Friday, March 09, 2007

Cooking With Gas In The Kitchen

Could you take this picture in your kitchen?

I don't mean are you baking your own bread, that's unlikely now. But is there any place with a hint of the picturesque in your kitchen?

You cannot worship the god of hard surfaces and become the priest and priestess of the picturesque. The kitchen has become the altar of sacrificed comfort. Reject it. It needs to return to being a pleasant room with a kitchen in it, not a hole in your house into which to ram appliances and particleboard boxes. Formaldehyde! It's what's for dinner!

I will say before we begin that even poor people are generally well housed in the United States, and the reliability of utilities into every home like water, sewer, electricity, and so forth would be a source of envy for great portions of the world. We are not complaining here. We have been given the luxury worrying about small things instead of where our next meal is coming from; so we can turn our attention to... well, where our next meal is coming from.

Let's make a list of generalities.
  1. The room has to be pretty big. We're going to eat in there.
  2. No low ceilings. No vaulted ceilings.
  3. If you yanked out all appliances, fixtures, and cabinetry, would the kitchen be a pleasant room? If not, start over.
  4. Forget row after row of cabinets. Add a walk-in pantry next to the kitchen and get rid of the majority of your wall cabinets. Add windows. The pantry can have all open shelves. Put a door on the room to hide clutter. Putting casework into niches in the walls, so the face of it is flush with those walls is dynamite. Look at the china closet in the second picture.
  5. You need light coming in from at least two adjacent sides.
  6. Make the sink and drainboards huge. Doesn't matter what they're made from Just plain huge.
  7. Gang at least two windows over this huge sink, with a broad sill. Three's better.
  8. Never cook with electricity. Fire, baby.
  9. Maximize the horizontal space at waist level with nothing on it.
  10. Put dishes and glasses on open shelves, or shelves with glass doors. They naturally stack and display well. Keep things you use all the time close at hand. Don't hide them in the endless cabinets.
  11. Never ever show the side of a refrigerator. Any cabinet over a frig should be flush with the face of frig, and extend right down to the floor. Refrigerators used to be sleek and rounded and looked good standing alone in the landscape. They're not any more.
  12. Almost all kitchen cabinets are bland and ugly. Frameless cabinets particularly so.
  13. Lower cabinets with doors are almost all useless. Use drawers below waist level wherever possible. Drawers behind doors are four car collision designs. Just have drawers.
  14. All corner cabinets are useless. For all the money and trouble you go through to get your stuff diving off a lazy susan in there, or worse still, the floppy door with all the hinges that bangs around and pinches your fingers, they're not worth doing. Have the corners boxed in and forget them. Use the money you saved to help build the pantry.
  15. Never put the microwave above the stove or in the upper cabinets. Pulling occasionally superheated stuff out at eye level is madness. And you always want to defrost things while you are cooking something else. Don't work over a hot stove. Put it in a lower cabinet and then your kids can make their own popcorn.
  16. A cooktop with a separate wall oven is great. It was standard issue in tract houses in the fifties. Now it's seeing a resurgence. Great. Gets the oven up where you can see it, too. But never NEVER put a cooktop in an island counter that humans have anything to do with the other side of, especially if people sit and eat there. Are you insane?
  17. A real table that can be moved around and has fold up leaves that people can eat at in a kitchen is five hundred times more convivial than a counter. Make sure there's room for the chairs to be pulled away from the table on all sides.
  18. A door to the outside if there's any way it can be done. A real door. No sliders.
  19. Frameless cabinets look industrial. If you must go industrial, do it with some exuberance and get yourself a quilted chrome/formica/enameled steel/neon/Cadillac finned 1950s thing going on. Or an elegant 1930s Bauhaus modern if you can't stand hominess. But eschew the brutalist concrete/honed stone/nuclear power plant plumbing/ expiatory chair look please.
  20. Overlay cabinet doors are...are... Never mind. Face frames with inset doors, period. Nothing that looks like it was yanked out of a box and screwed to the wall. Make sure all upper cabinetry has some sort of cap or head on it. The particleboard stuff wrapped in woodgrain wall paper with bland overlay hardwood doors always looks bad. Your cabinetry should look like casework or furniture. And it should look good, or ideally better, after you use it and wear it out a little. You're going to live in there, you know. If it relies on the look of pristine sterility, that makes you a bacillus in the body kitchen.
The day couples put a television in the bedroom, it signifies a fundamental change in outlook. Placing one in the kitchen is the same. I'm not saying it's bad. It just represents the failure of the cook, the food, or the company to hold your interest. Just sayin'. But you need music. Plan for it early.

Well there you go. Go to the kitchen designer with this list. Bring defibrillator paddles. You're going to need them.


Pastor_Jeff said...

