Residential Kitchens can be Functional

January 25th, 2010 § 5 Comments

There was a commentary from an author at another blog, Dog Walk Blog, citing that home kitchens are not functional; looking more like living rooms with furniture than places to prepare food. I am not certain if the author, Charlie, is (a) just being cheeky, (b) disagreeable in general, (c) was not part of the process when his kitchen was built, or (d) just irritated that it was his turn to cook breakfast. I’ll assume (d). While I am in agreement with his opinion of HGTV’s over saturation of also ran “me too” shows showing kitchen after kitchen topped with granite counters, I beg to disagree with his commentary that residential kitchens of today are not functional.  In fact, a properly designed kitchen, large or small, can be a super efficient hub of the home that would make even the most reticent morning person jump for joy at the prospect of making breakfast. It is all in the planning. In any event, I will respond to his critique on the functionality of residential kitchen design here in my blog.

There are volumes of books that discuss the history of the kitchen and it’s relevance to domestic life, so I will not digress into that here. To the left and below are historical pictures from the great food blog, Gherkins & Tomatoes, a wonderful blog that covers topics on Cooks & Cooking throughout history. Suffice it to say that in America, kitchens have come full circle from the primitive all purpose “great room” where all family activities took place; and as Americans gained wealth, kitchens were relegated to the back of the house, closed off from the parlor where the family gathered, lived and entertained; up to today’s standards where the kitchen has returned to it’s roots as a “great room” where the family gathers, lives and entertains within the kitchen space and where cabinetry blends into the architecture of the home.

Kitchens have evolved as the new living room, but this does not make them any less functional because of the decorative cabinetry.  Looking back at the history of the kitchen, it’s easy to see where the trend of kitchens looking more like living rooms started. Creating more comfortable spaces, innovating with useful tools to make kitchen chores easier is the one constant theme throughout our kitchen history.

Soho Loft designed by Paul Gleicher 

So let’s examine the points in Charlies argument on why he believes today’s kitchens are focused more on the “pretty” and not focused on the “functional”:

Stainless Steel Counter tops Versus Granite Counter Tops: 

By all accounts stainless steel is a popular material in both residential and commercial kitchens. Hygienic and durable, no one can refute that stainless steel is the practical material of choice for sinks, appliances, ventilation, back splashes and counter surfaces. Gleaming bright and ultra modern, stainless steel counters can be a bold choice but also can be cold and noisy if used as the sole counter surface. I think most people would agree that counter surfaces are personal choices, an area to infuse their own personality into their kitchen. Restaurant kitchens with stainless steel surfaces are noisy because the sound bounces off of all the hard surfaces. Photo on the left French Laundry by Dave Anderson. If you look at counters in this restaurant kitchen on the left and in the video included further down, we can see that even the highly acclaimed French Laundry restaurant in Northern California has a work around solution for stainless counters, covering up most all the stainless steel prep surfaces with gleaming white plastic cutting boards at the line and white butcher paper at the plating area. The use of the plastic cutting boards are practical and butcher paper prevents plates from shifting while plating on the pass and cuts down the noise of plates on the stainless. I would also guess that the butcher paper also prevents the plates from cooling slightly less than if the plates were placed directly on the stainless surface. Would most homeowners be willing to do the same in a residential setting? I think not.


Open shelves that predominate in a commercial kitchen can be a drawback in a residential kitchen. While commercial kitchens are typically equipped with heavy duty stainless steel work surfaces with open shelves below and open shelves above, commercial kitchens also employ a staff to keep these surfaces gleaming bright by scrubbing them down daily from top to bottom.  While a few open shelves at home require a moderate amount of maintenance to keep the dust and grease at bay, in today’s busy lifestyle, who has the time to maintain all open shelves in a kitchen? Especially near the cooking area. If you have ever run your hand across your vent hood that you missed wiping down in the last week or more, I dare you to test it out and run your hand across the hood, feel the greasy dust on your hand and imagine a layer of that same grease on all your pots, dinner ware and glasses stored on open shelves.

