In praise of small kitchens

One of the hardest parts of selling our condo in SF was leaving behind our lovely kitchen. The bigger-than-any-kitchen-I’d-ever-had kitchen. The stainless-professional-stove-and-plenty-of-counter-space kitchen. The kitchen that was a room unto itself.

So when we got to our new apartment, with its galley kitchen, I worried. How would all our dishes and cookware and foodstuffs fit in this kitchen that’s half the size of what we used to have? We had cleared a lot of seldom-used kitchen stuff when we moved, but I was still overwhelmed at the thought of making it all fit.

I spent hours in that kitchen, lining shelves with shelf paper and wondering how on earth it was all going to work. We had cupboards above the built-in microwave (which itself was above the stove), cupboards above a cutout that lets you look from the kitchen into the living room, and cupboards above the refrigerator, all nearly impossible to reach. There were two drawers, one of which was only 5 inches wide. We also had a wide expanse of countertop, dropped about six inches below the rest of the counters, with nothing underneath–kind of like a desk-type area, maybe.

D eventually came up with the solution: a folding stepladder that could tuck underneath that lowered counter area would let us reach all those high-up cupboards. The trash can could hide under there as well, and I bought some inexpensive plastic drawers, which also fit that under-counter space, for utensils, gadgets, Ziplog bags, and rolls of foil. And suddenly everything fell into place. After three days of hard thinking, I had a scheme that put glasses near the refrigerator, dishes near the dishwasher, baking pans under the oven, pots under the stove, snacks in an easily accessible cupboard and recipe ingredients in a high cupboard that’s still reachable via ladder.

Everything fit–with a little room to spare, even–and I have to say that this kitchen, though still lacking counter space, is almost more functional than my magazine-spread kitchen in SF. Everything has an obvious place; even D knows where to find things and where to put them away (which has never happened before–he never seemed to carry a kitchen map in his head). The proximity makes cooking and even just unloading the dishwasher much more efficient. With a smaller kitchen, we’re extra motivated to keep it clean–a day’s worth of dishes on the counter can totally trash the place, while in SF we could go a week before it looked bad. (Not that we ever did that.) And the fact that the kitchen is connected to the living room means I can be in on a conversation even as I’m cooking dinner.

There are still things I’d change (hello, tiny cooktop, leaning refrigerator, and spice rack right next to the stove) but I might be so bold as to say that I’m a convert: you can keep your stainless appliances–give me a well-planned, compact kitchen.

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