Sunday, June 28, 2009

Even the Barefoot Contessa Prefers a Small Kitchen!

The Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten's small kitchen
in her Manhattan apartment which she prefers to her big kitchen.

Americans Love Big Kitchens

Americans' have a love affair with big kitchens. Over the last decade gourmet kitchens have transitioned from a casual luxury to a necessity. A central island combined with a separate countertop where family and guests can sit and enjoy the latest in home cooking is now common place and indeed expected in most houses. Kitchens now must be spacious enough for multiple cooks and often feature two sinks - a double sink on the counter and a sink on the central island.

"Magazines and television programs feature "dream" kitchen renovations, while fancy catalogs sell thousand-dollar sets of knives and equally expensive sets of cookware. Among families that can afford it, the dream kitchen may go unused, while the family dines in a restaurant, all the while expressing a level of food knowledge and sensitivity they've garnered from hours spent viewing "home cooking" television shows. The kitchen in such a case may find its best use for snack and sandwich preparation, for reheating meals prepared outside the home, for occassional holiday or social entertaining. Life in the USA, America Eats, Elliot Essman 2007.

Ironically, the supersizing of the American kitchen is happening at the same time Americans are experiencing a a substantial drop in home cooking. Since 1993, the percentage of American households cooking even once a day has fallen markedly. According to a survey by the Department of Energy, the decline in home cooking can be seen in households of all sizes. "Americans find that in their world of multitasking and daily time crisis, food preparation at home becomes more of a chore, less of a pleasure."

(I've also noticed that as American kitchens have increased in size, so has America's problem with obesity. This is just an observation - I'm not drawing any conclusions. But it is an interesting parallel.)

Small Kitchens Win

So why am I telling you all this about big kitchens? Because although Americans may think bigger is better, small kitchens will always win any 'throw down' as Bobby Flay fondly calls a head-to-head competition.

How is this possible? In smaller kitchens, food preparation and cooking are the priority. Form follows function. This is not a family room, entertainment center, study and cooking area rolled into one space. Small home kitchens work because they do not try to be everything to everybody.

Let's look at the basics of pulling a small kitchen together.

Kitchen Furniture
Appliances Start with the standard kitchen appliances—a refrigerator, stovetop, oven and dishwasher. Treat the sink as a kitchen appliance. I like stainless steel for the small kitchen. It reflects light and opens the space visually. Form a triangle between the refrigerator, stovetop/oven and the sink. Put the dishwasher next to the sink and you have an efficient work area. This is your kitchen foundation. My kitchen is tiny; eight feet by eight feet (including countertop space) and this triangular arrangement works wonders.
Cabinets Choose your cabinets after deciding on appliances. Why? Appliances are the foundation of your kitchen, build the cabinets around them. Natural woods or painted cabinets work equally well. Just keep the look simple and clean.
Countertops Choose a countertop that compliments your cabinets. Granite is my favorite countertop surface and is worth the cost. Engineered stone countertops are also good options. Concrete countertops have become a popular option, but I think they are too porous and require too much upkeep.
Lighting For kitchen lighting, the best choices are recessed canisters in the ceiling and over work areas. Also make sure to have lighting under the cabinets. Kitchen work demands good light.
If there is space, I like to keep a small freestanding cabinet by the kitchen entry. This is nice for extra storage.

Hard Working Beautiful Small Kitchens

Now take a look at some hard working beautiful small kitchens from the July 2009 issue of House Beautiful. Ina Garten's tiny kitchen from her Manhattan apartment is featured and shown at the top of this post. Ina says about her small kitchen, "In a funny way, I actually like a smaller kitchen. It's much more efficient." I couldn't agree more!

Not really small, but the cabinets would work beautifully in a smaller space. Also, the chandelier is a very nice touch.

Small kitchens leave room in the budget for high end appliances like this oven and hood.

Very nice French Country look in a galley kitchen. Again, note the high end range.

For those who like color, these cabinets are a nice choice. Notice how the stainless steel appliances reflect light and visually open the room.

The black and white contrast works here along with the Asian ginger jars.

The backsplash is a mirror which helps open up this tiny galley kitchen.

The light oak wood in the cabinets is used for the open shelves and on the walls up to the ceiling. This monochromatic scheme is ideal for small spaces because it creates a single visual flow rather than chopping up the space.

Again, using the same wood in the cabinetry, on the walls and even the ceiling creates a nice visual flow.

I just love the cherry cabinets with the silver pulls. The cherry color is also echoed in the tiles on the floor.

Until next time!



  1. Loved that quote from Life in the USA that I emailed to a few of my foodie friends. Small kitchens are easier to work in unless you have many in the family who love to cook. They also make for less cleaning up after.

  2. What beautiful examples of small kitchens!

    I especially love the one that has the mirrored backsplash - it is barely big enough to turn around in and yet looks wonderful and seems to have everything within reach!

    It's nice to know that something that is often a necessity (due to space availablity) can actually be desirable.

  3. I have lived in a lot of small apartments and homes. I have had some really tiny kitchens. I had a galley kitchen once and it seemed to work the best of all the small kitchens I've had.

  4. Hi Genevieve :)

    This post is wonderful and oh-so-true! The bigger the kitchen the less cooking seems to happen. I've had large open kitchens almost always, but now that I have a small one in a closed off area, I love it! It's so much easier to work in and I don't have a bunch of people in my way when I'm trying to cook. It's kind of a woman cave if you will ;)

    Thank you for this great post!


  5. My mother in law has a very good size kitchen and after making a recipe my husband makes in OUR kitchen he can officially say he LOVES our small, galley kitchen a lot more than hers! It sometimes take actually making something you make at home, in a new, bigger kitchen, to see how much time and effort are wasted walking back and forth in an oversized kitchen space.

    I've also been told by a residential architect that real chefs NEVER ask to build huge kitchens. Real chefs have tiny spaces for maximum efficiency. Ever since learning that I pity those who think bigger=better. :)