Friday, July 15, 2011

Making the Most of Lousy Kitchen Space

I have lived in various sorry excuses for shoe boxes housing arrangements over the past six years that have never afforded as much kitchen space as I'd like. For anyone who has dealt with a living situation where the square footage is minimal, it's not news that maximizing the usefulness of your space is key. But the issue isn't limited to tiny apartment kitchens - even large kitchens can have poorly designed layouts making useful space scarce.

I've had as many good ideas as bad ones over the years on how to cope with this particular challenge. My latest kitchen space (about 72 square feet) features many of the ideas that have stood the test of many different spaces. Here are five tips you can use in any space to help you get the most out of whatever kitchen area you have:

1. Find the dead space and give it life
In my kitchen there were two major sources of dead space: on top of the cabinets and on top of the fridge. The dead space above the cabinets (as is the case in many kitchens) I rendered useless because of its height and propensity to collect major dust bunnies. The top of the fridge, however, was usable. If you aren't vertically blessed, invest in a collapsable step stool (something like this) that you can store in a nearby cabinet or closet. Dead space is a great place to store oversized objects like a microwave and rarely-used items such as lazy susans and popcorn bowls.

2. Integrate organization in your cabinets
For those of us not fortunate enough to design the cabinets in our kitchens, you probably have some with too many shelves, some with not enough and others that seem entirely useless. First, find homes for your largest items (think blenders, tall pantry boxes, etc.), then fill in with your smaller items. Then, hack the space to make it work for you. The spice cabinet on the left has a shoe box stuffed in the back propping up a row of the spices and a hook on the door to hang spices bought in bulk. Integrate clear, stackable containers like the ones pictured on the right to keep large spaces organized and give you an easy view of exactly what is where. For extra organization, label the bins so you don't have to guess.

3. Use your walls
I don't think you can go wrong with anything inspired by Julia Child and maximizing the usefulness of your wall space is no exception. Google images of  her kitchen if you don't know what I'm talking about. I have 3M hooks adhered across the wall behind my stove to keep the tools I used often within arms reach. This keeps them from taking up space in a drawer or canister while allowing me faster access when I need to get my hands on them. It also helps spruce up space in the kitchen that would otherwise be plain and boring.

I've also used the same concept on the walls under my cabinets. This mug rack makes a very nice visual statement while keeping (at least some) of my mugs out of the cabinets. Racks like these are available in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors. Take a look at some of IKEA's wall storage suggestions.

4. Make your space hogs multitask 
No matter how skilled an organizer you may be, things like refrigerators and kitchen tables will always take up far more space than seems fair. Make them multitask by placing storage on top of our underneath them. This kitchen island that acts as a counter-height table features a shelf underneath that stores several pots, pans and less frequently used dishes. Rods on either side allow for hanging space - great for pots and skillets. I've mounted a power strip on the side of mine to allow it to act as an extra wired countertop.

5. Limit one-use appliances and tools
A couple of small gadgets here and there are fine (I have my share of them as well), but cabinets full of  things like an ice cream machine, coffee grinder, and panini press will quickly stuff your kitchen without  adding much value. Opt for version of the same items that give you multiple functions like a stand mixer ice cream attachment, a grinder than can easily be cleaned to use on spices, and a panini press that doubles as a griddle.

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