No longer simply "service" rooms, kitchens and bathrooms have become increasingly integrated in living spaces. But the author also finds out what's any home's most important feature.
BUENOS AIRES – The most radical changes in interior design are now happening in bathrooms and kitchens. At least, according to the latest edition of the Milan International Furniture Fair.
In Argentina too, things are changing. Sure, kitchens and bathrooms are still cramped little rooms, confined to the back of our old houses and buildings. Yet with the expansion of apartments, kitchens have become larger — to the point of moving frontwards in the blueprings, by the living and dining space.
As for the bathroom, it has moved in with the bedroom, nicely complementing the dressing room. Where space allows it, this can even become a suite. But, as architects say, they tend to remain "submarine" — without light or outside views.
Kitchens are now technical and sophisticated. The kitchen space is increasingly functional and the sink, dining surface and bar are now fully integrated. Yet one obstacle remains. As Augusto Penedo of the Urgell-Penedo-Urgell studio told me, residential developers have proved most reluctant to accept the merging of the kitchen and living areas into one, single space.
A living room? A kitchen? Both
In Milan, major design companies presented their kitchen models as a piece of home furnishing, integrated spatially in the living space, and in its materials and textures. We could see items like wall ovens, fridges and freezers hidden behind floor-to-ceiling cupboard panels. They would then slide, open or be concealed into the depth of a structure that, itself, extends in other spaces like the library.
What were the materials used? Natural wood, wood laminates, textiles — even granite and marble stones that felt like leather. Gradually, they're ending kitchens "lab" appearance and giving them warmth.
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The kitchen items are hidden behind cupboard panels — Photo: Articad Images
Between the cooking and the living spaces, what we call the island — this slightly elevated table top surrounded by benches or stools, and used for breakfast — has grown. It can now combine not only space to prepare food, but a glass-ceramic cooker, a kitchen sink, and a dining area. There's nothing over it.
Kitchen cupboards are also disappearing. They're morphing either into waist-high storage or sliding shelves, that can keep as much as the most obsessive owners ever dreamt of.
Want to relax? The bathroom's new role
As the kitchen no longer looks like a kitchen, the bathroom changes too. It is no longer designed exclusively for personal hygiene. Like new kitchens, it won't be confined to its service tasks — but aims at being a place where one can relax and have fun with water. The 3.2 square meters and ventilation grill required by our building codes are no longer enough.
Bathrooms are now a full part of bedrooms — with the best views. They are organized into three distinct areas: the toilet and bidet on one side — often suspended to ease the cleaning — the sink on another side, and, finally, the shower and bath tub.
Tubs are now unfailingly detached from the wall and, despite new designs, recall the four-legged bath tubs of old times. Showers have also changed. The traditional tap or shower head now includes modules and mechanisms that give you cascades, rain — and even massages.
Safety before a fancy design
A lot of creative energy is going into taps. Companies are hiring prestigious designers to give their products unique forms and concepts. One of the most celebrated designs at the Milan fair was Philippe Starck's transparent tap, which lets you see water swirling as it rises through the faucet. Quite a nice way to include nature in our daily habits.
As I was enjoying this veritable kitchen and bathroom revolution in Milan, a phone call from Buenos Aires broke the magic. After an intensive day wandering around the fair, my wife and I were sleeping. Suddenly, at 4 in the morning, her phone rang.
"Hello! It's Pedro, Juan's friend (Juan is my son). Lala, are you with Berto? Thieves are breaking the front door and entering your house!"
My house is on a busy street in Almagro, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires. It was 11 p.m. there. Providence made sure that a friend of my son was passing by, just as the thieves were crossing the street to violate my home. They made so much noise that a neighbor sitting at a bar next door called the police. My children were at home then.
They locked themselves in the bathroom. A miracle, along with the thieves' incompetence in trying to force the door, gave the police time to send five officers. The thieves fled as soon as they heard the police car, and my children emerged from the bathroom. Yes, a traditional place in design, but apparently still the safest part of the house.