Frankly, having open access to all shelves, upper and lower exposed, can look unsightly and cluttered in a residential kitchen. No one is that organized at home unless you are Martha-what’s-her-name. Commercial kitchens maintain a lot of uniformity on the shelves, all white plates, all the same type of cookware, all the same type of utensils. Not so in our kitchens. We “inherit” cookware, have multiple types of dinnerware, mugs, glassware,  plastic ware, way too many slogan mugs from business partners and travel mugs and most of us want it covered up from view. Planning and plating by pulling your plate, prep bowls and serve ware out of a cabinet before you make the omelet is key in not getting aggravated in your kitchen. Installing roll out trays in base cabinets, editing out what you don’t need in cabinets or do not use anymore will increase the function of your kitchen.

Interior cabinet lighting: Never search for that missing lid or favorite spice again with interior cabinet lighting.  Each time you open a door or cabinet drawer, light automatically illuminates the space so you can quickly find what you need. Picture on the left shows lighting switch from Richelieu. 

Electric Stoves:  Oh yes you can regulate heat with induction cooking, powered by electricity of course. Get ready for those perfect pancakes Charlie.

There will always be those who favor gas cooking, but induction cooking, which has been around for several years, should not be overlooked.   The following information and more can be researched at The Induction Site, the following is an excerpt. 

Here’s why:
1. Instant adjustment. You can adjust the cooking heat instantly and with great precision.  This is what sets it apart from the typical electric coil which slowly starts to increase or decrease when adjusted.
2. No wasted heat.
With induction cooking, energy is supplied directly to the cooking vessel by the magnetic field; thus, almost all of the source energy gets transferred to that vessel. With gas or conventional electric cookers (including halogen), the energy is first converted to heat and only then directed to the cooking vessel–with a lot of that heat going to waste heating up your kitchen (and you) instead of heating up your food. (The striking image at the left shows how precisely focused heat generation is with induction–ice remains unmelted on an induction element that is boiling water!) As a comparison, 40%–less than half–of the energy in gas gets used to cook, whereas with induction 84% percent of the energy in the electricity used gets used to cook (and the rest is not waste heat as it is with gas). There are two important heat-related consequences of that fact:

3. Cooler kitchens:
Of course the cooking vessel and the food itself will radiate some of their heat into the cooking area–but compared to gas or other forms of electrically powered cooking, induction makes for a much cooler kitchen (recall the old saying: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”); and

4. A cool stove top:

That’s right! The stovetop itself barely gets warm except directly under the cooking vessel (and that only from such heat as the cooking vessel bottom transfers). No more burned fingers, no more baked-on spills, no more danger with children around. (The photo at the left–more can be referenced at the Induction Site–shows, like the one shown here, how only the cooking vessel does the actual cooking.)

Ovens that make you bend down: 

I can’t argue with this. Unless you have lots of help in the kitchen as show in this photo on the left, from another new favorite blog, (Taste with the Eyes),  placing an oven in a tall cabinet that makes it easy to reach and pull out hot food is ergonomically the best way to go. For others with very small kitchens, the sacrifice of eliminating a counter surface is not worth the trade off. For aging in place design, including a wall oven should be considered as a space planning priority. There are ovens with double doors that swing out but they tend to be on the pricey side. Again, another trade off that has to be weighed against the over all budget.

Pots & pans
Pots and pans should be accessible in roll out trays or drawers. I prefer drawers so that everything is within view with a single pull of the drawer. Hanging Pots and Pans above from a pot rack  means one of three things: (a) you can afford hired help to keep them all your pots and pans sparkling clean, (b) You ignore the dust and cob webs and only clean them before the holidays, (c) you don’t cook and your pots and pans are hung from a pot rack just for show. Enough said.

Utensils and Knife Storage: definitely agree with Charlie on this point. Utensil storage should be visible and within arms reach in your cooking and prep area. Maintaining cleanliness for utensils kept out in the open is an easier task than maintaining dinnerware and pots and pans on an open shelf.  One of my favorite lines is RÖSLE.   The Open Kitchen is a genuine RÖSLE concept, lifting beautifully designed professional kitchen utensils from invisibility in back drawers and setting them out for both show and utility. The expandable system incorporates adaptable modules offering infinite possibilities for modifying and enhancing the work ambient as convenient.

Your point is well taken. In the best of all worlds, it would be a bonus if all residential kitchens were big enough like it’s commercial counterparts to house both a sink in the clean up zone for washing dishes and another sink to prep our food and wash our veggies. This is a matter of budget, remodeling logistics and size permitting.

