Commercial versus residential kitchens: blending function and design for the ultimate workspace

Residential kitchens

Commercial and residential kitchens are very different, each with their own architectural complexities and unique requirements. Photo Credit: Jupiter Images,

By Paul Benton

I recently had a friendly discussion with another architect about whether commercial kitchens are more complex than residential kitchens. I offered that a residential kitchen has a lot more going on in every part than a commercial kitchen, if only because of the great variety of tasks that occur there throughout each day. Needless to say, we didn’t agree on this; but our debate did help to illustrate some interesting architectural and design differences between commercial and residential kitchens – differences that may help those planning a kitchen remodel to make the right choices to suit their needs.

Forms and functions: how commercial and home kitchens differ

In last month’s column, we discussed the key elements of kitchen organization: the refrigerator and food storage, the range and the sink, each surrounded by countertops.

An architect must proportion these countertops for the different kinds of preparation that will be executed in each area. In a commercial kitchen, this decision is easy: we know the menu, and each food prep take will take place in a well-defined area of the space. In a home, though, this is much more complicated: the menu changes on a daily basis, and the areas are used in different ways throughout the day.

It is interesting to compare these functions of a home kitchen to those of a commercial kitchen. In larger restaurants or dining facilities, it is likely that each section of the menu (pastry, meats, salads, sauces) will be assigned its own preparation area, with some form of separation between stations for health and safety. There will be a table fronting the various cooking equipment and a separate area for finishing these items. The description I like for this location is the “plating area,” which aptly describes the space where the different components of a meal come together on the clean plate at just the right moment to be whisked away to the diner.

This brings us to another unique quality of commercial kitchens: the fact that most serving happens outside of the kitchen. In a restaurant, linens are already at the table, and serving utensils and water are provided at outer stations on the serving floor. This alone makes a home kitchen more complex in a smaller space, because all of the utensils and plates are probably in drawers and cabinets right next to a preparation area. Therefore, when designing a home kitchen, we have to make sure that these items are not in a place where getting them will interfere with something else during the cooking process (and more importantly, so that your aunt from out of town can be helpful and find something without turning the kitchen upside-down).

Finally, we must consider all of the ingredients, garnish and finishing elements that go on each plate. These are used constantly in a commercial kitchen, and are planned, prepared and organized well in advance. In a residence, however, it is all too easy to put such items to the side while cooking and then forget to bring them out at the right moment.

I have a lot of sympathy for the home cook who follows a new recipe and has to come up with the right kind of wine reduction or fresh herb garnish, all while trusting instructions that say to cook for “15 minutes or until golden brown,” and still have everything finished on time to feed a hungry family at the end of a long day. At Alcorn & Benton Architects, we respect the hard work that takes place in commercial kitchens, and strive to design them for the smoothest possible service. But we also seek to aid the home cook juggling work, family time, telephone calls, snack breaks and dinner preparation – often simultaneously, and often in the kitchen. Whether you are a restaurateur or a homeowner seeking to refresh you kitchen environment, get in touch with us today to learn how we can help you make the most of your kitchen design. Visit us online, at

Did you know? In the history of kitchen design, one of the pioneers was none other than Harriet Beecher Stowe, who with her sister published a detailed guide to kitchen design.  She was also an ardent abolitionist and wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Her work in kitchen design is recognized as one of the first studies of ergonomics, which is all about the reaching, lifting, storing, and space planning needs for work in kitchens, offices, factories, airplanes, and just about any other application where people do concentrated, repetitive or detailed work.

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Posted by Social Media Staff on Jan 18, 2013. Filed under Columns, Paul Benton, Sponsored Columns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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