Visit enough home kitchens and a pattern begins to emerge. It seems that all human beings can be divided into two categories: the hiders and the displayers.
In hiders' kitchens, all flat surfaces look like salt flats -- Formica, for the most part, as far as the eye can see. Visible equipment is limited to a sparkling tea kettle and maybe a lone Cuisinart standing sentinel on the counter. Displayers -- Freud surely had more precise terms for both displayers and hiders, but that's another story -- love their stuff, love to look at it, and only feel right when they're surrounded by it. All the time, every day.
These are the people who need pot racks.
Hiders fear all pot racks except possibly the beautiful kind on which they can hang a few baskets and maybe a virginal copper mold or two. In that case, all the information they need to make a purchase is already embodied in their esthetics. If it looks good, buy it.
If what you want to do is actually hang pots -- the pots you use every day and want to have literally at hand -- then you need to think about things a little more.
Placement is everything. The point of a pot rack is to have the pots within easy reach when you're cooking. What you're trying to avoid is having to bang around in drawers or cabinets for the three-quart saucepan or the cast iron skillet. Unless you have a beautiful collection of copper that you use for decoration as well as for cooking, there's no point in locating a pot rack on the far side of the kitchen. You want it within a step or two of the stove, where the pots will be used.
And you want a place, whether the rack is suspended from the ceiling or attached to a wall, where you can hang pots within reach of your outstretched hand but not of your inclined head. The cast-iron skillet can give you a headache. Some kitchens are just too small or configured in such a way as to make a pot rack impossible. But considering the number of sizes and arrangements of pot racks available, you'll probably be able to find a place if you really want it to work.
Pot racks come in wall or ceiling styles.
Ceiling racks are suspended, usually on chains, from the ceiling. They are either rectangular or circular. When you consider that a very large pot rack can hold up to 50 pots and that those pots can add up to 150 pounds or even more in weight -- a small copper pot weighs about three pounds -- you'll know that you want to attach the rack to something other than 1/2-inch wall board.
"Ceiling racks must -- must -- be put into joists or rafters," says Nancy Pollard, whose store, La Cuisine in Alexandria, sells the widest variety of racks in the area and can also have racks custom made. "I don't care what kind of bolt you have or what the instructions say." Whether the rafters or joists are under wall board or plaster, they have to be found.
How low to hang such a rack depends mainly on your height. It will require some experimentation -- you reaching, another person measuring -- to determine what's most comfortable. You want to be able to reach enough of the pot to be able to lift it off its hook, but you don't need to be able to reach all the way up to the handle. Obviously if you are 6-foot-3 and the other person who uses the pots is 5-foot-1, you have some tricky and possibly insurmountable problems to work out.
When considering placement of your ceiling rack, you'll want to think about the view. While a lower-hanging rack is usually more convenient, the pots may block some cherished view. Low-hanging pots can take up visual as well as physical space in the kitchen, especially if the ceiling rack is located in the center of the room.
Consider the size of the pots you'll want to hang. Some ceiling racks -- the most elaborate ones -- come with an outer, higher rack and an inner, lower rack. Obviously the bigger pots can go on the higher rack, the smaller on the lower. Still, your hugest and tiniest pots may have to go elsewhere.
The chains on these racks can be adjusted to accommodate a sloping, or even a cathedral ceiling. Chains for racks to accommodate a cathedral ceiling may have to be specially ordered, which will add to the price.
If the space you have demands a wall rack, your deliberations will be slightly different.
First, structural questions: If your wall is finished in lathe-based solid plaster, you can probably hang the rack right on the wall. Otherwise, you'll have to attach the ends of the rack to the studs. If the studs don't match the size of the rack you can bolt a strong board to the studs, then bolt the rack to the board.
Then you need to consider how far out from the wall the rack can project. On straight racks projections generally range from 8 to about 18 inches. Semi-circular wall racks will project farther. What you need to find is a projection that will accommodate your most-used pots and your space.
Wall racks, like ceiling-hung racks, are available with two levels, the higher one projecting farther from the wall than the lower. They can be attached to brick or stone with special masonry bolts.
Pot racks come in a variety of materials, but most often are made from aluminum or wrought iron. La Cuisine can special order a stunning pot rack made from copper tubing, but you will pay several hundred dollars for it. Other possibilities are brass and steel. Prices vary from around $50 for a plain, fairly short wall rack to several hundred for the above-mentioned copper rack or other specially made or very elaborate racks.
Racks usually come with hooks, either single to hang one pot, or double to hang two. Hooks are available separately as well.