Some homes have kitchens in which you could park an airliner. Others not so much, with some apartments’ “kitchens” being little more than a sink and some cabinets lined against one wall. Neither is inherently better; it all depends on what is desired. If someone has a large family or frequently hosts dinner parties, bigger is better. But if not, it’s just more for you to clean.
That said, there’s no reason not to make the best use of however much space you have available. To do this, we have to think in terms of ergonomics, your personal style, and, of course, how much you can afford to spend. If the cost of a total remodeling job (or your landlord’s ideas about knocking down walls) prevent this, much can still be done, especially by selecting the correct appliances.
Size Matters, a Bit
Some kitchens look like this:
Others look more like the following:
Can you spot the difference? Both feature clean, modern design, good-quality fittings and superb finishing. Either would be a pleasure to cook in. However, in the second example a person could pretty much reach everything they need while standing in the center. In the first, two people could almost play ping-pong on the island table without disturbing the cook.
Understanding the Use of your Kitchen
Once somebody I knew wanted to open a fast food joint, even though he had no experience in the food service industry – already a mistake. In this same spirit of optimistic enthusiasm, he’d already outfitted perhaps two thirds of his kitchen before asking a professional kitchen designer about the layout.
The reality check that followed was much needed, but maybe also just a little harsh. Within two minutes of arriving, the designer friend was yelling and physically banging his hand on equipment. Someone who had never cooked anything more complicated than scrambled eggs for two might never have spotted all the problems he did, but to him they were as glaringly bad as a gang of polar bears hanging around a preschool.
Related preparation areas were on opposite sides of the room, meaning that a single person would either spend half his time running back and forth or, if more cooks were on that duty, they’d constantly have to scramble to get past one another. Working surfaces were ordinary stainless steel tables with folding legs – not terrible in terms of hygiene and ease of cleaning, but you couldn’t fit much storage underneath. And instead of paying a little extra for more wiring and wall outlets, the entrepreneur had the freezer and all the fridges crowded into one corner, so busy cooks would have to choose between fighting each other for ingredients or forming an orderly queue while customers waited.
I could go on. The point I’m trying to make is that kitchen design isn’t interior decorating, it isn’t daydreaming, and it certainly isn’t about complaining about a problem without trying to find a solution. Fortunately, it isn’t rocket science either.
First Things First: Drawing Up a Floor Plan
How will your new kitchen be used? Do you plan to entertain guests? A counter separating the cooking and living areas is ideal for this, and also makes a good perch for a coffee maker or sangria jar so that guests can help themselves. Are you a bachelor who regards eating as a chore? A spaceship-like, utilitarian layout with microwave, toaster oven, and mini fridge, all at a convenient height and next to each other, sounds more like your style.
In kitchen design, form always follows function. Sometimes something as simple as moving an appliance from one place to another can have a major impact, but you might not even realize this until you look at your needs and take stock of what you have to work with.
These factors vary widely between different situations, but the following points are worth keeping in mind:
- Your fridge, stove, sink, and chopping board should all be as close as possible to one another to minimize the time you spend wandering between them. The location of the garbage can doesn’t matter so much; it’s far easier to keep a portable trash container next to where you work, preferably one that facilitates composting and recycling.
- Counter space is your friend! What seems like enough on paper will not be adequate once you need a spot to park a resting pork loin, your food processor still needs to stay out, dirty dishes are piling up next to the sink …
- Brainstorm how you actually cook. If you make lots of pasta, having the stove and sink near each other is handy. Should you love salads and other cold dishes, you’ll need somewhere to prepare them well away from your oven. If you have kids, it might be best to place the refrigerator where they can reach it without bumping into your knees. Visualize your situation – your mileage may vary.
- It’s always tempting to add one more piece of furniture, but it’s also essential that two people can work in the kitchen at the same time without having to wrestle. Walkways should be at least a meter wide.
You will be spending a great deal of time in this room – women often an hour or more per day (see below). Proper planning will help make this part of your day go as smoothly as possible.
Design with Aesthetics in Mind
Decorating a small room is always harder than doing a large one; open spaces make a fashion statement all their own. To counteract this inherent disadvantage, using light colors is a must. However, even if you choose a very light wood, too many cabinets in a block can easily start to look monolithic. Placing a wine rack or perhaps a digital picture frame in the middle will do wonders.
Adequate lighting is easy to overlook when designing with pen and paper, or even using special software. The burner and work surfaces in particular should be brightly illuminated; this also contributes to ergonomics and safety.
I’m a big fan of LED strip lights, as those miniature recessed lightbulbs are simply a pain in every single way. Most extractor hoods come with built-in illumination, but their lightbulbs are often near-impossible to change.
Apart from the classic maxim “don’t make the room look too busy” – simplicity is always best when decorating – you can simply give your own imagination free rein, perhaps by adapting the ideas of a few other people.
Thinking About Storage
Just as with counter space, you will always end up needing more cupboards, shelving, and drawers than you thought you would. Accomplishing this is usually the most difficult thing about assembling a workable small kitchen, but it is indeed possible with a little ingenuity.
- Building cupboards right up to the ceiling provides space to store all the appliances you don’t use often but can’t stand to lose: pressure cookers, crockpots, and juicers being common examples. Even if you have to use a stepladder once in a while, this still saves a ton of frustration. Just as importantly, this prevents grime from accumulating overhead where you can’t see it.
- The undersides of eye-level cupboards are the perfect place to plant hooks for hanging stuff on. The overhang protects them from dust and, depending on what kind of utensils you buy, this can also form a nice decorating touch.
- Corner cupboards are usually a nightmare, where only the most useless of gadgets are relegated to gather dust. Luckily, a couple of people have had some really good ideas on how to fix this.
Selecting and Positioning Appliances
A $400 fridge just has to be twice as good as a $200 one, right? Seriously, NO. I shudder to think of the waste caused simply by people forgetting about vegetables moldering in the back.
Buying smaller appliances makes kitchen design much, much simpler. Dimension tables can be found online to serve as a guide to how large niches in the cabinetry should be; also be sure to allow some space around the sides and rear for cooling and maintenance purposes. Especially in a smaller kitchen, it makes a lot of sense to go up into the vertical. Some appliances can be stacked, like putting your espresso machine on top of the fridge. Just don’t place anything on an appliance that has vents at the top – those are there for a reason.
Another way to use the often-neglected third dimension is to install shelving and cubbyholes about 50cm above all work surfaces. This can make a kitchen feel more cramped, though, so it’s best to visualize the effect first. If there’s a square foot of wall that’s neither useful nor beautiful, ask yourself why.
Using the Outdoors, Too
Many kitchens have an exterior door opening onto the backyard. Here’s something you might not have thought of – adding on a covered patio (or building a greenhouse in colder climates) is one of the cheapest and most stylish ways of effectively expanding your floor space.
An outdoor kitchen/entertainment area is sure to make your friends keep coming back – food somehow just tastes better in fresh air. It also immediately expands your cooking repertoire. Barbecue and smoked food are possible to make indoors, but the resulting odors aren’t all too popular. Vegetarians needn’t feel left out either – grilled mushrooms and eggplant, as well as smoked beetroot and onion, rarely disappoint.
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Approached correctly, food equals joy. Yet, for some people cooking is no more than a loathsome but necessary task; they will typically do no more than the absolute minimum or simply fill their bodies with junk. Thoughtfully planning out your kitchen and the appliances you put into it, on the other hand, can turn this chore into a fascinating hobby, while also allowing you to eat more healthily.