Small Kitchen; Big Use
Growing up I watched my Mom in the kitchen - a lot. She was pure magic, y’all. She could walk into the kitchen and “whomp” something up out of seemingly nothing. She never meal prepped or meal planned, but when us kids were younger, there was an ever rotating list of staple meals. She’d shop for what we’d need for those and call dinner plans the way a coach calls football plays. Sometimes, it was predictable - every Monday we had roast in the crockpot. It was easy and Monday’s were always crazy. Sometimes, it was an unexpected substitute (like when she used lemonade mix instead of lemon juice) that would lead to a killer win (grilled shrimp with a bit of that Country Time sugar glazed into it). When I was in college, my mom noticed I’d taken a liking to Starbucks Frappuccinos and gifted me a frappe maker for my 19th birthday. The tradition continued and over the years I received everything from a margarita maker (21st birthday) to a waffle iron. Which is great. And awesome. And then came the wedding registry. And then a cross country move and 300 sq feet and a basement less of space. Which leads me to here and now. I LOVE being in the kitchen. I really do. I love getting use out of the various appliances gifted to me (and the ones my husband brought to the marriage). I don’t love storing all of them. But, after watching my mother spend nearly 2 decades in a small kitchen a la 1980s yellow counter tops and limited cabinets, I can make it a couple years in a town house. I’ve learned a thing or two about making do with a smaller kitchen, and I feel like the knowledge is only good as long as it’s known, so I’m going to share with you a few things I’ve learned.
1. Get what you don’t need daily out of the kitchen.
In our current rental things I don’t need daily include baking tools and booze. So, in my living room sits a former IKEA entertainment/media unit turned bar. I put a wine rack in it to store bottles and adjusted the shelves to house stemless wine glasses, cosmo glasses, pints, and shakers. The top has a display of the whiskey decanter on a serving tray and the ice bucket. Is it perfect? Nope. Does it get the job done? Yep. Stashed away in a corner of the room is what was formerly our makeshift pantry. It has now been repurposed to house all my baking supplies. Frosting tips, cake spinner, carrier, cake plate, hand mixer, sprinkles - it’s all in there.
2. Counter space is precious
The only thing that lived on the counter in my mother’s kitchen was the coffee maker. Period. Counter space is important. It’s needed. And it seems like there’s never enough. I have more than a coffee maker living on my counter, but I’m pretty selective on what makes the cut. My mixer. My flour/sugar/tea/coffee containers. My spices (because the holder is too tall for my cabinets). Everything else has a place to go and to live. And when I need the counter space, I have it. For big things such as baking projects or extra meal prep, I have a butcher block island that provides additional space and can be moved on wheels as needed.
Pictured: the butcher block that sits in the middle of my kitchen to give me extra counter space when needed. Here it's being used to display a delicious pound cake I made after I finally unpacked the kitchen.
3. Multi-use tools are a must
Nothing, well, almost nothing, in your kitchen should be single use. My mixer? Also an ice cream maker and a pasta maker. My panini press? Also a waffle maker or griddle. I mean, yes, an electric kettle can only do one thing - boil liquids, BUT it allows me to boil water for oatmeal or a French press coffee maker (which takes up less room than an electric coffee maker), so...trade offs.
Alton Brown is known for disliking one trick kitchen tools, and I’ve tried hard to adopt that. Yes, I want an air fryer, buuuuuut I’d rather wait a little longer and get one that is also a toaster oven because I’ll be able to use it for more.
4. Accessibility leads to use
If you read #2 and wondered “okay, but where to I put stuff if it isn’t on the counter?” Well, if you’re low on counter space, I’m guessing cabinets are also lacking. When we moved into our townhouse I knew I wanted to be able to use the pantry as a pantry - not as appliance storage. As I looked, I found NSF (certifies by the National Sanitation Foundation for use in commercial kitchens) shelves in tons of sizes. We had a lot of empty window/wall space, and I decided I was going to add shelving. These shelves can hold lots of weight, which makes them good for appliances, but they’re open enough that I can actually use my microwave or toaster oven without worrying about a fire risk. The sunlight can still come in from the window, AND I can easy access and use my appliances.
Pictured: My appliance shelves & a delicious cake from Grand Baby Cakes (highly suggest). In the pantry, I knew that the deep shelves could be good and bad. Good because they’ll hold stuff. Bad because stuff can get lost. I added a set of hanging shelves to the inside of the door to keep smaller items from getting lost in the depths of the shelves and found a great set of pantry canisters to hold all the dry goods.
5. If you’re not cooking or cleaning...
There was a rule in house growing up. If you aren’t cooking or cleaning, get out. I’ve had to adopt this rule in my own house because sometimes, if I’m moving a lot or trying to quickly get something done, there’s not room for extra people...or dogs. There’s no shame in (kindly) letting people know you need that space to be yours. They can still have a conversation with you without standing RIGHT next to you, and that my friends, is a beautiful thing. I hope this helps as you navigate life in your own kitchen, with your own challenges and unique storage needs. Cheers! Stacia