Multi-tasking: It’s not just for people you know…

It seems that we are all expected to multi-task these days. Somehow we are expected to be able to be everything: run a household and keep down a job, make the dinner and supervise the homework, carry on a phone conversation whilst typing an email at the same time. It never seems to end. We all need more hours in each day and given that that’s not going to happen, we need to be more efficient with our time. Well it seems the same is expected of our homes. Efficiency has taken on new levels there too. We used to have kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms all separated by walls. When I was growing up we even had a “hatch” from the kitchen to the dining room. We would place the food in the hatch only to shout at someone on the otherside to pick it up. (there was a famous incident when my small niece saw my mother thru the hatch and asked “why is granny in the cupboard?”)

5 church lane kitchen 4

Now the walls have come down. Gone is the Downtown Abby style kitchen in another part of the house. Gone is the small galley off the hall or in the return. We now a have a series of multi-tasking spaces combining Kitchen / Living / Dining rooms. I say spaces but this is usually just one room, be it rectangular, L-shaped or whatever, with zones fulfilling different tasks. Often these also have to function as study/ work zones as well.


Kitchen work area

The amount of space given over to each activity depends entirely on you and your family. Just how much cooking will be done, how many mouths to feed, if a relaxing /sofa/ tv area is required? The balance of the spaces is up to you. With the increased popularity of Masterchef and the Great British Bake-off it seems to me that cooking and food have become more popular as a leisure activity and not just as a means to feed the masses. I for one, want to be part of the house: seeing and talking to our friends and family as we prepare meals. We want to be part of what’s going on.

Ask yourself questions and build yourself a brief.

  • Do you require a large cooking and preparation area?
  • Do you require a large dining area or a small one that can expand when the occasion requires it?
  • Do you have romantic memories of growing up with your bum against an aga and want the same for your children? If so remember you may have to double up on appliances to have alternate ones during the summer months. In that case a far greater amount of space is required (so something else may have to be sacrificed instead.)
  • Make a list of all the types of storage you require. My list is pretty exhaustive. Apart from the obvious utilitarian plates, bowls, cups/mugs, glasses, cutlery, there is the (slightly) fancier versions of all of these. There is also the range of cooking paraphernalia from saucepans to griddle pans to baking trays to big cook-pots. Then there are the mixers, blenders, cake tins, ramekins, empty jars, jugs, vases, espresso cups, platters, (small/large/extra large) etc etc. Cookbooks have to be accommodated as do tablecloths, runners, napkins.
  • Ask yourself the question re clutter…what kind of person are you? Do you need doors behind which everything is hidden or are you happy with open shelving or a mix of both?
  • If you wish to have a seating area, is it to accommodate a TV and sofa area or maybe just a small area that you can relax with a coffee and the newspaper?
  • Is a home office or study area required or will the dining table be multi-tasking for this purpose?

So once you have the brief and decided the priority that each zone needs to have, all that needs to be done is to define the different zones.

Kitchen Island:
An island unit is something that can be both practical and a statement piece if you wish it to be. It can help define the kitchen zone from the dining area. When designing kitchen layouts I aim, where possible, to provide a triangle of the primary working areas of cooker, sink, fridge. An Island, space permitting, can help with the creation of this and provide a visual centre piece. The island can, if you wish, conceal the working area of the kitchen behind it.

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Kitchen island defines workspace from dining and living area

Floor finishes:
It is my firm belief (there is no bending on this one) that if you have a multi-tasking space that the floor finish be it timber, tiles whatever, must be the same throughout. The use of each zone usually clearly defines the spaces without the need for floor finish changes. It also builds in flexibility if you wish to alter the layout later. Anything else will disrupt the ambiance of the whole. Placing a rug onto the floor in the living area will define this area perfectly, softening the feeling as well as offering some sound absorption.

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L-shaped sofa in living area and rug help define space

Lighting can really help to define the different zones also. As a multi-tasking room this must be carefully considered rather than as an accessory to be added at the last moment. There must good general lighting. Enough to get into the space safely and use it. Then there must be task lighting to light specific functions within each zone. Finally there must be atmospheric or mood lighting. This can be used to add interest or drama. Using 5 amp plugs and sockets which are switched at the wall switches can make this easy to achieve, as you can then turn on several lamps at the same time and create an instant mood rather than going around the room switching on lamps all over the place when you wish to change the atmosphere. (these look like an old fashioned 3 pin round plug and sockets but are pure magic!)

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Think carefully about the lighting over the dining area: pendants, directional lights and natural light can all add different interest.


The bigger the dining table the better in my opinion. No matter how small your family its lovely to feel that you can feed more mouths at the drop of a hat. One of my favourite tables has got to be this Saarinen Oval table made from Arabescato marble available from the Conran Shop. However if space does not allow this then an extendable table is the best option. If your dining area also has to be a home office then the Dayton table from M&S has a central section that lifts up to reveal a desk and drawers. (What’s more it’s half price at the moment!)

Saarinen Oval table

So, there you have it…
We have multi-tasking people. We have multi-tasking spaces. And now we have multi-functioning furniture as well. It’s a home to be lived in. Enjoy!

Shopping List

Arnotts Department Store, Henry Street, Dublin 1: for Saarinen Marble top dining table
Marks and Spencer, 20 stores across Ireland (not all do furniture so check your local store to be sure): for the Dayton table
On the web…  for Saarinen Marble top dining table for the Dayton table contact us for advice on re-modelling your home.

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