since abandoned. It collects mail, kids crafts and numerous items I am too lazy to put away.

    One thing in certain I need to plug my notebook somewhere in the kitchen, it's great for checking mail, paying bills , finding recipes and doing other things on the fly. But sitting and working in a nook,on a dining chair, 3ft away from peanut butter and a toaster is a recipe for disaster !

    Yahoos..so funny Paul.

    Vie

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  14. Pam, Kelly and Vie;

    Thanks for weighing in. I love that I'm getting all of this agreement! So let me throw it back. If not a desk, what does a catch-all zone/ command center have to do to be useful? What's missing from the designs you see elsewhere?

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  15. Paul, I have relentlessly toyed with the idea of eliminating my drop counter, a desk of sorts, that contains a unit of four drawers and a telephone station.

    Presently it extends the length of my existing counter. However regardless that such a design may be outdated I am actually reluctant to remove it, reason being I have never found it to be a catchall unlike some Islands/Peninsulas that I've seen. LOL!

    For me this counter/desk does more than one duty. During food preparation it helps separate ingredients from my work space and in the past has proven to be the perfect spot for budding little chefs who wish to assist. (Stools/chairs can be placed under it.) Not to mention the telephone is always readily available.

    In the event that I decide to keep it when doing my upgrades, I will ensure that it can be easily removed by the next owner of our home so they can incorporate an Island into the grand scheme of things if they so wish. (As new flooring is also on the agenda; its design layout will also take into consideration convenient access to plumbing....without replacing the entire floor.)

    In summary, I must admit I do have a separate room adjacent to the Kitchen that is used as an office, thus agree with your statement made to Meredith "it depends on what different people need".

    Great post Paul! -Brenda-

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  16. Have those yahoos ever sent you any hate mail for ripping on them?

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  17. Brenda: It does vary widely from client to client and I'd love to see one that actually worked. Really I would.

    Melody: What's really funny is that since I made it into their top 100 design blogs, I have a permalink on their website. I knock them constantly and I get about 30 click thoughs form their site every day. Hee!

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  18. One client runs her empire from...her bathroom! A big desk facing a fabulous view with a big freestanding tub in the middle. But the kitchen, never.

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  19. I know of two kitchens in which a desk area worked well (I don't have one: a basket on my island suffices.)A '60s house in Stamford, CT had a large desk down at one end of the kitchen close to the staff quarters and back hallway. It was neatly kept and one could sit there and yak on the phone, intercom family members in far off corners of the house and write your weekly menus as ladies did in 1965. My grandmother had a tiny Cushman Colonial free standing desk in her kitchen. Again very neat, with the rotary phone in a little cabinet above. Gram sat there when she made all of her calls. She sat at her kitchen table to do her bills etc. The AT desk you pictured is just ridiculous: tiny little space, lamp, vase and trash can in the way, no shelves and a cupboard that you have to leap up out of your seat to get anything out of. Boo hiss! Now what would be useful for my family at this stage is a docking station in the mudroom for all of our phones and iPods!

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  20. I love the image you paint of the '60s Stamford house Anne. I'd almost give up my hyper connectedness for a staff to order around or menus to plan. What a minute, Chuck lives in Stamford. Do you order around your staff and plan menus from a desk in your kitchen Chuck?

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  21. What great feedback! I will say I have done a few "pullout" command centers....with a magnet/cork board in a pullout, little cubbies to store things easily ( scissors, tape, pens pencils etc) and even a small trash can. You cannot sit at it but it works well for the busy mom checking calendars, placing phone numbers and yes even chargers. It pulls out and you can use it, then in it goes and you are clutter free! I am very much into what I term "targeted storage". I like a place for everything and the thought..."what are you doing when you are HERE, or HERE, or THERE. Just more of my 2 cents. I guess I may be up to a whole dollar by now..

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  22. You and me both sister. I go off for hours about the virtues of mise en place and charging stations and work stations. I want to make peoples' lives more efficient and easy, not less.

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  23. @details and design: pitch perfect. As a homeschooling mother of four kids, "targeted storage" is absolutely what I need. I rarely sit down, so my kitchen needs to be a place where I can get organized quickly. I need my kitchen to have enough organization so that I can find what I need, but not so much that I have to spend hours keeping it from getting clutter. Clutter + crazy kids = mom in the loony bin!

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  24. Leigh: Rachele Gorsegner, who's a regular commenter and occasional contributor around here has a dedicated "Kids' Work and Play Center" built into her kitchen. It's inspired, really. I will get her to write a guest post about it.

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  25. I'm with you. When it comes to kitchens, I've torn out many more desks than I've put in. If someone insists on a desk area, then I insist the countertop is at least kitchen height so it's more usable when they inevitably don't end up using it as a desk. Otherwise I just recommend having an outlet under the sitting area of the island for a laptop plug, and the command center as you've already discussed. That's really all people need.