See? What'd I say Monday?


Pastor_Jeff said...

I redid the kitchen for my wife in our old house. I'm still living off the "good husband" points from that one.

It did have vaulted ceilings, but they were better than low ceilings because our young boys could jump to me off the top of the fridge that way.

Unfortunately the home we're in now is great except for a too-small kitchen. There doesn't seem to be an easy solution to this one, either. Do you travel for consultations?

SippicanCottage said...

Hey, good husband points. I earned two or three of those once. I think. They're like S&H Greenstamps at this point- interesting a little, but not redeemable for anything.

I don't travel much any more, but my ill-considered, hastily written opinions are available for free on teh intartubes.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Suddenly I'm not feeling so bad about my little kitchen in "Cozy House." Lots of windows and a door going out and an eat-in table with a couple leaves and a microwave at hip-height across the room from the not-accessible-to-anyone-but-the-cook stove.

Oh and boy did I have a bad case of house fever this week.

Patsy said...

I'm copying your list for my next kitchen--the one I have now is not bad, the cabinets look like real furniture and the frig is boxed in, but I have those lower cabinets I hate and can't keep organized and not enough windows, etc.
And I do still bake bread, (I was born in the wrong century) so I deserve the kitchen in your picture. I was farmed out to my Grandma a lot when I was growing up, and that's what her kitchen looked like.

Anonymous said...

Impressions from a former kitchen designer who has been out of the business for at least a decade and has not kept up with the latest trends:

Agree with all BUT-

Where I diverge with your opinion is the positioning of the microwave.

As a tall person, pulling something out of a microwave under a countertop is too awkward for me. (And no, it doesn't compare to pulling something out of an oven which is wider with a bottom-hinged door.)

Nice point about smaller children being able to use it for making popcorn, but put it back on the counter or with the wall oven if having it over the cooktop is a safety issue for your family.

Our microwave is used for popcorn, defrosting, and cooking these new line of vegetables with the name "simply steam" on the box. I don't cook much of anything else in the microwave. (For our purposes,it really needn't be more than the size of a toaster.)

I am thrilled to have the microwave out of the way above the cooktop. Pulling things out of a microwave over a gas cooktop is not an issue for me but I understand that it could be for some.

One thing you didn't mention is the dishwasher. I wouldn't want to live without mine.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Deb-
The dishwasher is a given. People given to OCD and ironing paper grocery bags before re-using them have very definitive ideas about which side of the sink it goes on, but we don't listen. Find 24 inches on either side of the sink and ram it in there.

People with defective personalities, like serial killers and state senators, sometimes counsel that the dishwasher should be placed away from the sink, near the eating area, because "that's where the dishes are." I bet these people have a washer and dryer for bedside tables too, because "that's where the laundry is."

As far as the other thing, we all must rearrange our idiosyncrasies as we see fit. It's not going over the stove or on my precious, precious open counters if I can avoid it. But all humans are not identical.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Anonymous said...

I bet these people have a washer and dryer for bedside tables too, because "that's where the laundry is."

I once had elderly clients who were forced to have their kitchen remodeled because of smoke damage from a fire.

I thought it was the perfect opportunity to move their refrigerator from the dining room back in to the kitchen. They were aghast and hurt that I even suggested such a thing. How would they get the milk from the kitchen all the way to the dining room? I shut up and let them tell me how they wanted things.

Sam L. said...

RE: #11. My fridge is boxed in--so when it has to be replaced I can't put in a larger one. Still, it only has to hold enough for two, now. There is a gap at the top, between the fridge and the cabinet, which seems to be enough to vent the heat from the compressor. I wouldn't want it framed in tightly.

Patrick Martin said...

Yes, I have to oppose the framed-in refrigerator. Without an exposed side, my family would have much less space to stick up the children's artwork, report cards, news clippings, vacation photos, etc., etc. It would be a neater kitchen, but a lesser one.

SippicanCottage said...

I went to the Children's Museum, and all the art was hung on refrigerators with magnets.

Joan said...

The problem with the wall ovens I have experienced is that they throw a lot of heat back into the kitchen. Ranges with ovens should be accompanied by a hood with a vent fan so you can turn it on to suck the heat that's venting out of the top of the oven to the outside, and thus not heat up the kitchen while you are using the oven.

The judicious use of the vent fan to keep the kitchen cooler during marathon pie or cooking baking sessions has been a lifesaver.

And I like my microwave above the stove because I didn't have to worry about my toddlers getting into it -- by the time the kids are old enough to reach it, they're responsible enough to make their own popcorn without engendering too much worry.

Other than that... yeah, I agree. My sink is in my kitchen island now, and I really miss being able to stare mindlessly out a window while slogging through a sinkful of dishes.