"Chef’s Kitchen." That rather pretentious term tells you a lot about what’s wrong with many of today’s kitchen designs. Dressed up in yards of stainless steel, and sporting appliances that mimic the commercial variety, they masquerade as restaurant kitchens, as if looking functional is the same thing as being functional.
But no matter what fashionistas may tell you, a restaurant kitchen is hardly the best model for practical family cooking.
To begin with, professional kitchens are designed on the presumption of having a full-time staff to operate and maintain them (which also explains why commercial cooking appliances can afford to have so many hard-to-clean cracks and crevices). Professional kitchens also have the luxury of sprawling over large amounts of floor space. Neither of these attributes applies to the average home kitchen.
There’s a lot more to functional design than simply adopting the usual stainless steel, faux-restaurant kitchen garb. A true chef’s kitchen — that is, yours — requires less concern with how things look and more concern with the way you cook.
To design a kitchen specifically tailored to your cooking style, first measure the space you have available and draw up a simple plan. Then try out a few different tentative layouts as a test bed for your ideas.
All the old rules of kitchen design still apply: There should be a compact work triangle formed by the three basic cooking areas — sink, stove and refrigerator — ideally uninterrupted by traffic passing through it. The sum of the triangle’s sides should be no less than 13 feet and no more than 21 feet. It should take only a few steps to get from one work center to another — a test, incidentally, that most of those sprawling "chef’s kitchens" fail miserably.
Once you have one or more basic layouts, mentally run through your usual daily cooking rituals in each of them to look for shortcomings.
For instance, imagine cooking breakfast in each version, paying careful attention to small details such as where you store the cereal, silverware, coffee mugs, and so on. Is the microwave in a convenient spot? Where will the coffeemaker go? The coffee? The bread? The toaster? Minor as these things seem, they can spell the difference between a kitchen that’s a pleasure to work in and one that’s a daily pain.
Run through the same mental exercise for all your other regular mealtimes, as well as any special kitchen uses, such as baking, craft work or holiday gatherings.
By the time you’re finished testing out these virtual kitchens in your head, you should know exactly where to look up Mr. Clean, Mrs. Butterworth, the Swiss Miss and Captain Crunch, as well as how many steps lie between them. You’ll also have adjusted any shortcomings that have come to light, and when this happens, the hard work is done — you can be sure the kitchen will suit the way you cook. All that remains now is the "fun" of choosing appliances, finishes and hardware.
And by the way — while you might like to fancy yourself whipping up fresh strawberry crepes for the kids each morning, there’s also no dishonor in tossing a couple of frozen Eggos in the toaster. After all, it’s not Wolfgang Puck’s kitchen. It’s yours.