Functional Furniture in the Home

What is Grandma's armoire doing in the kitchen? The blending of kitchen function with the character of furniture is all around us. Current lifestyle and design trends, coupled with constantly changing technology, are contributing to this marriage of furniture or a furniture look with the storage, appliances and working centers of the functional kitchen.

Design trends
Common to the lifestyle of most people today is a shortage of time and a desire for comfort and efficiency at home. The trend toward home as the social hub is well served by secondary kitchen-related work centers, such as a refrigerator in a great room, concealed as a functional furniture piece. While a refrigerator or dishwasher might not provide exactly the desired ambience as the kitchen flows into the great room, it will provide convenience and function to complete the sense of privacy and retreat. By disguising these functional elements in furniture or a furniture look, the mood is enhanced and the sanctuary is more complete. Finally, there is a growing nostalgia for the security and fun of things as they used to be. And what better way to respond to this than to design the inherited family furnishings into the functional spaces in our homes, fitting them with 21st Century technology?

Adapting pieces
An antique piece - an armoire, a table, a chest, etc. can lend a natural aesthetic flavor to a space. A flea market chest of drawers, painted and adorned with unusual hardware, adds a playful and unique statement in a breakfast nook or bathroom for the storage of placemats, napkins or linens.

The armoire is a natural for a variety of uses. An armoire can be set between a kitchen and breakfast nook to provide a transitional piece in both form and style between the two areas. As we are seeing larger window space and sinks on islands resulting in less wall cabinetry, the armoire makes a great pantry or dish storage. In the case of a pantry, adjustable shelves can be set into the upper third of the piece and roll-outs can be set into the middle and lower section, depending on the type of storage and the depth of the armoire. When used as a hutch, an armoire's doors can be reworked so that the upper doors are open at all times to display large platters, bowls, etc. The interior of the piece is often painted or finished in a different color/stain. In some cases, the lower doors can be entirely replaced or custom designed as drawers for ease of access for the client.

As seen in family rooms, the armoire can function closer to the kitchen as an entertainment unit or as a desk, with a pull-out drawer for writing and keyboarding or to house a microwave for quick snacks and heating leftovers. The armoire can be utilized in the same way in the master bath, either solely for linen storage behind closed doors, or as a focal point, with doors opened to reveal candles, lotions, decorative perfumes, soaps and towels.

As a stand-alone piece, there is an opportunity to make this large piece a focal point, through the use of a custom painted mural on the surface or perhaps the incorporation of contrasting wood species paint finish to the kitchen cabinetry. Simple accents can also be painted on the furniture to pick up on a theme found in a backsplash/floor tile or wall treatment borders or curtains.

When set on small stands or low tables, an office chest of multiple shallow drawers, originally designed for the flat storage of drawings or maps, becomes a conversation piece and functions well for the storage of placemats, napkins and flatware. Other small chests, often Asian in design, set on stands or low tables, can serve as specialized storage units.

Antique farm tables have long been incorporated into the kitchen working space, both for aesthetic and functional purposes. Many are retrofitted with massive chopping block tops. Smaller tables can be set on locking casters and thus function in a variety of areas, being used to cart heavy items from pantries, etc. Today's farm tables are often seen with small secondary sinks built into the tops, as well. The plumbing is either exposed or hidden behind cabinet doors to conceal it.

Mary Jo Peterson
Mary Jo Peterson is president of Mary Jo Peterson, Inc., a Connecticut-based design firm that focuses on residential projects and provides design support to major homebuilders nationwide. She is a certified kitchen and bath designer with 15 years experience, and her work has earned national recognition. With specific expertise in universal design, Mary Jo has authored three books on the subject and is a frequent national speaker and educator. McGraw-Hill published her latest book, Gracious Spaces; Universal Interiors by Design, in July 1999.

National Kitchen & Bath Association
The content of this article is provided courtesy of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). At, you'll find an inspiration gallery of award-winning kitchen and bath designs from NKBA members, complete with photos and floorplans. In addition, this consumer website offers articles and tips written specifically for homeowners, an extensive glossary of kitchen and bath remodeling terms, and illustrations and explanations of kitchen and bath planning guidelines. There, you can also e-mail questions to the NKBA's kitchen and bath experts, as well as order a free copy of the NKBA Kitchen & Bath Workbook.