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  26. You know as well as I do that what they need isn't always what they think they need. ;)

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  27. I can't tell you how timely and wonderful it was to read this post! I am in the final stages of designing a house (with a remarkable team - I am the client). There is no desk in my new kitchen, at the gentle recommendation of my kitchen designer. I must admit that this caused me some concern at first - because I thought that a desk in a kitchen was requisite.

    Instead of a desk, we have an area that can be either a butler's pantry, or a family command center. It is located off the side entry, and defines the path to the kitchen from that entrance(and is placed between the kitchen and the dining room). My architect recommended that we make the counter 36" - counter height - and tuck a chair in there if we ever use it for sitting activities (like using the laptop, looking up recipes, etc). As it will be the first surface, it will inevitably be where the keys and papers and mail are dumped (I am planning on having the mail sorting area here). I am also planning on having those type of supplies that you need near a kitchen - scissors, tape, paper clips, safety pins, staplers, notepads, phone, charging station. However, if I need it to be a butler's pantry for staging platters and such when having a party, it can easily convert to this function.

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  28. Brava! It sounds like you are in expert hands. You are going to love having a butler's pantry/ command center. You will love it. Thanks for your comment and the vote of confidence!

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  29. After reading the Kitchen Sync's last post, now I am wondering whether I should not have a chair there (at the family communication/command center) - and use the area for storage. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions.

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  30. The answers are inside you already. Just think about how you'll use the space.

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  31. A couple months ago we ran a row of 42" high bookshelves down the hall just outside the galley kitchen. I put my calendar and my to-do card on it, sometimes I lay my laptop or cell phone down there, though I charge them at night in my room.

    I want an office, but not in the kitchen.

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  32. I love the idea my designer had, to tuck a key drop area into the hall between garage/mudroom and kitchen. You can sort of see it on the left here; yes, it's full of clutter, but it's supposed to be, and it's hidden away. I've never posted here before, here (hopefully) are links to photos of what we did.

    http://s922.photobucket.com/albums/ad65/segbrownkitchen/?action=view&current=IMG_4747.jpg

    http://s922.photobucket.com/albums/ad65/segbrownkitchen/?action=view&current=IMG_4748.jpg

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  33. Brava! Beautiful kitchen, thanks for posting that.

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  34. The kitchen desk is one of those 'let's throw it in BWC (Because We Can)' elements that all but guarantees a house plan was conceived by a contractor, rather than created by a designer or architect. Other fun BWC examples are cased openings with generous expanses of wall on both sides, but an outlet on only one; pass-thrus (complete with countertop overhang and brackets) from the kitchen to family room intended as "bars", despite meager 42"w x 10"d dimensions; laundry rooms with that useless closet rod 36" above the sink counter (what can possibly be hung to dry without pooling on the counter?); microwaves as the sole source of cooktop ventilation; fluorescent light fixtures in closets; and my personal favorite: willful adulteration of the decently-sized bathroom (14' x 9') footprint achieved by installing a massive double-bowl vanity (sans upper cabinets, of course) and huge whirlpool tub as accompaniments to an exposed toilet niche and 42"w x 34"d one-piece shower stall. "Glamour bath" FAIL. I could go on (poorly placed windows, black-hole hallways, inexplicable use of angled walls and columns) but I won't - I'm sure you've seen all this and worse. The BWC philosophy is the antithesis of both form and function. And it's everywhere. Help...

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  35. Are we the same person anon? I have been on a one-man mission to rid the world of unnecessary 45-degree walls for the last ten years. Some of these builders just can't help themselves I swear. I love and agree with all of your points. Just know that you're not alone.

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  36. I realize this is an old thread, but am currently going to overhaul my home, and looking for do's and don't.

    I have to laugh, as our house has heaps of 45 degree walls! The architectural designer that is redesigning asked me about room sizes, and I could only sputter about the losing the horrid angles. On top of a silly 45 degree peninsula that was too short, and these giant arches in our dining room that truncate was will be a gorgeous room. The designer also called my criss crossing staircase a "giant floating waste of space". Sigh. If only money grew on trees, I would fix it all.

    That being said, I have taken a lot out of this blog post, and the comments below. We will be adding a landing place for the inevitable clutter that arrives daily, but keep it counter height. I hope to tuck it into the mudroom, but I have an idea of what to do with it now in our tiny u shaped kitchen. Thanks!

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  37. I am so thankful to read this post, as we were just about to design our last free wall with a desk area. This convinces me NOT to do so. Reality is, that, due to wireless, we are no longer "stuck" to the wall and will likely not choose to stare at one while working on the computer! I do need a space for keys as we drop them on the counter on the way into the house and need a dock for charging cell phones, but that can all be done on a regular counter. I need a place for mail. Designers, what is the most efficient way to take care of that. Baskets? Drawer (afraid bills would get forgotten)? Stand up file on counter? I will make the majority another floor to ceiling pantry and then cupboards/drawers. This will all be next to a Banquet seating area.

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