Babci’s New Kitchen and Kitchen Design Tips

by Sandy L on October 13, 2014

Babci's Kitchen

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.

Layout Matters

 

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.

 Cabinets

 

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.

Pantry

Temporary Pantry

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.

Appliances

 

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.

My Current Kitchen

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

 

kitchen

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.

 

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

gk October 13, 2014 at 8:40 AM

Both kitchens look amazing, and I’m so glad to hear Babci s happily settled in. Moving and remodeling is no picnic! Thanks for sharing this info, it’s very useful and will come in handy for an upcoming move.
Completely agree regarding pantries. I would gladly give up all my cupboards for a nice pantry!

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Sandy L October 16, 2014 at 7:23 AM

I fantasize over my future pantry. In fact, I’m designing it first to see how much cupboard space I really need in my kitchen area as I’d primarily would want it for spices, dishes, and hanging out spaces.

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101 Centavos December 1, 2014 at 9:07 PM

Deep, deep pantries are where it’s at, and that’s a fact. Still getting points from Mrs. 101C over having put in one more high shelf for all the canning paraphernalia. Glad to see you up and posting again.

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Linda October 15, 2014 at 7:18 PM

If I had read something like this before I rehabbed my old kitchen I may have been able to forgo the kitchen designer! These are really helpful tips and if I ever get another opportunity to own a home and remodel a kitchen, they’ll come in very handy.

I re-used my old cabinets so I wasn’t able to experience how helpful those pull out drawers are, but I did have some pull outs put in the small cabinet that was constructed to fill in a spot that had no cabinets previously. I didn’t realize that pull-out inserts still need all this room for the hardware and feel a little bit like it is wasted space, but it is certainly handy!

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Sandy L October 16, 2014 at 7:37 AM

I’m always happy to give unsolicited kitchen design advice. I’m pretty opinionated regarding kitchen layout, but I also think each space has it’s own personality and you can’t do a one size fits all design. When I used to work weddings every weekend in college, I was just amazed at how everyone’s “unique” experience was just a carbon copy of the last weekend’s wedding but with different bridesmaid’s dresses. Even the music was often the same.

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eemusings October 15, 2014 at 8:56 PM

Kitchen porn! Yay!

Second the pantry love. This place came with no oven, no full stove, no bathroom mirror, but at least has a pantry. One thing we have in spades is storage space if nothing else.

Really all I ask for in a house is room to breathe, no damp, warm. Would love an eye level oven. Dishwasher will also be a must, or space to put one. T would like a bath but he will have to be the cleaner (I hate em).

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Sandy L October 16, 2014 at 7:35 AM

Aptly described. Yes, I love house photos too and I can absolutely relate because even though we had appliances and cupboards, so much of it was missing, it was completely not functional. I think we are going to prioritize our storage areas first so that we can put some of our stuff away properly. Next room to be gutted is the master bedroom closet, so I can consolidate my stuff from 4 tiny closets to one bigger one.

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Revanche October 16, 2014 at 6:00 PM

Thanks for taking the time to write all these details, with photos, the kitchen looks wonderful!

Having a good kitchen is one of my top priorities for our someday house but I’m starting to think that we’re going to have to buy something that requires a remodel since we aren’t able to afford most of the more ready to go homes out here. This will be a wonderful guide.

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Sandy L October 19, 2014 at 5:48 AM

I have looked at probably 100 houses and only a couple of them had kitchens I really liked. I live I’m an area where there are a lot of old houses, so there isn’t a lot of new construction and the few that are really done were way out of my price range.

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Mrs. PoP October 17, 2014 at 12:09 PM

We’re just transitioning from the planning phase of our own kitchen remodel to the execution phase, but still have some items up in the air that we haven’t agreed on yet. Would love your opinion on them:
– What’s your take on microwaves with vents over the stove? The only one of these I ever dealt with was my grandmother’s and the venting part barely worked, so I distrust them, but also recognize I have a small sample size. Mr PoP loves them and sees them as the perfect way to get the microwave off the counter, something we both want.
– How about corner top areas? I have yet to see a great solution for how to best utilize these spaces, especially for short people.

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Sandy L October 17, 2014 at 5:13 PM

Well, since I did the vented microwave in both of my most recent kitchens, I do love them. A proper fume hood looks a lot nicer, but I didn’t want to spend the extra money (most of the nice looking ones run about $1000 or more). I also didn’t want to eat up the counter space (as it does take up ALOT). The one I bought for my cherry kitchen was about $500 and had a pretty high rating for airflow and it was more than adequate. Ours was externally ducted.

In fact, my husband actually made me stop using it on a regular basis because it was actually sucking too much of the heat/cold out of our house. Ie, It was summer and the AC was on and I had the vent going because I was boiling water and thought that sucking the hot air out away from the stove would help keep things cool, but the vented air coming out of the house was actually cold (which tells me it was sucking more than enough air). I think the recirculating non-externally vented fume hoods and/or microwaves are useless. If I’m going to have a vent, I want it to suck the stinky stuff out of the house.

