8 Ways to Make Your Kitchen Work Better Today—No Renovations Required

If yesterday’s post about kitchen renovations left you feeling like you’ll be stuck with the same dysfunctional kitchen forever and ever and ever, amen…today’s post is for you.

The truth is, you don’t have to knock down walls and buy new cabinets to make your kitchen more functional. You might need to do that to make it prettier, but pretty is a nice secondary. The most important thing about a kitchen is that it works. And almost any kitchen can be made to work better. Not necessarily well…but better.

That’s a lesson I’ve learned in every home I’ve lived in as an adult, none of which has boasted anything close to a dream kitchen from the start. This Hawthorne House Renovation is the first time a real, genuine kitchen renovation has been in the cards for me, so for 20 years before that, my cooking, hosting, large-crowd loving self had to figure out how to make the best of what had been handed to me. And what had been handed was never good.

Here’s what I learned.

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How to Make Small Kitchens Appear Bigger

 After last week’s post, “10 Things I Love About My Small Kitchen,” reactions fell into one of two categories: 1)“Beautiful kitchen!” or 2) “Your kitchen isn’t small!”

To the former, I say, “Thank you!” To the latter, I say, “Is so!”

It’s true: A tiny studio kitchen in Manhattan, mine ain’t. I know it could be worse—way, way worse. To those of you cooking in teeny, tiny kitchens smaller than an airplane bathroom, I salute you.

Nevertheless, 9×13 still ranks on the decidedly small size—especially when compared to the mega-kitchens HGTV tells us we must have if we don’t want the neighbors pointing and laughing. Some of the folks in the “Your kitchen isn’t small!” camp discovered that, when they went and measured their own “small kitchens” and found that their kitchens were roughly the size of mine. But how could that be, they wondered, since mine looked so much bigger than theirs?

The answer? Magic! Or more specifically, the optical kind of magic: Illusion.

Here are some “Before”shots from shortly after I moved into my house in early 2005. And yes, I did buy the house when the kitchen looked that way—cement walls and all. I got a deal!

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10 Things I Love About My Small Kitchen

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.

Why?

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.

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