I think there is no better time in kitchen design, where kitchens can be stylish and very functional. Any chef will tell you that the last thing they want to see after a long day in the kitchen is a utilitarian commercial kitchen at home. Everybody wants to warm it up and personalize it when it comes to their own kitchen.  

In summary I think the Rolling Stones summed it up best and you can use this logic in kitchen design too:

You can’t always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need,
Oh yeah, hey hey hey, oh…

Dog Walk Blog
How to get a Table at the French Laundry
Taste With the Eyes Blog
The Induction Site
Rolling Stones Song Lyrics

Favorite Kitchen of the Day

December 14th, 2009 § Leave a Comment

Photo: David Duncan Livingston

This is a beautiful way of handling a small kitchen space. Kitchen designed by City Studios.  I love the slate blue accent color on the island against the white cabinets. Rustic details like the warm-toned recycled antique terra cotta floor. The kitchen’s eco-friendly curved soft ivory concrete countertops are made with concrete – a locally made material – and were given have a patina for an aged look. Other details: energy-efficient appliances, insulated and double-paned windows and door and drawer hardware made from high-quality recycled metal. For the full story visit: SF Gate: Greening the Kitchen. 

The Future of Corner Cabinets in the Kitchen Is Here Now!

October 31st, 2009 § 4 Comments

Once upon a time being sent to the corner as a kid was a bad, bad thing. It was considered punishment in school. Even worse, (or so I’ve heard), if you had a real tough school marm, you were further humiliated by wearing a dunce cap.

In remodeling a kitchen, reaching into a blind corner cabinet is the equivalent of being punished. No one wants to stoop down, on bended knees, crawling and reaching forward in a contorted yoga move forcing you to breath while grasping for that unreachable bowl in the caverns of the dark corner.

Corners have come a long way in kitchen design. Check out these space saving options in corner cabinets found around the web.

Going to the corner has never been so much fun. Watch and see! 

Making the Most of a Small Kitchen

September 8th, 2009 § Leave a Comment

So you have a small kitchen. Now what? What to do when expanding is not an option?
Take a look at these two kitchens and look at the solutions these owners came up with.
The first picture shows a small kitchen remodel without knocking down a wall.

(Image: Andre Rothblatt) Credit: Apartment Therapy,
the kitchen above (designed by Andre Rothblatt)
Upper wall cabinets are gone. Open shelving to the left. Drama in the hood, wall pot rack accents stainless steel counters, warmth and appeal provided by the Boos Chopping Block, red stools and Black and White floor. Full length subway tile running bond behind the stove. Busy? Never. Charming? Of course!

This second kitchen below knocked down the partition wall.
Brought to you via Funky Junk Interiors

Before: A typical isolated kitchen with dated details.

And the after…
The partition wall was non load bearing and came down. The typical single kitchen window was replaced with three single hung windows providing a flood of light and making the space appear larger. Read all the details at Funky Junk Interiors. Here is a great use of unconventional materials: metal top on the island and laminate tops on the perimeter. Check out more photos at Funky Junk. Amazing transformation. Great job, on a small budget!

Style Notes on a Budget:

  • Paint Cabinets and remove the doors.
  • Use white tile. It is less expensive without adding deco inserts and liners. Subway tiles add authentic classic look.
  • Order cabinets with Recessed 1/4″ panel doors to keep the cost down.
  • Order cabinets in Hickory, Oak or Alder to keep cost down.

Small Space Spice Solution

September 6th, 2009 § 3 Comments

If you have a small kitchen you are familiar with a big problem.

  • Lack of cabinet space.
  • Lack of counter space.
  • Lack of drawer space.

Spices are the odd men out in small kitchens and shoved around from here to there to make way for more storage. You’ve moved the spices to the drawer to gain glass or plate storage. You moved the spices out of the drawer and shoved them in the pantry to gain storage space for the utensils. Then you wind up with a spice spinner that takes up valuable real estate on the counter. Here is a great little solution for spices that frees up precious storage space needed for other kitchen essentials.

