- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Sandy Hudson can say her Springfield kitchen is “warmer, brighter and lighter” now that the dark cherry wood cabinets and the Williamsburg blue wallpaper are gone.

Mrs. Hudson is not alone in wanting to redesign her home to fit her family’s lifestyle. Nationwide, the top two rooms being remodeled or renovated are the kitchen and bathroom, according to a 1999 survey by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Metropolitan-area interior designers and college instructors agree, while adding family rooms and master bedrooms to the mix.

The Hudson kitchen sits in the back of the five-bedroom house where Mrs. Hudson and her husband, Kirk, an Alexandria patent attorney, have lived since 1986 and raised their three children, the youngest of whom is a high school senior.

“It’s where everyone gathers, that and the family room off of it. That’s where my world is, in these two rooms,” Mrs. Hudson says about the space where she pays her bills, plans meals, cooks and entertains.

In fall 2002, the Hudsons hired an interior designer to redesign the main-floor rooms to fit how the family uses the space and to remove the dark color scheme that once hid spills and children’s handprints. The kitchen, now painted soft yellow, has cream-colored cabinets, granite countertops and a stone floor, and the family room has a large-plank hardwood floor and two-story mural of an Italian vista.

“I like the serene feeling you get when walking into the house. I like the simple, uncluttered look that is at the same time very elegant,” Mrs. Hudson says.

“What we found is that the formal dining room is out. The formal living room is out,” says Michelle Snyder, public relations manager for ASID. “People are living more casually … going away from the formal lifestyle [in favor of] areas of the home they can use all of the time.”

The kitchen is one such area, a place for casual dining “where people gather, socialize and congregate,” Ms. Snyder says. “The kitchen really is the Grand Central Station of the home, the nucleus of the home. … People tend to congregate [in] areas where they cook and where they enjoy each other’s company.”

Before the September 11 terrorist attacks, people spent more time outside the home, says Yanitza Tavarez, an adjunct faculty instructor for the interior design department at the Art Institute of Washington in Arlington and at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in the District. After the attacks, people began turning their focus toward quality family time and investment in the home, she says.

“Before, we’re too busy. Now, it’s, ‘Let’s make more time,‘“she says.

With two-income families, longer work hours and extracurricular activities for both parents and children, families may not have time to sit down to dinner, which in the 1950s typically was eaten in the dining room, Miss Tavarez continues.

“To sit at a table seems to be a special-occasion thing,” she says, adding that today, eating in the dining room typically is reserved for guests, parties and holiday meals. “On an everyday sort of basis, that’s gone.”

Instead, families are looking for “spaces that are more conducive to family life,” says Catherine Winstanley, an architect by trade and chairwoman of design at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. “The idea is multiple activities are going on. … People want to be together, and they want to be sharing their space while they are engaging in the activities.”

In newer homes, kitchens are larger to provide enough space for a variety of furnishings, which may include a kitchen island, a bar and stools, a casual dining table, bookshelves, a TV set, and a desk with a computer and telephone. As a result, children can eat a snack and do their homework while their parents cook dinner, or if guests are invited, the host can prepare a meal while the guests help or sit nearby to talk, says Dee Thornton, principal and senior designer at Houseworks Interiors in Alexandria and a member of ASID.

“It becomes a room that is integrated into everyday life rather than as a place that is segregated out as a place not seen,” she says.

Kitchens a century ago were thought of as bathrooms are thought of today — not to be seen or smelled, says Sarah Susanka, an architect in Raleigh, N.C., an author of several home design books and a member of the American Institute of Architects.

“The kitchen changed over the course of the last century from the place you definitely don’t want to go to the center of the house where all the activity happens,” she says.

Homes constructed in the past 30 years often position the family room next to or near the kitchen — located in one large space or separated with a half-wall or large openings and windows instead of doorways — while the living room is kept separate from the kitchen by at least a wall, Ms. Susanka says.

“The family room came about because most people were hanging out in the kitchen. The kitchen was too small, so then a room was added that was open to the kitchen,” she says.

The family room, which in newer homes is the largest room in the house next to the master suite, is used for a host of activities, such as playing games, watching TV, doing homework, reading and conversing, along with eating and family time. As Ms. Thornton describes it, “It’s kind of the kick-back room.”

As a result, family rooms usually are decorated in a more relaxed style, with durable fabrics for everyday use and carpeting made of nylons, wool and woven materials that hide wear and tear, she says. “It’s the room where you wouldn’t find a lot of silk, damask and fine materials that you typically find in the living room,” Ms. Thornton says.

The living room often is used as a formal sitting area for guests and tends to be elegant and kept clean, making it more acceptable and inviting to guests, says Carolin Schebish, an interior designer and owner of Design Exchange in Fairfax, and a member of ASID.

“Fifty years ago, I think people were using the living room because that was the place where they could sit,” she says.

Oftentimes, the living room is smaller in newer homes, and in some custom homes, it is eliminated from building plans, Ms. Thornton says. The living room is “a token room, if you will, and the family room is where all the entertaining happens.”

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