Nizam Ali, co-owner of Ben's Chili Bowl, a Washington landmark, spends his workdays in an industrial-style commercial kitchen. You might think he would want to replicate that form at the home he shares with his wife, Jyotika Vazirani, and their 11-year-old son, but it has a nearly opposite look.
"I wanted our kitchen at home to be a break from work," says Ali. "At home, my wife and I love to cook together, although she usually takes the lead in finding new recipes to try. People might be surprised that while we have a modern kitchen in most ways, the focal point is this elaborately detailed black-and-brass La Cornue-brand French range."
Men - even those who are not professionals - increasingly are spending as much time in the kitchen as women and, in many cases, are the main cooks at home.
According to a 2012 University of Michigan study, GenX men (born between roughly 1961 and 1981) cook an average of about eight meals a week, many more than their fathers did, and nearly as many as women. As a result, men are as likely as women to drive design decisions in new kitchens.
The National Kitchen & Bath Association says some of the design trends associated with men in the kitchen include more contemporary styles, such as flat-front cabinets, bolder colors, contrasting color palettes, and upgraded appliances. Men spend about 30 percent more than women on appliances, according to the association's research.
Designers say that a decade ago, husbands weren't as involved in decisions about kitchen design, and one partner would often make most of the choices. Now, they say, both partners often collaborate on design choices, and each has his or her own priorities.
"Most of the men we work with favor industrial-style ranges, but Nizam was interested in emphasizing the homey feel of their kitchen," says Megan Padilla, senior designer with Aidan Design in Silver Spring, Md. "The range he and his wife chose is like a piece of jewelry, with brass fittings and a custom-designed hood that matches the cabinetry."
Ali says one appealing aspect of the La Cornue range is that it has a "French plate" that provides indirect heat.
Like many couples, Ali and Vazirani enjoy cooking together, so they needed plenty of counter space as well as efficient storage.
"The kitchen isn't that big, so we like it to look clutter-free and have built-in cabinets that go all the way to the counter to hide things like blenders and juicers," says Ali. "We added stainless-steel shelving in one corner for a modern look."
Ali's favorite aspect of the kitchen is the light quartz countertop (called "Sea Pearl") that extends up the walls. Padilla says extending the quartz up the wall adds drama to the space.
"It used to be that the husband would attend early meetings about a kitchen remodel and be tough on the numbers, but otherwise the wife would take charge," says Nadia Subaran, cofounder of Aidan Design. "That's really changed dramatically the last few years, and now in many cases, the husband is the main cook and decision maker."
Subaran says that although it sounds stereotypical to assume men like gadgets, she asserts that in many cases men are pushing for larger and more high-tech appliances and are willing to spend more for them.
"Almost everyone, including both men and women, are influenced by what they see on TV," says Blue Arnold, principal of Kitchens by Request in Jarrettsville, Md. "I have clients who reference specific cooking shows and the kitchens they see on shows like House Hunters.' "
Arnold says a difference he sees between his male and female clients is that men want "experiential cooking like Bobby Flay, with big and bold kitchens and big and bold cooking that blends outdoor and indoor cooking techniques."
Arnold says men like things such as six-inch-thick chopping blocks and a special pizza oven and want to know how many BTUs the broiler has.
"For one couple I worked with, the husband wanted the kitchen to be like a showplace where his wife and their guests can watch him cook when they are entertaining," says Arnold. "He wanted an island with seating for his guests, a butcher-block section and a wire-scraped granite section and a glass-front fridge like he has seen on TV."
Arnold says many of his male clients like to connect their indoor kitchen with French doors to the deck so they can cook indoors and outdoors simultaneously.
"A lot of couples now want two or more sinks because they are cooking together," says Arnold.
Homeowner Ryan Hastings and his husband, Michael McCray, worked with Jennifer Bouchard, a designer with Stuart Kitchens in Bethesda, to remodel the kitchen of their home in North Potomac, Md. Hastings said his priority was to find a way to have an open kitchen yet hide his messy cooking habits.
"The best thing Jennifer found for us was this sink that is absolute magic," says Hastings. "It's a deep stainless-steel sink that has a lip with removable wood and plastic so that I can use it as a cutting board and sweep everything directly into the disposal. The sink has a ledge where I can put things to rinse out and a holder for knives and a touchless faucet so everything is clean and sanitized."