Many cultures consider the kitchen the heart of the home. Keep your home’s heart running smoothly by trimming some fat.
Flip through any home magazine (including this one), and you’ll find a healthy selection of sleek, spacious and orderly kitchens, their calm beauty practically irresistible. As alluring as these designer kitchens might be, however, remodeling to get one is not as pleasant a prospect. Any remodeling survivor will attest to the enormous mental and physical stress, expense and time investment that accompany a project. And even if you use the greenest materials, there’s still a good amount of environmental fallout associated with a kitchen remodel.
Is it possible to get a bigger kitchen without remodeling? Absolutely. By using the space you have more wisely, you can create the serene and spacious kitchen of your dreams.
Step 1: Remove
If anything stands in the way of a well-functioning kitchen, it’s clutter. Maneuvering around counters and cupboards overrun with outdated rice mixes, half-used bags of pasta, broken blenders and unwieldy stacks of lids is just no fun.
The simple solution. Remove the excess and don’t be bashful about it! As a general rule, recycle anything you haven’t used in the past year. If you have trouble parting with an item, box it and store in the garage for a while to ease the transition. (If you still haven’t used it one year later, recycle or donate it.) Call a professional organizer or a good friend if you need more help letting go of stuff.
Step 2: Rearrange
Once your kitchen is decluttered, take stock of how well the remaining items are arranged. Is the placement of each item logical and does it work with your cooking and serving flow? Three specific strategies accomplish these ends:
Group like with like. It takes 20 to 30 foods and cooking tools to prepare even a simple meal, such as stir-fry with rice or pasta with salad. If those items and ingredients are scattered helter-skelter around the kitchen, cooking won’t feel serene. Rearrange foods and cooking tools into logical groupings, bearing in mind that each cook’s definition of “logical” will vary. Place all your cooking oils and vinegars in one place, dried herbs and spices in another, pastas and grains in another, baking ingredients in another and so on. For additional guidance, check out how foods are grouped in the grocery store and how cooking equipment is arranged in a kitchen store.
Ease your cooking flow. After everything is organized, rearrange the item groupings to match your cooking flow. To understand your flow, “walk” through a typical meal, from chopping and sautéing an onion to browning tofu and assembling a green salad. As you walk through each step, note where you are and whether that location makes sense.
For example, many recipes begin by sautéing an onion. To do so, must you walk to the pantry to find an onion, over to a knife drawer by the sink, over to a built-in cutting board by the stove, over to the compost pail with the onion scraps, and finally back to the cutting board to finish chopping? That’s not “flowing”—that’s zigzagging! Storing the onions close to the sink and installing a chopping station with a second cutting board nearby would make things simpler.
Make a plan. Rearranging your kitchen to create optimal placements for each food and tool grouping is a lot like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. Consider several options for each grouping and then create a “conceptual design plan” that identifies where each will go.
Grab a chair, sit down in the middle of the kitchen and think through each step: If sautéing onions would be easier if your cooking pans were stored under the stove, where would you put the baking dishes and pizza pans that live there now? If those items would be more logically housed by the detached oven, where could you move the canned goods that are now by the oven?
Sketch out your ideas for rearranging, starting with the part of the kitchen that is most aggravating. Does that huge juicer always get in the way, or would you use your food proc-essor more often if it weren’t buried in a hard-to-reach spot? Do you need space for a large sauté pan?
As you work through all the variations, keep in mind that a perfect arrangement is unlikely. But with a little time and patience, a highly satisfactory arrangement is quite likely. If you get stuck, professional organizers skilled in creating workable organizational schemes are available.
Step 3: Re-create
Still need more usable space? There are plenty of ways to create it. Scour your kitchen for unused or underused spaces: A bit of wall, the inside or back of a cupboard door, the side of a microwave or a linen closet in the hallway all offer opportunities to add more space and functionality with organizational add-ons.
Walls and ceilings can vastly increase storage capacity with plenty of style. Hang serving plates on walls, a colorful colander by the sink, or pans from a rack on the ceiling.
Wall files keep meal plans, recipe notebooks, coupon holders and shopping lists off the counters and keep them from getting lost.
Undercabinet storage is perfect for vitamins or mugs.
Baskets and racks that attach to the inside of cupboard and pantry doors make room for pot lids, storage-container lids and canned goods.
Extra shelves can be added to pantries and cupboards with adjustable hardware.
Do you really need it?
Never-used sandwich grillers, snow cone makers and olive pitters waste space in cupboards in every nook and cranny in America. Do you really need this stuff? You can resist the pressure to keep accumulating by keeping a few rules in mind.
Ask the obvious questions. Will you really use Gadget X? Be specific. If it’s a miniature slow cooker you’re contemplating, what two or three dishes would make good use of it, how often would you make them and is there something already in your tool inventory that could be adapted for those recipe ideas?
Be a devil’s advocate. Considering a food chopper? Probe deep. Will it really save time? Or will its time savings be frittered away by the extra setup and cleaning it requires? Will it do a better job cutting vegetables than a chef’s knife? Is it easy to use or will you have to fumble with several parts and attachments?
Is there space? Does your kitchen have room for one more thing? How many other purchases are sitting in a spare bedroom or hall closet for just this reason?
Essentials, not gadgets
Appliance: Electric Stand Mixer
Upsides: Great for the serious baker
Downsides: Expensive and resource-heavy; consumes a lot of counter space; heavy to lift in and out of storage
Alternatives: Small electric hand mixer or immersion blender with whisk attachment that can be stored in a drawer
Appliance: Pressure Cooker
Upsides: Saves energy because food cooks quickly, yet still has that simmered-all-day flavor
Downsides: Can make foods mushy; takes time to understand operation and use
Alternatives: Soup pot and steamer (Or cut down on one more gadget by using a steamer basket inside a pot you already own instead of plugging in an electric steamer.)
Appliance: Countertop Electric Grill
Upsides: Great for flash-cooking meats and making large batches of Sunday pancakes
Downsides: Can’t be used for saucy or soupy dishes; storage problematic if counter space is tight; most coated with Teflon or other unhealthy chemicals
Alternatives: Heavy-bottomed sauté pan or broiler pan (both equipment essentials)
Appliance: Over-The-Sink Colander
Upsides: Provides additional space for washing and prepping vegetables
Downsides: Requires separate storage space when it's time to do the dishes
Alternatives: Regular, round, multipurpose colander
Appliance: Garlic Press
Upsides: Makes mincing garlic easy
Downsides: Difficult to remove skins from press after each clove is minced; finding, using and washing can be time-consuming
Alternatives: Chef's knife (use broad side to bash and peel)