Tomorrow’s Kitchen: Heart of the Home, Nexus of Forces

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In a couple of weeks I’m giving a lecture at Bucks New University on the future of the kitchen. It came about from some comments I provided to The Guardian about future kitchens (you can find the article — which turns out to have been sponsored by Sainsbury’s Bank — here).

These comments were somewhat off the cuff, but if you’ve ever come across my Pinterest profile, you’ll know that I’m fairly familiar with kitchens. I’m a big foodie, and an utter glutton. I also spent a couple of very happy (if hard working) summers in the food industry, prepping and cleaning, and then running a hotel kitchen. So being asked to look at the future kitchen is far from a chore — especially when the person asking is Johnny Grey, superstar kitchen designer and nephew of foodie favourite, Elizabeth David. But now that I’ve dig into the issue a little, I’ve found the kitchen to be a fascinating microcosm and potentially a space to explore some really big issues.

When I analyse the future of any given market, I use our Intersections process, which looks for connections between five macro-trends that are primarily driven by technology, and pressure points in any given market. There are clearly pressures in the housing market at the moment, and I find the shift towards renting particularly interesting.

Around the turn of the century the long term trend towards house ownership reversed and went into decline. The split of rental properties across the UK has moved from 69/31 owned/rented to 64/36. That may not seem dramatic but its effect is amplified by the shift in ownership of these properties. At the turn of the century public sector (council and housing association) properties accounted for 21% of the market and private rentals just 10%. Now they account for roughly 18% of the market each (all figures from the ONS).

Private tenancies last on average 20 months, whereas council house tenancies can last much, much longer — sometimes a whole lifetime.

I believe different tenants are quite likely to want different things from a property, particularly if you follow the thinking of our ‘Diversity’ macro trend. This suggests that with access to a greater range of media and influences, people are increasingly defining their own individual style and behaviour rather than to conforming to a limited set of archetypes that have been historically available. For example, in youth culture, mods and rockers, or indie kids and ravers.

The kitchen and the bathroom are the two areas of the house that absorb the greatest capital investment in their refurbishment. How do you make that investment in such a way that will hold its appeal to multiple tenants over what might be a ten year — or longer — life span?

This is a very consumer-level translation of one of our other primary macro trends: agility. If the world changes faster than ever, and is increasingly diverse, then people, organisations, and in this case, things and places, need to change fast too.

Perhaps the kitchen needs to be a place that can be reskinned and reconfigured for different people’s needs over its lifespan? Especially in rental properties, which in London account for almost half of the housing stock.

This draws in a third macro trend: Ubiquity. If technology can deliver an advantage then someone will deploy it, because the barriers to doing so are falling all the time, just as the competitive drivers rise. Digitally re-skinnable units? Super-hard new-material surfaces? There are many options.

These are just a few examples of the thinking that goes into a talk like this — I could go on and on.

As I say, the kitchen is a fascinating microcosm in which to explore many of the macro forces transforming our world.

This post forms part of my Future of Cities series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Cities page.

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Tom Cheesewright