All corner cabinets are dumb. If you have an option between doing a galley kitchen and an L shape, maybe a galley would be better. In my last kitchen, I actually could access one corner from the backside of the cabinet, because it was part of a peninsula island. I ended up eliminating the corner altogether and doing a “secret” cabinet on the opposite side. For high up cabinets, my mom has a little step stool that she keep under her kitchen table.

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Mrs. PoP October 17, 2014 at 8:12 PM

Totally agree that non-vented hoods seem to miss what I think is the primary purpose – removing the stinky smells. So it sounds like there should be some decent options that can do that while still be attached to a microwave. Thanks!

Sadly, a galley kitchen doesn’t really work with our layout. We’re going from a U-shape counter to an L-shape, so at least I’m eliminating 1 useless corner.

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Sandy L October 19, 2014 at 5:54 AM

If you look, we also had the option of 2 corner uppers and we opted to put a small window in that left wall instead of turning the corner. It also allowed me to hang a pot rack on the wall opposite the stove. It was super convenient and I liked the extra light. We eliminated an entry door in that corner and put it off our living room instead. That gained a load of good counter and lower cabinet space.

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Linda October 17, 2014 at 7:26 PM

I didn’t have the option of a microwave/vent combination or a standard vented hood. My range is a slide-in type in a small peninsula, and I didn’t want to hang a big hood for lots of reasons. So I have a Jenn Air with a downdraft vent that exits near the floor. But I also wanted the microwave off the counter, so one of my existing wall cabinets was changed by the cabinet makers so I could put a full-sized microwave at eye level in the cabinet. It’s pretty nifty and I really enjoy it. :-)

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Mrs. PoP October 17, 2014 at 8:14 PM

“one of my existing wall cabinets was changed by the cabinet makers so I could put a full-sized microwave at eye level in the cabinet”
That’s totally what I wanted, but Mr PoP might be giving that his veto. His mom did it 28 years ago in their place and claims to have regretted it ever since because the microwaves kept getting smaller over the years and the space is now oversized. (I don’t see that as a problem, but we each get a veto and this might be his…)

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Linda October 17, 2014 at 8:47 PM

Ah, but the extra space in the cabinet is so useful! I put cookbooks there, and I’ve also used it store the flour/sugar containers.

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bethh October 17, 2014 at 1:28 PM

SO interesting, thanks for this! I look forward to having a gas oven someday, so the information about the awesomeness of having a convection oven, and your logic for being pro-griddle are both really useful. My house was a flip and the kitchen is all new – one of those very entry-level flat-top electric stoves. I don’t love it but I’m pretty committed to using it til it dies. Still, at a guess I’ve got 5-10 years before it dies and I’m definitely going gas if I can!

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Sandy L October 19, 2014 at 5:58 AM

I had one of those for a while too. Those stoves do simmer well and electric ovens are supposed to have more uniform baking temps and they are easier to clean, so it’s not all bad.

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günstigster online-kredit March 9, 2017 at 3:49 PM

I've two credit cards, one ATM…and my identifications cards. I guess I'm a stick-to-the-basic person – only have what I need, nothing more and nothing less.

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Financial Samurai November 16, 2014 at 2:01 PM

Very cool kitchen! I just did mine after it had been left untouched for 64 years!

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Ianna Reign Stevenson December 9, 2014 at 3:51 AM

Thank you for sharing these tips that are helpful especially to those people who are renovating their house. You discussed the things that should be there in the kitchen.

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concrete work Northern NJ February 17, 2015 at 8:37 PM

You have to be extra careful, so ensure that you have hired the best contractor that can meet your expectations for your chosen renovation projects.

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Delores Lyon March 19, 2015 at 4:09 PM

Thanks for sharing your kitchen and tips! It is so fun to get kitchen renovation inspiration from blogs like this. Hm, I was thinking I would have hardwood floors, but I definitely don’t want to deal with water damage later on. I might just go with a stone and hardwood flooring combination like you did.

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Fukuda June 29, 2015 at 12:53 AM

Those are great kitchen counters! Thanks for sharing your kitchen design tips. And I would have to agree that layout does matter when your doing a kitchen make-over otherwise it would be a scattered-mess of a project. Definitely need a starting idea for the design first.

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Julieane Hernandez August 27, 2015 at 3:11 AM

We just moved in to our new house and honestly I’m having a hard time to remodel my kitchen especially now that I have limited budget for it. I really learned a lot from your article. Thanks for sharing.

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Outdoor Kitchens March 24, 2016 at 7:12 AM

Looking nice ! Babci’s New Kitchen and Kitchen Design Tips , really good

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Christina December 7, 2016 at 11:31 AM

You make a nice point about contrast. Being too single-minded with the color can really wash out the space, as you shared.

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