Designing our (little) kitchen
September 18, 2014 9:48 PM   Subscribe

After months of drawing and re-drawing, we have draft floor plans! Now we need more eyes on the kitchen layout. Looking especially for specific suggestions.

We've discussed it a bit with our architects, but their expertise (which we appreciate enormously) is in natural building rather than kitchen workflow.

Interior dimensions of the house are 16x20. Yes, we know how small that is. A few of the more unusual features are labeled on the plans.

Notes & Preferences:
- There is a loft over the west side, with the ladder ascending the wall next to the "floating island"
- The floating island is on locking casters so it can be moved for events
- We intend to use a large sink
- Definitely want an under-counter fridge
- The range will probably be on the small side
- We'll use a small oven or even just a nice toaster oven
- Many of the fittings and appliances will be bought used or from discount outlets
- We have already sorted out code compliance for all of the above

We certainly aren't professional chefs, but we're food-lovers and tend to spend much of our time in the kitchen. This kitchen may be small, but it will see a lot of use.

We've read plenty about general principles like the work triangle, but if you have any outstanding resources or tips, we'd love to hear about them.

What features have you seen in kitchens (especially small ones) that improve usability and efficiency?

Most of all, though... How would you arrange this kitchen?
posted by sibilatorix to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't look like you're gonna have a ton of base cabinetry but when you do: toekick drawers. There are lots of DIY ones on the internet or just get a cabinet manufacturer that includes them. It's so much extra space when space is at a premium.
posted by brainmouse at 10:10 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

From personal experience...

Make sure that you have the stove top far enough out from the wall so that you can use large pans on the back hob. (Factor in the width of whatever splashback you use)

With the loft upstairs - you need to have a good ventilation system - otherwise your bedding and clothes will smell like onions/fish or whatever pungent things you cook. Minimise bends in any ducting (with your tiny house I expect it will just be a straight outside vent) Ditto ventilation for the bathroom.

Insulate the floor of the loft - heat from the bathroom will make it warmer than is comfortable.

Can you shelve out the bathroom dividing wall to give you a spot for cups and tea and coffee supplies. This sort of thing (but as part of the initial construction - not post fitout)

Power points - add more than you think you will need - but make sure they are 450mm from any water source (or whatever your building code requires)

Magnetic wall rack for your knives

Drawers hold more than cupboards

Think about where you are putting your rubbish bin. Sink plumbing restricts the amount of space you have under the sink

Get a chopping board that fits neatly over your sink - it will nearly double your counter space.

Make the cabinetry with metal inserts painted with epoxy - you then have a surface that you can put magnets on for additional storage
posted by insomniax at 10:13 PM on September 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

insomniax makes some great points. I particularly want to emphasize the point about ventilation and smells upstairs in your bedding and clothes. Not only do you need a powerful hood, but you need to be liberal about using it.
posted by 724A at 10:24 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

How many are in your family, are you planning to grow it, and do you care about resale value of your home? Because an under-counter fridge is extremely limited. I live in a house smaller than yours, we are a family of 2 total, and there has never been an instant where I've not made full use of my small (54cm wide) but full-size fridge. Also, I don't care that it's 2014; the freezer compartments in those things are still useless.

I would put a slimline dishwasher (ours is 45cm) between the sink and the stove. If you don't want one, have the plumber plumb for one anyway. It is a trivial cost now; it is a massive pain later.

We have a round sink. It saves precious, precious counter space but the cutting board made to fit whatever sink you end up with is key in a small kitchen. Get a goose neck tap to make this work.

To maximise cabinets, we only have one drawer. We put nothing but cutlery in it. It works fine but in retrospect, to make easier use of the cabinets we have, I wish we had sprung for pull-out cabinets.

A "nice toaster oven" is a false space economy. It will severely ding the resale value of your home. Put an oven under the stove. Slimline appliances are your friend.

Overall, I'd look to arrange the kitchen with appliances and ordering like the left side of this one, even though yours may not be as long. Plus: cabinets above everything!
posted by DarlingBri at 11:07 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, I don't care that it's 2014; the freezer compartments in those things are still useless.

