You’ll always find them in the kitchen for research
In our recent ethnographic and in-home research studies, we have noticed an increasing trend for respondents to head straight through to their kitchen, where, more often than not, they are keen for the interview to take place.It’s no longer the case that respondents are making excuses for their kitchen, but making excuses to show off their kitchen!
It’s been a long time since the kitchen was a food preparation only area – but the past few years have seen further changes brought into kitchens and that trend doesn’t show any sign of slowing. The kitchen-diner paved the way for what are now being called ‘super kitchens’ or ‘kitchen-living rooms’ and which commonly take up the majority of 1 or 2 bedroom flats and substantial parts of larger family homes.
TV’s are common-place and with them often comes a sofa or two. Breakfast bars, kitchen islands, patio (or in some cases bi-folding doors) take the kitchen outside. American fridge freezers, seemingly expanding ovens and hobs, coffee machines, spiralizers – there are more ‘must-have accessories’ for kitchens than ever before. The only thing they seem to be lacking now is walls!
And family seems to be a key driver for this. I recently conducted an interview in a Birmingham kitchen with a small audience in tow. “We spend most of our evenings in here together to be honest with you, from home-time to bedtime” explained the respondent who was preparing dinner whilst, demonstrating some of her favourite appliances to me. Meanwhile one daughter was quietly getting on with her homework at the breakfast bar and the other was on the sofa, watching TV whilst playing on an iPad. “I love that we can accommodate the whole family in here and I can get on with my tasks but have their company and conversation”.
Since then I have noticed a trend of families that are keen to spend time together in their kitchen-living rooms. It’s almost as if the living room has become so lost to technology that it is no longer a social area. With the help of Jamie Oliver and The Great British Bake Off, children are becoming interested in cooking and baking younger than ever, and families seem to relish this growing collective hobby for the time it provides away from tablets and smartphones.
A busy kitchen creates more of a social buzz than a living room seems capable of these days, so whilst kitchens are growing as hives of activity, livings rooms are increasingly sitting empty, waiting for ‘special occasions’ such as when the in-laws are visiting.
Here in London, the living room is also under-threat from high rental prices. One respondent recently explained to me (before starting a depth interview in his kitchen) that in order to keep costs down, he and his flatmates had made a conscious decision to sacrifice the living room in place of an extra bedroom. A SpareRoom.co.uk survey suggests this is the case for one in six shared homes nationwide. Evidently the kitchen-living room that has become so familiar in recent years isn’t always a stylistic decision.
The kitchen has always been an important room in the home, but its purpose was once far more linear. The kitchen is now more than just the cooking (or house party) hub. It is the social room, the family room, the room so many people now seem most keen to invest in and show off to guests and researchers alike.