When we moved into our townhouse early last spring, our kitchen looked like this:
Aside from taking out a hideous flourescent light and replacing it with a more standard fixture, we didn't do much.
Filling it with our favorite pieces made it warmer, but it's hard to be a renter sometimes…you can't justify making any structural improvements to your living space because you won't reap any financial rewards when you move out. You have to get creative, and make improvements that you can take with you when you leave.
If I could magically make the changes to the kitchen at the top of my wish list, they would be:
1. Deeper/taller cabinets, or more of them (or both!)
2. Different flooring – the tile has a nasty peachy-colored tint to it and is always FREEZING.
3. Molding/accents – I hate that there is no backsplash tile, or something comparable, behind the counters and that there is no crown molding anywhere along the tops of the cabinets, or where the ceiling meets the walls. A little visual interest would be nice.
Okay, okay. Enough griping. One day, we will take the leap and buy a home that we can make any changes as we like. For now, we remain renters and overall I can't complain. Our kitchen DID get a facelift last fall when our fabulous landlord, prompted by a faulty stovetop, decided to replace all of our appliances with stainless steel versions. (Score.) A new faucet/sprayer soon followed. With these updates, some splashes of color, and some inspired organization, our updated kitchen now looks like this:
We've been renting here for more than a year, and married (with all the registry stuff we – gratefully! – acquired) for almost three. In that time, I like to think I've figured out some tips and tricks to make a full-service kitchen for two FIT into a tiny renter's space. I realize that none of this is earth-shattering, it's just a short list of some things that happen to work for us – two food lovers in a very cramped kitchen! I present to you, the fruits of organizational labor…
Kitchen Re-Org 2010!
I started by pulling every last item out of our pantry, scaling back a
bit, and moving (most) of it back in, organized by frequency of use.
Why this works for us: Canned goods that I use on a frequent basis are right at eye level, with all labels facing forward, to quickly find what I need – or, what needs to be restocked. Our stash of cereals and pastas is right below it, also in plain sight. Appliances we couldn't do without, but don't need to look at all the time, are nearest the entry (panini grill, quesadilla maker). All other entertaining items – platters, crock pots, serving bowls, pitchers – are within reach without being in the way of more frequently used pieces.
GARBAGE & RECYCLING:
We briefly tried to use an under-the-sink smaller garbage can (I
would LOVE to have garbage out of sight). However, the plumbing under
the sink doesn't allow a decent-sized bin to fit underneath, and there
was nowhere to put recycling. Also, with so few cupboards as it was, we
needed every square inch for storage, not trash.
Why this works for us: We bought black containers to blend in
with the fridge as much as possible. This is also a hard-to see corner
from most spots in the kitchen, so it was the best "out in the open
hiding place" for trash. The larger can holds garbage items, the smaller
holds recycling. Having one RIGHT next to the other has really helped
us step up the green thing – it's effortless to recycle when the option
is right there.
As you can see in the photo above, we keep all family and friend
"fridge" items on the side of our fridge. We can see them when we come
in from the garage, but from most spots in the kitchen, they are invisible, keeping the front of the fridge clean and uncluttered. On the opposite side of the fridge we keep a calculator and checklist for grocery shopping trips. As soon as we run out of a staple item, we check it on the list to ensure we pick it up next time we're out.
I realize that the fridge we have is indeed a standard size, and yes, it probably seems downright greedy, but I can't WAIT for the day when we can fit an XL one with double doors and maximum visibility! It's so easy to lose track of things way in the back, and bending over to hunt for something that has gone missing is not exactly easy. I've tried to make the best of it by giving certain always-on-hand items a "home spot" in the fridge (in other words, these items never move) and using typical cupboard organizational items inside the fridge.
Why this works for us: A lazy susan keeps a lot of short-expiration items all in one spot and easily visible so nothing rolls to the back to expire and be discovered six months later. (Ewww!) Veggies have their own space (nothing else allowed) in the crisping drawer to max out their shelf life. Same with meats. Anything we have multiples of (bottles of beer, egg beaters, etc) are lined up in a single row (earliest expiration date at the front to latest date in the back) so it's easy to grab one and go. If it's a sauce or condiment of any kind, it stays corralled in the door shelf. Any and all leftovers are stacked in clear glass containers for easy identification and to keep the overall appearance of the fridge looking clean and tidy.
In a small kitchen, counter space is at a premium. If you do ANY amount of cooking, you know you need some space for food prep if you're going to keep your sanity. We recently added this red hutch which offers, among other things, a secondary place to set things during meal prep. It also allowed me to clear a couple of existing things off our counter, and into the nearby three additional drawers!
Why this works for us: Adding three extra drawers allowed us to spread out some of the things that were jam-packed into the too-few drawers we already had. Also, it may not be "counter" space, but I was able to fit all of our wine glasses PLUS all of our champagne glasses, which had been taking up surface space on a hutch near the kitchen table. A couple of frequent-use serving pieces rest on top within easy reach as dishes are ready for the table.
Another method by which we've condensed our kitchen stuff is by selling all of our cookbooks. We received some as wedding gifts, and I've collected just as many if not more on clearance tables at Barnes & Noble since graduating college.
The kicker? Each three-pound hardcover book housed maybe a half-dozen recipes we loved and repeated more than once. Take that book times twenty, and you have a lot of space and weight for a few dozen recipes. What's more, I'd think of a recipe and then go through every SINGLE book, not remembering which one housed the directions for the dish I wanted to cook. So I got to work scanning pages out of the books and copying down others, compiling everything in a three-ring binder. One thinner binder for everything dessert, and a larger binder for every other course. 8.5×11 page protectors for anything torn out of a magazine, and divided 4×6 slot photo protector pages to hold recipe cards. Suddenly the 100+ lbs of bulky books were scaled down to two 1" and 2" binders.
(Don't you love the collection of cards you acquire as you receive recipes from different family members and friends?)
Why this works for us: I love having only the recipes we love on hand, organized by category/course instead of searching through endless bulky books. Anything that originally came with a photo has a scanned copy included, so I didn't lose any visual guidance, either! For ongoing recipe collection, each tabbed category from appetizers to beverages has a folder to hold cards from friends, or pages I tear out of magazines. If I don't have time to file them right away, they simply wait here in the meantime. If we save a recipe, make it and decide against it, I remove it from the binder right then so there's no confusion and only the dishes we love remain. This binder helped us to seriously condense our cookbooks, but is also seriously easy to use!
So there you have it…the tour de Smith kitchen. 🙂 If you have any small cucina tips to share, please post them – I'm always looking for new ideas!