Friday, August 23, 2013

Cooking With Gas In The Kitchen

[Editor's note: first offered in 2007. Look at anyone else's blog from 2007. It all sounds like insane drivel five years on. We're proud to only offer sane drivel here, year in, year out]

[Author's note: There is no editor]

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 of 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.

7 comments:

Sixty Grit said...

Brilliant, as usual.

I have this kitchen that needs to be redone, see, and I was wondering...

jon spencer said...

Look at the before and after pics of this kitchen.
http://girlsguidetobutter.com/2013/08/the-big-remodel-a-look-inside-the-house/

Deborah said...

The last time I had a conversation with a kitchen planner (1998), she insisted that I had to install granite counter-tops. I said, "That stuff that looks like petrified dinosaur vomit?" The meeting went south after that.

What I DO know for certain, is that every work space needs to be wide enough for two broad-beamed women to work side by side, and you need at least one uninterrupted counter-top, six feet long or more.

Anonymous said...

Some of these remind me of this wonderful book:

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

http://www.amazon.com/Pattern-Language-Buildings-Construction-Environmental/dp/0195019199

Leon said...

has it been that long? my goodness!
i think of this post from time to time and like that anonymous poster said, it was mentioned last time also about pattern language. which has the two window concept(although i believe they would have them in walls). i might add, a kitchen sink in an island or peninsula without a back splash is pretty dumb too.

Deborah said...

Reading this post made me think about Tracy Kidder's "House." I think we've talked about it before, but what I mostly remember about the book is wanting to slap everyone involved except the men with the tools, and I felt enormous admiration for the guy who built the kitchen cabinets.

Anonymous said...

We added on to the farmhouse to have the dream kitchen in the southeast corner, dining room adjacent in the southwest corner, lots of windows and natural light. I disagree with number 6, the cooktop should be gas or propane, the wall ovens should be electric, much more versatile and consistent, not to mention reliable than gas. Gas cooks great upward on a stove, lousy in an oven. And quartz countertops are the greatest gift a cook can ask for in surface choices.