In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

How To Design a Tiny Kitchen (or rather, what to do if you only have a tiny kitchen to work with)

This one’s for you Studioren – and anyone else struggling with a tiny kitchen.

The challenge is to maximize space and minimize cost. I’ve designed a few kitchens in my time (professionally and for myself) so I know of what I speak. (Generally.)
Here are some good rules of thumb (some already elaborated on in an earlier post. Bear with me.)
1) Long runs of unbroken counter space are vastly superior to the same amount (or more) of small patches of counter. Ergo: one run of 4 feet long is better than 2 two-foot squares. Better yet if you can squeeze out 6 feet. You can line up plates, do a mise en place, set up a buffet, spread out the paper and read …

2) Corner sinks are tough to work with and should only be resorted to in the more dire of cases.

3) Upper cabinets are overrated (and expensive). They crowd the eye and if they are hanging in free space – over a breakfast bar, for instance, have a tendency to look like buck teeth. See?
Avoid. Only attempt the buck teeth maneuver if you are using see through cabinets (both sides glass) and/or the counters will be at least 2 feet above the counter and the counter is not hideous tile, as above But mostly, don’t do it.

4) Dishwashers are also overrated, especially in a small kitchen. Don’t bother.

5) Pantries, open or otherwise, are far more useful than upper cabinets (see rule 3)

6) Narrow shelves are best for storing staples (obviously not dishes). A few or more long rows of no more than 6-inch deep shelves – perhaps with a little lip on the front to keep things in place – will give you tons of storage, let you see everything you have on hand, and will remain neat. It’s impossible to do anything but line all your staples up like little soldiers with nothing lurking behind them… just no room for it. And glass ware looks awesome too, on open shelves. Keep everything grouped. All glasses on one shelf (or section thereof), all cans on another. Measure carefully. If you want to store your wine like soldiers too give it enough head room.

7) Buy (cheap!) matching Mason jars – you can get different sizes – to store dry goods. (see photo above.) The uniformity will make your open shelves look organized and great. You can decant your cereal into them, your flour and sugar and rice and nuts and raisins and craisins and (most) pasta, and your bakers chocolate. Added bonus: no bugs can get in. Pantry moths are helpless against a good mason jar. And they are air tight so things stay fresher longer.

8) Solid surface counters are a good thing to splurge on, especially in a small kitchen. Reason: the cost for short bits is not prohibitive, they don’t stain or scratch, you can put down hot things without trivets, you can do all kinds of ridiculous crafts without ruining them, they clean up in an instant and they are good for resale value. But be careful what you select. I loathe loathe loathe that builder’s grade granite that looks all pocked and weird in brown and pink. Like this. Hate it. I'm sure someone loves it. It just looks like a polished curb to me (DC has granite curbs, way up in upper northwest, it does).
Spend a little more, go to the stone yard and pick out your slab yourself. Sometimes they have remainders from other jobs that can be cut to fit yours for less money. I like granites without a lot of movement or inclusions… ie, I like them plain (and generally black or grey, both with a honed finish. I also don’t like shiny counters).
Also check out quartz and soapstone and Corian, and zinc counters. You can buy zinc sheets online and have a carpenter make you a counter from reinforced plywood encased in sheet metal. The zinc will age and get a gorgeous patina but its look is not for everyone. But the 55 million French people who hang out in cafes and oyster bars seem to like them.) Stay away from slate. It chips. Butcher block is cool but can get moldy if you are not careful. And tile counters can get grody in the grout if you are not scrupulously clean. I know this because I am the daughter of the Tile King of Florida. But my mom has these enormous tiles on her counter – 2X2, and she’s scrupulously clean, so 30 years later, they still look great.

9) As for finishes: Kitchens are expensive to redo, so unless you’ve got money to burn and are not worried about resale, go with classic backsplashes (white subway tile, white mosaic tile, Carrera marble) that go all the way up to the bottoms of the upper cabinets you finally gave in and bought on the advice of the pushy sales people at the kitchen store or Home Depot (don't listen to them! Listen to me! Their job is to sell you cabinets! The more cabinets they sell the more money they make!I am bossing you around with only the best intentions, and certainly no promise of remuneration), and/or white or good quality simple wood cabinets, and stainless appliances or white appliances. People don’t seem to like black appliances unless they are selected specifically to go with some design element in the kitchen.

10) You can do different color upper and lower cabinets – darker on bottom. Say, charcoal gray and white (again stick with classics).

11) Do me a favor and don’t buy those horrific oak builders cabinets, especially the ones with almond formica on them. Shudders. And stay away from cabinets with fancy routing and designs. They are usually just bells and whistles to distract your attention from the shoddy quality of the wood or construction. To me, it all looks like poorly applied make up on a little kid. Minimize the number of cabinets you buy and spend a little more, and use (Cheap! Painted!) open shelving wherever you can instead. Brackets are easy to come by. Ikea sells them.
12) I am still not sick of broad expanses of chalkboard paint. It gets greyed out very easily, so prepare to repain it once a year or more if you like it crisp and black. the chalk marks just never really clean up.

13) Get rid of everything you don’t really need. Make your kitchen minimal but functional. It will be much more pleasant to work in there. My list of the essentials in the next post.
14) Before commiting to a lay out, use painters tape to outline where all the appliances will go and where their doors will swing -- this will let you make sure you have enough clearance to get around and to open them all the way.


  1. Another bonus for buying Mason jars by the dozen: they double as excellent last minute drinking glasses or vases for casual below eye-level arrangements.

  2. is this bill bill my great big pill?
    indeed yes on the mason jars. in fact they were my drinking glasses until 2 weeks ago when I broke down and bought a set of real glasses because I like how they look in my pantry all lined up. Even though the door is usually closed.

  3. I have a small kitchen; these are great tips! I hate the heaviness of upper cabinets and am getting used to open shelving. I like the ease and the look, but struggled a bit for storage space. It forced me to get creative with other furniture as well as ridding myself of unnecessary items.
    I found your blog through Apartment Therapy and really love your writing. :)

  4. I dont think I could live without a dishwasher! lol (oh and most condo's & new lofts come built with one even before upgrades, if you have a good dishwasher what I do is not rinse the dishes, you save water that way)

  5. @tammyk... thank you :) I believe in the purging of things and have to do it often because I also believe in the stockpiling of things. :)

  6. Great advice. I'd love to get your thoughts on a floor plan. Would that be possible?

  7. yes please. email me the particulars to