Why A Prep Kitchen Should Be On Your Wish List
Hello, fellow kitchen design aficionados! Today, I’ve got an exciting topic that’s been percolating in the back of my brain for a while now. It’s this idea of a Prep Kitchen - how the concept of a prep kitchen has been evolving and why this should be on the top of your wish list for your next kitchen. If you’ll recall, in my last post I listed designing an ancillary kitchen workspace as one of The 5 Magic Design Principles Behind My Luxury Kitchens. I think it’s such an important area that can open up so many possibilities for homeowners, that I’m dedicating a whole post to it.
The concept of a prep kitchen is not new to the high-end home market. I’ve actually done quite a few of them over the years; however, the mainstream home market is beginning to have some visceral awareness of this idea as well. In fact, some savvy builders are catching on and offering their home designs with these supplemental kitchen workspaces.
To make matters somewhat tricky, there is a lot of confusion with the terminology. Prep Kitchen is not yet a familiar term, which is probably why I’ve designed so many homes with forms of prep kitchens that have gone by other names…like caterer’s kitchen, secondary kitchen, refrigerator pantry, mess kitchen, etc. Often, these rooms begin as designated butler’s pantries on architectural drawings.
So let’s define this thing, shall we? You and me. We’ll do everyone else a big favor by clearing up the confusion…
Source: Heather Hungeling Design | Madison Street Project
What Is A Prep Kitchen, Exactly?
A prep kitchen is an ancillary space, immediately accessible from the main kitchen. Its purpose is to support the functions of the kitchen by offering an additional work zone while providing some visual concealment from the perspective of the main kitchen. At a minimum, it should include plenty of counter space and a sink. Beyond that, the design and appliances can be highly customized to the individual homeowner’s needs.
How was that? Now if the rest of the world will just read this post, we can all be on the same page.
Source: The Cliffs by Tyner Construction
How Is It Different From A Butler’s Pantry?
Historically, a butler’s pantry was a room in a large, estate home, where the china and silver were stored. It was often located downstairs, in the service staff’s area, as was the kitchen. Since it contained many valuable items, it was a locked room to which the butler had the key.
In modern times, the butler’s pantry has evolved to become a walk-through area somewhere between the kitchen and the dining room. It will usually contain some glass display cabinets, a bar sink, wine refrigerator, etc. Mostly, it functions as a place to prepare a drink for a guest and a counter space from which to stage food traveling to the dining room.
So you see, a prep kitchen is quite different from a butler’s pantry. However, you may be able to combine the function of these two areas - depending on your home’s layout. If you had a long, narrow space connecting your kitchen and dining room, for example, you may wish to have the end closest to the dining room feature a few pretty display units so that it will be attractive when guests peek in. The end closest to your kitchen may then take on the more utilitarian tasks of the prep kitchen.
However, if you’re planning a new home from scratch, try to have your cake and eat it too by allowing for a separate butler’s pantry and a prep kitchen.
Source: Heather Hungeling Design | Julep Lane Project
Why You’re Going to Want A Prep Kitchen In Your Next Home
It’s funny how we’ve gotten here…this point at which we now need a prep kitchen.
We’ve been craving open floor plans for decades now. Every home improvement show on TV has the designer or homeowner knocking out most of the walls in the main living space to create these spacious and flowing open floor plans. Homeowners also wish to increase the number of windows in their kitchens, which then leads to not having quite enough places for practical storage. The result of all of this openness is that convenience has often been in conflict with our desire to create kitchens that we want to actually “live in.” We have gladly accepted these trade-offs as part of the updating process…until we realized that we have nowhere to put the toaster.
We’ve also finally arrived at a place where we find ourselves feeling burdened by the need to have our kitchen be pristinely displayed at all times - but particularly while entertaining. (If you want to read a really cynical article about how women have just created more work for themselves by going along with this modern movement of open-concept living, read The Curse of the Open Floor Plan, by The Atlantic.)
The solution to this pickle is the prep kitchen. It allows us to have all of the openness and beauty that we desire in our main kitchen while giving us an extra work/storage area that’s a bit more out of sight.
