How to create a kitchen sitting area or hearth room

“Hearth rooms” have become a popular space on floor plans for new homes.  As a result, we are seeing more clients request them for their kitchen addition or remodeling projects. When designing this adjacent sitting area for a kitchen, J.S. Brown & Co. is usually dealing with multiple requirements from the homeowners.  Typical requests for this area include seating for 2 to 4 people in comfortable upholstered chairs or a loveseat, a gas fireplace, space for a television, and a visual connection to the kitchen.

Our first concern is placing the sitting area close enough so that conversation with the cook in the kitchen is comfortable, but not a hindrance to the work or traffic patterns in and around the kitchen.  The NKBA planning guidelines recommend at least 44” of clearance between a table or eating bar and any obstacle.  This allows someone to be sitting in a chair or stool, and another person enough space to walk behind it. If possible, we like to position the sitting area on an outside wall.  It is then easier to vent the gas fireplace, and the option for outdoor views with French doors or windows is available.  However, with the increased availability of non-vented electric fireplaces, this is certainly not a necessity.

After allotting enough space for traffic and the furniture, we look to the layout.  Often clients ask us to hang the television over the fireplace, but this can be tricky.  Most A/V experts recommend a centerline 3’-4’ above the floor for seated viewing, but that spacing does not allow room for non-combustibles around the firebox. It is possible to damage the television with excessive heat so we are careful not to place it too low.  On the other hand, mounting the television above a mantle shelf makes it high enough for the cook to see it from the kitchen over everyone’s heads. Just be aware that if the fireplace is too close to the seating area, then the television may be too high to watch comfortably from the chairs.  Designing custom cabinets for either side of the fireplace as entertainment centers can solve that problem, if there is space for them.

This trend is an extension of the idea that the kitchen is a gathering space, a hearth room, the literal and figurative center of family life.  If your kitchen is a warm inviting place, you and your guests are going to want to hang out in it.  Whether you are entertaining or checking out social media on your tablet, you will be happier in a warm, casual, and comfortable room.  With a little extra space and proper planning, we can create a mini “family room” right in the kitchen.  Kids can hang out while parents make dinner, or guests can watch the game while the hosts finish the half-time snacks.  It satisfies our human need to connect while doing daily tasks and adds much more to the quality of life of the homeowners than it costs in money or square footage.