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A recent study by Electrolux Group found that the typical family of five spends 175 hours in the kitchen each month, but only 31 hours in the living room. That's why many homeowners, builders and renovators are now bringing casual family living into the kitchen, creating "kitchen great rooms."

In a well-designed kitchen great room, the kids can do their homework on a computer that also hosts the family's online calendar, and the fireplace and television can be enjoyed while parents cook.

Speaking of cooking, a kitchen great room allows meal prep to become a true family affair. More than just an eat-in kitchen, the best kitchen great rooms bring together a functional kitchen with a comfortable living space.

The key to designing a kitchen great room that really serves its purpose is organization, and the best of these multipurpose rooms are created with casual but defined "activity zones," including:

- Cooking and food prep.

- Storage and dishwashing.

- Informal dining.

- Studying, crafts and family activities.

- Relaxing and enjoying media entertainment.

Unity is another important element of successful great-room design. Repeating elements such as flooring, light fixtures, cabinetry and trim throughout all the activity zones gives a kitchen great room a cohesive look.

For many homeowners, combining the kitchen with another existing but little-used room is the best way to create a great room. This may involve knocking out a wall or even expanding into the garage. But even if you can't rearrange your walls or enlarge your kitchen's physical space, there are ways to shape your current kitchen into more of a gathering space for family and friends.

"I think every kitchen needs a couch," says Jay Pfaffman, a Knoxville, Tenn., college professor who writes a cooking column. "I can't make my kitchen any larger, but I've turned it into a more comfortable living space by bringing in furniture you are more likely to see in the den."