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North Hills Monthly

Creativity in the Kitchen

May 01, 2017 08:24AM ● By Matthew Schlueb

Last month, I wrote an article about the advancements of technology in home design and the possibility that we may be the last generation with architects. If this is not the case, I proposed human creativity might be the only thing to save the profession. Either way, what does this mean for the future of home design? Or the homeowner?

The way I see it, creativity varies from person to person; some are more creative than others. As an architect, I have developed a creativity spectrum to better understand my clients' comfort level and preferences for the home I help them create. In general, I believe people fall into one of four groups.

To illustrate, I use a cooking analogy. In the first group, when preparing a dish for a meal, those with little creativity prefer to follow a recipe exactly. I call this the 'script' group, who want no deviation from a predetermined script. These are individuals who want everything spelled out, so the decision-making process is done for them by a cookbook.

The second group is more creative; they are willing to substitute ingredients for those in the recipe not found in the kitchen. This takes a certain degree of confidence and imagination to try something not prescribed. It has been my experience that the vast majority of the population falls into this second group that I call 'switch,’ who are willing to switch out a few things when need be.

The third group is more adventurous; they prefer taking the path less traveled. After reading over the recipe, they enjoy experimenting, creating a new variation on the dish with all new ingredients and flavors. The original idea is still there—they have simply shifted the outcome to a dish not found in any cookbook – the 'shift' group. 

The last group is the most creative of all, creating a dish by simply using the ingredients on hand in the kitchen. Unlike the other three groups that use the recipe to varying degrees, this fourth group does not have a recipe. Consequently, they are not boxed in by preconceived ideas—they are driven by the thrill of creating something unimagined. This is the 'scratch' group that starts each exploration from a blank slate.

So how does all of this relate to the future of architecture and home design? As do-it-yourself apps continue to increase in sophistication, enabling homeowners to generate a complete set of building plans for their next addition or home makeover, will the creativity of an architect matter? 

As I argued in last month's article, maybe architects become outmoded by an automated workplace. Architects at the lower end of the creativity spectrum will likely find themselves out of work before those at the higher end, since 'script,' 'switch' and 'shift' routines are much easier to automate than 'scratch' methods. In fact, novelty and unexpected discoveries may serve us best in these accelerating times with an uncertain future.

Maybe the kitchen is the best place to taste test such experimentation. Switching out a few ingredients if you tend to follow the recipe has a temporary consequence—only a meal stands to be ruined. On the other hand, if you are pleasantly surprised by the risk-taking venture, it might lead to shifting the recipe altogether next time, maybe even starting from scratch. Next thing you know, a new-found spirit for the unknown will spread from cooking in the kitchen to redecorating the kitchen. And the change in space will influence daily routines, creating a new outlook on life.

The role of an architect is changing and soon homeowners will be empowered by software and smart devices to design their homes without them. Maybe that is the way it should have been from the beginning; people creating their homes for themselves. Because in the end, who knows you better than yourself?

Certainly, there is an expertise to the design and building process that architects have traditionally provided. However, I have always found a certain arrogance in architects designing the way people are to live in their own homes. As an architect, I prefer to approach the process like a concierge, guiding homeowners through the maze of decisions that accompany the transformation of a house.

By studying the way people use their homes or the changes that occur with a growing family, architects acquire objective insights that benefit the average homeowner. And it is here that I believe to be the greatest value of an architect—not in the logistics of code compliance or energy efficiencies in the construction of a house. I welcome the advance of technology taking away those tasks from me, so more focus will be placed on the human condition in the design of space, the habits of habitation, the creation of meaningful place. These are the things that impact the quality of life, and why some houses feel better than others. And they don’t happen by chance. 

As homeowners find themselves fumbling through a newfound role wearing the architectural hat, the architects of tomorrow would do well to become beacons, nudging creativity in homeowners, helping them consider possibilities outside the familiar to create a home that prepares them for a changing world. As all of these new technologies infuse our homes with automation, our lifestyles are changing. Daily routines become easier by apps and devices doing the work for us. However, are we prepared for the changing world, the machine learning that is eliminating work in the workplace? Can our homes help us with that?

My own career as an architect is founded on the principle that our environment shapes us as people. That our built environment can do more than make life comfortable, but challenge us to reach our full potential as people. And our homes, the most influential environment we occupy, could take a cue from the creativity we express in the kitchen when preparing a meal.

So the next time you consider making a change to your home, approach it with the same imagination and experimentation as trying a new dish. Play around with a few new ingredients, maybe a circular window or two thrown in for good measure.

Matthew Schlueb is a registered architect and owner of SCHLUEBarchitecture. For questions or comments, contact Matthew at This article is part of an ongoing series addressing architectural issues for homeowners.