In my lifetime, I have cooked in countless kitchens—both my own and others’—and through it all, I kept a running inventory of design features I liked and didn’t like. So, when we moved into this house in 2016, I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted. I had do to a bit of tweaking to deal with our space and budget, but overall the kitchen you see now is the kitchen I saw in my head the first time we looked at the house.
Over the past year, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about various choices I made from people wanting to know if they should make them in their own kitchens. Not being able to see the kitchens or know how the questioners use their kitchens, the only thing I can really do is say why I chose something and if we’re happy with it.
Here are my answers to the features I get asked about most often.
1. The layout
The shape of the 13’ x 11’ room lent naturally itself to a traditional U-shaped layout. Our kitchen is actually on the small size, but because of this layout, we were able to utilize almost every square inch of space. My favorite feature is that it allows for guests to be hanging out around the island and in the dining room, while I work in my “zone,” (the area behind the island) and chat away with whomever is there. I love, love, love that I now get to face my friends and family while I cook and don’t always have my back to them, like I did in my old kitchen.
As for that “zone,” right now I have the world’s tightest work triangle with my stove behind me, my prep sink to the left of me at the island, and all my prep ingredients right in front of me in the refrigerator drawers we built into the island. All the prep tools I need—bowls, strainers, knives, etc.— are also housed in the island. Which means I pretty much can stand in the same place while I do everything from washing vegetables to frying them and am never tripping over kids or running into adults. At the same time, there is still plenty of room for extra helpers, and with the main refrigerator in the mudroom, people wanting drinks and snacks are never coming into my space when I’m cooking.
For me, for how I like to cook, for how I like to host, for how I like to interact with people in my kitchen, this layout is 5 stars. In a perfect world, I would have a couple more feet of space at the island and 6” more on either side of it for wider aisles (ours are 37” all the way around), but for the 13’ x 11’ space we had to work with, I wouldn’t change a thing. It looks right. It feels right. It works right.
2. The cabinets
I love everything about my cabinets. Barring fire or floods, we didn’t want to find ourselves replacing cabinets ever again in this house, so we went with custom maple cabinetry purchased through Crowe’s Cabinets in Youngstown, Ohio. By forgoing upper cabinets and using an antique armoire as our pantry (as opposed to having a built in pantry), we also kept the costs reasonable. The cabinets are beautiful, well built, and having them made and installed was the easiest part of our kitchen renovation. In the pictures, they look lighter than they actually are, so everyone thinks they’re white. They’re actually a pale grey-blue (Benjamin Moore’s Grey Cashmere), and the color does a great job of hiding spills and fingerprints. My favorite part about the cabinets, though, is not the color, but my beautiful stacks of drawers.
My parents have deep drawers in their kitchen, and the first time I cooked in their place, I was amazed by 1) How much the drawers held; and 2) How easy it was to get everything out of them. With drawers, there is no getting on your hands and knees, digging around in dark cupboards, and pulling 10 things out to get the one thing you want. You just open the drawer, see what you need, and grab it. Kitchen drawers stay neat and organized almost by themselves. They also almost double your storage.
Accordingly, when I drew up the plans for our cabinets, my number one goal was to get as many drawer stacks in the kitchen as possible. I managed four stacks, plus three pullouts. The stacks hold plates and bowls, all my prep tools (knives, bowls, strainers, etc.), serving dishes, Tupperware, pots, pans, and baking dishes. The pullouts hold cooking tools and oils, baking ingredients, and trash. Opting for drawers over cabinets cost slightly more (I think, less than $1000 more in total), but because I wasn’t doing uppers, that still worked with the budget.
3. The countertops
From the beginning, I knew I wanted honed Carrera marble countertops. I used wood in my last house and the maintenance wore on me over time. Wood, along with soapstone, was also too dark for the space, which needs all the lightness and brightness it can get to compensate for the lack of direct sunlight in the room. I am not a fan of granite, and quartz was just too pricy. Hence, marble.
The marble we bought from Armina Stone in Pittsburgh was as affordable as granite (and more affordable than the really good granite), light and bright, and period appropriate. I researched the heck out of marble before hand (the best posts I read are here and here). I even emailed bloggers with lots of kids, who have marble, to talk with them about their experience. I have not been disappointed. They were sealed when they were installed, so they don’t stain, even when drips of wine or coffee go unnoticed overnight. They always look beautiful. And they feel amazing. They etch, because that’s what marble does, but I wanted marble, not plastic, so I’m okay with that. I love them and, God-willing, am looking forward to a long life with them.
