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2020 Kitchen Trends: The Changing Shape of Kitchen Layouts

Home design trends come in all shapes and sizes, from a quick coat of paint to full-scale changes in architecture. If you’re facing down a really major kitchen remodel, though, it’s probably the latter that’s on your mind. Even if you aren’t building or rebuilding a home from the foundation up, if you have the opportunity to change the layout of your kitchen floorplan, it would be a waste not to. And while there’s no such thing as a “perfect” kitchen layout and what’s “trendy” isn’t usually what you want to place your bets on for a 10-20 year investment, there’s good knowledge to be gleaned from what’s “popular.”

For The First Time In Years, Kitchens Are Getting Less Open

Open floorplans aren't going away, but they are getting a little less open - particularly where they can give your kitchen a little more privacy and a little extra storage space (by Dan Kitchens Australia)
Open floorplans aren’t going away, but they are getting a little less open – particularly where they can give your kitchen more privacy and extra storage space (by Dan Kitchens Australia)

Many of the top design trends of 2020 (and 2019 for that matter) have been a backlash against the supposedly set-in-stone must-haves of the last decade, and nowhere is this more significant than the sudden shift away from totally barrier-free kitchen-slash-greatroom spaces. I have to admit, I feel a little personally vindicated by this change. I’ve been warily reporting this seemingly ever-growing trend for years, wondering when people would start to realize that having no barriers at all is a little too open, and it turns out that time is now. While we’re far from making the leap back to Victorian-style homes where everything is walled off, homeowners are definitely feeling the need for a little more division in their living spaces. So what does that look like?

1. Don’t Knock Down All Your Walls

A decade of building beautiful but too-open kitchens has resulted in a lot of so-so makeshift room dividers, but if you're about to start a new project, you don't have to learn the hard way that there's such a thing as too barrier-free (by DIFdecor)
A decade of building beautiful but too-open kitchens has resulted in a lot of so-so makeshift room dividers, but if you’re about to start a new project, you don’t have to learn the hard way that there’s such a thing as too barrier-free (by DIFdecor)

The main thrust of the open kitchen movement was the desire to join cooking, eating, and socializing spaces for a more intimate experience while dining with family or entertaining. And it works, sort of. Casual island seating isn’t going anywhere, and whether or not you want a separate dining room is still a coin toss depending on who you ask. But increasingly homeowners are wanting to put that distinction back between their cooking and living areas specifically. As it turns out, that unbroken line of sight provides maybe a little too much togetherness, with no one in any part of your greatroom able to get away from what’s going on in the rest of the space (whether it’s piles of dirty dishes you’d rather not be looking at, or a distracting TV show while you’re on the phone in the kitchen).

2. …Maybe Add Some New Ones?

Simple room dividers help reintroduce things to your greatroom that you don't know you need until they're missing: privacy, sound dampening, storage space, and even just a simple sense of compartmentalization (by Stephen Moser Architect)
Simple room dividers help reintroduce things to your greatroom that you don’t know you need until they’re missing: privacy, sound dampening, storage space, and even just a simple sense of compartmentalization (by Stephen Moser Architect)

For the past few years, homeowners have been combating this problem with makeshift and stop-gap solutions, like rearranging furniture and adding accent pieces and area rugs to help divide the space and dampen sound. But increasingly we’re starting to see more permanent solutions: i.e., putting physical barriers back into your greatroom. While again we aren’t going back to having completely separate living rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens, built-in half walls and hefty full-height space dividers are becoming common and popular ways to help reshape lines of sight and reintroduce a little privacy into an open greatroom.

3. Unless It’s An Exterior Wall

The windows and walls of this kitchen all fold out of the way, completely opening the greatroom to the outdoor kitchen and dining area beyond (by Dickinson Cabinetry)
The windows and walls of this kitchen all fold out of the way, completely opening the greatroom to the outdoor kitchen and dining area beyond (by Dickinson Cabinetry)

But if you think that everyone’s learned their lesson about knocking out all their walls, well… there’s one big change to both kitchen architecture and kitchen layout that’s on the rise, and even I’m having trouble saying no to it. Remember how outdoor kitchens have been becoming more common in the last few years? Hand in hand with the barrier-free trend, that’s meant a rise in indoor/outdoor kitchen and entertaining spaces. Specifically, in place of a sliding glass door (or, you know, a wall), many homeowners and designers are opting for floor-to-ceiling glass accordion-style folding walls that can be removed to create a huge open space for entertaining. Unlike in an open greatroom, though, these walls can also be put back and used as regular walls that let in lots of light and give a beautiful view of your outdoor spaces.

4. Keep Your Rooms Divided, But Your Flooring Seamless

Having coordinated flooring throughout all the areas of your greatroom can make even a more visually divided space feel nicely unified (by Laura Burton Interiors)
Having coordinated flooring throughout all the areas of your greatroom can make even a more visually divided space feel nicely unified (by Laura Burton Interiors)

Another, simpler place where kitchen layouts are blending more with the surrounding spaces rather than less is in terms of flooring. Having the same flooring in your kitchen as in the surrounding areas is becoming a popular way to make the flow throughout your home feel better. The obvious problem here is that flooring that’s durable enough for a low-traffic living room might not hold up super well in a kitchen. Which is why wood-look vinyl and porcelain tile are gaining more popularity in 2020, and people who love the feel of hardwood underfoot are opting for gradient transitions between one material in the kitchen and another as you move into the rest of your greatroom, or even outdoors. While room dividers will help refine your kitchen layout and partition it off from different parts of your greatroom, seamless flooring will give the space a sense of unity.

5. Make The Kitchen Your Workspace

The rising popularity of pet-oriented custom cabinetry is just one obvious example of a bigger trend: kitchens that are designed to make it easier to do chores, and easier to keep the space looking neat and tidy in between (by Sticks 2 Stones Design, LLC)
The rising popularity of pet-oriented custom cabinetry is just one obvious example of a bigger trend: kitchens that are designed to make it easier to do chores, and easier to keep the space looking neat and tidy in between (by Sticks 2 Stones Design, LLC)

Another twist on the open-kitchen trend is one I find particularly interesting. One of the original goals of this change was to keep cooks from feeling isolated or stuck in the kitchen, and invite the rest of the family to take part in mealtimes. The shift has turned kitchens into the heart and hub of the home, and lately the trend has been to take this to an even further extreme. One part of that involves upgrading kitchen cabinets (a trend I talk about in more depth here) to be more customized and efficient. But it’s also meant consolidating other chores in the kitchen. Installing stacking washers and driers, built-in pet dishes or accessory cabinets, and even home office workstations makes it possible to consolidate and streamline most household chores into one space… and ideally one with good natural lighting, that’s close but not too close to where the family spends their free time!

While I’ll mostly leave the argument over whether an L-shaped or U-shaped kitchen layout is “better” to you and your architect (or other experts), I’ll leave you with some simple advice. When considering an open floorplan, don’t just imagine all that beautiful open space; think about it full of people, and envision the most annoying thing someone in your family could do one wall-less room over on a bad day, and whether or not a space divider, half wall, or alternative configuration might help keep the peace!