For the past two decades, our homes have been designed to maximize flow, and spaces connect from one to the other, often without interruption. And while the popular open-concept floor plan isn’t going away, attention has turned to creating innovative individual spaces with both charm and character. What used to be considered secondary, utilitarian rooms hidden behind closed doors for only a few to see are now being brought into the open. Not only that, they are being bestowed the same level of detail that was once reserved for a home’s most important rooms.
“Historically, spaces like the butler's pantry and mudroom were purely functional,” says Charleston-based interior designer Tammy Connor. “But, today, homeowners appreciate that it's the small moments in life—like grabbing your umbrella on the way out the door, making yourself a cocktail at the end of a long day, wiping your pup's paws on the rug by the back door—that come together to make a life,” she adds. “And why shouldn't these moments, and the design that facilitates them, be as well-considered as the rest of the house?” For Connor, these bespoke spaces provide her clients more of a sense of organization and ease in daily life. “Having things organized in a beautiful, thoughtful way gives people a sense of calm and control and just makes life more pleasant.”
For years, cooking ingredients and accoutrements were relegated to kitchen drawers and cupboards. Even when walk-in pantries became a feature of today’s luxury homes, they were often tucked away, camouflaged, hidden behind integrated cabinet doors. These days, those spaces have become an integral annex of the kitchen, working in tandem, both in terms of functionality and aesthetics.
“I see the scullery popping up everywhere,” says Palm Beach-based designer Mally Skok. “With flexible work-from-home arrangements still in place for many, she adds that entertaining has become easier and more relaxed. "People are learning to love their houses again, especially when their Sunday night isn't doomed by the threat of the 4:30 alarm going off the next morning for a dreaded early flight."
The return of at-home get-togethers, even on a school night, has made these kitchen service and storage areas even more invaluable. “The scullery solves so many problems that crop up now that entertaining has slowly started happening again. If you’re planning a catered event for a small crowd, it’s a place to shut off the busy kitchen hubbub from your guests. I love that a scullery is a place to dump all your dirty used crockery and cutlery, without spoiling the ambience of the evening. Sliding doors are essential for discouraging the enthusiastic washer upper! I am very firm about this—everyone has to stay in his or her chair. The dishes will wait till tomorrow,” Skok adds.
In addition to functionality, Skok also loves how these service areas allow for design experimentation. “The other great thing about the scullery, apart from the opportunity to have a huge soapstone sink and multiple dishwashers, is that you can slather Moroccan tiles all over the walls and backsplash. Once the sliding doors are closed, it doesn’t interfere with the rest of the open-plan design of your space. You can really go wild!”
Gone are the days of having to wash off your dog’s dirty paws outside with a watering hose, with a slew of wet towels in tow. Today’s pampered pooches are being rewarded with spaces of their own, indoors, for everything from grooming to feeding to sleeping. In new construction and remodeling projects, significant square footage is being allocated to everything from built-in beds under stairwells, tiled dog baths and showers, as well as watering stations, and even bespoke pet gates integrated into walls like pocket doors. Custom cabinetry is also being fitted with sliding drawers to hold large bins of dry pet food.
For Atlanta-based designer Susan Ferrier, the trend will only continue to abound. She is currently working on a project in Nashville where stylish surface materials have been specified for both humans and canines alike. “We are using Ann Sacks tile in a dog bathing area, as well as all of the children’s and guest bathrooms in the house,” says Ferrier. “These pups are important family members in the household, and constant companions both inside and out. With a specific amenity devoted to keeping these important family members well-groomed, the dogs will be able to enjoy limitless access to the entire home.” And for a family whose dogs go just about everywhere with them and spend a lot of time outdoors, the amenities will be integrated seamlessly. “Making dog bathing convenient, complete with hand-held showerheads, is, for my clients, another smart step towards tailoring their shared home to support their specific lifestyle,” she says.
Designer Tammy Connor concurs, and often sees pet features integrated into mudrooms when they don’t have their own dedicated rooms. “Pets are part of the family, so it’s nice to have a functional space to bathe them! A dog bath or pet cleaning station that's part of the mudroom, or adjacent to a back entrance, is a smart way to corral the mess that our furry friends are bound to bring in,” Connors adds. “And it can be a great place to wash soccer cleats, garden boots, and leave wet umbrellas too!”
Instead of rushing out the door in the early hours with a thermos full of lukewarm dark roast in hand, people are reconsidering their morning “me time” and dedicating special spaces for a.m. rituals, meditation and the like. These nooks aren’t always just relegated to the kitchen, and tile and stone surrounds often make the spaces extra special.
“I love the idea of a coffee station in a little annex off the guest suite,” says designer Mally Skok. “My mornings are so precious. I am not keen on having my guests come in and want to dissect all the details from the previous night.” Skok plans accordingly and pampers them with all they need for a slow morning: nice coffee, some muesli or a couple of croissants. “They can lounge in their space and give me a couple of hours extra head space time!” she says. In a few hours, everyone’s caffeinated and ready to seize the day.
It used to be that the various bottles and mixers that make up a well-stocked home bar for entertaining were confined to a credenza or even an extra closet, out of sight. These days, beautifully outfitted spaces reflect how entertaining has evolved at home, becoming less rigid and more casual. In this age of curated cocktails and innovative mocktails, home bars have become sophisticated gathering spaces where guests can feel free to serve themselves.
Accompanying ice machines, built-in sinks and undercounter wine coolers provide all of the amenities at hand, while custom cabinetry with glass shelving often highlights beautiful glassware collections. Where these drinks spaces reside within a home is endless—sometimes, it’s an outfitted nook between a kitchen and dining room; other times, it can be an integral part or focal point of a den or library.
With so much entertaining outdoors these days, close access to terrace or patio is often taken into consideration. Regardless, bespoke spaces such as this are most successful when they combine service with style. “Ultimately, people are looking for the perfect blend of flexibility and functionality in their homes,” says designer Tammy Connor. “And it helps if the space is beautiful!”
Where is the open-concept floor plan headed? Will it stay the course or will we see the inclusion of more bespoke spaces (and nooks and crannies) in the years to come?
“Being able to work from home more conveniently is going to make the biggest impact in how a home is programmed in my opinion,” says designer Susan Ferrier. “Now that we know we can do it, we will.” But she adds that privacy is still needed, especially for creativity. “We love those big chambered spaces where all the spaces are open, but there is also the need to escape from that space,” she says. “Open concept, with specialized rooms radiating from heart of the house, may be the next step in addressing lingering concerns from the pandemic. Work areas and places for office equipment and paperwork are going to have to be incorporated into homes from now on, whether it’s a little room off the kitchen where you manage the household, or a separate office for each working partner in the relationship.”
Designer Tammy Connor has a similar forecast. “I think homes will be more of a combination of an open floor plan that allows for socialization and family gathering, mixed with more specialized compartmentalized spaces like ‘zoom nooks’ and homework stations.” However the mix of big and small spaces plays out in the coming years, it’s safe to say that home as we know it will continue to evolve, and its ability to nurture us and provide an escape will become more important than ever before.
The kitchen reno conundrum: It’s hard to decide where to splurge, easy to carelessly overspend; and the choices you commit to are lasting. Here, some industry pros talk honestly about where the money’s worth it, where not—and why. There’s one thing they all agree on: The easiest choices are guided by love.