Here’s Babci in her mostly done kitchen. We still need to do some trim work but it’s functional and she loves it. The window overlooks her chicken coop, so she can watch her chickens while hanging out at the sink. We kept the original stove and fridge for now as she picked almost the same exact one when we went stove shopping and this one still works so for now, it’s staying and the appliances will get replaced as needed. For those of you curious of the finishing touches, those are soapstone counters, yellow painted cabinets and 3″ wide mahogany floors. The walls are glazed brick. This room was the original cow “creamery” where the cows were milked and the cheese made. Our home was the property manager’s house and barn that supported a larger estate (now gone) that spanned over 1000 acres during the gilded age. The windowsills are marble (and the coolest part of our entire house as most of the other rooms have been chopped up and paneled and destroyed). Babci is styling in her new digs. I spent 3 entire weekends cleaning that brickwork with acetone and a toothbrush before any work began, plus all of the gutting and behind the wall stuff that took weeks to complete.
A couple of people have been thinking about remodeling their kitchens, so I thought I’d do a post on the things I’ve learned from the multiple kitchens we’ve designed and remodeled.
There are some basic things you need to ask yourself before figuring out cabinet and appliance placement. Some of these things may seem obvious, but it is amazing how many kitchens don’t have the basic layout right.
- Is your dish and utensil storage near your dishwasher? If you don’t have a dishwasher, then is it close to the sink?
- Is your sink close to the dishwasher? Usually they are adjacent to each other but not always. (They are not in my current house).
- Are your pots/pans storage areas near your stove?
- Are your food storage areas close together and on the side of your kitchen nearest your entry door?
- Does your stove have adequate counter space around it for your prepped foods?
- If it’s an open floor plan, do you want to add a barrier between you and the rest of your house (ie, an island peninsula with seating?)
- Also. Do you want your guests seeing your dirty dishes as this may affect sink placement and bar height for islands.
- Are there any pinch points? Is your stove so close to an adjacent wall or island that there’s limited room to open the oven door?
- Similarly, will your refrigerator hit your island or other cabinets if you open the door?
- We pre-marked the layout with blue painter’s tape and it really identified a couple of tight spots pretty well.
- Don’t go crazy with the work triangle. It’s better to have prep/counter spare near your work areas vs being only one step away between your fridge, stove and sink. Also, my last kitchen took it to the extreme where they actually tilted the fridge at a 45 degree angle which made it jut into the room. It wasted space and created a bunch of useless tiny cabinet and trapezoidal counterspace that was good for nothing.
Unless you have a TINY kitchen, semi-custom cabinets are the way to go. They come in all sorts of sizes and finishes and in the grand scheme of things, having an extra 6 inch filler piece at the end of a wall is sure worth saving thousands. Also, if you’re going for white, the paint finish does matter too. We bought some cheap stock cabinets once from home depot and they stained so easily, they were complete junk after a couple of years. Luckily, it was just a small cabinet, but my neighbors did their whole kitchen with it and it looked horrible after no time at all. I think it’s better to wait and live with your old kitchen until you can save for some higher quality cabinets with real wood doors. It’s about impossible and cost prohibitive to find cabinets that don’t have plywood boxes, but real wood door fronts do make a difference. The builder basic ones are just not even worth the time or effort in my opinion.
For Lower Cabinets, if you can fit a wide set of drawers like the ones to the left of the dishwasher, they are money. They cost more, but are PERFECT for mixing bowls, tupperware containers, lids, plates and bowls. Also, if you’re on the shorter side, they are also much easier to reach than putting those things in upper cabinets. The wider the better. 90% of our dishes and silverware fit into the upper and lower cabinet adjacent to the dishwasher. I also like the pull out drawers because stuff doesn’t get lost. We also upgraded all the lower cabinets to the roll out type. Things get lost in the back of your lower cabinets if it’s hard to access the items. So, corner cabinets do get a lazy susan and shelves roll out.
Also, if possible, don’t get hung up too much on symmetry. It does play a role in certain decisions, but most people don’t notice if your cabinets adjacent to your windows aren’t the exact same size from left to right. It’s worth giving up on having everything symmetrical if you can opt for more usable cabinets instead. In almost every case, one wider cabinet is better than 2 super narrow ones. If I wanted my last kitchen perfectly symmetrical, I would have ended up with a bunch of 9 inch uppers which are pretty much good for nothing. Lastly, if you have a big kitchen, there is nothing worse than the look of a space filled with a wall of the exact same upper cabinets across the entire wall. To break it up a bit, you can add a glass front in a few spots or make one of the cabinets a different height so it’s not just a big blank wall of wood.
Also, here are my personal likes and dislikes of specialized cabinets. Love, vertical cookie sheet lower cabinets. Hate trash can cabinet (they are so small, and I like my trash covered with a lid so it doesn’t stink). Hate bread box, hate pull out cutting board or mixer stand, hate the useless and gross germ factory of a tilt out sink base for sponges.
Pantries are the most beautiful thing in the world. I don’t know why they ever went out of fashion. You can fit so much in them. My personal preference is that if you have room to build a proper pantry closet, it’s often cheaper and provides more storage space than buying one of those fancy pantry roll out things that come as an option with most cabinet companies. My last two kitchens didn’t have the room, so we opted for one, but I love old fashioned pantry spaces. My new house has a big closet that will get turned into a pantry someday. Right now, the bookcases in my living room are serving as my pantry storage as the closet is super gross at present and I wouldn’t put food in there.
