The perfect kitchen? It depends on your station in life

Consumer Reports News: May 18, 2011 11:34 AM

There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all kitchen. What works best for the bustling family with mouths to feed will look different from the ideal empty-nest kitchen, or the one suited to a single city-dweller. With that in mind, Consumer Reports brings you its lifestyle-specific kitchen guides, formed around three common stations in adulthood. The guides include quick planning tips as well as product recommendations for major appliances, countertops, flooring, and more.

Single in the city
Here's looking at the millennial generational (a.k.a. Gen Y or Echo Boomers), born between 1977 and 1994. The Census Bureau puts them at 80.8 million strong, going up to 92.9 million in 2025. Roughly three quarters plan to live in America's urban cores, according to the Brookings Institution. Kitchens in these urban or close-in locations tend to be galley-style or otherwise compact, so you need to make every inch count. Instead of base cabinets with pull-out shelves, consider installing banks of drawers. They provide maximum storage for pots and pans, as well as for small appliances, which you'll want to keep off the countertop to cut down on the visual clutter. As for the appliances and materials, here's what to consider:

Side-by-side refrigerator. The narrow door swing on this type of refrigerator is a much valued space-saver in tight kitchens. Most Consumer Reports recommended models have through-the-door water dispensers, which cuts down on the need for space-wasting bottled water.
Induction range. This technology uses a magnetic field to generate heat in the pan rather than the cooking surface. First-time cooking appliance buyers could be more accepting than those with a lifelong devotion to gas or electric. High and low temperature cooking both proved excellent in our tests. Induction has been more common in cooktops, but more ranges feature it, including top-performing models in our Ratings by GE, Samsung, and Kenmore.
Recycled glass. Kitchen designers say this relatively new countertop material is scoring points with younger clients, who like its modern flourish. Consumer Reports is testing it for the first time. So far, many brands resist cuts, heat, and abrasion. Check back in early June for the final results, which will be part of our regularly updated countertop Ratings.
Bamboo floor. This fast-growing grass can be harvested in as few as four years scores points for sustainability, and its tight grain pattern is well-suited to contemporary designs. Check our flooring Ratings for the top-performing models.

Family friendly
This group is led by Generation X, many of whom are now in their family-rearing 30s and 40s. These high-octane, often-suburban households are best served by kitchens that open up to an adjacent living space. An island or peninsula counter is a worthwhile addition, expanding your storage opportunities and work surfaces. Consider a pantry, too, which creates room for bulk items procured from the warehouse club. Here are the appliances and surfaces we recommend:

Four-door refrigerator. The middle drawer on this update to the French-door refrigerator is at a kid-friendly height, allowing parents of younger children some control over snacks and treats. Models by Maytag and Samsung make our recommended list.
Double oven range. This oven lets you cook two different dishes at the same time at two different temperatures. You can also just use the smaller upper oven with quicker pre-heat for fast meals, say frozen chicken fingers or pizza. Consider Maytag's 30-inch electric range with double oven.
Laminate countertops. This budget-friendly material is better than stone at resisting impacts in our countertop reviews, a plus where rowdy kids are on the prowl. It's easily scratched by knives, however, and marks can't be repaired, so you'll need a supply of cutting boards.
Vinyl flooring. Like laminate counters, vinyl resists most wear and tear in our flooring reviews, plus it's easy to install if you're looking to save by doing it yourself. Many of the newer faux lines look a lot like hardwood or natural stone.

Empty nest
With the first baby boomers turning 65, many are embracing Universal Design, defined as the movement to create spaces that are accessible for people of all ages and abilities. In terms of layout, that means removing non-essential doors between the kitchen and adjacent rooms, creating level threshholds, deploying counters at multiple heights, and maintaining 42-inch-wide traffic lanes. Ample lighting, especially task lighting on work surfaces, is also essential, and easy-to-grip cabinet handles are preferable to knobs.
French-door refrigerator. This configuration keeps refrigerator items at eye-level. That means bending to access the freezer, but you'll probably be in and out of it less. Many are 36 inches wide, but we also recommend several 33-inch models for smaller kitchens.
Wall oven and cooktop combo. This arrangement allows greater design flexibility, which can improve the traffic flow throughout the kitchen. It also means less bending and lifting to remove heavy pots and trays from the oven. Check our full ratings for recommended models.
Quartz countertops. This man-made material looks similar to granite, and it did slightly better in our reviews at resisting stains, heat, cuts, and abrasions. But its biggest advantage is low-maintenance, since unlike granite it doesn't need to be sealed.
Linoleum flooring. It proved softer than ceramic and wood in our flooring tests, making it easier on the legs and back when standing for long stretches. Plus linoleum with a textured surface can be very slip-resistant, minimizing the risk of slips and falls.

Daniel DiClerico


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