When I explained to my husband what the topic of my post was going to be this week, he said: “oh, right…it’s just like the rule about a gentleman’s handkerchiefs…one for showy and one for blowy.” Ha! I hadn’t heard that one before. I’m still giggling over that one, but no, I am not advocating that you have a “show kitchen” and then another “real kitchen” behind that. My suggestion is much more practical. A prep kitchen, in its simplest form, can just be a place to have quick and easy access to your countertop appliances that you’d like to have sitting out, but not necessarily on display. If you throw in lots of open shelving, a sink, and a refrigerator - you now have a basic prep kitchen that can take your kitchen design in all sorts of exciting directions.
Here’s a little sample plan that I mocked up to help you get started thinking about your prep kitchen. You’ll notice that I included two openings to the prep kitchen from the main kitchen for easy access no matter where you are. The food pantry is located in close proximity to the kitchen, while still being close to the refrigerator and freezer for easy unloading of groceries. I’ve included a concealed area in the prep kitchen to set out all of your countertop appliances, as well as provided another sink and dishwasher for heavy clean-up. Finally, I added an extra refrigerator/freezer, a wine cooler, and a 36” wide wall oven, which makes the space ideal for cooking for a big crowd (and I’ve positioned those items so that they are close to the butler’s pantry). The main kitchen features a large island, a whole bank of windows over the main sink, a wide feature range hood, 30” refrigerator, 30” freezer, and a 30” wall oven housing for everyday use. This kitchen layout offers great flexibility to my imaginary homeowner!
The beauty to having a supplemental kitchen space like this is that it’s highly customizable. It should be uniquely specific to how you and your family live! Here are a few more ideas:
Combine a food pantry with your prep kitchen with lots of open shelving to create a space similar to the image above.
A prep kitchen is an obvious place to stash the countertop coffee maker, but why not go ahead and set out a toaster, blender, juicer, etc., to make a handy breakfast center. In a past post, I’ve written about creative storage ideas for small countertop appliances, but having an entire room with everything out and easily accessible is the most ideal scenario.
Make sure to include a dishwasher if you’d like to have an out-of-sight area for cleaning up during/after a party. By using your prep kitchen as a concealed clean-up zone, your guests will be able to linger in the kitchen or family room for dessert and coffee without having to look at the mess they’re leaving you with!
Add a small desk-area from which to pay bills or look up a recipe.
Include a potting sink and work area - you’ll want good separation between these areas so that you don’t end up with potting soil in your pancakes! But adding an apron front or utility sink on one wall could be very charming, especially if you enjoy fresh flowers or bringing in the harvest from your own veggie garden.
Add a wall oven to create a behind-the-scenes baking zone, where everything (including that heavy stand mixer) is already at your fingertips.
Add a wine cooler and an ice maker so you’ll have a great place to prepare drinks for guests…leaving you with more counter space and display cabinetry in your butler’s pantry. I also like this idea because ice makers can be noisy. Who wants to hear the ice maker dropping ice while you’re sitting at the dining room table?
Include a wall oven, warming drawer, refrigerator, dishwasher, and a large sink to create an ideal caterer’s kitchen. If you entertain a big crowd frequently, then you’ll definitely appreciate having a dedicated area that’s out of sight. You’ll want to pay attention to elbow room, as well as appliance widths. Caterers use large baking sheets and wide serving trays, so you’ll want to provide an ample sink, a 36” wide oven, a 36” wide refrigerator, as well as making sure to allow for a wide doorway to enter/exit.
Include multiple refrigerators/freezers, and it may give you other design options in the main kitchen. I’ve always been smitten with the image below by Clive Christian Furniture Co. My clients always seem to need/want more refrigeration and freezer storage than we can make work in the main kitchen. I love how the additional refrigerator, wine cooler, and pantry units are not hidden, but instead made visibly accessible via a wide, cased opening. It feels very luxurious and just pulls you right in.
Source: Clive Christian Furniture Co.
