Small, But Efficient – Creating a Cook’s Kitchen

Our kitchen isn't the biggest - but I've tried to make it comfortable! There's a small table with seating, so the cook (usually myself or my husband!) is never lonely. Photo (C) Nancy E. Hill

We’ve all seen kitchens in homes that look like they belong in a restaurant. For many, these kitchens, with their oversized stoves & refrigerators, butcher block tables, and seemingly never ending supply of counter-space, may seem like a dream come true. But for those of us living with relatively small kitchens (myself included!), disciplined use of space and creative selection of kitchen tools enable us to arrange our spaces comfortable and efficiently.  Here’s an example…

I have a good friend who’s a wonderful cook and a wonderful hostess, but she was frustrated with her small, cramped, dark, and poorly laid out kitchen.  She had to go around an island every time she moved from sink to refrigerator, and then move the island to open the dishwasher! The counter space was minimal, but what was there was crammed with appliances. The cabinets were all low – not convenient for her (being 6 feet tall!) since she had to reach down to get anything. She dreamed of a bigger kitchen!

And then she spent a few weeks at a seaside bungalow. She cooked, baked, and entertained in a kitchen that size of a large closet. The essentials were minimal, but everything she needed was there, and laid out conveniently. The space was light, airy and accessible. So when she returned home, the renovation began! Here are some tips I shared with her to create a more livable and functional space.

  • Define the space – if you want the kitchen to be a cooking center, concentrate on that goal. Don’t make the kitchen a catch-all for bills, mail, homework, or odds-and-ends. Try to allow for some seating – even just a couple of tall stools for guests. A lonely cook is usually not a happy cook!
  • -Use open shelving – traditional top-to-bottom built ins can make a small kitchen feel boxy and claustrophobic. Use closed cabinets underneath the counters, and open shelving, storage bars, hooks, and pot racks on top.  Open kitchen storage is convenient for a cook who likes to make a quick grab for a needed pan or spice. And I love the look of hanging pots, pans, and utensils.
  • Clear counter surfaces – if you have limited counter space, don’t have the microwave, coffeemaker, toaster and breadmaker taking up precious room! Maybe keep them all on a moveable industrial cart, or keep them stored in the cabinets between uses.
  • Think outside the box. Did you know Julia Child had her countertops raised to 38” instead of the standard 36” to adjust for her height? (My friend ended up doing the same thing!) Make sure the kitchen fits your needs!

As my friend discovered, the key to designing a small kitchen is to identify how you use that space and then maximize it for efficiency, convenience and style.   Make your room appear larger by keeping it light, airy and free of clutter.  And remember, it’s not the square footage that will make you happy, but the creative use of your kitchen that will make it a special place for food and family.

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