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Is a backlash developing against open kitchens?

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Is a backlash developing against open kitchens?
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From coast to coast, homeowners are tearing down walls to unite the kitchen with living space. But there's a downside, critics say.

Look around any new or remodeled home and you’re likely to see one thing they all have in common: the open kitchen.

The trend has been overwhelmingly embraced by homeowners across the country, along with architects, designers and folks on every home makeover show across TV. The open kitchen is probably the single largest and most widely embraced home design change over the past 50 years.

[Do you want to remodel your kitchen? Click to find a contractor now.]

But some architecture aficionados are opening up about their total disgust with the open kitchen design.

J. Bryan Lowder, an assistant editor at Slate, recently slammed the open concept in a widely read article called “Close Your Open-Concept Kitchen.” He called the trend a “baneful scourge” that has spread through American homes like “black mold through a flooded basement.”

Lowder’s point, and one echoed through the anti-open-kitchen movement, is that we have walls and doors for a reason. While open-kitchen lovers champion the ease of multitasking cooking and entertainment and appreciate how the cook can keep an eye on the kids (or an eye on a favorite TV show), the haters reply that open kitchens do neither effectively. Instead, the detractors say, open kitchens leave guests with an eyeful of kitchen mess, distract cooks, and leave Mom and Dad with no place to hide from their noisy brood.

Roxanne, who blogs at Just Me With ... under her first name only (and chose not to reveal her last name in this article for fear of backlash from open-kitchen devotees), ranted against the concept on her blog. For Roxanne, the open kitchen destroys coveted privacy.

“With an open-kitchen design, there’s no way to get away from what other people in the family are doing,” she told Yahoo Homes. When her children were younger, they were always at her feet or near her, so she didn’t need an open design to watch them properly, she said. Now that they’re older, she’s happy to escape to the kitchen to read or listen to music while they watch teen shows.

Also, for people who aren’t seasoned entertainers, open kitchens may not offer much help, Roxanne said. Rather, a kitchen that is constantly on display could cause more stress.

“If I can see my kitchen all the time, I can’t relax,” Roxanne said. “When someone walks in the kitchen, I’ll impulsively start wiping down the counter, even if it’s already clean. An open kitchen is very impressive looking – but it really depends on how you’re living.”

Still, open kitchens are winning over a majority of the population. Even those with closed kitchens are converting. A whopping 77 percent of home remodelers are grabbing a sledgehammer and knocking down the walls, according to a recent Houzz survey.

[Think an open kitchen is right for you? Click to find a contractor to help with your remodeling project now.]

Design psychologist Toby Israel, author of “Some Place Like Home: Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places,” said open kitchens have gained such momentum because the kitchen is often the heart of family existence and a central gathering point.

“No longer is the woman’s place in the kitchen, and entertaining overall has become more informal,” Israel said. “The idea that the kitchen and dining room are separate and a woman magically brings food out on a platter is a thing of the past.”

But ultimately, because the kitchen is such a big part of life at home, its design should really depend on the individual -- not necessarily the most popular trend.

“Very often, people repeat their past experiences, consciously or unconsciously,” Israel said. “When designing a kitchen, people should go back and think about the kitchen they grew up in. What positive associations do they have with their family kitchen or their grandparents’ kitchen? It’s important to consider colors, configuration, lighting and so on and create the kitchen based on their highest positive associations with that place.”

Sometimes, it’s helpful to consider the family personality over aesthetics.

“If the kitchen is for a family of extroverts that is more informal or likes to entertain, an open kitchen might work,” she said. “If the kitchen is for a family of introverts who like a smaller, self-contained, cozier room, there’s nothing wrong with a closed kitchen.”

[Click to find a contractor to help with your kitchen remodeling project now.]

Ilyce Glink is an award-winning, nationally syndicated real estate columnist, blogger and radio talk show host, and managing editor of the Equifax Finance Blog. Follow her on Twitter @Glink.

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