While the kitchen tends to be the center of activity in most homes, surprisingly few homeowners pay attention to how a kitchen is designed beyond the stylish cabinets and overall layout of the room. The result can be a beautiful kitchen that just doesn’t work. Sure, you may have all your pots, pans and cookie sheets in a cabinet next to the stove, but are they piled on top of one another in cavernous cabinets? Do you have to empty half the pantry closet to find the spaghetti sauce because it’s buried behind 12 cans of soup?
Many homeowners can relate to this kind of scenario, and it’s one that can result in many hours of lost time over the course of a year as one spends so much prep time just looking for the materials needed to create a meal. Perhaps it’s time for a change.
Susan Serra, a certified kitchen designer based in Northport, N.Y., and founder of The Kitchen Designer website (www.thekitchendesigner.org), says homeowners interested in making their kitchens more organized should consider several factors. “You have to take a look at what you have stored,” she explains. “Do you need the items you have? Are your cooking and prepping habits centered around how items are stored? And if your cooking utensils and appliances were in an accessible area, would you enjoy using them more?”
Today’s kitchens are increasingly being divided into dedicated work areas, Serra notes. That makes sense, she says, but one also has to make sure, for example, that a center island used for prepping meals has relevant items that are close at hand and easy to find. “Accessibility and efficiency,” she says, “are what you want to strive for.”
Cabinet Storage Solutions
Homeowners who haven’t worked with a professional kitchen designer and who instead have relied on a builder or architect to plan their kitchens are probably the victims of cavernous cabinets — deep, dark storage spaces that one has to practically crawl into to find pots, pans, dishes, bowls, platters, cups and other items stacked two feet high, or floating around in deep corners one can’t reach.
Corner cabinets tend to be the worst culprits. While they offer loads of space, the space isn’t easy to use. Once upon a time, the solution was a Lazy Susan. Today, however, troublesome base cabinets can be updated with roll-out shelving that enables the cook to see and easily access everything stored in the cabinet.
Julie Bishop, a kitchen designer based in Englewood, Fla., recommends against using cavernous cabinets for storing pots and pans. Instead, she suggests homeowners use a three-drawer base cabinet with deep drawers that pull out for storing bulky pots, pans and lids. Bishop also suggests inserting tray dividers into the base cabinets to provide a place for baking sheets and serving trays, which can take up valuable storage space if laid flat.
Other good storage options for base cabinets include roll-out trash and recycling bins. “I always create a space for recycle bins,” says Bishop, “because if people don’t have them, they won’t [recycle].” She typically designs a base cabinet Lazy Susan that holds four bins for trash, plastic, glass and paper recycling. If recycling is made easy, she believes, homeowners are more likely to engage in it.
While a lack of counter space always presents a problem in a small kitchen, it can plague larger ones as well, as homeowners pile toasters, coffee makers and other small appliances onto their countertops. An appliance garage can help. It’s basically a box that fits between the countertop and wall cabinets, and provides a place to store small appliances and eliminate visual clutter.
That giant, heavy Kitchen-Aid mixer might be another issue. According to Bishop, some homeowners opt for a mixer lift, where the mixer sits on a base cabinet shelf with a swing hinge that lifts the appliance up and out for easy use. She points out, however, that the mixer will then be positioned over the floor, where it can create a bigger mess than if it were sitting on a countertop.
Homeowners also tend to be guilty of cluttering up the counter with decorative spice racks. According to Ginny Scott, vice president of organizational learning and development at California Closets, based in San Rafael, Calif., spice racks not only take up precious workspace but also expose the spices to light, which can cause them to lose their potency over time. As an alternative, she recommends spice drawers, where spices can rest on their sides so the labels are easy to read. “They’ll also stay fresher that way,” she says.
This is also a great option for cans of soup and vegetables — placing them in specially designed drawers where they can lay sideways. “Putting cans on their sides in drawers so you can see everything makes cooking easier,” Scott notes.
The Butler’s Pantry
Homeowners who do a lot of entertaining, buy a lot of bulk food products or see a lot of family activity in the kitchen might consider adding a butler’s pantry to increase organization and storage space and keep clutter and traffic out of work areas. A butler’s pantry can be a cleverly designed hallway or closet, or as large as a separate room off the kitchen.
However, homeowners don’t need a lot of extra space to incorporate a butler’s pantry into an existing kitchen, Scott says. “People want their homes to be simpler,” she points out. “They don’t want to see everything in the kitchen.”
Butler’s pantries are the perfect place for a small fridge for beverage and ice storage to keep guests and kids out of the main kitchen area during meal preparation time. They are also a great place to build in some extra counter space for small appliances that aren’t used on a daily basis, such as bread machines and crock pots.
Some homeowners install floor-level, pull-out wicker baskets in butler’s pantries for storing snacks for their kids, Scott notes. They’re easy for kids to reach, and parents can fill the baskets with snacks they think are appropriate, like apples, bananas and granola bars. Scott says her company’s designers sometimes encourage homeowners to design shallower wall shelves in butler’s pantries so it’s easier for homeowners to locate stored items.
Redesigning a kitchen for better storage is not an inexpensive project, but it can be a timesaving investment. “Don’t assume because you’ve stored something in some place for 10 years that it works for you,” says Serra. “Recognize what is habit and what is preference.”
If one’s budget is tight, implementing a few simple, low-cost changes in the kitchen can ease mealtime preparation. Here are some suggestions:
• Open shelving makes it easier for homeowners to see all their plates, cups and glasses, and know exactly where everything is without opening lots of doors. However, open shelves require a certain amount of neatness on the part of the cook.
• Inexpensive drawer separators and flatware organizers can save a lot of time in table setting and in finding the right spatula or mixing tool when cooking.
• Keep spices, pots and pans close to the meal prep area rather than the cooking area. More homeowners use these items when prepping, not next to the stovetop or oven.
• Corral seasoning envelopes and small boxes of baking ingredients into small plastic bins or holders.
• Place seldom-used items like holiday dishware on higher shelves to keep those items out of the way of everyday mealtime preparation. Keep a stepstool in the kitchen to make accessing items on top shelves easier.
• Purchase inexpensive over-the-door racks for the pantry, which will add to your storage space and make it easier to find pantry items.
• Finally, get control of the junk drawer with small plastic bins for storing similar items.
Just storing items close to the places where they’re used most often can make life easier. Put glasses near the kitchen water source, whether it’s a sink or fridge; store plates near the dishwasher; and make sure there’s plenty of counter space close to the refrigerator for unloading groceries.
In the end, there’s no one right way to organize a kitchen, but there are lots of storage options that can make one’s time spent preparing meals more enjoyable and more efficient. As Serra points out, “It’s really about knowing yourself and your family’s needs.”
Deborah R. Huso is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Old House Journal, Country Home and Remodeling Magazine. She’s based in Blue Grass, Va.