When I bought my first New York apartment a dozen years ago, a big selling point was the open kitchen. I liked the idea of standing behind a kitchen countertop—even a hideous black Formica one—and surveying my thousand square feet of New York real estate.
When I renovated a year or so later, my architect wanted to close off the kitchen and bathroom "service" zones with a high-concept sliding door arrangement. I thought he was nuts. Open kitchens were integral to the cool, sophisticated loft lifestyle to which I aspired.
Now I see he was right. Ten years later I closed off the kitchen.
On this second renovation, it was my wife—she wasn't in the picture the first time around—pushing for closed over open. Her view, passionately held, is that open kitchens sacrifice elegance for excessive intimacy. That a dinner with blackened saucepans, onion shards, herb-stained cutting boards and splattered grease on display is no party. And that recruiting guests as sous-chefs and scullery servants is no way to be the host of one.
Take this ad for the new Altair condominiums on West 18th and 20th Streets in the Flatiron district. A youngish couple in matching aprons stand by an open kitchen island—more of a peninsula, really—giddily preparing dinner with five female friends who look as if they might consider spaghetti straps a food group. "In a 23-foot kitchen," the copy reads, "there can never be too many cooks."
Not when they look like that, anyway. I understand that we neither expect nor want advertisements to resemble real life, but the gal testing the pasta is in for a rude awakening when she has to dump that steaming caldron into a strainer and wrecks her blowout.
Naturally, no buyer envisions soiled crockery and fish smells when touring a new condo. Jim Brawders, sales director for the Altair buildings and senior vice president for the Corcoran Group, said their open kitchens have been a strong selling point and a reason people have bought the apartments.
The open kitchen has become a fashion accessory, the shoes or handbag of the new Manhattan apartment. The Altair version is by Valcucine, an Italian manufacturer of sleek cooking environments in high-gloss colors and burnished woods.
Traditionally, the loft kitchen was open because it was in a corner where the pipes were and the windows were not. That, and the whole don't-box-me-in aesthetic of the 60's and 70's. Developers of the new condo buildings popping up all over Manhattan can put the windows wherever they want, but they still do open kitchens—unless the place is really, really big.