The Prep Kitchen is the Key to Creating the Modern Open & Airy Kitchen
It’s worth noting that if you’re desiring a light, airy kitchen with few wall cabinets, having a prep kitchen may be the key to making that all work. Obviously, with a whole wall of windows and few wall cabinets, we need to find other ways to make up for the missing storage. A prep kitchen is the perfect solution.
When brainstorming this post idea, the concept of the unkitchen kitchen, coined by interior designer Laurel Bern, came to mind. On her Laurel Home blog (read her post about the unkitchen kitchen here) she advocates for a timeless kitchen style by getting away from some of the excess that we’ve now included in our kitchens. In fact, she predicts a growing movement away from some of the massive kitchens that we see parading across our screens. If you favor a more intimate kitchen, then doing away with some of the cabinetry in the main kitchen will likely be part of your mission…perhaps even reducing the footprint of your kitchen a bit. You can offset the loss of storage and counter space in the main kitchen by creating an adjacent prep kitchen. If you position it well in relation to the kitchen, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on any of the benefits of having a big kitchen.
Prep Kitchen Design Ideas
While you can gather ideas about designing a prep kitchen simply by studying galley-style kitchens, keep in mind a few particulars:
1) LET IN THE LIGHT
If it’s a small, dark closet, you’re not going to want to go in there. Feast your eyes on the lovely prep kitchen below. The architect for this home captured plenty of light with a long wall of windows…but..he then shared it with the rest of the kitchen via narrow windows on either side of the range wall (the main kitchen view is shown in the second image below)! This is a brilliant idea if you’re trying to carve out part of your kitchen to re-dedicate as a prep pantry. The entire space then feels light and inviting. You do, however, sacrifice quite a bit of storage when you devote so much space to the windows. A prep kitchen like this would still be quite inviting if there were only windows/doors at each end. So you’ll have to find the balance that’s right for you.
Source: Jackson and Leroy
2) PREVENT A DEAD-END
If possible, try to create a good flow for a prep kitchen with two entrances/exits as in the image below. This helps to maintain a cohesive feel with the main body of the kitchen. If your floor plan does not allow for two openings, then try to make the prep kitchen at least lead to something…such as a food pantry, a mud room, a butler’s pantry, etc., as it will feel much more inviting to you. Unless your prep kitchen is particularly spacious, having it lead to a dead-end will make you feel like you’re working in a closet.
Source: Thompson Custom Homes
3) TO FRAME OUT THE DOORS OR NOT
This is really a question of how open and connected you wish for the space to feel. I appreciate both approaches. Notice how, in the image above, the prep kitchen doesn’t even feel like it’s a separate room? If you go this route, it’s important to maintain the same design aesthetic and level of formality in both areas.
Alternatively, you can frame out a doorway(s) leading to your prep kitchen, as in the earlier image. This allows for the prep kitchen to have it’s own character. If you’d like to combine the functionality of a prep kitchen with a food pantry, then you may wish to create that extra layer of visual separation between the main kitchen and the prep kitchen.
So as not to leave you bereft of prep kitchen awesomeness if you’re working with an older home or a smaller kitchen, I will impart this final thought…you can always consider creating a closet inside of the main kitchen area. It could be a 28” deep closet, roughly 6-8’ wide with bi-fold doors. Inside, you could include a prep sink and plenty of counter space. It would give you 1) a convenient, and dedicated space from which to house your small appliances and 2) a place to make a bit of a mess when preparing food for guests without worrying about cleaning it up before company arrives. Just slide the doors closed. It’s really just a larger version of the Cook’s Center that I mentioned in my last post, but you could customize this to deliver significant function with a small foot print. I love how Smallbone decked out the space in the image below. Technically, it’s a very wide cabinet, but this could be done with a closet fitted with internal custom cabinetry as well.
Source: Smallbone of Devizes
So what do you think? Have I convinced you to include a prep kitchen in your next home or remodel? Leave a comment below and let me know how you would use your prep kitchen! Also, don’t forget to sign up for access to my Luxury Resource Library. Subscribing will also keep you in the loop when I release a new post. Have a great week!