Until a few years ago, Kristen Russi grocery shopped European-style.
“It was a big step when I got the big refrigerator,” says Russi, 46, of the mini bar-size fridge that, until a 2012 building renovation, forced her to buy only what she could eat for two days.
Still, Russi, who works in marketing, isn’t cooking any feasts in the efficiency kitchen of her 425-square-foot Logan Circle studio. The small strip of floor designating the kitchen is so narrow, one can wash the dishes with one foot in the living room.
For apartment dwellers who might be trading location for size, mastering the art of a diminutive kitchen takes strategy.
Versatility is key, says Laura Packett, manager at Sur La Table in Chevy Chase. Have multipurpose equipment. A member of the tiny kitchen club herself, Packett sings the praises of the Vitamix blender. “It’s the appliance I always go to,” she says. “You can use for blending, smoothies, juices, soups — even batters.”
For those with limited storage space, Packett recommends a judicious approach. “Avoid gadgets,” she says of the various one-function doodads and thingamabobs available. “Keep it basic and simple — a good whisk, a spatula, wooden spoons.”
Reach for handy cookware: a 10-inch skillet, a good 3-quart saucepan and a Dutch oven are her top choices. And magnetic knife strips can be used to avoid bulky blocks.
Having a small kitchen means keeping its limitations in mind, especially when planning ambitious projects. That’s what Claudia Brown, 50, a project coordinator for a mental health advocacy organization, has learned.
“It just doesn’t lend itself to chopping vegetables endlessly, sauteing vittles in wide pans and preparing and cooking multiple courses,” Brown says. Her long, narrow kitchen fits a table to double as an office in her Columbia Heights studio. But the actual cooking space is tiny, a challenge for the culinarian Brown.
“One time, I made spanakopita,” Brown says. “I nearly gave up because there wasn’t enough counter space to lay out the phyllo dough in the pan.”
Figure out where you can create counter space. Russi knows about that: Her counter is about 7 inches wide and 2 feet long.
A friend made her a board she can put across the sink for chopping. If her new beau comes over to cook with her, she says, “he’ll chop food on the coffee table. It’s claustrophobic with two people.”
Beautifying and organizing are also key, Brown says. Introduce color with bright posters. Hanging plants add greenery without taking up counter space.
Just make sure you’re comfortable with the layout’s quirks before signing a lease. In Russi’s case, the oven door gets stuck against the pantry door. “No basting, no broiling for extensive periods of time,” says Russi, showing off the matching burns on her wrist, battle scars from baking banana bread.
She hasn’t let the challenge of small space defeat her. “If I want to make it,” she says, “I don’t let the kitchen stop me.”
“It’s cozy in here,” she adds. “I don’t think about it being small. You make do with what you have. I’ve never been into having a big house.”
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