4. The open shelving
I do not like upper cabinets. I understand why some people have them, but I feel claustrophobic when cooking with cabinets in front of my face. They visually shrink a room. And it’s impossible to reach anything in them above the first shelf. They also hide all the pretty kitchen things I love and want to see. That’s why, 13 years ago, I pulled them off the wall at my old house and never looked back. Long before it was trendy, I was firmly in the anti-upper cabinet, pro-open shelving camp.
That was doubly true in this house, where I didn’t want to be looking at a wall of upper cabinets from my dining room. Upper cabinets weren’t even a half-thought for me here. Instead, we went with open shelves over the sink. The bottom shelves hold items we use daily. The middle shelves hold items we use weekly. The top shelves hold things we hardly ever use but like to look at. Because most of the items are used regularly, they don’t get dusty or greasy. And because I am me, and only put things on the shelves that belong on the shelves, they never end up looking cluttered or messy. If you have cats or aren’t good at putting things where they belong, this isn’t the storage option for you. For us, though, it works great.
5. My pantry
In my old kitchen, I had a whole wall of original built-in storage, and it was amazing. I would have loved to replicate it in this house, but doing so was going to almost double the cost of our cabinetry. So, I had to come up with another solution. Thanks to Pinterest, I settled on the idea of repurposing an antique wardrobe as a pantry. I liked this idea because it would be functional and help connect the room visually to the dining room.
I found this old wardrobe through a local vintage thrift store. It cost a tiny fraction of what a built-in pantry would have cost (like 90% cheaper). My contractor installed simple shelves in it, and we called it good. It houses the microwave and toaster oven (which each have their own dedicated electrical circuit directly behind it), as well as all our food, extra glassware, and some additional cookbooks. Eventually, our fridge in the mudroom will have a cabinet over it, and we’ll move the non-food items in our pantry there, freeing up shelf space for more food as Toby grows. For now, though, we have more than enough storage space here. And since we’re never going to have six kids, this should serve us well for the long haul. Plus, it’s fun to have a ginormous antique wardrobe in the kitchen. Everyone needs a little bit of Narnia in their house.
6. The wood floor
When I first started looking at flooring for the kitchen, I really, really, really wanted encaustic tile. I found some I loved, but once I started crunching the numbers, I realized it was going to cost more than we could spend. Plus, I was worried about it being too trendy and looking dated in five years. My next choice was the vintage hex tile that we ended up using in the mudroom. At the last minute, though, I got cold feet about white tile in the kitchen, and chose white oak, which we had finished in place.
The oak itself is great. I highly recommend it for kitchens as it both hides dirt and handles water very well. Based upon the research I did, white oak, finished in place, is the most durable wood flooring you can buy. I have lingering regrets about not going with the white hex tile (because between the black flowers and grey grout, it really does hide dirt well), but in terms of function, the wood has been great, and probably far easier on my back then the tile would have been.
7. The remaining appliances
Everyone always wants to know what appliances we chose and why. The answer for most of them is pretty simple: because our friends, whose family owns an appliance store, told us what to buy. They deal with maintenance and repairs on the appliances they sell, so they know what is the most reliable. We bought our Jenn-Air refrigerator drawers directly from them (they were the outgoing floor model, so we got them at cost) and hauled them across three states after Christmas in 2016, before demo even began.
Likewise, almost five years ago, at their recommendation, I bought a GE Café double oven. It’s been awesome—so awesome that I didn’t sell it with the old house. I brought it with us and installed it here. They also recommended our dishwasher, from the Bosch 800 series. It’s crazy quiet, has a third rack which comes in super handy when we’re hosting a large crowd, and has done a great job of getting things clean. I’m not sure what else to ask for.
The Whirlpool refrigerator is a different story. And a long one. For now, let’s just say it was a last minute choice made in a moment of desperation. It’s already given us issues, so who knows how long it will last. It’s the only appliance we have that I wouldn’t recommend.
Okay, I think that covers most of the questions I normally get about the kitchen. But feel free to shoot more my way, if you’ve got them. Plenty of random strangers answered questions from me when I was trying to make my decisions, so I’m happy to do the same!