Friday, July 11, 2008

Laundry in the Kitchen

Most North American kitchens don't include laundry facilities, but there are some good reasons why you might consider including them in your kitchen design.


Whoever decided that the best place for the washer and dryer was in the basement - often in an unfinished area with a dusty concrete floor and spidery open-joist ceiling - didn't do laundry very often. Especially if you have kids, a laundry area in the kitchen will be much easier to get to and use, and usually be nearer the bedrooms where much of the laundry is produced.


The kitchen already has water supply and drain lines ready to hook your washer into, so if you do want to move out of the basement, it's a good place to move to without having to pay for major plumbing work. You will almost certainly need to run new electrical circuits though, if you want an electric dryer. A gas dryer may be a good choice if you already have a gas supply to the kitchen for your range.


A stacked washer and dryer in the kitchen uses much less space than the regular full sized separate appliances in their own laundry room. Consider using the laundry room for something else completely - maybe you can remove a wall and combine it with the kitchen, maybe you need mudroom space for your large family, or maybe it could be a home office, craft room or darkroom.

Do you have a kitchen laundry? Would you have one? Why or why not?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"Low maintenance" kitchen materials: Stainless Steel and Granite?

Stainless steel and granite tend to be touted as very tough materials which will last a lifetime. And they probably are. That doesn't mean they are "low maintenance", though, if by that you mean what a normal person would mean - i.e. that they don't need to be cleaned and babied and titivated unnecessarily often, and have special care taken of them.

In fact stainless steel and granite do both need special care and cleaning.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel generally is prone to water spots, fingerprints, and dents. Water spots are sometimes permanent, fingerprints can generally be wiped off - but how many times a day are you willing to do that? Especially if you have small kids. Fridge doors are especially prone to dents. Some "stainless" finishes are much less fingerprint-prone than others, and there are cleaners which make the cleaning both easier and more long lasting. I recommend a search of the Kitchens forum on Gardenweb to find the most up-to-date recommendations from people who actually use their kitchens.


You would think that stone would be the toughest, most cleaning-resistant and least-maintenance material on the planet, right? Apparently not. Granite and other stones need to be sealed after installation and at regular intervals from then onwards. Some cleaning materials will damage them - you have to use the right stuff. High gloss surfaces show marks and fingerprints mercilessly. Some food items can damage or stain them. Very hot pans can cause them to crack. Crisp corners and edges can chip.

So, if you're planning to use these materials, do your homework and make sure you know what they will need in the way of maintenance, and that you'll be happy doing it. Otherwise, why pay all that money just to end up with work you didn't expect or intend?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Should you include a waste disposal in your kitchen?

Waste disposals (garburators, waste disposers) have pros and cons. Not everyone needs or wants one.

  • easy disposal of food waste
  • no bad smelling garbage or compost container
  • waste containers can be smaller
Note: properly managed compost and garbage containers don't have to smell.

  • take up space in the sink cabinet
  • can be noisy
  • can get jammed by or damage items which go into the disposer by mistake
  • another appliance to go wrong and get serviced
  • food wastes add a high load to the sewage system (some areas do not allow disposals for this reason)
  • may overload septic systems
  • can smell (need to have citrus fruit or chemicals run through them to prevent this)
  • can clog and need plumbing disassembled to fix
  • uses a lot of water, which you or your local utility pays for

Because I compost most of my food waste, I don't feel any need for a disposer. But more generally, I believe they waste electricity, water, soil fertility and sewage disposal capacity for very little return in convenience. In fact if I moved into a house with one already installed, I'd probably take it out!

Agree/disagree? let me know!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Clear off that kitchen counter

Not necessarily ALL the counters, but clearing everything off the stretch of kitchen counter you use most for prep and baking makes a big difference in how easy it is to work. It makes for less cleaning, too, when you don’t have to wipe spatters off half a dozen doodads sitting at the back of the counter!

If there are often-used things which deserve to be "always out" in that counter area, try mounting them on the wall: magnetic strips hold knives and other items, mini-shelves hold condiments and spices, hooks and racks hold cups and mugs. Need to have a small appliance sitting there? Try an under-cabinet mounted version to get it off the counter.

Once you have a clean sweep of counter to work on, you’ll cherish it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Under-Cabinet Lighting Alternatives

The hands-down best way to light your counter work areas any place you have wall cabinets mounted over them, is with under-cabinet lighting. It's a wonderful thing to have light shining right onto your cutting board, instead of standing in your own shadow!

You can do this several different ways, and there are more choices becoming available all the time. here are some ideas:

Incandescent Lighting: cheap, hot, good light quality, but an energy hog. You can still buy incandescent strip lights intended to mount under your cabinets, but I don't recommend them - there are much better alternatives.

Halogen and Xenon: either puck lights (small round individual fixtures) or strip lights. These are moderately priced, the light quality is excellent, but they are HOT HOT HOT. Yes, Xenon is cooler than halogen, but it's still scary hot - not just the lights themselves, but the 12v transformer they run off. Even if they don't get hot enough to cause damage, who needs that extra heat in the kitchen in the summer? Not energy-efficient, either.

Fluorescent: strip lights in various configurations, some can be connected together to all run off one power hookup. Older-type fluorescent lights had an unpleasant light quality, but they are cheap.
Newer varieties have much better light color and quality but they are rather more expensive, comparable with halogens. They run cool, and are energy efficient.

LED: these are the up-and-coming thing in lighting. Right now the really usable fixtures are expensive but they have very good light quality (no blue-white cast like older LEDs). They run even cooler than fluorescents, have an even longer lifetime, use less energy, and don't have the disposal issues of the mercury in fluorescents.

Right now, I'd say go with LEDs if you can afford to, otherwise fluorescents - or if you can possibly wait, do so until the price of LEDs comes down within reach.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Work Zones or Work Centers

Today, the traditional work triangle is often not enough to describe how a kitchen will work. Modern kitchen layouts involving more appliances (extra sink, dishwasher(s), separate cooktop and oven(s), microwave oven, etc.) have more potential work stations which the triangle can't account for. And if you add more cooks to a single triangle, it's a recipe for tripping over each other.

The tool used to solve these problems in design is the concept of work centers or zones. A work center groups everything needed to do a specific type of task into a single area.

The three major zones are:

Food Prep Center
Cooking Center
Cleanup Center

Depending on your cooking and eating style, you may have other work centers too:

Baking Center
Snack Center
Eating Center

There is some overlap between the equipment and materials needed in each zone. Where you choose to keep what depends on your cooking style and needs, the size of your kitchen, and placement of centers near each other. You might also choose to duplicate some things (anything from measuring cups to dishwashers) in several work centers if you have the space and it makes work more convenient.

More details on work zones in kitchen layouts

Where to store the kitchen ladder

Unless you're unusually tall, there will be kitchen storage areas that are out of reach. If you're short like me, lots of things are out of reach! That's when the kitchen ladder or step stool comes in handy.

Where to store it when it's not in use, though? It's an awkward kind of shape. Here are some ideas:

  • A slim ladder can fit in a narrow slot beside the fridge. Mine needs about 1.5" of space.
  • Some cabinet lines include ladders especially made to fit in their toe kick drawers - for a price. If you search around you can find very small ladders which will fit just as well.
  • If you have a pantry or room door with space behind it, a ladder can hang on the back of the door.
  • Some step stools are designed as quite handsome stools, and can stay out in the kitchen all the time.
  • A folding step stool may fit in a cabinet or toe kick drawer, or hang on the back of a door.