Living with a Small Kitchen

Making a small kitchen work
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When we began looking for a rural homestead, I knew that in order to afford land in our area, the house would necessarily be modest. I was completely okay with that...but I admit that a bigger kitchen was at the very top of my "must have" list. I felt my suburban kitchen didn't have enough storage or counter space. I was always struggling with having enough room to can and make three meals a day. What I wanted was a house with an old-fashioned "farmer's kitchen." You know what I mean: Tons of countertops, a walk-in pantry, and enough room to store pots, pans, bowls, and all the basic tools cooks really need.

Did I end up with any of that? In fact, when, as prospective buyers, we walked into our current home, we immediately entered into the kitchen...and I went into a sort of shock. Not only was the kitchen smaller than my suburban kitchen, it was smaller than the kitchen I had when I was 18 years old and living in a New York City apartment! There was one short counter, two small cupboards without doors, a sink, a stove, and an oddly-placed dishwasher. (But at least there was a dishwasher, right?) I was so shocked by that kitchen, later I couldn't even remember if there was a refrigerator in it - or whether there was room for one!

Nevertheless, my husband convinced me we could make it work. We bought the house and property and, somehow, I do manage pretty well.

Do I still wish for more counter space? Yes. There have been a few times the food I was preparing ended up on the floor because I was trying to crowd things onto about 2 feet of workable counter space. Do I wish for more storage space? Absolutely! But I have plans, people. And then...I'm actually imagining we might not need to add on to the house to make the kitchen usable. (Shhhh! Don't tell my husband just yet! I could change my mind.)

If you're stuck with a tiny kitchen like I am, here are some pointers to help make it work:

* Try to think positively. This kitchen is what you have right now. If you're clever, you can make it work better than you think. Consider it a challenge. And remember: Small kitchens means less to clean!

* Be creative. Find ways to store items that are less than traditional; turn a dresser into a sideboard, use plastic drawers (like this) for utensils and towels, hang things on the wall or from the ceiling...

* Conversely, think traditional. Previous to the 19th century, kitchens were tiny and had very little storage. What did women of yore do to make those kitchens workable that you could incorporate into your modern kitchen? Maybe you could use a hanging basket system (like this) for onions and garlic, and a pot rack for pots, for instance.

* Clear off the counters. My big kitchen problem in suburbia was mostly that I had too many things on the countertops. This left very little space for me to chop, roll out, and otherwise do the work of cooking. Now I recommend putting small appliances on shelves or in closets or cupboards, taking them out only as needed. Follow this rule: Never put something on the counter that could easily go elsewhere. For instance, if your paper towel holder is on the countertop, hang it on the wall instead.

* Think like Julia Child. Have you seen photos of her kitchen? (Click here for a good one.) She had pegboard on several walls, and her pans and utensils all hung from it. Yes, I agree it might be a pain to keep things clean, but it sure would make finding your tools easy...and it definitely takes up less cupboard space.
* Space above your kitchen cabinets? Use it wisely! Put baskets (preferably with lids) or canisters up there and use them for storing things you don't often use.

* Consider storage in non-kitchen areas. For example, store your home canned food in a spare bedroom closet, under a bed, or maybe in the garage (as long as it's not so moist the lids rust). Then you can "go shopping" periodically for a few jars to pop into the kitchen pantry. Or, store small appliances you don't often use in a closet. For instance, my stand mixer is in a closet in the living room.

* Consider getting rid of stuff. How many of your kitchen gadgets do you actually use? Could one gadget do the job of two (or more)? Do you ever really use your fancy china? (If your answer is once or twice a year, store it in a place other than the kitchen.)

* If your cabinets have doors (!) use the doors for storage. For instance, you could use chalkboard paint on the inside of one door, for keeping a running grocery list, or install command hooks on the inside of cupboard doors for storing measuring cups or pot holders.

* Use the sink as a workspace. All you need is a large cutting board. Center it over the sink and voila! You have a little more counter space.

Some specific plans for my tiny kitchen:

* Right now I have an automotive crash cart with a makeshift wood top as an island. Classy, right? But it does help some. My plan is to replace it with a larger, moveable island (like this one) with storage beneath and a countertop above. I will probably do it on the cheap, turning an old dresser into a kitchen island.

* Recently I bought a hutch at a thrift store, and it's solving a lot of my storage problems. It sits in the dining/living room area, and I've put pots and pans, bakeware, and bowls in the bottom, hidden storage part. Plates and bowls are in the top, glassed part. It's missing shelves, but once my hubby builds some new ones for it, I'll even have room for some pretty china in there. (Because a pretty house is uplifting, that's why!)

* I want to get rid of the doorless cabinets that are too high for me and replace them with something bigger and more practical. They will definitely have doors on them, so the contents of the cabinets don't get dusty and greasy. (Open shelving is definitely not practical in a kitchen!)

* One of these days, we'll get the pot rack (similar to this) hung, so most of my pots and pans don't take up space in the hutch. This will give me even more storage space.

* Let's face it: Having a separate canning kitchen (see it here) makes my life easier, too. (Although I did make canning work last summer when I was using the house kitchen and an outside burner.)

* And then there are things I want to do to make the kitchen prettier. The original owners just put primer on the walls - no paint - and it's badly stained. So just getting paint up there will help tremendously. I also want to put a curtain under the sink, to hide the mess down there. I avoided this at first because I was afraid of the open flames on our gas stove, but I've decided I can push the curtain away from the stove while cooking. Finally, I'd love to replace the burnt orange Formica countertop with something more attractive. That could be more Formica (I like that durable stuff!) or it could be wood.

How do you manage in your small kitchen?

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