how to max out your tiny kitchen

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Reading comments, emails and blogs everyday from people who like to cook all over the country, and all over the world, I have learned that not all kitchens are the same. And some of them are less the same than others. Some are downright shocking. Apparently, there are kitchens with more than one counter. There are ovens that fit entire half-sheet pans in them–and still close! There are kitchens with not one oven, but two. Some have not just two counters and two ovens, but more than six cabinets. Some kitchens have not just two counters, two ovens and a dozen cabinets but room for an entire set of tables and chairs… just for eating!

Excuse me, but I have to sit down for a minute. …Not in the kitchen, mind you. We have no room for a chair.

Alas, for the rest of us, those that may sympathize with our 80-square foot kitchen with a mini-oven, six cabinets and a single built-in counter, I have been asked enough times what advice I’d give to people trying to cook in a tiny kitchen that I thought I’d sum up some of the advice I give them today.

Five ways to max out your tiny kitchen:

  1. Get an island or custom-built extra counter — Even if you you have just two square feet of “spare” space, do whatever you can to find a table or counter that can be customized for it. Heck, I have even seen counters that fold out from the wall, like a Murphy Bed! If you can find a way to create some storage space underneath it, even better.
  2. Don’t actually keep anything on it — I am nuts about having my single counter in the kitchen clear. The idea of sacrificing even a corner of my precious counter space to a mixer or toaster or other occasionally used appliance seems crazy–these are the types of things you can put in shelves underneath.
  3. You probably don’t need half the things in your kitchen — Okay, obviously what I think you don’t need and what you think you don’t need are different, which is why I am loathe to make such a list. Let’s say that you, like Laurie Colwin in Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, decide that you can live without everything but a deep-fat fryer. You go get yourself a deep-fat fryer. But when space is key, you might consider doing away with things like that knife block, when drawer knife holders or wall magnet strips will help keep your counter clear. You don’t need a double boiler; use a bowl over a pot instead. You don’t need a sifter when a mesh strainer can sift and, you know, and also strain. Pyrex 8-cup measuring cups can double as mixing bowls. Stuff like that
  4. Learn to cook neatly — Picture a restaurant kitchen–do you think each of those line cooks have four counters to work on? No, they learned a long time ago how to maximize their use of any station they were given, by prepping everything they need before they start cooking, keeping their counter clean and keeping what they can within arm’s reach. Learn to cook like this, and you can cook anywhere.
  5. It can totally be done — People, I don’t mean to go the martyr route here–especially because I think we know I enjoyed the process so–but I baked a wedding cake in my little kitchen, in its 3/4-size oven. I know too many people who say they can’t entertain or have dinner parties or cook the dinners they crave because they say they don’t have the space. But people cook all over the world with less space–and fewer gadgets (though I think I will sob if my Microplane ever breaks up with me) than we do everyday. With a little extra thought, I am sure you can pull off whatever crazy kitchen feat you had in mind. Even if you have to put your dishes in the tub when you’re done.

Five things that have helped us max out ours:

  1. These bowls — Bowls that nest well are essentially when you need to save space, but if you’re like me, the idea of buying one of those sets of ten (and then having to put it away just so) makes you groan. The Anchor Hocking ones I have fallen head over heels for come in a set of four (one, two, three and four-quart sizes) and are taller than they are wide. These are not only pretty and sturdy, they’re cheap! Win-win-win.
  2. A pot and pan rack — May I write a love song to our pot and pan rack? Okay, I won’t but I really could go on and on. For years, I had pots perilously stacked in an overstuffed cabinet and I hated it. It was loud and stuff always fell out on my toes and arrgh! Pot racks save the day. It can’t be easier to grab what you want, and the amount of space it frees up is tremendous. Best part is that you don’t even need to get ones that hand from the ceiling; ours is a half-circle that attaches to the wall. If you can find one with crossbars, even better, as you’ll be able to hang more things from it. Like spaghetti that needs to dry.
  3. Some appliances are more useful than others:
    * Immersion blenders not only save on space, they’re easier to use and easier to wash (since I know that tiny kitchens and a lack of a dishwasher typically go hand-in-hand).
    * Still want a blender? We used this Cuisinart blender/mini-prep food processor for years, before, you know, we got married and someone was nice enough to buy us a full-sized one. (Spoiled!) Though some things had to be done in batches, I still use this today when I don’t want to dirty the whole big one. I think it’s a brilliant product.
    * A KitchenAid, and all of its glorious attachments — Don’t make the mistake I have. Before accepting that I would one day own a KitchenAid, I ended up registering for an ice cream maker. Then we bought a pasta roller. We have several types of citrus juicers. And then we got a KitchenAid and learned we could have just bought that, and juicer, pasta and ice cream maker attachments and saved a ton of storage space.

  4. Think white — Okay, this is more of a Deb style tip (which is funny, as I have none) than a way to make your small kitchen functional but I am a big fan of the color white in small spaces, as it really makes rooms look bigger than they are. My KitchenAid is white, our dish rack is white, the garbage can is white and our coffee maker is white. It’s one thing to have a small kitchen; it is another one to have one that is also dark and looks cluttered. Not to mention, if one day I want our kitchen to be all black, white and leaf green (and oh, I do), all of this stuff will still work in it.
  5. Space savers — I am a tad obsessed these days with going to Bed, Bath and Beyond and finding things that save so much space, they make me jump for joy and I don’t know how I lived without them before. (Alex, as you may guess, shares my excitement, but is also a tad frightened by it.) Most recently, we’ve bought this wrap/foil/paper dispenser and hung it on the inside of the door in the pantry, a couple over-the-cabinet baskets (for sponges, container lids, you name it) and although it ended up not fitting with our sink structure, that seems to also have been been designed in 1880, this under-sink organizer would have been awesome.

Surely, I’m not the only one with a tiny kitchen. What do those of you who like to cook a lot do to keep yours from becoming a disaster area?

One year ago: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Sauteed Apples
Two years ago: Dreamy, Creamy Scones


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