My kitchen is my workshop, my office, and my playground! I spend a great deal of time in my kitchen recipe testing for my new book (coming later this year!) and my blog La Vie Piquant, and of course creating all kinds of dishes and desserts for cocktail and dinner parties. I have put a lot of thought and love into my kitchen, to make it both functional and inspirational.
Recently, I had a few renovations done to further improve the look and feel of my small but mighty kitchen! In fact, I’m so excited about the updates that I kicked off Series 4 of From My Kitchen to Yours with a webisode dedicated to giving you a tour of my mighty little kitchen and some of the thinking and purpose behind my design choices. This is my real kitchen in my apartment in Chicago. No studio or sets involved! This is where I do all my creative development for my books, blog, and professional services. Watch the webisode below, and here I include a few more ideas and detail that didn’t make it into the webisode.
While I didn’t outline each and every detail of my new kitchen, I think that ones that I highlighted are really ideas and concepts that can work in any kitchen, regardless of the size. When you spend as much time in the kitchen as I do, having a space that is as customized to fit your needs is essential. The kitchen, for me, has never been a place for the latest trendy things—it is a place that artfully combines the functional and the beautiful. Timeless tools, like a food mill for example, will always have a place in my kitchen, along with cozy details that reflect my tastes and personality. (Did you catch the photograph above the doorframe? That’s my Nan’s kitchen where I first learned to cook.)
Here are some of the highlights I mentioned in my webisode, as well as some additional design ideas:
This small details adds instant warmth to any kitchen. It also offers a lovely glow during dinner parties, particularly if your kitchen can be seen or is open to the dining room. I opted for LED lighting that simply plugs into any standard wall outlet—no electrician needed!
My board is the “work horse” of my small kitchen. Not only do I store some of my most-used kitchen equipment, but it also holds items that are either bulky or hard to store. For me, having things out in the open reminds that I have them (and to use them!).
Even though my refrigerator is just a standard size and design, I have customized it to suit my needs. I changed the function of the crisper draws by removing them completely and lining the base with a rubberized mat to store bottles of Champagne, white wine, and other bottles. Now, instead of fresh produce disappearing into a drawer to be forgotten, all of my fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruits are stored in line-of-sight on the shelves, making it easier to “shop” my own refrigerator.
That works only because I also organized all the other “stuff” that shares the shelves with my produce, grouping bottles of condiments and other items in clear refrigerator-safe plastic bins. This saves me from the unwieldy mess that can happen with refrigerator shelves, and the dreaded “lost bottles” or “mystery cheese” that are only ever found again then they break, stink, or you move.
My microwave was positioned directly over my stovetop and was what I stared at all day when in the kitchen cooking—it drove me CRAZY! So, I had it removed and installed a decorative (but functional) glass shelf in its place. First, that got the hulking beast of a thing out of my face, and opened up the space. It also allowed me to free up my limited counter space from the myriad little things that seem to multiply, like salts, pepper, oil, etc. Now, I store things I use almost every day when cooking: Salts, pepper mills, a timer, Cognac, and more. I replaced the microwave with a much smaller model and moved it to the top of the cabinets. This works for me since I don’t use my microwave very often. I drilled a small hole in the top of the cabinet to feed the power cord through and plugged it in to the existing power source inside the upper cabinet where the old unit was plugged into. One the best visual and functional changes to the kitchen.
I purposely segmented my kitchen into areas for different types of cooking: Savory and sweet. It also helps when Ryan and I are in the kitchen together. A planned space is a harmonious space! My baking center is where I store all of the baking accoutrements, ingredients, pans, and flat sheets of parchment paper. I store all of my chocolate-based ingredients and nuts and dried fruits in small plastic bins. This allows me to pull down the bin and riffle through it looking for exactly what I need without making a mess of the entire cabinet every time.
Wall Mounted Knife & Spice Rack
Because counter space is limited and a true commodity in my kitchen, I try to keep as much off the countertops as possible! I mounted a magnetic knife strip to the wall, opting to get rid of a clunky knife block. I also did the same with spice racks. Even my utensil crocs are taller, narrow, and have a small footprint.
Upper Cabinet Storage
Since my cabinets do not go all the way to the ceiling, I have utilized that precious space for storing glass jars with dried grains, beans, large appliances (like a small microwave, convection oven, Champagne/party tub, etc.), and bottles sparkling and still water.
All Food, No Dishes
Only one cabinet has mugs and everyday drinking glasses in it, otherwise I made a conscious choice to store only food and equipment for preparing food in the kitchen. That way the kitchen is fully functional as the place for food prep and cooking, and the dining room is fully functional with all of the dishes and glassware at the ready in the cabinets and buffet that are located right near the dining table. At first, it felt like I was breaking some sort of kitchen rule. But, once I realized that it was functionally awkward to do it any other way, it just made sense and works so well.
I had the countertops replaced with a light quartz and changed the wall color from a dark chocolate brown to a lighter French gray. I kept the blond cabinets as the wood tone softens the space while keeping it airy. My signature color is orange (have you noticed around here?!) and so I chose to paint the peg board orange and let the color peek through the utensils, pans, and equipment. It gives a lively energy and really makes the peg board a fun focal point that’s part of the ambiance and design of the kitchen. But, I didn’t use the orange any other place. In small spaces it is easy to overdo it. And on that note, I removed many of the decorative bobbles I used to have on the walls. Over time it started to feel a bit cluttered and became a bit heavy. With the new lighter French gray, I decided to pair everything down to what is most meaningful to me. The uncluttered look helps when I get whipped up into a frenzy in the kitchen and don’t feel overwhelmed.
Lastly, I had the tile floors redone to match the wood floors in the rest of the apartment. The darker floors actually soften the space and make it warmer without making it feel smaller. In fact, by having the wood of the apartment extend into the kitchen it actually feels more cohesive and connected, and even a bit larger. It is amazing how updating just a few square feet of space can have such a dramatic effect.
I mentioned the under-counter, but I also updated the lights in the ceiling with “daylight” toned LED lights and put them on dimmers. When I really need bright light in the kitchen I can crank them up and see what I need to see, without additional heat.
My kitchen, like everyone else’s, has its quirks. One of which is no dedicated ventilation. So, I bought a tower fan that hides just outside the kitchen. When I’m baking or using all the burners at once, it slides over and circulates the air wonderfully. A little addition that has made an enormous difference.
I also have a very shallow sink (the dishwasher is below it) with no possibility of a sprayer. So, I found a fabulous Italian spring-mounted faucet with a sprayer built in! And lastly, I softened the door frame (which has no door) with an asymmetrical curtain, which can be drawn to close off the space visually if I ever want to during a dinner party.
I hope these design ideas and tips that I’ve developed for my kitchen are useful and you find some inspiration for taking a fresh approach with your own space. I’m always curious and trying to innovate, so if you have your own ideas please share them in a comment below!