Cozy Ideas For Little Kitchens

By Eliza R.L. McGraw
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 16, 2006

We live in the age of the ever-expanding kitchen, with towering refrigerators, massive ranges, counter space to spare. According to Dean Crist of the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of a new American home is now about 2,400 square feet. Typically, the kitchen takes up about 9 percent of that square footage, or 216 square feet.

Visualize that space: a room 20 feet long, almost 11 feet wide. Big.

But as many cooks well know, bigger is not necessarily better. Little kitchens can be more efficient: fewer steps between counter and stove, quicker trips between dishwasher and cupboard, spices within arm's reach.

To illustrate this truth, we went in search of kitchens that have to make every square inch count -- and found lots of style, ingenuity and happy owners.

Consider Jaime Palmera. His entire apartment in a 1940s Columbia Heights townhouse totals 750 square feet -- a long space that includes kitchen, seating area, bedroom and office. When he gutted the space for a remodeling four years ago, Palmera deliberately made the kitchen small -- about 8 feet by 14 feet. But he also took pains to avoid a closed-in feeling, deciding on a large island to separate the kitchen from the rest of the space. "I played a lot with the layout. I wanted to maximize the space, and then I went with a simple, free-standing island."

In truth, the 6 1/2 -by-4 1/2 -foot island is not all that simple. Palmera, an architect, custom-designed it using stainless steel framing from Chesapeake Rigging, an Annapolis company that constructs masts for boats. The exposed construction gives the island an industrial look; a marble top adds luxury. It houses a dishwasher and shelving on one long side. On the other, four stools slide underneath, saving space when the counter is not being used for dining.

Palmera says he wanted a kitchen that looked like a kitchen but was space-efficient. When he is not cooking, he uses rectangular metal lids that fit neatly over the burners on his cooktop, giving the island a more finished look. He says he hates having to remove the lids for cooking, "but it's worth it."

One wall is dominated by nearly ceiling-height black lacquer cabinets from Ikea. Palmera had outlets installed inside the cupboards so appliances such as the coffee maker and microwave can be used right where they are stored. "The only thing I have to take out is the blender, so I don't make a mess in there," he says.

Palmera estimates that he spent about $15,000 to $20,000 on just the kitchen renovation, and says that if he had it to do over, he might have allowed just a few more inches to accommodate a shelf for more storage space. Because his kitchen is just steps away from his sleeping area, Palmera has had a problem with cooking odors. He uses an extractor, a device that removes air from the kitchen, as well as cross-ventilation. A GE Advantium oven, which uses light rays to cook food extra-fast, also cuts down on lingering smells. And Palmera confesses he sometimes resorts to "a lot of incense."

Otherwise, he says, "it's really perfect for me."

The kitchen in Loren and Scott Kantor's upper Georgetown townhouse is much smaller than the one in their former home, so it required plenty of thought during its renovation. "I knew every single deficiency of our old kitchen, and everything I wanted in the new kitchen," Loren Kantor says.

The space, immediately off the front entry hall, runs toward the back of the house. It is 16 feet long and just 8 feet 4 inches wide at the cooking area and 9 feet 9 inches in the adjacent dining space.

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