I’m not sure if people in Heaven are allowed to spend their eternity laughing at people on earth. Probably not. But, if they were, the blessed poor would be laughing at us.
Too many reasons to count. But one reason would be our obsession with out-sized kitchens.
Over the past decade, HGTV and Better Homes and Gardens have colluded to trick millions of unsuspecting Americans into believing that they need—really, really need—to spend tens of thousands of dollars lining their kitchen walls with custom cabinetry and their countertops with marble. Last year, $54,000 was the cost of the average kitchen makeover in the U.S. $54,000! That’s just $10,000 less than I paid for my house in 2005.
The same masters of brain-washing seem to have convinced an equal number of folks, that if your kitchen isn’t large enough to host a regimental ball, you should resign yourself to a life of take-out and frozen dinners. Because who can cook for themselves, let alone for others, in any room too small for waltzing?
And yet, for centuries, women managed to feed their family and friends just fine, in kitchens roughly the size of contemporary pantries. They cooked three meals a day for a half-dozen or more little ones, welcomed friends and strangers alike to their table, and did it all without built-in wine coolers and multiple prep sinks.
Over the years, I’ve had the chance to cook in some of those fancy, schmancy chef’s kitchens, and truth be told, I haven’t liked them nearly so well as my humble, cozy, 9×13 cooking space, remodeled for a grand total of $6,000 back in 2006. It’s compact, but well-designed, and oh so very pretty (at least I think so).
So, just in case, any of you in Internet land are contemplating selling a small child in order to afford your kitchen remodel…or using your small kitchen as an excuse to avoid inviting people over for dinner, let me disabuse you of those thoughts by celebrating some of the finer points of my own small kitchen.
What do I love about it? And what makes it work?
1. My Hoosier Cabinet
I bought this back in 2006 for $100. A new coat of paint and some fancy hardware made it look pretty on the outside. Inside, though, it’s all workhorse, hiding most of my small appliances, plus coffee mugs, teas, and medical supplies…the last of which I really need close at hand whenever I’m in the general vicinity of sharp objects.
The little metal shelf also pulls out, giving me extra counter space when I’m doing serious cooking.
The house’s previous owners kept their refrigerator there, but the space just wasn’t right for it. For that matter, no space in a 1915 kitchen is right for modern refrigerators. So, I moved the big fridge to the basement, and bought a small fridge that could fit in the mudroom (about five steps from the stove).
It’s a minor inconvenience, but worth it for the extra counter and storage space. Plus, the kitchen feels much bigger without it.
2. My Pot Rack
I’ve got limited deep cabinet space in this kitchen, so a pot rack gave my beloved All Clad pots a home and freed up cabinet space near the oven for my baking dishes .
Bonus points for no longer having to fight with pots and pans stacked on top of one another in a too small cupboard.
3. My Sink
In my old rental, I had a single basin sink and loved it. When I went to redo this kitchen, however, friends advised me against purchasing another single basin sink. “People like two sinks,” they told me. “If you re-sell the house, that will be important.
Whatever. After three years of not being able to fit large pots and pans in my sink, I marched off to Lowes and ordered a veritable trough to replace the first sink I’d purchased. I have not regretted it for one second. Large pots fit in it with ease, wine glasses are easy to wash without breaking, and I can soak two large pans in it at once. Or baking sheets. Or twin babies!
4. My Stairway.
Yes, this stairway takes up valuable kitchen real estate. Yes, if I removed it, I could have loads more counter and cabinet space. But it’s so cute! And it’s most everyone’s favorite place to sit and talk with me while I cook. Plus, the children who come to my house think it’s magical. Cabinets and counter space can be overrated.
6. The Wall O’ Cabinets.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the primary reasons I bought my house: an entire wall of original built-in cabinetry. I love the cleverness of the design, as it makes perfect use of the space, which could never accommodate deep cabinets or any counters whatsoever.
The cabinets themselves are shallow, but still big enough to line with glasses, food, and plates.
With this much cabinet space at my disposal, I decided I didn’t need the two measly cabinets that once hung over my stove and near my sink. Pulling those down, opened up the whole kitchen and made it feel much larger than its actual size.
6. My Floors
On a tight budget, I had limited options for flooring. But if I had to do it all over again, only with an unlimited budget the second time around, I’d still choose my humble, cheap ($.59 per square foot!), vinyl composition tile.
It’s easier on both the back and dropped dishes than ceramic tile; lasts longer and looks nicer than vinyl sheet flooring; and, with its linoleum-like appearance, is period-appropriate for a 1915 kitchen. Every five years or so, I have to strip and re-polish it, but I’m weird and think the whole thing kind of fun. Plus, did I mention it was cheap? The entire floor, installation included, cost me less than $500. If I’d felt up to laying the stuff myself, it would have cost about $100.
7. My Countertops
I love granite. I also love slate. And I really, really love soapstone. But I live in Steubenville, Ohio. I could buy a home a few blocks away for less than I could buy soapstone counters for my kitchen. More importantly, since I was earning a grand total of $35k a year at the time of the remodel, I couldn’t have afforded soapstone no matter where I lived. But, I could afford butcher block.
For around $300 at Ikea, I got a period-appropriate countertop, made of natural materials, that holds up to constant cooking. I do have to be careful with water, but for the most part, all this baby needs is regular oiling (and the occasional sanding when I’m less careful with the water than I should be).
8. My Dishwasher.
Now you see it…
Now you don’t!
Yes, it’s tiny. But it’s big enough to wash all the plates from a large dinner party and a couple day’s worth of dishes for three women. I also love that only the especially observant ever notice that the dishwasher is even there. Three cheers for handy friends!
9. The Spice Drawer
Please, ignore the stains on my labels. This is a kitchen, not a showplace after all, and these things get used. Stains or no stains, though, putting spices into mini-mason jars and organizing them in the drawer next to the stove keeps all the spices I need close at hand, helps me identify what I’m looking for quickly, and frees up counter space. It’s a triple win.
10. The Beast
No, this was not part of the $6,000 remodel. It was a gift to myself last fall when the women I spoke to at the San Antonio Catholic Women’s Conference bought an inordinate amount of books. (Thanks San Antonio!). But, even though it’s a newer addition, I love it so much, how could I not include it?
Besides, the thing is a genius of engineering. It fits into a standard-sized range cutout (which in my kitchen is just barely manageable), and makes use of every square inch, pushing the usable cooking space out and up and down and back.
So, even if you have a tiny little 138 square foot kitchen like I do—with four doors, three windows, a stairway, and a wall of built-in cabinetry—it will still fit. And when you move, you can take it with you. And believe me, should that day ever come, I so am.
In sum, my tips for making a small kitchen work and doing it on a budget are…
- Do what it takes to keep your limited counter space clear (i.e. hide the clutter and the small appliances);
- Ditch the double sink;
- Paint, paint, and more paint;
- Look for cheaper, unconventional materials (butcher block counters, vinyl composition tiles, etc.);
- Maximize use of small spaces;
- Make friends with handy people!