A vital part of every home, the kitchen is often underused. For many, it is merely a place to collect prepackaged foods in the refrigerator and to microwave leftover takeout. But even if you classify yourself as one who burns boiled eggs, you can take steps to make the kitchen your friend, not your foe.
Think about what’s really needed to make your kitchen work, starting with some basic everyday tools. Susan Serra, president of kitchen furniture line Bornholm Kitchen, regularly notices that people are missing the bare necessities in their home kitchens.
She has a list of items that should be in your kitchen tool drawer. “Measuring cups, specialty utensils, basic spatulas, measuring spoons, classic wooden spoons, meat thermometers and a variety of whisks are a good start to a basic collection of utensils,” she said. “Don’t forget the tongs.”
Paul DiMeo, carpenter and designer on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” has a few more essentials to add to the list. “Get some good cast-iron pots and pans. They can last generations,” he said. “You need a good set of knives, and then you should learn how to use them properly. Then you won’t have to buy crazy gadgets to deseed each fruit in your kitchen.”
Think About Efficiency
You have the tools, now you need a space that makes sense. Consider where to place appliances and utensils within your kitchen. A refrigerator next to the oven will put unnecessary strain on its efforts to keep contents cool. Placing the trash can far away from the sink also creates extra work.
“The sink and the trash should be near your preparation area, so you can clean up after yourself as you go along,” DiMeo said. “The fridge should be nearby, but it doesn’t have to be the closest thing to the rest of the kitchen activity. Things rarely go straight from the fridge to the oven. It’s normally fridge to counter to stove, so plan accordingly.”
Dressing for Size
Not all kitchens are created equal, but making the most of whatever space you have will increase productivity in even the smallest of work areas. “[People often place] oversized appliances in medium or small kitchens, cutting down on important storage space,” Serra said. “Counter space is at a premium. Galley kitchens are common in small kitchens and are preferred to an L-shaped kitchen, as the corner of the ‘L’ is not usable for preparation.”
“Think about the uses for the different things that you have,” DiMeo added. “Do you really need to have a microwave, an oven and a toaster? It seems a little redundant to buy new appliances that do the job of something you already own.”
If you’re fortunate enough to have a larger kitchen, islands are aesthetically pleasing and practical. Plus, DiMeo said, “You can hang your pots and pans above the island so that they don’t take up cupboard space. Also, if you pick herbs from your garden, you can dry them up there, rather than on the countertop. It decorates the kitchen and makes it more of a home.”
Also, if you entertain often, an oven large enough to accommodate a 25-lb. turkey is a useful size reference. If you have the space, adding a second oven allows for something to slow cook while other food items requiring less time can be prepared.
Durability and Cleanliness
Whether you’re thinking of a major remodel or just replacing one area, kitchens are expensive and long-term investments. It’s vital to choose fixtures and fittings wisely. “No tiled countertops,” DiMeo said. “The grout gets dirty, and before you know it, there’s mold growing. Granite and marble disinfect easily, are durable and are more hygienic.”
DiMeo also advises against wooden countertops. “So many people use them as cutting boards, which is a big mistake. Those cuts on the countertop will quickly harbor bacteria. Wood also doesn’t mix well with water and a lot of cleaning supplies, such as bleach.”
With your cabinets, it’s worth avoiding elaborate moldings on the exterior, as those will attract and trap grease. For shelves, use melamine.
Make It Welcoming
When planning a kitchen, make use of as much natural light as possible. If you can, position the sink under the window, allowing you to enjoy a view of the outdoors while you work. Plants on the window above the sink also add a lively touch.
And no matter how streamlined your kitchen is, it will never feel like home without small personal touches. If a child in your family has painted a picture, attach it to the refrigerator door. Hang a favorite photo or painting on a wall safe from food splatter or excess heat. Make your favorite cookbooks easily accessible. Those kinds of touches personalize any environment.