For kitchens, smaller is best

It was in Jamaica where I learned that a well-prepared meal does not depend on a large kitchen.   

We had just finished remodeling our kitchen in Connecticut. It had all the bells and whistles a food writer or caterer could crave or need—a 750-pound Garland professional restaurant gas range with six burners; a two-foot-square raised griddle for preparing hamburgers and French toast; and a gigantic broiler for searing steak. Two commercial-size ovens were large enough to roast a suckling pig at Christmas. The counters were specially designed butcher block. For a smooth transition of our perfectly grilled steak to the dining table, a woodworking friend had fashioned a carving table on wheels to set in the center of the kitchen. The cabinets were rough-hewn cedar (specially made); Italian tiles lined the walls; and the floor was a handsome wood. A bay window allowed guests to enjoy birds flying over a saltwater marsh as they sat in comfortable chairs and dined. It seemed to be the perfect kitchen. A decorating magazine even came to photograph it.

And then, we were invited to Jamaica. The house was grand, overlooking a bay. Given its size and comfort, I assumed the kitchen would be grand as well, until our friend invited me in to teach her how to make a dessert she enjoyed in Connecticut. This kitchen measured no more than seven feet in length (our Connecticut stove alone was five feet long), and between three and four feet between countertops. Nothing was out of an arm’s reach. Utensils were at fingertips in containers on the counters. No searching drawers to find a spatula or spoon. There were easy-to-clean cabinets above the counters, a single sink and a simple stove. There was a small pantry with a few supplementary shelf goods. No wasted steps.

It did not take long for me to realize that the design of my beautiful new kitchen was nonsensical. The Garland stove was a bear to clean; the griddle got used only for pot storage; the broiler took a long time to heat up and when it did, the kitchen became a furnace. The carving table proved to be dangerous to negotiate around to get to the sink. Yes, the kitchen could grace the pages of magazines, but the layout proved impractical. Lesson learned. 

With our move to Grantham, New Hampshire, I had
the good fortune to design another kitchen. Its windows surrounded my favored butcher-block work counter, and looked out into lovely woods. This kitchen was only slightly larger than the Jamaican beauty. A seven-foot-long, counter-height table, built by a local craftsman, was no more than four feet from the work surface and served to divide the kitchen from the living/dining room. With stools, it became a breakfast table; for dinner parties, it became a buffet. Everything was at my fingertips. Unlike Jamaica, the pantry had a wet bar and allowed me to store, not only food staples, but my mother’s dishes from years past.  The kitchen arrangement was perfect, and the house size allowed space for our children and anticipated grandchildren to visit.

Once again I was foiled, but this time not by the kitchen. My daughter married a native Hawaiian and three grandchildren followed in Hawaii. The Grantham house was too big for two, and its distance was too great from the restaurants, shops and theater we enjoyed in Hanover and Lebanon. It became time to make a change.

After eight years in Grantham, we downsized our living area, but not our kitchen. We discovered in Lebanon an apartment with a well-designed small kitchen and a pantry for staples. It was Jamaica!  Utensils at my fingertips. Traffic pattern efficient. For home cooks, smaller is best. 

Categories: At Home in NH