If you love classic movies (regardless of your age), you’ve probably seen “Desk Set”, a much-beloved 1957 rom-com starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In it, Ms. Hepburn’s character was the go-to research librarian for a major TV network. Mr. Tracy’s character was a computer consultant hired to automate her department. The plot revolves around Ms. Hepburn’s fear that technology would render her job obsolete. Of course, in the end, they…hey, it’s a rom-com; we all know how it ends.
For a while, it appeared that the kitchen desk was also headed for technology-fueled obsolescence. When I started at Bilotta almost 26 years ago, a desk area was a must-have for every kitchen renovation. Owners paid their bills there; wrote (yes, with pen in hand!) correspondence; filed paperwork; and sorted mail, invitations, and school papers in customized cubbies.
Although laptops came on the market in the 1980’s, and early tablets about a decade later, desks in the kitchen were still considered de rigueur. It wasn’t until the debut of the Apple iPad in 2011 that people became untethered from their dedicated workspaces. Soon, family members found they could work at the kitchen table or center island.
It wasn’t long before customers became lukewarm to the idea of relinquishing kitchen storage to what had become a seldom-used function. “Just give me a place for a message board” or “I just need a place to charge my devices” became frequent requests. But needs change. Though customers no longer required a home office in the kitchen (with wi-fi, printers could be located anywhere in the house), their children were now doing schoolwork on the computer and accessing the internet. It quickly became a safety issue for parents to keep an eye on the kids’ online activities. The concept of “kitchen desk” gave way to “computer station”, and desks once again earned their keep in the war for kitchen real estate.
And while bills and family records were now commonly stored in the cloud, homeowners realized that a file drawer could still be useful for handy retrieval of manuals for their increasingly complicated appliances or assorted school-related paperwork. When we were all in lockdown, numerous workspaces became even more important for simultaneous remote work and school. So now we’ll show you some of our designers’ projects reflecting all the possible iterations of the still-surviving kitchen desk.
The first two examples are elegant in their simplicity, owing to a customized solution that doesn’t fall into the trap of being over-designed.
Senior Designer Jeff Eakley had a client whose family members were avid fans of working at the island or kitchen table.
Both the island and the banquette table were supplied with plenty of USB ports and AC outlets, so anyone could just pull up a seat and plug in.
For an auxiliary area in the kitchen, Senior Designer Tom Vecchio engineered a hidden drop-down surface behind a drawer front at the end of the island.
Outfitted with outlets, it provides a handy perch when using the laptop for downloading recipes or kids’ homework.
A great illustration of the “message center” concept can be found in this unconventional solution by Fabrice Garson. On a wall that would have otherwise been merely a paneled walkway along one side of the kitchen, a bit of space was stolen between the island and dining table for a multi-purpose organizer with mail bins, a whiteboard, and the family calendar.
Below it sits a shallow cabinet that blends into the wainscoting and provides a stash for craft supplies and games.
Of course, the most popular location for a kitchen desk is…well, in the kitchen. But sometimes a little reimagining of the footprint needs to happen in order to make that a reality. In a home plagued with a warren of small hallways and tiny rooms, a single wall change by designer Jeni Spaeth provided the mother of 4 with a private space in the center of the action.
Although not large, it packs in a lot of storage: a file drawer, bulletin board, an open bookcase for cookbooks, and closed storage for office supplies and messy folders. The homeowner can now easily keep an eye on dinner and her kids at the same time.
A workspace connected to the kitchen, yet off to the side, is often considered ideal. Senior designer Rita Garces had this technologically savvy family’s lifestyle in mind when she designed a desk centered around a sizable Mac screen. It’s their organizational “command central”.
Since it’s in close proximity to the breakfast table, multiple people can all gather to view the screen. This proved to be invaluable this past year, enabling children, au pairs, and extended family to virtually attend sporting events and recitals.
Still connected to the kitchen, yet minimal in function, this simple desk by Fabrice Garson was only required to be a spot to set up the laptop and store a few papers. There aren’t even any upper cabinets above it, allowing for a rotating display of artwork. It’s a continuation of the kitchen’s design elements without stealing any of the thunder from the drama in the rest of the room.
