Multigenerational living | FOCUS

This food prep area is arranged so that the person cooking can maintain eye contact with their guests

eople are living longer and we are all, thanks to Covid, spending longer in our kitchens, which have become a multifunctional social hub for all generations of the family. Renowned kitchen designer Johnny Grey considers the subject so important that he recently did a presentation on the Hettich Xperience days platform to share his views on multigenerational – or 4G – kitchen design.


Grey has been working for the past three years on a research project with the National Innovation Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University to design a multigenerational kitchen, which is now on display at its premises in the centre of Newcastle.

Grey points out that people are now demanding more of their kitchens than ever before. He says: “As an industry, we have to improve the skills with which we interpret behaviour when planning spaces to give us, simply, more pleasure, more function and more safety. The new kitchen is a room where we literally have to plan for everything, all the time. I believe that is the holy grail of home design.” But Grey believes our kitchen designs need to be more human- centric – “kinder”, as he puts it. “No one has a perfect body and we all suffer from disabilities from time to time, but we adapt and we com - pensate. So our design job is to provide the opportunity and ergonomic support in order to do this. And we can, but we need to lead people to this by creating beautiful, touchable and appealing objects with the appropriate technology and with functional furniture. Safer, kinder and more functional spaces where we can

August 2021 · linger for longer.”

He adds: “For example, places where people can perch, not necessarily sit, to encourage a short- term conversation, which makes people feel welcome.”

But Grey believes we are not there

yet: “We have come a long way, but I think we can go a lot further. The newly liberated gender-, disability- and age-friendly kitchen is upon us, but the design hasn’t really caught up. Children should be welcome and it should be a safe place, and so should older people be welcome, and it should be a safe place for them too.” And at the heart of the 4G social kitchen should be an element of well-being.

Grey points to the work of the ‘Face book prof - essor’ Robin Dun - bar, whose paper Breaking Bread explores the con - cept of ‘social eating’: “Social

More than ever, today’s kitchens need to be a social hub that all generations can safely use

looking at our computers. Sharing our devices rather than being on our own.” The answer is in our hands, says

Having a long, thin central island is absolutely crucial to accommodating multiple different uses, as well as having work surfaces that can rise and fall for a variety of different activities

eating brings communities together and of course individuals are part of communities, and regularly eating meals alone was the biggest single pathway to a shorter life.

“In a multigenerational kitchen, we have got an enticing prospect of creating spaces where we can spend more time together cooking and eating. And cooking is the one craft that everyone can learn and take easy pleasure in. And from doing things beyond cooking – planning trips and

Grey, pointing out that research has shown that people are happiest in the evening when they would most likely be in their kitchens: “As designers, we have the best opportunity of almost any profession. We have a room that people occupy when they are potentially at their happiest, so we have a respon- sibility and ability to make sure we use this golden time to make people happy.”

He points to historical evidence that shows multi- generational living is in fact the norm:

“The nuclear family [a couple and their children] is something that western societies have done only in the past 100 years or so. Research shows that 66 million Americans, that’s one-in- four, live in a multigenerational way. In the UK, the figure is 2m. “Aviva [Insurance] asked people if they would like to live in a multi- generational way if they could find the property that worked for them, and 65% of respondents said they would.” But it is not as easy in the UK as in

America, as Grey confirms: “One of the problems in the UK is that there simply aren’t the houses available. So we are going to have to do a lot of conversion work, and there is real opportunity here for designers to bring in multigenerational kitchens.”

Hard-wired needs

One of the key elements of the 4G kitchen came out when Grey worked with neuroscientist John Sisam, who referred to certain ‘hard-wired needs’. As Grey explains: “One is people’s faces – we need eye contact. Food smells are another and they change our mood. Likewise long views. So having a window with a long view is important. We also need to have some safety and ideally there should be a table that at least occasionally might get some sunlight on it. These are feel- good factors that we can employ. “So if you are designing a multi- generational kitchen, you have to design it so that the main task can be carried out in the middle of the room. You want eye contact with people. You can’t have a conversation with people when they are behind your head.” For the past three years, Grey has been working on a research project to develop a multigenerational kitchen with Britain’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University – and that is now on display at its new premises in the centre 


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