Stephanie Brick is a designer at Nicely Done Kitchens & Baths in Springfield, Va.
Gone are the days of kitchens as single-purpose rooms: We cook, entertain, do homework, pay bills, catch up and socialize there.
The kitchen, regardless of size, will inevitably end up hosting more people at a party than any other room in the house (despite your best efforts). It is the highest trafficked yet often most inefficient room in a home.
For instance, you may be merely settling or adapting to spaces defined by a builder from decades ago that never really met your needs. You may have every nook and crevice in your kitchen crammed with that oversized serving platter for Thanksgiving, the 30-inch-high coffee tureen, the rice cooker that they’ve only used once but will probably need someday for the recipe in that book you don’t want to get rid of.
It is these occasional pieces — seasonal items and small appliances — that become the victims of blind corner cabinets, the open space or weird cabinet above the refrigerator, the basement overflow shelving unit. Regardless of your attempts, the poor design you are constrained by is inconvenient, inefficient and requires burrowing with an outstretched arm (and often closed eyes, for fear of what you might uncover) to unearth your worldly possessions.
So what can you do to improve your kitchen?
I can tell you, one of the greatest realizations to my kitchen remodel clients — especially those recently retired from the military — is the concept of custom design in their space rather than just settling for what is already there. Consider: An entire world of opportunity for new efficiency is born.
You can conform the storage around what you have instead of the other way around, and you can design a space to fit your workflow. Out with the inefficient, and in with the design solutions to fit your needs and maximize your space. This new world of opportunity — with its new language, rules and codes, endless spec books of options — can be overwhelming or intimidating at first, but keep in mind, an architect will be your guide, always by your side through the entire process.
To begin the process, one of the first questions I ask my clients is about how they use their existing kitchen. While we adapt to our environments — however inadequate they may be — it is important to observe and analyze our actual workflow in a space before transforming it. Consider, for example: How do you serve your meals? Is it family style at a dining table or filled plates brought to the TV?
Think about this habit — if it’s one you want to maintain, and how it could influence new spatial efficiency. If you serve buffet style from the island, you will want to plan storage for your plates and silverware in that island, rather than across the room. If you’re dining away from the kitchen, you will want easy access to the trash can and cleaning zone coming from that other room for streamlined and efficient post-meal clean ups.
One of the best approaches to maximize efficiency in the kitchen is to design based on work zones. This dynamic concept is a further refinement of the age-old “work triangle,” which says the sink, refrigerator and stove should be in a triangular proximity. The concept of kitchen work zones defines the room into five different categories to maximize efficiency and minimize your energy as you work in your kitchen. Unlike the traditional triangle, these zones don’t just define where an appliance goes or what you do in the space; they further designate what kind of storage (wide utensil drawers, chef’s pantry, spice pull-outs) should be designed into these areas.
The kitchen workspace zones are:
• Consumable zone: This area relates to food storage like breads, canned goods and pantry items, along with the refrigerator.
• Non-consumable zone: This contains silverware storage, Tupperware drawers, plates, bowls and china.
• Preparation zone: You’ll want lots of counter top here as a good, open workspace to prep meals so design space for measuring cups, mixing bowls, colanders, etc. in this area.
• Cooking zone: This is home to your stove, oven, microwave, spices pull-outs, tray cabinet, pots and pans, Super Susan, cooking utensils.
• Cleaning zone: Your order of operations should line up with trash/recycling bins, the sink and your dishwasher here (in that order, or the reverse), so you can scrape plates in the trash, rinse them in the sink, then place them in the dishwasher.
Think of how much less energy and time it would take to prep meals if you didn’t have to move all around as you cook; if you could work in each “zone” of your kitchen at one time instead of darting all over the space.
By designing with specific intent and mindful use of storage, movement and workflow zones in the space, you can transform your kitchen to maximize efficiency in the heart of your home.