Monday, November 30, 2015

Kitchen Design


I hope you are all recovering from Carb Bomb Weekend 2015.  We had a wonderful time full of yummy and family and funny dogs and relaxing. 

The feast!

Julia Child's Turkey recipe...GAMECHANGER!
Herb and Onion Stuffing cooked under the bird.
Balsamic Braised Cippoline Onions
Cornbread Dressing with Sausage

Green Beans with Lemon Chive Oil

Bourbon Pecan Hickory Nut Pie

Doggie nephews all tuckered out.

It was also a monumental milestone, because it was the last Thanksgiving that I will ever produce out of our own kitchen.  It was, in fact, the 23rd Thanksgiving to come out of this kitchen, officially moving me into the “Cooking Thanksgiving more than Half My Life” arena.  And they have all been good.  Many have been great.  The cooking experience, not so much.  This kitchen has served me well, but it is not a great space to cook in.  The stove and burners are electric, the counterspace minimal.  The water pressure in the sink is just a hair above a trickle.  The linoleum floor is so old and decrepit that not only does it never look clean, as much as you scrub, the nails of the subfloor have worked their way up thru it, so if you don’t wear shoes, it’s like walking on Legos. 

The refrigerator does not fit in the room, and is in the back hallway.  Which is too narrow for the door to open completely.   Yeah, process that for a moment.

Today we have the first official New Kitchen Post.  It will not be the last. 

When Charming Suitor and I sat down to plan the renovation of this home, we were in total agreement about some key things. 

One, we would spend the serious money on the infrastructure and systems, and be creative about finishes and fixtures with what was left in the budget.  We want this old girl to go another hundred years at least, but for sure another 40 or so with us in it, so while it is fun to think about splurging on beautiful tile and woodwork, we knew that our first priority needed to be what lives behind the walls. 

Two, we would not over-improve the property beyond what the market would bear for our neighborhood.   One never knows what is coming down the road, and while we plan to live out our natural lives right in this spot, we needed to know that if at any point life required us to sell it, we would be able to do so without taking a hit.

Three, the only space we WOULD over-improve would be the kitchen.

Let’s be clear.  Renovating a house for yourself, as smart as you ought to be in considering resale value, should still contain the things that make your dreams come true.  For Charming Suitor and I, that meant a KILLER kitchen.  We are both cooks, and we love to cook together.  We both love the entertaining that we do, and want to do more, and neither of us has ever had the kitchen we really wanted.  So we plotted very rationally our completely irrational kitchen!

It will take many posts to fill you in on this project, the most complicated and important of the whole house, but we are going to start with layout and design.

The kitchen was the hardest space to design in the whole house, and the only room that needed five tries to get it right.  Again, this is the space we designed for US and how WE live.  We are not in any way recommending this style of kitchen design for people who don’t cook, or families with kids, or people who never entertain.  This is not a “hub of the home” kitchen.  This is not an eat-in- kitchen slash family room slash office slash homework kiosk slash arts and crafts space.

This is essentially a zoned fine dining restaurant kitchen with a chef’s table.

What does that mean?  Let me show you.

The U-Shaped set of cabinets incorporate two distinct cooking zones.  On the right side, the gas range, gas wall oven, rotisserie .  On the peninsula on the left, induction cooktop and inset counter steamer.  They share prep space on the island between them, and cleaning space on the window wall with a sink and dishwasher.

The separate L shaped section across the room is predominantly for baking.  The wall oven on this side is electric, instead of gas, for consistency of temperature.  There is a second sink and second dishwasher in this area.

The curved window wall will get a built in banquette, with an oval table for seating.

Instead of following the “triangle” approach to appliances, we worked with a professional kitchen layout, with the small food pantry and the kitchen library ( see this post for Kitchen Library) flanking the refrigerator/freezer.  This puts small equipment and all food centered between all three of the cooking zones. 

What does this do for us?  It allows up to three people to cook at the same time without getting in each other’s way, with a fourth potentially cleaning.  It means that there is plenty of counter and prep space.  It means that if I’m working on delicate pie crust, I’m doing it far enough away from the primary cooking area that the heat and moisture from things cooking in that space won’t screw up my pastry.

It means that Charming Suitor can check the temp on the Thanksgiving Turkey and I can check on the rolls in the oven and neither of us will get an elbow to the face.

