March 18, 2020

Working at Home? Homeschooling? Making your Kitchen Functional During the COVID-19 Quarantine

Whether you call it social distancing or quarantine, millions of families are now spending more time together at home than ever and kitchens are being tested to live up to their reputation as a multi-use space.

What was a kitchen yesterday is now also a classroom and perhaps a home office. Parents are teaching, in between tapping away on their laptop or jumping on a conference call. Kids are doing their work at the island or counter. While all this is going on, three meals and maybe a couple of snacks are being prepared. A lot is happening in one space.

Coronavirus is keeping so many of us at home—all day, every day—that there’s a new sense of urgency to make a space function to meet these new demands. The good news (and we’re all looking for good news these days) is that it doesn’t take a massive renovation. But before you spread the electronics and books across the kitchen island, you should make some necessary adjustments to ensure the space is safe, functional and clutter-free.

Designer Jamie Gold, who is both a Certified Kitchen Designer and Mayo Clinic-Certified Wellness Coach, had experience turning kitchens into multi-use spaces long before most of us had ever heard of the coronavirus. Her forthcoming book, “Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness and Happiness,” focuses on designing spaces that promote well-being as well as function.

Gold breaks down her process into what she calls the five facets of wellness design. This seems timely as many are now focused not just on the function of their home, but also on health and wellness (including sanitization).  They are:

  • Health and fitness
  • Safety and security
  • Accessibility
  • Functionality
  • Comfort and joy

That last facet now has added significance. “We’re in a time right now that is anything but joyful,” Gold says. “People are stressed. They’re anxious. They’re looking at their homes as a prison when it should be a sanctuary. Adding elements that bring happiness, that lift your mood and add joy is essential to your emotional wellness.”

Your new space should encompass all of these elements.

First, clear the clutter. When a space like a kitchen takes on a new use, non-kitchen objects start to find their way to your kitchen countertops, rather than to their ideal spot, what Gold calls “family landing zones.” You probably have one in your house—it’s where your child puts their backpack or jacket every day when they come home from school.

“It has been my experience as a designer and as a stepparent that the end of a kitchen island or corner of a counter just becomes a clutter magnet,” Gold says. “You don’t want to have it near your range. It takes space, it can attract dust and dirt. It can become a fire hazard. The more people you have in your kitchen area at one time, the less clutter you want there.

Decluttering can also have psychological benefits. “There’s a definite wellness component,” Gold says. “Clutter can create stress and anxiety.”

Safety check: Safety should be a priority, particularly around appliances. You might be familiar with the area, but make sure the setup is appropriate for the new use. “You don’t want someone sitting between your prep area and your cooktop,” Gold says. “You can have seating on an island. Just make sure it isn’t in the cooking zone.”

Thinking about your kitchen in zones can make it safer and less cluttered. This means each area of the kitchen should be reserved for its intended use. “Your kitchen zones are designed around your appliances and fixtures,” Gold says. “Your dishwasher is part of your prep/cleanup zone. Your refrigerator is part of your food storage zone. Your range is in your cooking zone.” Make sure the new uses don’t encroach on those areas.

Clear the area of any trip hazards, like pet bowls, charging cables or cords in aisles or walkways. This is important to make sure the space is accessible for everyone in the house.

There’s a good chance you have more people in the home for longer periods, which means you should pay more attention to indoor air quality. It’s a good time to make sure your ventilation hood is in working order. A poorly maintained ventilation hood can generate excess noise and affect air quality, neither of which is helpful when you’re trying to work or the kids are trying to learn. Add an air cleaner to further improve the indoor air.

Assess your portables: Take stock of your portable appliances and decide which should stay in the kitchen and which could be stored elsewhere. You might feel busier now and may be looking to save time, so you should also consider what additional appliances could make your life easier.

This isn’t necessarily about getting rid of portable appliances, it’s about ensuring your kitchen’s maximum function. “Let’s say you have a standard 30-inch cooktop and you’ll be cooking more. You might want to supplement with a portable induction burner.” Can you add appliances that give you healthier cooking options? “You might also consider a multi-cook appliance that has sous vide, steam and air frying capabilities.”

Get away from it all: It’s a stressful time. Create a space in your home that allows you to get away from everything that’s happening inside and outside the home. “Have a space that’s electronics free, or where you only allow music through a smart speaker as opposed to news, a space where you can add plants, a fragrance and comforting elements. Scent is a powerful link to comfort and joy.”

Now that you’ve created your space that is usable, efficient, safe, comfortable, and healthy, you’re ready, use this as a time to celebrate being together in the home.

Have you converted a space in your home to accommodate new uses? Let us know your ideas.

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