My parents’ kitchen in Israel was one of the first to have stainless steal cook range in the 80’s, when it was still considered industrial and too ugly for domestic use. Despite my mother’s protest, my father insisted on having this commercial grade appliance. As a professional cook he hated to come home and use what he called the “toy”, a small and pretty domestic appliance. For years my mother complained about the “monster” my father brought into the kitchen. 20 years later, when they remodeled the kitchen, my mother insisted on going back to having a beautiful white cook range designed for domestic use. Shortly after this she realized her fantasy appliance was not up to the cooking standards she was used to, and a new industrial cook range entered the kitchen.
I enjoy watching the different kitchens I see in movies. They are beautiful. Unfortunately they have nothing to do with real American middle class kitchens. Unlike other nations, Americans move on average every five years, which makes them reluctant to invest in their homes. Cheap linoleum flooring and laminated counters are common materials in American homes, despite the fact that this is the richest nation in the world, which pays the lowest prices for products. On the other end, in the upscale houses, I found the most ridiculous kitchens that money can create. Huge islands that require an arm extension to clean, impressive elaborated wood work that invites heirloom filth to settle in the wood carving for generations, and the most unforgivable crime, in my opinion, is having an expensive kitchen, where hundred of thousands of dollars were poured in, with only one oven. Obviously these kitchens were created for show rather than cooking.
I love and appreciate beauty, but kitchens also have to be functional. My father told me that in order to design the best working kitchen I need to borrow elements from commercial kitchens, which are designed to allow the optimum space for efficient cooking. I agree with him. I am not a designer, but through my many years of cooking and working in different kitchens I developed a preference for my working space. There are several basic elements to take in to consideration when designing a great kitchen to work in, and it should not cost an arm and a leg.
First thing to consider is the space. Our Sacramento house was big, but for some stupid reason the builder dedicated only a small space for the kitchen. It was more like a coffee corner than a real kitchen; all the neighbors used the laundry room to store food and dishes. A kitchen should not be the size of a stadium, but it needs to allow space for storage, working, appliances, and movement. Even if there is only one cook in the house, other people still should be able to approach the fridge or a cabinet while the cook is working. Another point to consider when designing the space is the proximity of the different workstations; this is the reason why a kitchen shouldn’t be too big. Nobody wants to run marathons between the sink and the fridge. Think how you work and move in the kitchen. I prefer my prep space next to the cooking area, which also includes storage for spices.
Dim light can be romantic, but it’s not very practical to any workspace beside the massage room. Kitchens need to have lots of good light: natural and artificial. You need to be able to see food’s true colors – so you know what you are making and if it is made right. Good light is great if you grow your herbs in the kitchen. An indoor herb garden by a kitchen windowsill can be very useful when cooking.
A walk-in pantry is a must, no matter how many cabinets you have. The amount of storage this little room provides is priceless. Every person works differently in the kitchen; so one should know their habits to design the right storage in the right location. I love drawers in the kitchen; they provide great storage and easy access. A hanging rack for pots and pans is a great solution if you don’t have a lot of cabinet space for storage. If it hangs over the cook top it provides easy access to the cooking dishes, but take into account the dust from above and the grease build up from the cooking below.
A kitchen that is easy to clean is a necessity. Working everyday with different ingredients and their different textures can be a messy business at times. The simplest the kitchen design is, the easier it is to clean. This is why I don’t think it is the place for over embellishment. I know Americans love their décor, but it’s not very practical in the kitchen, where every nook and cranny is a dirt trap. I prefer slab cabinet doors, simple back splash tiles, and smooth counter spaces and flooring. Tile counter tops are not very practical to be working with pastries or when it comes to cleaning. If budget is a concern, laminated surfaces may be better in this case.
Today there is a wide selection of great appliances at different price ranges. There is no need to dig into your 401K to pay for decent appliances. I use the oven on a daily basis, and I find that one oven is not enough. Ideally I would like to have three ovens. It is very useful when you want to cook a chicken for three hours at 250F, roast vegetables on broil, and bake a cake at 350F for dinner. I love my wide gas cook top, I can put several big pots on at the same time and they have plenty of room to sit next to each other. Another thing I really love about my cook top is the fact that it faces the dinning room, so I can talk to people while I cook. A second fridge in the garage is always a plus, especially if you host a lot. Some families cannot do without an extra freezer. Eventually it comes down to how different families use their food and kitchen to decide what extra appliances are needed. I inherited GE Profile appliances from the previous homeowners and I really like them, especially the giant oven I have. From a cost perspective, these are considered mid-grade and they do a great job.
Stick to proven timeless materials in neutral colors. I feel so sorry for people who invested a lot of money in trendy colors or materials, which look outdated five years later. Materials such as butcher blocks, some stone countertops, and subway tiles are time tested. So many people fall into the décor trap when remodeling, when they are tempted to add this decorative tile to the back splash or that decorative leg for the island, to give it a furniture look. I don’t find it necessary. What adds décor and character to the kitchen is the food you cook and the people you have around you.