For clarity: I mean that the freezer compartments in under-counter fridges are useless. A lot of them don't even have them. And I mean really: is a life without ice cream worth living?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:41 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you include pull out "bread boards" in the cabinets? They would give you extra temporary space.
I agree that you may regret the tiny fridge. I notice the the lack of a microwave -but that is just me.
posted by Cranberry at 12:10 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

For those of you envisioning dorm fridges, sure, you definitely want one with the completely separate freezer door. But under-counter fridges can go quite fancy, such as this 4.8 cubic footer.

That said, bending down every time you get anything from the fridge gets pretty old pretty fast, so that's a decision I would personally reconsider. I speak from experience staying at a friend's cabin with tiny kitchen for a couple weeks at a time. You can get pretty skinny refrigerators in the 8-10 cubic foot range. Or you can place the half-height fridge higher with storage underneath, sacrificing some counter space (and I understand it really is a sacrifice here).

Anyway, given your layout, you don't have a ton of flexibility for arranging things. Assuming you want the sink at a window (most people like it that way), you want it at that center window unless you're both lefties because you don't want elbows hitting the right wall every time you do dishes. Then it's mostly a matter of choosing which of fridge/stove to put to the left and which to the right (with the fridge under the counter, you could probably go either way; with a taller fridge it probably has to stay left). I like things reversed from your orientation. I may have just gotten used to it, and I may be rationalizing, but having the sink to the right of the stove seems more natural (as a righty) for say, draining pasta or even just taking dishes to the sink. I like things to flow left to right.

Based on the size of your house, I am guessing you have already looked to tiny houses for inspiration? If not, I would google "tiny house kitchen" and see what strikes your fancy.
posted by ktkt at 12:24 AM on September 19, 2014

I highly recommend the book Small Kitchens: Making Every Inch Count by Robin Murrell. It's long out of print but easy to find, and has a lot to offer.

One of the ideas I got from that book was to ignore the work triangle idea and instead think about work zones for various activities, e.g. ingredient prep, cooking, snack area, cleanup, etc. Everything one is likely to need for a sort of given activity should be stored in the appropriate zone, e.g. in the food prep zone, which is probably adjacent to the fridge, you should have storage for knives, peelers, large spoons and whisks, cutting boards and mixing bowls. This is really nice in any kitchen but in a small kitchen it makes it possible for two people to work simultaneously at different tasks without constantly tripping over each other.

A dishwasher is a great thing in a small kitchen because it lets you get dirty dishes out of the way and out of sight instantly. There aren't all that many choices in the 18" size (standard is 24"). Spring for the expensive Bosch or Miele model; it will be more reliable and much quieter than the cheaper brands.

You'll need a trash can. An under-counter pullout is out of the way most of the time.

Don't store anything on the counters. No heavy stand mixer, no knife block... no nothing.

Drawers in base cabinets -- as many as you can possibly fit, as deep as possible, with full-extension slides. They're more expensive than open cabinets, but so much easier to access. Here's an in-progress photo of the kitchen I built in my last house. Even without the wall cabinets installed you can see that there's a huge amount of storage. The entire kitchen was a little over 7' by 9', and held all sorts of stuff despite the dishwasher and standard-size fridge and range. Thanks to the zone arrangements we had as many as three people working in that kitchen simultaneously without getting in each other's way.
posted by jon1270 at 3:53 AM on September 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have a tiny NYC kitchen, but regularly host large dinner parties. I would absolutely suggest a larger refrigerator. Ours is about this size (still not big enough for ideal large meal use, but decent for everyday use). When you just need to grab a stick of butter or something to top off a sauce, having to take everything out of the fridge to find it may take too long. Make sure the fridge opens in the direction of the cooking/prep space and not the wall.

Wall storage is key. Magnetic knife racks, a pot rack, etc. Ikea and the Container Store have some great solutions.

Cutting board that fits over the sink - even if not used for cutting, it's great for added staging space. Bread boards to slide out (we don't have this, but I often open our *one* drawer and place a cutting board across it for added space). Cabinets that go to the ceiling.

I'd put a dishwasher under the sink, but that's because I hate washing dishes and I like to use the best tool for the job rather than worry about using as few dishes as possible.