Try this set of 24 magnetic spice jars to fit on your fridge. Hexagonal shape fits together creating a spice-colored honeycomb pattern on your fridge. Strong neodymium magnets will keep jars from sliding. Caps are die stamped with spice names. Gold plastisol lids form an airtight lock, keeping spices fresh.

Follow the link to contact GneissSpice at ETSY.

1.5 oz. jars accommodate more than enough spices. However, when you buy spices from the grocery store–they are often more than 1.5 oz, so be sure to buy the smaller containers or buy from a bulk store and save packaging! (Or, purchase the 4 oz. jars). Smaller amounts of spices stay fresher as they are replaced more often.

Buy just enough and never buy spices in “Restaurant Size” unless you are cooking in restaurant size quantities. Nothing ruins a meal quicker than old, stale spices.

Design Solutions: Don’t want to clutter your refrigerator? Do you have wooden panels on your refrigerator with no magnetic space for attaching? Or are you just a die hard cook that would not dream of storing spices in natural light? Buy a magnetic/dry erase board that fits the inside of a wall cabinet door or pantry. Arrange the spices so they do not interfere with the fixed shelves in the cabinet or if your shelves adjust, raise or lower a shelf so that the spices clear when closing the door.

Sneak Preview from Armstrong Cabinets

March 24th, 2009 § 3 Comments

Everyone is gearing up for the Kitchen and Bath Show, held in Atlanta, Georgia May 1-3, where all the latest and most innovative kitchen and bath products will be previewed.

Here is a sneak preview from Armstrong cabinets. With functional and organized product introductions like the SalonCenter, getting dressed and out the door in the morning just got easier. Many designers, including me, have been using similar ideas for their clients for years, but the difference was that it had to be designed, parts pulled together from after market vendors and custom built according to our exact specifications. Having to customize a cabinet always added to the cost. It is a good day when manufacturers are standardizing features that just make good sense at an affordable cost.

Read below for more information from Armstrong.

SalonCenter™ Brings Affordable Luxury to the Bath

LaundryCenter™ Organizes the Busiest Room in the House

New SalonCenter™ from Armstrong Cabinets provides convenient solutions for the bath by creating a luxurious spa-like bathroom loaded with built-in storage space. SalonCenter, a self contained pull out system, allows for organization of hair dryers, curling irons, and other vanity items. Imagine: His and hers preparation areas, makeup area with vanity stool and salon center pullouts that provide abundant storage for linens and supplies. Several other cabinet storage accessories not only complete the bath, but make it work as good as it looks.

The laundry room is the next big area for organization. Armstrong Cabinets provides an innovative solution – LaundryCenter™ – that is modular, scalable and fits to the size of any laundry room.

Completely customizable, customers can choose from a pull-out cabinet insert with hangers to dry shirts, a clothing folding table as well as an ironing board pull-out, among others. A combination of these zoned organization solutions along with the appropriate layout of cabinets can redefine the laundry area to create a perfect balance of form and function.

“Efficient interior space design provides the storage, convenience and organization needed for any home and lifestyle. The trend in cabinets is not just exterior aesthetics, but personalized storage, whether in the kitchen, media room, mud room, laundry room or bath,” says Marketing Manager Tosha Diiorio. “Our Zoned Organization Solutions make life easier and more enjoyable.”

For more information, visit or call 1-800-527-5903.

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Remodeling the Ranch Style Home

January 20th, 2008 § 3 Comments

The challenge of a Ranch Style kitchen.

The challenge for many who are ready to update the ranch: keep budgetary costs down with minimal structural and mechanical changes while improving the layout of the kitchen. Here are some ideas from my own collection of jobs and from around the net that show small space Ranch Kitchens with maximum impact.
Newspaper ad from 1962.
A new ranch style home for sale

In California, ranch home subdivisions exploded like wild poppies all over the state in the 1960′s and 70′s. Some better than others. Big lots, huge backyards, massive windows and sliding glass doors welcomed indoor/outdoor living, vaulted ceilings, 2 car attached garages, walk-in closets, spacious formal dining room, living room and den to boot.

The Klawitter Home in Long Beach, CA. An example of the best part of California Ranch House style: The indoor/outdoor living.

