If you’ve ever built a kitchen, you know how backward the experience is. You hire someone to do the design and construct a complicated framework of custom cabinetry. This can take months. Then, in the 11th hour, you pick out a few appliances that fit into a few gaping holes. These are your workhorses of the kitchen, where you’ll spend most of your time cooking. And they are an afterthought in the design.
A new concept from Future Facility—a speculative think tank within the design firm Industrial Facility, which has created products for Muji and Herman Miller—questions this approach to building kitchens entirely. They’ve created an idea called the KIT. It’s an urban kitchen you build up from the appliances first instead of last. And that allows for both a DIY flexibility, and a level of smart appliance networking, the world has never seen before.
The KIT was inspired by the way our kitchens are changing. As Kim Colin, cofounder of Industrial Facility explains, the kitchens have been shrinking. While kitchens are designed open to the home, they are 13% smaller than in the 1960s, and urban developments especially are increasingly configured around people cooking or just heating up simple, prepackaged meals from companies like Blue Apron.
Then COVID-19 came along. “Now that people are in lockdown, there’s all this joy of cooking going on,” says Colin. “People are rediscovering sourdough and learning how to grow useful kitchen herbs.” So even in a small space, you might want to have a lot of cooking capability, customized to what you want to do.
In response, Future Facility developed the KIT. All of its appliances, including the refrigerator, sit on the floor and only extend to waist-height. Yes, that means you need to bend down to use them. However, these items are heavy, so they serve as the base of the structure. From there, people can plop stainless steel countertops on top, or connect cantilevered shelves on the sides—giving appliances useful wings.
“We said, let’s think of a module of appliances we could hang a kitchen off of, instead of the other way around,” says Colin.
The entire design is customizable, with a sink, induction burners, dishwasher, oven, and refrigerator and freezer drawers. Up top, you can mount a stainless steel shelf into the wall that also sucks away smoke as an exhaust. It’s hard to understand just how customizable this customization actually is, until you look at KIT’s sample designs. The “compact” design features a bartender’s sink, two burners, and an oven in a footprint that can’t be more than 4 feet wide—while the “extended” design can fit a full-size sink, oven, four burners, fridge/freezer, dishwasher, butcher block counter, and lots of shelving for storing your pots and pans. Because most of the surfaces are stainless steel, just like in commercial kitchens, the entire system is durable and easy to sanitize.
But the advantage of this kitchen isn’t just that you can build your own design from the appliances you want; it’s that KIT has presented a convincing argument of how the entire concept of a smart kitchen should work. The KIT’s framing allows cords to snake underneath countertops, out of sight. Relying on your phone for complex controls, products like the oven could get by with a far more minimal display. Then, because you’d surely buy KIT’s appliances as a package from one vendor, you’d know that you didn’t need to juggle separate apps for every single appliance from every manufacturer.
The Future Facility team also imagines that UPC barcode scanners, like those used in supermarket checkouts, could be inside the fridge and freezer, so that if you’re ever running out of something, you just scan it to add that item to a simple shopping list. This approach is in contrast to fridges that have attempted to use weight and camera sensors to know what’s in your fridge, and order items like milk when you run out. “We thought, god, that’s a bit too much,” says Colin. Instead, the KIT is connected, but it’s not necessarily trying to be smarter than you are to cook you dinner.
So will we ever see the KIT on the market? Perhaps not in this exact form. It’s only a concept, meant to demonstrate how Future Facility sees trends playing out in the market. “Everything is possible to make right now,” says Colin, but the problem is that appliance manufacturers and cabinet/kitchen fabricators are treated as different specialities. “It’s just that the big forces—the company organizations and the structure of business—are not thinking this way yet,” she says. “Maybe it’ll come.”