Sometimes the most convenient spot for a desk is away from the busy hub of the kitchen. This homeowner requested a relaxing place to sit and check emails and phone messages, write or type a note, or file recipes and other paperwork. Senior designer Paula Greer found the perfect location at the end of the kitchen, right in front of a window looking out onto her lush garden.
There was just enough room on the left side for hiding computer equipment; and on the right side, a file drawer with a pencil drawer above. A shallow bookcase facing inward stores the owner’s favorite cookbooks. This proves you don’t need a lot of square footage if it’s well-planned and organized!
If you’re lucky enough to have a large space (in this case, about 9 ½ feet) you can get the quintessential work center. For one of my own clients, the den that had been designated as the home office was usually monopolized by her husband, who frequently worked from home even before that became commonplace. She had a growing photography business, so I was tasked with providing a bona fide office space for her as part of the kitchen renovation. I carved out a niche in the breakfast room, which was adjacent to the open plan family room.
The tall cabinets with pullouts housed her camera and computer equipment along with supplies. File cabinets on both sides store her business records; and the custom framed gray corkboard provides a space to pin her projects. Decorative objects adorn the open bookcase with a gracefully arched top rail. A luxurious area with function and comfort at its core!
As part of the same renovation that earlier featured the clever hidden drop-down work surface, Senior Designer Tom Vecchio located the primary desk entirely outside the kitchen area. Nestled between the kitchen and laundry room, it’s removed enough from the hustle and bustle to afford some quiet, yet close enough to still be connected to the action. Its position under the window and the flanking open shelves keep it from feeling claustrophobic.
To lend a furniture feel, Tom chose a walnut work surface for warmth and contrast. The owner can set up a laptop, file papers, and charge phones in the concealed charging drawer.
But what happens if you want some of the functions of a desk, but don’t want to see any of the mess? Hide it all!
In yet another project by Senior Designer Tom Vecchio, a NYC galley kitchen short on space was extended into the hallway to supply extra storage. Tall cabinetry that links the kitchen with the adjoining living space is put into service for multi-purpose functions. While the unit on the left holds cleaning supplies, the vacuum, and recycling, the right side conceals a built-in wine rack; glassware and bar items; a docking drawer to charge devices; and a Penda-flex rack for files. Exactly what the client needed, and nothing more, all camouflaged in a stunning metamorphosis!
This client didn’t need a sit-down area, just an efficient message center. But of utmost importance was the ability to not just hide inevitable clutter, but to also hide all the family’s business from outsiders’ eyes. Senior designer Rita Garces accomplished the task with retractable pocket doors. Mail cubbies for each family member facilitates organization and minimizes the chance of missed invitations and appointments.
An upper shelf stores cookbooks, and a work surface holds the land line (yes, a lot of people still have them!) and provides a spot for note-taking. Drawers below contain files and supplies, while a TV mounted above the doorway is inconspicuous against the matching panels. When the pocket doors are closed, privacy is preserved, and the continuity of the tall cabinetry in a darker accent color is maintained. An ingenious melding of style and function!
Another “now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t” desk is also an example of locating the work station outside of the kitchen. In this renovation by Senior Designer Randy O’Kane, the butler’s pantry pulls double duty: one side serves as a staging area and bar for entertaining, while the other side is employed on a daily basis as a home office. Although the kneehole space frankly announces that this is a desk, the inconspicuous Lucite chair softens its presence.
But what really achieves the magic disappearing act is the retractable pocket doors, divided into square panels. Computer equipment, supplies, and work in progress, are all stashed away when not in use. The homeowner can literally close up shop at the end of the day to retain the room’s esthetic while hosting guests, dining or even travelling through the space. A unique application for a butler’s pantry, but most definitely a custom solution tailored to the client’s needs.
So we hope we’ve given you some new ideas for integrating your day-to-day planning and coordinating activities into your most-used living spaces. There’s certainly more than one way to interpret a desk!
This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 25 years. In a recent review of a project she completed her client said: “[Paulette] has many years of experience and her knowledge, taste, suggestions, and planning were outstanding. Her designs…were always on target and on time. Her attention to detail was impressive. Her flexibility and patience were outstanding. She was always available and treated us warmly and professionally. She never missed a step. We can unequivocally recommend her.”