Below are some well tested options for space efficient kitchens on display at the Showcase. But first, some micro kitchen philosophy.
Poor design is truly not at the top of the world’s problems, but an ill-designed kitchen is a daily (and often costly) insult, and may detract from one of life’s great joys: cooking together and eating. When considering the micro house kitchen, the goal is to subtract as little functionality as possible, to be able to cook creatively and well for a group of up to 10 friends. Having designed and built out a small rowhouse kitchen 4 years ago, there are a few design principles that have allowed a full range of cooking options with limited kitchen space. This will need to be adapted even further for the tiny kitchen- but not too much.
1. ‘All is one’. The motto of Dr. Bronner’s soap can be taken and applied to the kitchen: only possess what can accomplish the most tasks with the least, but best, equipment– the fewest number of appliances, cookware, types of glasses/plates/silverware, and storage vessels. Deliver the greatest variety of food with the least, but best, ingredients. Keep counters clear, decorative schlep be gone. This philosophy is not good for Macy’s stock, but is quite well suited to a well-designed kitchen. More specifically, it is possible to whittle one’s kitchen down to the following things, with no apparent decrease in functionality compared to a much larger, widely stocked kitchen that any moderately serious chef might have:
- 3 motors: a KitchenAid mixer, a blender, and a small food processor. If needed, the mixer motor doubles a dough kneader, ice cream maker, pasta press, grain grinder, juicer, food strainer with appropriate attachments. With it, and a high quality chef’s knife, there seems little reason to have a full size food processor. A smaller food processor suffices for coffee grinding, pesto making, peanut butter processing, etc.
- 3 heating elements: the stove/oven, microwave, and upright toaster. There is simply no reason for a rice cooker if you have a 2 quart pot. Be gone Foreman grills, electric kettles, crock pots and myriad other devices that clog cupboards and duplicate functions.
- 3 knives: a 8” chefs knife, a bread knife, and paring knife are really the only essentials, along with kitchen shears. Possibly an extra chef’s knife if there is to be regular co-cooking.
- 6 Pots: There seems to be really just 6 essential pots: a 2 quart, a 4 quart (a 4 quart pressure cooker is even better), 6 quart, 12” fry pan, a 6-8 quart enameled dutch oven, and a 10 qt. pot.
- 3 types of glasses: only 3 types of glasses seem necessary: mason jars (pint and quart), wine glasses, and mugs for hot beverages. All other special-use vessels are secondary and unnecessary. Consider that the mason jar alone may also serve as small leftover containers, vases, a cocktail shaker, oil candles (there’s an attachment you can buy), cocktail and punch glasses, etc.
2. Good food is beautiful, and should not be hidden. There is a lovely whiteness to salt, a mahogany sheen to kidney beans. The kitchen is about food, yet kitchen designers consistently and shamefully seem intent on hiding it in pantries and cabinets. Yet when opened, the ‘modern’ pantry is a confettied disaster zone of colored plastic, paper and foil packagings. It is difficult to see what we have, how much is left, or if it looks good to cook with or eat. Then even when organized, the true substance of the food is hidden by food marketers behind gaudy packaging, so that even when we are in our sanctified homes we are still being marketed to. I use a simple and highly space efficient way to organize food, one that also reinforces healthy whole food eating habits: the use of standardized, cheap, durable, non-toxic and beautiful mason jars, organized on a rack. The jars work to store dry goods, frozen and refrigerated food. All use the same lid (use only wide mouth- a mason jar funnel is useful for loading the jars).
Building a mason jar rack is simple carpentry, and can be constructed for less than a single custom cabinet. The mason jar system allows display of food (beans, nuts, dried fruit, sugars, spices, grains, etc). I shop primarily in bulk, then liberate the food when it comes home, repacking in mason jars. This will reduce the size of mixes, cereals, and begin to cultivate a bias against corn-syrup sodas and artificial foods and canned products. Canned vegetables are typically mush compared to fresh or frozen, dry beans are far better (and cheaper) than their canned cousins (and can be made quickly too, with the pressure cooker, with excess frozen in mason jars). Canned tomatoes all contain BPA, so I prefer the ones in aseptic packages. For flour, sugar, and other goods requiring storage containers larger than 1 quart, use plastic stacking 2/4/6 quart restaurant supply containers (only #1 or #2 plastic, as the clear ones usually contain BPA).
3. The kitchen should be a warm place for cooking together, and must be designed as such. Just as it hides food, the ‘modern’ kitchen seems intent on hiding every tool behind solid doors, making it a frustrating experience for sous chefs to help (and chefs, who must constantly dig up the needed items for guests). If one can’t see it, how easy can cooking be for you or a guest? Therefore:
- Cabinets: Minimize them, and store in them the least essential things. To the extent that cabinets are used for glassware, plates, etc, have at least some in glass so things are easily viewed. Also, it is essential that cabinets are as narrow as possible, as they impede spatially at eye level.
- Countertops: In a functional, inviting kitchen, everyone should be able to make a mess on their kitchen counters without a second distracting thought to damage. We should be able to cut on them, anywhere, without having them dull our knives, drop glassware on them without too much chance of breakage, and have a surface that is warm and inviting (unless we plan on opening up a Cold Stone Creamery). (I admit being scarred by the wrath of an ex for staining her granite countertops with lemon juice- but I think granite is simply an expensive, misguided choice for a functional kitchen.) Everything else is passable, butcher block is preferred (with the one downside of 2x yearly oiling).
- Pots and tools: Best to be hung on walls, easily visible.
- Silverware: Mix silverware together in several mason jars and leave them out, avoiding the sorting or searching around cabinet drawers.
Below are some additional specific elements I have incorporated and tested in micro house kitchens.
Recessed range: many RV/marine ranges sit above the countertop, are used .5% of the day, and take up valuable countertop area the rest of the time. There may be other recessed ranges, but the Dickinson 2 burner drop-in stainless propane burner has a lovely recessed cutting board that fits over the burners. You can even create a new cutting board to seamlessly match your existing countertop. Around $550 from marine supply stores.
Note a decent alternative to this (if you don’t require gas cooking) are the portable electric induction ranges (example) that sit on top of the counter and are easily removed & stowed elsewhere. Only downsides are they as high electricity users, they are not off-grid compatible, and are not compatible with all cookware.
Combination microwave/convection oven: I’m a shameless microwave fan, but also bake/broil frequently. Using a combination unit is obvious, and there are a number of models to choose from. A combo micro/oven unit, combined with a Dickenson drop-in range (above), is considerably more space efficient and versatile than any other oven/range I have found (including the combination marine oven+ranges from Dickinson and other marine manufacturers).
Marine toaster: Needing my toast, yet attempting to dispense with the bulky ‘single use’ pop-up toaster, I came across this simple marine toaster, which takes some practice to use, but is effective and quite low profile. Tasco stainless marine toaster, $25.
Combo Kitchens incorporate multiple small appliances into one complete all-in-one solutions for compact kitchens. Most units include a sink, stove-top, refrigerator, and storage space. These fully assembled completed units take the guesswork out of designing, but are less customizable to meet individual needs.