A trio of experts weighs in on the steps you need to take to create a structured, stress-free kitchen.
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If your quest for a simpler life has led you to the kitchen, you'll find lots of opportunities for streamlining. But contrary to what you might think, the most valuable ideas come from examining your already established work style, not by developing new habits.
"People put too much effort into antiquated ideas like the work triangle, which isn't individualized enough to work well," says Chicago-based designer Jessica Kalina, of Kalina Kitchen & Bath. "Most designers today start with how you work in the kitchen, from sink to fridge to dishes, and then design a personal solution for simplicity instead of expecting you to change your behavior to fit a one-size-fits-all kitchen organization."
Whether you're starting fresh with a brand new kitchen or just attempting a few tweaks for simplicity's sake, Jessica, organization expert Louise Kurzeka and feng shui guru Danielle Kovach have five key ideas to consider:
1. Store Stuff Where You Use It
The most basic way to simplify an existing kitchen is to arrange equipment and dinnerware so that everything's stored close to the place where you use it. "That means dishes next to the dishwasher, pots and pans next to the stove, and so forth," says Danielle, an architect based in Charleston, S.C. "That will make your life in the kitchen much more relaxed and will also help you identify the things you're not using on a daily basis, which you may not need at all, or, at the very least, may need to store somewhere else."
The things you do use often should be stored closest to the work counters. "That means in the base drawers directly below the counters, or the cabinets right above," says Danielle.
When you place objects according to their "point of main use," really think about what you do in the kitchen instead of blindly following convention, recommends Louise, of Everything's Together in Minnetonka, Minn. "Do you love to entertain, but actually call in caterers to do the cooking? Are you a fanatic baker?" she asks. "Make whatever you use the most often the highest priority for using the space available. If that's a microwave and the stuff you use to heat up frozen dinners, that's what you should create as the focal activity center and where you should devote most of your storage space. Just remember, you're the one who's going to use the kitchen, so never mind what another cook or family would make top priority."
2. Design Storage from the Inside Out
To make your kitchen look cleaner and work more efficiently, pay as much attention to the inside of storage cabinets and drawers as you do to that pretty veneer or dashing color. "If you're not gutting the kitchen, a manageable improvement is upgrading the interior of your storage," says Jessica. "Consider each piece in terms of what goes inside and how you need to access it. Then consider adjustable and roll-out shelves, drawer dividers, and even upgrades like vertical tray dividers if you have a lot of cookie sheets."
3. Consider Drawers, not Deep Cabinets
Louise often helps clients draw up preliminary kitchen plans, and one thing she always encourages them to think about is using drawers in place of under-counter cabinets. "Those cabinets can be really deep, which means wasted space and crawling around on your knees to get the stuff way in the back — and designing pullout shelves for them can be expensive," she says. "That might be an advisable approach to hold heavy pots and pans, but drawers are very helpful for any number of other things. You can use them to hold mixing bowls, for example, or create a baking drawer below the prep counter that holds the mixer, the pastry cutter and the sifter."
High-quality drawers can hold a decent amount of weight, too, she adds, and can be fairly wide if you need to hold implements such as griddles or baking sheets. One such heavy-duty brand to consider is Glide-Out, from Shelf Conversions. "They offer drawers with pegboards and upright dowels on the floor that strategically keep a stack of plates or bowls from sliding as the drawer closes," says Louise.
4. Do Take Messages, but Skip the Extra Seating
"The trend in the past several years has been to get away from having a message center in the kitchen, but I think that's a mistake," says Jessica. "Most people have always used the kitchen as a place to hang the car keys or for the kids to store their homework or even to check recipes on the laptop. If that describes your household, you shouldn't take that component of the design away and expect people to be able to change their ways."
You can make the message center simpler, though, says Jessica, by eliminating that extra chair or desk-chair combination. "You probably need an under-counter file cabinet more, so you have a place to store all those papers."
5. Minimize Multiple Materials
Once you've tackled the concealed aspects of your kitchen, consider the visual impact of the materials you can see. "A simplified kitchen design isn't so much about which materials you use in the visible spaces, but how many," says Jessica. "If you have a stone counter below a backsplash made up of several types of tile, that's going to look busy."
Try to limit the materials you use for kitchen focal points to two or three if you're going for a simple, soothing look. "If you have a marble counter and want the tile backsplash, consider making the tile the same color as the marble," says Jessica. "Or if you're using two kinds of cabinets in separate areas of the kitchen, consider using just one material and color for all the counters, even the island, to unify the look and keep it from being too jarring."
As a certified feng shui consultant, Danielle does recommend having at least a bit of material representing each of the five elements incorporated somewhere into the kitchen for simple harmony and balance. "Fire and water are usually covered between the sink and the stove, and stained wood cabinets or a wooden floor take care of the wood element," she says. "If you're missing metal, consider something as basic as a stainless steel container on the counter, or a ceramic canister if you've neglected the earth element."
That said, like Jessica and Louise, Danielle can't emphasize enough how much simplicity relies on personal style and workflow. "Some people find lots of natural light in the kitchen to be soothing and simple, but for others it's chocolate brown or pale green," she says. "You don't have to go overboard, and your kitchen doesn't have to look like an Asian spa. It's much more about your personal style and your intentions."