In my last house, the stairs to the basement were off the kitchen and the previous owner hung some very narrow shelves on the wall of the stairway to serve as a type of pantry and that worked really well. The shelves were only about a can-width wide, so you didn’t knock over the cans when you were carrying stuff down the basement, but it was a good way to utilize that wall space.
Below is my current kitchen. It’s somewhat functional but has had a lot of water damage, so the interior of the cabinets are warped and musty. It’s a big space with a lot of potential and lots of natural light. It’s also a better layout than the first kitchen I had so I can live with it for a long while if needed.
I spent a lot of time picking appliances in my various kitchens and was going to wait until I redid this kitchen before buying new ones, but I just couldn’t deal. The old fridge was missing critical things, like the crisper drawers and some of the shelving. The old stove was rotted through, although I didn’t realize it until after the 3rd round of stove cleaner. The grime was holding everything together apparently. This, like my last kitchen is short on counter space. Luckily there is room to the left of the fridge for another row of lower cabinets and that’s where I’m going to put the sink when we remodel, so I have some counter space near where it’s most needed. I personally hate sinks in islands. They eat up all the usable space. Ditto on the double sink and this layout has both.
I did make some mistakes along the way when buying my appliances. In terms of dishwashers, less is more when it comes to bells and whistles. My current dishwasher has one of these shelves where you can adjust it up and down. That stupid thing broke within months of having it. It is total garbage and the repairman said that the lower end model of what I got was actually much less repair prone and a better unit. Really, all you need is something with a decent layout, a hard food disposal and a sound rating that is tolerable for your personal needs.
I REALLY REALLY wanted one of those commercial stoves..you know like a swanky Viking or something, as it’s almost expected where I live now….but I just couldn’t do it. First of all, they are all like $4000 and up on price. Second of all, they are very repair prone. Third of all, have you seen the oven sizes on those things? I absolutely couldn’t believe how small the ovens on most of those stoves were. I bet you couldn’t even fit a decent sized turkey in most of them. I think it has to do with having more insulation, so they cooked more evenly, but I just COULD NOT do it. My last stove was a dual fuel gas burner, electric oven convection unit. My current one is an all gas/convection and was much cheaper than the dual fuel I got. Here’s what I’ve learned. I did not notice a quality difference between an all gas vs electric convection oven, however, there is a HUGE difference between non-convection and convection baking/roasting. I noticed immediately. French fries are crisper, cookies/cakes bake more evenly. So, basically the lowest end stove you can get is about $500. One with convection ~$1000. Anything above that price point, I saw marginal differences or noticeable deficiencies (like the tiny oven). Also, most people know to look at the max BTU burner size, but not everyone thinks about the smallest burner. I simmer a lot and I specifically wanted a very low BTU burner for soups and sauces.
My last stove had 5 burners, this one also has 5 but a central griddle instead of a middle burner. I use the griddle way more than the 5th round burner. The reason being that on a 30 inch stove, you don’t actually have room for 5 pots cooking at once, so the 5th burner is useless. When you’re cooking pancakes, that’s usually all you’re using your stove for at that time, hence I use it a lot more. So my vote is 4 burners, or 4 + Griddle. I also wanted a wider stove, but you know what? Who can keep track of cooking more than 4 things at once? I couldn’t justify it, nor did I have the room to go 36″. I still would like a second oven someday. Didn’t have room for that in my last place, but all my friends who cook a lot say they love having it. There are definitely times when the oven is the bottleneck of my cooking, like the holidays, but it’s not at all a must have.
My French door fridge was perfect and I bought another slightly bigger one when I moved to my new house. French door because of pinch points. Bottom freezer because you use the fridge way more than the freezer, and I prefer having that at eye level.
Counters and Floors
This is where your most practical considerations come in. My mother in law has a gorgeous kitchen but hates her black granite countertops because you can see every single speck of dust, streaks and fingerprints on them. It’s like she perpetually has windex in her hands when I see her in the kitchen. Lighter color counters or ones with a lot of different colors in them hide more. Marble is gorgeous but it does stain easily. Soapstone needs to be oiled and is very soft and chips/dents within days of having it. Low end formica type counters also stain very easily. Tile countertops have grout marks that will take extra work to sanitize. Counters are some of the hardest things to pick out. In my last kitchen I picked a brownish pattern with a lot of movement to it. It was near impossible to find tile to coordinate with it that didn’t clash hence the black tile floor in our last place. I did like my granite a lot more than the soapstone in my mom’s kitchen. I’ll probably do granite again when we get around to doing our own kitchen over.
Tile vs Wood vs Vinyl or Laminate.
We opted to do a wood floor and only tiled in front of our wet/high traffic areas. I’ve seen too many kitchens where water damage by the sink buckled the floors in those areas, so that was our compromise between having the warmth of wood and the durability of tile. I think climate plays a big role of what makes sense with that choice.
How you use the space?
Last but not least, what do you use the kitchen for? There are a bunch of people who don’t really cook much, so having prep areas is not as important as say, having a space people can hang out and have beers around. In general, I’m not one who loves spending money on things you don’t use, so if you don’t cook, don’t spend a fortune on an oven for example.
One final thought is COLOR. Contrast is your friend. Generally, dark on dark on dark, or white on white on light is overwhelming. Think about offering some contrast when designing your kitchen. At babci’s new place, the stark white tile walls needed some contrast, hence the dark counters and floor. I’ve seen way too many kitchens while househunting that made the mistake of having too much of a single tone to try to be all matchy matchy. However, it really washes out the space when you do that. Go on Houzz.com for inspiration, but remember a pretty kitchen isn’t always practically designed.
This post is super long, but hopefully parts of it will be useful to those redesigning their kitchens.