We have our bar items in the living room area (wine glasses, etc) as they take up way too much cabinet space. Lesser-used items like specialty cake pans and things can be placed in under-bed storage containers and slid under the couch (for example). I would actually keep everything packed for about a month and only unpack it when you want to use it. After a month, the stuff that is still packed should be kept in storage (under bed, couch, etc) and not take up cabinet/drawer/counter space.

Get things that nest - prep bowls that stack inside each other, etc. Make sure your plates are small enough to fit in your cabinets depth-wise.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:47 AM on September 19, 2014

Do you really need four burners on your cooktop? Two might be sufficient.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:00 AM on September 19, 2014

My dream kitchen has the food rubbish/compost bin under a counter with a hole cut through so that you can just sweep veg chopping remainders, etc, straight in there. I searched for 'counter hole rubbish bin' and if I am ever lucky enough to design my own kitchen I think it is a genius idea!
posted by symphonicknot at 5:12 AM on September 19, 2014

Can you shelve out the bathroom dividing wall to give you a spot for cups and tea and coffee supplies.

I like this idea if doing so does not compromise noise attenuation. That's a small house, and even with a deliberately noisy bathroom fan guests (and you!) will want auditory privacy. That wall needs to be built with good noise reduction techniques, and setting shelves into it might not be the right approach.

I second the comments about plumbing for a small dishwasher and allowing for an actual oven even if it is skinny. And the comments about the importance of ventilation fans are key.

Even if you don't install any cabinets above the counters, open shelves are easy and allow storage of things you don't mind being exposed. Personally I think you are correct to maximize counter space at the expense of an upright fridge, but as you can see opinions vary.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:35 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a similarly sized kitchen with the same layout, but 3 key differences. 1. I have a full height (but less than full sized) fridge, 2. under the counter between the fridge and sink I have a (also not full sized) dishwasher, and 3. I have a oven + range (also not full sized). With that set up, I can host 10 people for thanksgiving and it's plenty of space and appliances for everyday use. I really can't imagine having a mini fridge unless you would enjoy having to shop for food daily or almost daily, and are ok shopping for a party no more than a few hours in advance.

I can't tell from your floor plan, but do you plan to install cabinets above the sink/stove area? I have them built up to my ceiling and it's great. I have one set of easy to access upper cabinets for dishes and spices and such, and then a set of high up cabinets that hold less often used items (good china, etc). I'd also highly recommend installing a tall pull-out cabinet in the storage space next to the stove. Finally, do think about where you'll put your trash (and compost if you'll be composting), I don't see a good spot for it in your layout unless you're making room under the sink.
posted by snaw at 5:55 AM on September 19, 2014

One of the few big pieces of countertop work surface (and a nice one -- with a view out the window) is directly behind and in the door swing of the front door. It also is not generally a great idea for exterior doors to swing in -- they are more prone to allow water to find its way in to the building. I would recommend that you revise that door to be an outswinging door (and judging by the porch configuration, then flip it left/right so the hinges are at the bottom jamb).

(I am not your architect.)
posted by misterbrandt at 8:35 AM on September 19, 2014

(and judging by the porch configuration, then flip it left/right so the hinges are at the bottom jamb)

I agree, and I'd also shift it "down" as much as possible so that it can be opened without hitting an open cupboard door or sweeping someone standing at the counter out of the way. Of course you'll then need some sort of very solid doorstop to keep the door from ever swinging too close to the (presumably wood-burning) stove.

Edit: I agree except for the outswung door bit. If it swings out then you can't have a screen door, and I for one would really like to have that door open while cooking in nice weather, without having to deal with bugs coming in.
posted by jon1270 at 10:57 AM on September 19, 2014

I lived in Germany in my twenties where "dorm sized" fridges were the norm, even for full families. If you get a fridge that small, a neat thing to do is have it installed with the base at countertop height. This seemed to be pretty standard when I was in Germany and it makes having a small fridge a convenience rather than a pain (assuming your lifestyle can fit with such a small fridge).

If you cook a lot, I would consider going with a three burner stovetop, not a two burner. Even with cooking all the time from scratch when I was a homemaker, I rarely used four burners at the same time. This meant the fourth burner was just a magnet for grease and crumbs and sometimes smoked badly on the rare occasion when I did actually use it.