Ironically, the kitchens in these big, beautiful ranch homes usually shared the same impossible U-shaped footprint or narrow galley kitchens. Peninsulas with blind storage corners, massive sink base cabinets centered over a pass-thru kitchen window intended for ease of entertaining and serving to the patio. Before: Clerestory windows. Vaulted Ceilings. Views of the backyard make for a good beginning.
Goal for the new kitchen: Improve the layout, add counter space.

After: continue the clerestory windows into the kitchen allows the light to flood the kitchen.

Before: Three entries into the kitchen makes for an awkward layout with small counter space, small pantry and limited space for appliances and storage.

After: Third doorway closed off allows for bigger range and powerful vent hood, microwave and warming drawer allows the cook more flexibility for cooking large meals and entertaining. More counter space, open airy space with new half wall into dining room.

Before: Soffit over the sink area and wall cabinets close off the
kitchen and make it look smaller.

After: Soffits gone, glass front and sides of wall cabinets allow light
to bounce off reflective surfaces.

Before: Awkward and incomplete.

After: Additional counter space and an easy place for guests to relax with you in the kitchen.

Customized storage makes cooking easy.

The storage in this kitchen was doubled with customized features.

Accessible and Durable Storage: Lighted corner cabinets. Heavy duty hinges.

An 1965 newspaper ad. The Valley News, San Fernando Valley, CA .

A 1970′s Raised Ranch with it’s original kitchen layout.

Cabinets with impossible storage corners.
The peninsula and large spans of windows prevents needed wall cabinet storage.

During the remodel: the peninsula with the blind corner banished allows for the sink wall to be outfitted with a giant lazy susan corner and a trash base to the left of the sink. The new position of the dishwasher is given a proper home to the right of the sink, followed with drawers to the right for cutlery.

The cook top location remains at the same location but gets a boost of cooking power with an under cabinet oven. The old kitchens with the typical 70′s dropped fluorescent oak trimmed light fixture.

The new hood becomes the focal point.

No space for a double oven?
If it’s been a while since you shopped for a range,
the new double oven range offers unequaled versatility in one convenient package.
Introducing GE’s hottest new innovation in cooking convenience! This new GE Profile™ double oven range allows you to cook two different dishes at two different temperatures at the same time.

The stunning kitchens below are from
Here, a U shape Kitchen with functional storage in every usable inch!

This mahogony stained kitchen is fabulous.

Small u shaped kitchens are no place for tall oven cabinets. This under cabinet oven makes way for spacious counter tops. Lou Ann Bauer and her staff at Bauer Interior Design was recognized by Interior Design Magazine as one of the nation’s top Kitchen & Bath design firms. For more inspiring views visit

The Best of Ranch Style

Rancho Style: Modernism Meets the Ranch House.
I am a huge fan of the Cliff May homes. They were certainly inspired by the Western ranch house, but they are unique in their modern interpretation of this California design. The Long Beach Cliff May’s were built in the early 1950s and reflect the modernist influences of the time with open floor plans, exposed post-and-beam ceilings, clerestory windows and floor to ceiling glass.

Floorplan Design and Placement
Many Cliff May designs are L- or U-shaped and are positioned to the back of their lots, a design layout which he envisioned would provide for more open outdoor space and an enhanced relationship between the homes’ interior and yard.

Appreciation for Design
As more people become interested in design—whether it‘s a toaster or an automobile—more are wanting their homes to reflect what they value. These individuals tend to share a common aesthetic and appreciation for form and function. They are, in large part, the new breed of owners who are shaping the future of neighborhoods such as the Ranchos. And somewhere in the great beyond, Cliff May is undoubtedly cheering them on.

For more information, please visit:

The Eichler Home: Distinctively different from the Ranch Home, the Eichler shares the same beauty of indoor/outdoor living with Atrium courtyards. A midcentury modern home built by developer Joseph Eichler and his Eichler Homes, Inc. built nearly 11,000 single-family homes in California, beginning in the late 1940s. In Northern California, they can be found in areas in and around Marin county, the East Bay, San Mateo county, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento. Three small communities of Eichlers in Southern California stand in Orange, Thousand Oaks, and Granada Hills. In addition, there are three Eichler-built residences in New York state. Together these thousands of “Eichlers” reflect the beauty and uniqueness of the Eichler design and the integrity and daring of the builder behind it. Fifty years later, the house that Joe built endures as a marvelous legacy.

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