Seven Things I Love About Our Kitchen

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.

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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!

14 thoughts on “Seven Things I Love About Our Kitchen

  1. Julie says:

    Hello Emily! I love your posts (I love food, have 2 adopted children, try to live my faith, and have an old house with an old kitchen that I’m always doctoring up). I have been following your kitchen posts and getting many useful hints. Our refrigerator is failing. It is too big for our space so I might get the one you recommended yesterday, a more European style one. I LOVE your refrigerator drawers but must ask, where are you hiding your bigger fridge – the Whirlpool you don’t love? I don’t see it in the pictures and I’m sorry if its there somewhere or if you mentioned it in a different post. I hope your Lent is going well and thank you!

  2. Catholic Bibliophagist says:

    I just want to let you know how much I’ve been enjoying your series of kitchen posts. I too have cooked in many different kinds of kitchens: the good, the adequate, and the truly awful. Until you pointed it out, I didn’t realize that you had no upper cabinets, though I was aware of the wonderful open feeling which your kitchen has. I love the drawers. So functional! I’m not sure about the open shelving, but I live in a much dustier area. I also live in earthquake country which another reason open shelving makes me nervous. I didn’t even know that refrigerator drawers existed, so I very much enjoyed reading about yours.

    Anyway, it looks like a truly lovely kitchen. It must be a dream to work in. Thank you for writing about it.

  3. KaLynn says:

    I love that you brought your oven with you!! Your home is beautiful and truly a labor of love. A couple questions…where is your dishwasher or am I missing it? Also do you have a trashcan in one of those beautiful cabinets? Do you take your recycling right out to your mudroom? I feel like we always have a small recycling pile in our kitchen.

    I like that you talk about your kitchen “zone”. I would like to create that because it stresses me out when people get all up in my cooking space.

    Hoping to redo our kitchen in 5-10 years 🙂 It will be hard to wait that long, but worth it when we can afford to do it right. The layout of our kitchen makes literally no sense haha!

    • Emily says:

      Thank you! The dishwasher is immediately to the left of the kitchen sink. It has a custom panel over it, so it looks like a cupboard. I like to hide appliances! 🙂 The trashcan is in the island, directly across from the dishwasher, which makes cleanup super easy. And we keep the few items we have for recycling in the mudroom or (more often) just outside the backdoor on our deck. If you are on Instagram, my story highlights include two tours of the kitchen—one just around the kitchen and one inside all the cabinets to see how everything is organized. There is more information there than you could ever want to know! Good luck with your renovation!

  4. Julia says:

    Hello Emily! Your kitchen is beautiful and I SO appreciate both your sharing and implementation of kitchen preferences from your many years of experience hosting, etc. I’m curious if part of your home renovation included taking down a wall between the kitchen and dining room? Also, I can see a… window?… over your kitchen sink… that seems to open to another part of the home? What is through that window?

    Thank you!!!

    • Emily says:

      Julia, yes, our house had been converted to a duplex in the 1960s/early 70s, so we had tor redo the entire floor plan on the first and second floors. That included relocating the kitchen from what is now the mudroom and opening up the dining room to both the kitchen and living room. If you go back to some of the older pictures under the Hawthorne House Renovation page, you’ll see what I mean. The window over the sink was put there by us, in order to get more light into the kitchen. It looks into the mudroom (the former kitchen for the downstairs duplex). If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll find a video walk-through tour of the kitchen, dining room, and mudroom in my story highlights. It’s under Kitchen Week. Hope that helps.

  5. Joanna Foehringer says:

    Hi Emily! Love your kitchen posts! My parents have drawers in their kitchen too and I hadn’t realized how nice they were until I read this! We are completely renovating our kitchen and I have a couple questions if you don’t mind! I’m debating whether to place my stove in a peninsula that would face the dining room or on the opposite side facing the wall like you have. I’ve always thought it would be fun to cook at the stove and feel like I’m part of the party, but on the other hand my back would be to everyone if I’m prepping. We would have a two level peninsula so that little fingers can’t reach the flames while sitting up at the higher bar area. Our conundrum is figuring out ventilation. A hood would obstruct the view, debating a range with a downdraft built in. It looks like Jenn-air and Kitchenaid are the only brands that make them. I feel a little crazy asking you to ask your friends, but if they have any opinions on these that would be completely amazing. I’m worried about spending the extra money for one and it breaking down or being a pain.

    • Emily says:

      I’m so sorry for the delayed response! I may be too late for this, but when I was researching where to put the stove (versus a prep sink or sink), I came across some data that said the majority of time cooking is actually spent prepping and not standing over the stove, so that if your goal is to be facing people and chatting with them, you want the prep space facing them on the island and the stove behind you. I have certainly found this to be the case with the way I cook, but your mileage may vary. But if you do go the other route, my friends recommend Jenn-Air over Kitchenaid!

  6. Laura says:

    Unless I’m missing something, it’s been just about 4 months since your last post and I’m concerned that everything is okay? Hoping things are going well for you and yours, Emily.

    • Emily says:

      Everything is okay! Just very busy with the writing that pays the bills and motherhood and not leaving any time to log into WordPress and write a blog. I’m doing lots of micro-blogging on Instagram (3-4 times weekly), because I can do that with one hand while holding a sleeping baby, but that’s all I can handle for now! Thanks for checking in on me, though!

  7. Laura says:

    So happy to hear that all is well even if very busy, which is completely understandable. So much going on in our lives and so little time. All my best wishes to you and yours, Emily.

  8. Thea says:

    Dear Emily, I just wanted to say that your blog and Instagram in the same time inspired me with warmth, beauty and spirituality, but also gave me a lot of practical advice.

    I was never taught homemaking and femininity, although in other parts I had a beautiful upbringing, full of love, care and opportunities. Between the ages of 24 and 29 (after finishing graduate school, moving abroad for work, renting a 16 m2 apartment) I did the bear minimum for myself to remain healthy (salads, boiled vegetables, low-carb diet, as little processed food as possible), maintaining my home clean. On the other hand, I’ve never had guests over and prepared a meal worth sharing with others. My home one-room apartment also looked like a hotel room for a long time.

    Yesterday I prepared Lamb & Sweet Potato Stew from your list and will continue to learn one new recipe hopefully each two weeks. The next step will be to serve my mom for Christmas and post-holiday season, when she comes to visit me for two weeks. I also collected some nice natural automnal decoration in the nearby forest and started doing DIY projects, bought some nice second hand vintage decorations.

    In short, I have been feeling lonely, homesick and anxious all those five years. I can definitely say that Diane in Denmark (“Flylady Diane”) on Youtube and your blog changed my life. Yours both in organisation and spiritually.

    Many greetings from Germany, wish you all the best and would love to meet you someday!

    • Emily says:

      Thank you so much for writing! That makes me so happy to hear. I pretty much never have time for the blog these days (it’s all baby, work, and Instagram, which I can do while the baby is napping on me with one finger!), but one of these days I’ll get back to it. Godspeed with the cooking!

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