I had the most awesome kitchen when I owned a house in my twenties. One feature it had: A one foot deep, six foot high set of cabinets (probably 3 or 4 feet wide, I am less confident on what that measure was) near both the garage door and the front door which served as a pantry. I was a military wife and moved a lot, so I have had multiple different kitchens. I have had relatives with more money than me and my mom was a domestic servant in rich people's homes. I have never seen a better pantry anywhere else. So if you can put in cabinets that are one foot deep that are convenient to prep space in the kitchen and also convenient to whatever entrance door you use, I think you will be very happy.
posted by Michele in California at 11:56 AM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's a thought for the island. A pull out cutting board. These used to be de rigeur in houses when I was growing up. Very clever and a total space saver!

A pot rack might also be a thing

nthing pull out drawers instead of cabinets.

A tall, skinny fridge is going to be SO much more useful than some dorm fridge.

Downdraft Cooktop will help a LOT with venting.

Also a small dishwasher. The drawer one is really cool!

You will never regret getting a tall fridge. You just won't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:54 PM on September 19, 2014

If you do pull-out cabinets, remember that (depending on the set-up) you need to open the door all the way to get the pull-out part out. I know someone who has a setup where you open the (regular width) cabinet doors, and inside are two very deep roll-out shelf/drawers. There is a tallish "lip" on the front edge of the shelves, so you can't really grab stuff from the shelves when they're rolled in.... And you can't roll them out, even an inch, without opening the cabinet doors all the way to right angles.... And because the shelves run the full width, you need to open both doors to roll a shelf out. It ends up being kind of a pain if you want to just grab something quickly.

IMO, it would be better to have just drawers, or just cabinets, unless the cabinet is a narrow one (for narrow ones, opening the door to right angles is easier, and being able to roll the shelves out will make stuff in the back muuuch more accessible).

In any case, just bear in mind how much swing the doors/drawers will need and what that will mean for floorspace/multiple people in the kitchen. Same goes for your under counter fridge, I think - will you have to scoot someone away from the prep counter if you want to reach in and grab the butter?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:59 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of the few big pieces of countertop work surface (and a nice one -- with a view out the window) is directly behind and in the door swing of the front door.

This is a good catch. Not only would the door there be inconvenient for anyone working in the kitchen, but regardless of whether the door is hinged on the left or right sides, if someone leaves a drawer open the door will not be possible to open from the outside (or will hit and damage the open drawer).

It also is not generally a great idea for exterior doors to swing in

In the US the standard seems to be for residential doors to open inwards. I don't think I've ever lived in a place that had an outward opening door in this country (other than glass/french doors, things like that), though I'm sure they exist. As noted it would preclude a screen door and because it puts the hinge pins on the outside you can't use standard hinges.

But in this case I think you need to either relocate the door far enough down the page so that it won't interfere with the kitchen, or as suggested consider outward opening doors (or perhaps even something more unusual, like an exterior pocket door).
posted by Dip Flash at 9:19 PM on September 19, 2014

Seconding Lobstermitten's point about pull-out cabinets. We have them. and they're a pain. If you must have them then I recommend having concertina doors rather than straight ones, so you don't necessarily need quite so much room to open the doors. This brings me to my next point, hinges:

It is really, really, worth having hinges that let you open cabinet doors a full 180 degrees, so they lie flat against the cabinets on either side. If you have 90-degree hinges, especially if you have pull-out cabinets, you will find yourself entering a sort of alcove to get at things. It's a small extra expense, but decent hinges are so worth it.

Also, handles. Avoid ones that can hook things (e.g., adjacent doors, or clothing). Our cabinet handles are like vertical bars held out from the surface of the cabinet, and they often manage to hook onto the handles of the adjacent cabinets and make them jam. Look for handles with curves rather than straight lines, and make sure they can't grip each other.

I found that standard-width or narrower drawers are more space-efficient than wide ones. You would think the opposite, but wide ones waste a lot of space and mean that a person working at the counter blocks the entire width of drawer space. Two narrower drawers would mean that you can open one drawer while your partner is working in front of the other.

Try to find space somewhere for a broom cupboard. It can really be quite narrow. Put narrow shelves on the walls to hold cleaning products.

Finally, floods will be much less of a problem if you can install a drain in the floor.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:29 PM on September 20, 2014

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