A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Kitchen Dynamics

There have been many different ways to set up your kitchen over the years. When kitchen fires were the cause for houses burning down, kitchens were moved to their own buildings. We moved away from cooking in wood burning ovens to gas and electric, but some homes are returning to these wood fires for cooking. We have kitchens that welcome visitors to those that are meant for food preparation alone. Designs can be quite different, but the main function is still to have a space to fix the daily meal.

With our modern conveniences of refrigerator, sink, and ranges, we developed an idea that there should be an easily maneuvered triangle with these three appliances as vertices. Current thinking proposes that we should have work stations with everything at hand in one spot. This idea came from restaurant design. In fact, restaurant kitchens have always influenced our choices for the home, but we should consider how useful some of these plans are. I like the workstation idea. Under cabinet refrigerators make for quick access to goods, and with a sink nearby, I can have water when needed. The thing is that my home was built in the sixties, and this plan was not in place. Even the idea of guests hanging out while you cook is not served by these older kitchens.

Studies of cost versus return in home remodeling have shown that kitchen upgrades pay for themselves, while also making a profit for the sellers. If you are planning this upgrade to have your dream kitchen or just to impress a buyer, some practicalities should come into play. The new under-cabinet appliances that are meant to work in addition to the main appliance can be big energy drains. If you have a main refrigerator, do you need an under-cabinet model? With so many buyers becoming conscious of energy usage, these extra appliances may be overkill. If you feel that they will help you, then you should have them installed. My favorite of the new appliances is the dishwasher were one drawer can be used or two, depending on the amount of dishes that need to be cleaned. I think that this dishwasher could be used by many on a regular basis. Large sinks with two good sized basins are still the main stay for most buyers. Smaller kitchens seemed overwhelmed by two task specific sinks, and I find people go back to using just one. Solid counter tops always have a better look, and the engineered stone varieties are more durable than some stone products. Open shelving has a wonderful look, but the average homeowner does not have the time to keep these looking neat, so handsome cabinets are a better choice. When choosing appliances or equipment, I would not recommend the high end items. Parts for repairs are hard to find, and much of this equipment for home use has been shown to readily break down. Go with brands that are not coming out of the restaurant kitchens, but that are meant for the home cook. They are more reliable. Personally, I would rather be sitting with my guests, than have them sit with me whilst I cook, so I try to have the meal almost ready before they arrive. Counter space for the guests goes unused in my home. I like my smaller kitchen, and I try not to make it fit the current fashion, because that fashion may not last.

I find that having one good refrigerator, one good pantry, and one good large two basin sink serves most people’s needs. To plan out a work space, I have one counter area next to my cooktop clear of items. The cabinet above this space is where I store my spices and other goods to make a simple meal into something with a different taste. I keep my knives on a magnetic strip above the cooktop, and ladles in a container close by. I have a bottle of oil by the stove. Cutting boards are kept on the refrigerator, which is just behind me. I have the basic needs for my meal prep by me, and I find that works for me. If I was to change anything, I would have one of those shelves/drawers for my spices, so I can easily grab the one that I want. My goal is to make you realize that if your kitchen is not comfortable for you, you will not use it, so do not look at the latest design ideas. Think about how you might want to work in this space.



  marcia harris wrote @

I have just had the umpteenth argument with my husband about the layout of our kitchen. I do most of the cooking and am happy with the way things are but he says he can never find anything and gets all aggravated. Any ideas about ie where various things should be kept relative to the counters, stove and refrigerator thanks.

  frankschulteladbeck wrote @

My wife and I have the same argument, but she only cooks once a year, whereas I cook the rest of the time. When I worked as a food service manager, I quickly discovered that when a product or a tool was not readily available that my employees would make do with what was at hand. Unfortunately, this led to customers being told that we could not serve them what they wanted, because we were out. My home was built in the sixties, so the old kitchen triangle is firmly in place, and I think it works with my home’s design, so I do not wish to change it. I try to find ways for my wife to find the items she needs for her dishes easily, while still having space for my items, so in part my suggestion is discussing with your husband what he feels is needed close by to the kitchen prep area.
I found that skillets, pots and pans can be kept in a cabinet that is close to the range. The idea is to keep things close to where you may want to use them, so no one has to hunt for them. Rice, flour, or can goods I keep in the pantry since these goods are pulled out at the beginning of the cooking process. Items that I use during cooking are kept closer at hand, so I have a cabinet for my spices and herbs. Since I buy the big cans of olive oil, I cleaned out a wine bottle for oil, and I keep this next to the stove. I also keep a little pottery jar of flour next to my stove for rues. I keep my knives on a magnetic strip on the wall by my prep counter. The most commonly used implements when cooking, like spatulas, whisks, and such, are in a container close to the stove too.
By following the principle that the goods should be close to where they will be used makes life simpler in the kitchen. I hope this helps you.

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