But just because we went all “professional-inspired” doesn’t mean it isn’t still a home kitchen.  It is a space that will allow up to eight people to eat comfortably at the table.  The peninsula has a bar where four people can sit and chat with whomever is cooking without being underfoot.  There is going to be a TV on the wall in the baking section across from the dining table, which will be on an extendable arm so that on Thanksgiving the people doing the food prep can still watch the game.

It is an unusual and very specific design, that we believe will suit us and our lifestyle to a T. 

The takeaway for my Chickens?  You have to make your lists.  Must haves, want to haves, would be nice to haves, and splurges.

For us, our original list looked like this:

Must haves:
Plenty of counterspace and thoughtful cabinet design with good ability to organize
No uppers or minimal uppers (I am 5’3” and will only get shorter from here, and I do not want to be an 85 year old hobbit lady needing a footstool to get to my plates)
Two people at least able work together comfortably
Two ovens, preferably on opposite walls, at counter height (I hate a stacked oven, one is too tall for me, the other requires bending to the floor.  We knew if we couldn’t do opposite walls, we would at least do them side by side)
Room for a table for at least 6 people
Gas stovetop
Powerful hood
Huge fridge/freezer, deep enough to hold large platters
Space to recreate kitchen library

Want to haves:
Two dishwashers
Two sinks
Island with built-in butcherblock
Place for people to sit and chat with cooks
Banquette seating

Would be nice to have:
Warming drawers
One gas oven, one electric oven (roasting vs baking)
French door ovens (I’m forever burning myself on the open door of the oven trying to deal with things inside with my short little arms)
Totally separate area for baking
Decent sized pantry that is just for food
Undercounter wine fridge
Cheese fridge in pantry (more on this later)

Built-in wall rotisserie (more on this later)

Once you have your list, which may very well include things like space for arts and crafts and homework and home office, etc., you can look at your kitchen and prioritize how to allocate the space.  Then you can take a look at what is most important to you in terms of your budget.  Are you a purely functional cook, and not a passionate one?  Then don’t waste money on commercial style high-end appliances; you’ll never get the real benefit of the features that make them so expensive.  Does your family spend all of its time in the kitchen getting underfoot?  Consider a peninsula or island arrangement where you can have them on the other side when you are working, but still right there with you.  Do you have a lot of kids, serving essentially a small soccer team two to three meals a day?  You might want to give up a little section of cabinet space in favor of two dishwashers.  Does your family go through bottled water like they are trying to fill a reservoir somewhere?  Put in a filtered water faucet system at the sink and buy everyone their own refillable bottle. 

We were fortunate that because we are just two people and the house is a large one, we had enough space to do exactly what we wanted with the design.

For those of you who have gone through a kitchen redo, please put your best tips and tricks in the comments for everyone!

Stay tuned…next post CABINETS!!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


  1. Yay! Looking so forward to these posts. I've just completed my new kitchen reno and had the first holiday in it, and I'm so happy with how it has turned out. Everyone has a different set of criteria and needs, but a function needs to come first. I hate dusting and cleaning nooks and crannies, so very simple details and hardworking surfaces were my first criteria. Kept falling in love with pendant lights that were gorgeous, but I'd keep imaging myself having to clean them off of debris for the next 30 years and would shudder. So I found things that I loved, but I could also live with for a long time. And I cannot say enough about having good lighting. My kitchen lighting is so good that I'm now itching to upgrade the lighting in some of the adjoining rooms.

  2. That sounds amazing. We are planning some modest kitchen renovations if I can ever find the right people to do the work. But honestly I just want to come live with you. :)

  3. Just read "Good enough to eat", loved it! I
    laugh and made me reflect on my husband relationship. Can't wait to try recipes for my hubby and daughters. Looking foward on reading other books by Stacey Ballis. Thank you.

  4. I'm reading out of order, but my best tip was getting rid of all the upper cabinets like you are doing. When we redid our kitchen we wanted to have as many windows as possible, so we did all pull out drawers. We ended up with so much more storage, the kitchen looks so open and airy and I never have to get a step stool!

    My other tip is if you get a second sink, especially in an island, get a full size sink. I am glad we didn't get a bar sink as our second, but I wish we got the same size as our main sink. The second sink is too small to really enjoy using.

    And my only regret with my redo is the refrigerator drawers. While they look so cool they really are overkill. I think they were a waste of money and space...

    1. It sounds fantastic! I know several people who thought they didn't love their refrigerator drawers, but if you don't need the space for food, consider using them for beverages, chilling plates for salads or glasses for cocktails. One family uses them only for healthy snacks and juice boxes for their kids.