The alternatives to the popular open-plan kitchen layout

Open-plan kitchens have been trending for the last decade, and many homeowners have chosen to knock down walls to open up their homes. But this type of design is not for everyone, and a closed kitchen has distinct advantages over its open-plan counterpart. Let’s look at a few questions that will determine how your lifestyle will influence your choice of kitchen design.

What is your kitchen used for?

The function of the kitchen will in large part determine whether an open-plan design is favourable or not. If your kitchen is the main social area of the home, it makes sense to open it up to the rest of the home. But if your kitchen is being used more traditionally, as a room where meals are prepared, where clothes are laundered, and dishes are washed, then a closed kitchen works better.

© Dirk Cousaert

Noise is another factor to consider when you’re doing kitchen planning. Cooking and cleaning can become disturbing to house guests, but with a closed kitchen, these can be closed off.

Who does the cooking?

For many families, the kitchen is not a social place where meal preparation mixes with other activities. Especially when you employ staff to do the cooking for your family, it is best to keep your utilitarian kitchen closed off from the social areas of the house like the living room, and dining room where meals are served.


Especially in upmarket homes, the trend is to have a social kitchen and a chef’s kitchen that can be used by caterers. While two kitchens may seem extravagant, having a separate “dirty” kitchen where washing up and cooking can happen, makes perfect sense. The chef’s kitchen is fully fitted out, while the social kitchen can only have the appliances necessary for simple meals and drinks preparation.

What type of food do you enjoy?

Even if you do your own cooking, the type of food that you prepare might not be conducive to an open-plan environment. The aromas of strong spices, seafood and oil all can be absorbed by upholstery, carpets and soft furnishings, creating an uninviting smell.

The air quality in a kitchen is also compromised by cooking. A cooker hood is supposed to eliminate these harmful particles made airborne through the preparation of meals, but few can remove all of them. A closed kitchen environment prevents these pollutants from reaching the rest of the home.

How messy is your cooking?

Some people have a cooking system in place whereby used utensils and cookware disappear into the dishwasher or are washed and dried ready to be packed away, as if by magic. But for the most of us, the kitchen looks like a disaster area once we’ve finished cooking a meal. This is one of the greatest advantages to having a separate kitchen: you can close the door behind you and no-one will know. While an open-plan kitchen has to be kept clean and tidy, a separate kitchen doesn’t. So if you don’t operate your kitchen like a team of professionals, a closed kitchen might be the best option for you.

© Dirk Cousaert

Open vs Closed: the Pros and Cons

Open Kitchen Pros:

• Open kitchens tend to be lighter because of light coming from the dining and living areas.
• These types of kitchens are social spaces where the cook and guests can interact.
• They are great for families where parents need to keep an eye on the kids.
• Open-plan kitchen layouts usually allow for great flow between living areas.

Open Kitchen Cons:

• The space has to be kept tidy at all times.
• It can be noisy and disturb guests in the adjacent living or dining area.
• The unrestricted air low can allow smells to permeate the rest of the home.
• Smoke and other air pollutants can contaminate other rooms in the home.

Closed Kitchen Pros:

• Closed kitchens are private spaces where you or staff can work without disturbance.
• Noise, pollution and smells can be contained.
• The presence of 4 walls usually allows for more cabinetry and therefore more storage space.

Closed Kitchen Cons:

• A closed kitchen doesn’t allow for much interaction between the cook and guests.
• To open up an enclosed kitchen can be very expensive because of all the wiring and cabinetry that has to be removed.
• Closed kitchens usually have less natural light than open-plan kitchens.

© Jolanda Kruse

A few tips for designing your closed kitchen

Keep ergonomics in mind

While the work triangle might be slightly outdated, it is still important to eliminate wasted steps in the kitchen. As with an open-plan kitchen layout, try to keep the sink, stove, fridge, and a work surface in close proximity to each other for ease of use.

Always consider flow

Even if the traffic might not be as constant as with an open-plan kitchen, the basic functionality still has to be in place. Allow for at least 900mm for walkways. Keep in mind that areas, where the dishwasher or oven are installed, will need to be wider to allow for passing even when these appliances are open.

Clever Corners

Corners are notorious space-wasters in kitchen design, so try to avoid them where you can. If having a corner unit is unavoidable, then make the most of it by creating a walk-in pantry. Alternatively, include rotundas in the lower corners and display shelves in the upper corners of your kitchen.

Integrated Shelving

There are so many innovative storage solutions available that your kitchen can be designed to work seamlessly. Free up counter space by having a dedicated appliance cupboard, where everything is plugged in and ready to use, but out of sight when not in use.

Smart Appliances

To ensure that your kitchen stays relevant for longer, incorporate smart solutions where you can. Appliances, air conditioning systems and even sound and alarm systems can all be controlled from a single touchpad in your kitchen. Also, be sure that you have more than enough plug points and USD ports in your new kitchen to accommodate all your needs.

Landing Spaces

There are few things more frustrating than standing with a flaming hot casserole, and there is nowhere to put it down. Landing spaces next to the oven, sink and fridge are essential to make your kitchen as practical as possible.

Entrance and Exit

Because a closed kitchen has a definite entrance door, keep the safety in mind of the people entering the kitchen. This walkway shouldn’t be obstructed by an open oven or refrigerator door. Also, consider that there should also be a direct pathway leading to the back door to avoid unnecessary traffic through the rest of the kitchen area.