“Midgie Kitchie”: Tips for Working in a Small Kitchen

15 Jul

Let me preface that title with an explanation: my older sister, a lovely and hilarious woman, has an eensy weensy kitchen in her Boston apartment. It may or may not be the size of my bathroom, minus the tub. Regardless, she’s made the space (which has its fair share of nice architectural details, from granite countertops to a peek-through space between the kitchen and living area) work for her remarkably well. The point of this preface was to explain that my sister — a woman with a knack for nicknames for inanimate objects, if there ever was one — has dubbed her kitchen the Midgie Kitchie. (If you say it right, it rhymes. If you don’t, it sounds a bit like you’ve just sneezed.) Inspired by her, I write this post.

Illustration by artist Phyllis Ann Whippen, sourced from theydrawandtravel.com. Aw, Beantown. I miss ya. Especially the Midgie Kitchie.

Small kitchens are, if nothing else, a bit of a challenge. How do you effectively use counterspace when the total “space” amounts to little more than an area rug’s worth of “real estate”? (Go vertical.) How does one stock a pantry when there, well, IS no pantry? (Still working on that one.) What about my oodles of tools? Do I have to sacrifice my 3 extra spatulas and spoon-ulas? (Probably. How many do you really need?) Is it remotely possible for two people to work side by side? (The short answer? Yes, but your acrobatic and choreographical skills need to be top-notch.)

She’s actually passing him a measuring cup.

But they can also be a lot of fun, and an exercise in creativity. As evidenced by The Kitchn’s Small Cool Kitchen 2012 Contest, the small kitchen inspires its chef — no matter his or her experience level — to simultaneously become a small-scale urban planner, an organizational guru, a bit of a neat-freak and a roll-with-the-punches problem solver. If I can figure out how to keep between twelve and fifteen 7th grade boys engaged in a lesson about reading strategies, you can effectively learn to use your own “midgie kitchie.” To help you along, here are the best tips I’ve learned for making the space work for you.*

*Disclaimer: About 70% of these were either modeled on, or blatantly stolen from, my wonderful mother who helped me organize this kitchen when I first moved in. Mama-lady, you’re my hero.

Tips for Using, Keeping, and Loving Your Little Kitchen:

  • Location, Location, Location: If everything has its place, and that place makes sense according to how you use each thing, organization will become intuitive. My mugs, tea, coffee filters and honey all reside on one little shelf above the coffee maker, and the proximity makes their use feel easy, rather than disjointed. I also keep my knives on one of those cool magnetic strips from Ikea above an area of counterspace, so simply reaching up and chopping / dicing / slicing is a thing of ease.

Makes ’em look all organized, too.

  • Buy (and Store) Within Your Means: While I’d love to head to Costco and buy a year’s supply of spaghetti for budget purposes, I just don’t have the space to store that much dried semolina. Instead, I stock up when I can (and when things are on sale — hello, Giant-brand bags of brown rice), only buying as much as a) I can store, and b) I can realistically use. This is a bit of a trial-and-error process: You’ll learn your rhythms — a.k.a. how much you actually consume of certain foods over their “lifespan” — as you live in your space, but the important thing here is to be practical while still staying budget-conscious.
  • When in Doubt, Go Vertical: My two-tiered spice rack is one of my favorite storage areas of my kitchen. It functions like a double-decker lazy susan, effectively storing loads of spices, dry rubs and seasonings in one fairly tiny space next to the toaster. The History Teacher and I also installed an Ikea wall rack to hold various utensils, including a cheese grater and mini colander, over the sink. Even our wine rack and wine glasses are stored on the wall (and next to one another — see rule number one) Oh, you creative Swedes!

The only challenge is resisting the urge to spin it too quickly. “Whoosh! Uh-oh, there goes the rib rub …”

It’s over the sink, too, which means putting this away after washing them is a snap.

  • Outsource Storage to Other Rooms: If it makes sense with your kitchen’s layout, you can expand a bit to store things in nearby spaces. I keep things like holiday linens (tablecloths, napkins, etc.) in a storage draw under the TV (hey man, whatever works) since they’re rarely used. Another example is the bar cart we refurbished (thanks, Craigslist!) with paint, wood stain and some elbow grease. Its two shelves are great for holding extra kitchen items, and its near-the-kitchie location makes its use practical. Even our hall closet has a wire shelf that we installed on one wall to hold canned goods and jars.

I’m planning on adding a basket or two underneath — maybe linens or paper goods?

  • Keep Your Counters (Mostly) Bare: Sometimes this is easier said than done; inevitably, different devices will worm their way to your countertops. (Currently, my immersion blender is enjoying some real estate next to fruit and tomato baskets.) Still, keeping most items either in drawers / cabinets or on the walls keeps your countertops feeling airy and more spacious — crucial when your counter “space” may be virtually nonexistent.
  • And finally, the best tip I can pass on: Clean As You Go! The best way to keep your kitchen feeling like it has more space is to keep it as clutter-free as possible, including during that high-stress time known as “cooking.” The History Teacher and I trade off dish duties, depending on who’s cooking, and I try to finish as many of the dishes as possible while things are still simmering on the stove. Wiping countertops and stove burners feels a lot easier when you’re attacking the mess as immediately as possible. (Well, not if your burners are hot. See: 2nd degree burns.) Here’s a Kitchn post with more great comments about cleaning as you go.

There you have it! My ultimate advice: Life’s a lot easier when you embrace what you have. If your kitchen has as much floorspace as an airplane seat, enjoy it for what it is. Figure out its strengths, and use them to your advantage. Don’t worry if it’s not your dream kitchen — that’s what your Pinterest boards are for, honey. And ultimately, get creative, instead of claustrophobic. What are YOUR thoughts about living with small kitchens? What advice do you have to share?

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One Response to ““Midgie Kitchie”: Tips for Working in a Small Kitchen”

  1. Amy July 18, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    Love your advice. I have a large kitchen for an apartment, but I still run out of space. Thankfully I have about 12 inches of space above my cabinets before I hit the ceiling so I use that for storing my large items (electric griddle, large bowls, wok, cake carrier). I also got a baker’s stand for extra storage space in my dining room. It now holds my pasta, bar tray, food processor, coffees, slow cooker, and boxes of cereal. So helpful!

    But seriously, my number 1 requirement for my first house is a large kitchen.

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