The Kitchen Designer

Thanks for stopping by! I'm Susan Serra, certified kitchen designer, and my mission is to take kitchen design style, function and analysis to a higher level. Here's why the kitchen has the most honored place in the home - all five senses reside in the kitchen.  Best...Susan  Contact: susan@susanserraassociates.com

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« Goodbye Home Expo | Main | New Year New Kitchen »

Moving From a Big to a Small Kitchen

We've lived in our new (not newly built) home 2 weeks now. Two weeks of moving around boxes and clearing them out little by little. I would imagine that we have about 50 boxes left, maybe less. Plus, we still need to relocate some furniture into other rooms, and way too much stuff to put away, including clothing, as the boxes are unpacked. But, we LOVE the house and the location we're at. We could not be happier with those decisions.

My husband called me a hoarder last night, as he was moving boxes around. He doesn't know what he's talking about. 

We're adjusting quite well to moving from 4000 square feet of living space (not including unfinished basement/garage)  and being in that space for a LONG time, to approximately 1600 square feet of living space (same exclusions). The previous kitchen/eating area was 440 square feet, and the eating area was within the work space. The new kitchen is less than half that size, including the separate but adjacent, eating area. The work area, alone, is probably 120 square feet.

So far so good. I've had near zero anxiety about moving into a smaller kitchen. In fact, something very strange has been happening. I've been cooking every night since we moved in, except for one night. In the old house, we did far more take-out than cooking, and my husband and I shared cooking, together or separately, when we cooked. I USED to cook a LOT in years past, but, somehow that changed. Last night, I actually got in my car at 6 pm to seek out 3 ingredients and went to 3 stores until I found them! I'd NEVER do that before, at that hour of the day on a weeknight in the cold winter! I'm very much amused at this development and am just shrugging my shoulders and smiling. And this town we're in has FAR above average take-out opportunities too, in fact, it's a restaurant town!

Maybe I'm nesting?

Here's what I like about a smaller kitchen and this one in particular:

  • it's efficient - "Efficient" is an important word. Being efficient saves steps, saves time, saves energy. Efficiency is a good thing overall
  • it's good looking - It probably helps that the kitchen is good looking in general, although it definitely needs to be redone as finishes are wearing
  • it has decent appliances - high end for their time. I believe the whole kitchen is 18 years old.
  • it's efficient - in terms of the cooking and cleaning processes, specifically
  • it's small, yet wide open to the living area beyond - the cook is part of the social scene, yet the mess is completely concealed 
  • it's small, yet wide open to the living area beyond - when alone in the kitchen, it's also lovely to be in a multi functional environment.
  • the architecture - there are vaulted ceilings, light painted walls and lots of windows, significantly enlarging the feeling of the space. This is huge, and I cannot overstate the importance of these features.
  • tv and fireplace - for me, that's really heaven, to have both of these in view, while cooking.
  • Bottom line - I LOVE the efficiency!

All is not perfect in Pleasantville, however! I do have storage issues. Which immediately brought back one of the questions that I've asked my clients over the years..."Do you store kitchen items elsewhere in the house that you'd like to move into the new kitchen?" I think I'll be storing some lesser used items outside of the kitchen. Because we are in a split level home, the stairs are about 6 steps each to 3 levels, so it's one short staircase to the next lower level, which is my office area, above the basement, below the main floor. Maybe I'll design some concealed kitchen storage on this level, 6 steps down from the kitchen. That will work and would be the equivalent steps as if my kitchen were large, so I think it's important not to think of removed storage as an unfortunate solution. Whatever works for the owner, that's the right answer.

We moved by choice to a smaller home, so maybe that's part of the relative ease of adjusting. I'm also pretty much a positive person, so my focus seems to be on what's good rather than what isn't. And, I really enjoy looking at and finding alternative solutions to challenges, so it's all good. BUT...is relocated storage now forgotten storage later? I'll find out.

And, with the kids grown, we've become a family of multiple cooks when we get together, so how will that work? Did I make a mistake getting this size kitchen? A big mistake? Granted, this kitchen is not as small as many, but it's a LOT smaller than the one I came from!

But, kitchen design is what I do for a living. I've asked myself, why didn't I look for a home with the biggest kitchen possible in our price range? I could have found a bigger kitchen. I'm going to talk about that soon, what was and was not in "the big picture" of our house search.

How about you? What size kitchen do you have and how do you feel about it? Here are some shots I took the day of the house inspection in mid November. There is another room on the other side of the kitchen, a good sized living room. More about that soon!



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Reader Comments (13)

Looks like a beautiful place! And I love this blog. There are definitely some plusses to a smaller kitchen.

Our kitchen is WAY too small. It's less than 90 SF, & that includes the cabinet footprints. It's also a dead end, which is a traffic nightmare when more than one of us is in it. Everything we need to get to is bunched up in one corner: sink, microwave, dishwasher, glass cabinet, cutlery drawer and fridge. It makes me INSANE.

So being a kitchen designer myself, I redesigned ours and can't wait to get started. Our before/after plan is here.

I've made a few slight mods since I drew that version, but it's basically the same. I wanted to open up the whole eating/cooking area, and make it so it's not a major headache during parties or if we're both in the kitchen at once, putting away groceries, cooking breakfast or dinner, or just hanging out.

Someday soon...!

January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

Good luck on your move - it looks so light and bright and wonderful! I adore small houses!!!!!

January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoni Webb

Looks like lovely house. I envy your kitchen being open to the big room. Mine has an opening, but the counter is too high and... etc.

To your question: Because of the opening in the wall of the kitchen I don't have a lot of cupboard space. I have a cabinet in the dining room where I keep food like breakfast cereal, etc. We have a split level, too, and I put wire shelves in a closet in the lower level to make it s a pantry. It's right near the stairs, and so is the kitchen, so it's only a few steps away. (Six steps, to be exact!) I keep stuff I don't use much (paper plates, extra dishes, and such) in a rack in the attic. It's pretty logical and I don't have to chase around much to get to it. I have a pretty good memory about my "inventory" and don't have more than what I actually use, if only a few times a year--so things don't get forgotten.

Our kitchen is small, without an eat-in area. I like eating in the dining room anyway. The small kitchen suits me. In fact, I've never had a big kitchen and doubt I would like it. Just more steps and I usually cook solo. Husband and friends are welcome to sit on stools and nosh and drink to keep me company and keep out of the way. However, I'd like to rearrange the counters for a longer counter run by the cooktop and to move the fridge to another wall, but that's a project for a future day (and budget).

January 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Love the new house. Especially the Great Room with the beautiful fireplace.

I think your kitchen looks amazingly efficient, and I think you'll love it. 120 square feet of work space doesn't seem that small to me.

When I lived in NYC, I had a tiny galley kitchen, and I would have killed for a kitchen like yours. But although it was small, my tiny galley kitchen functioned amazingly well. I never had to take more than a few steps to do anything. I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 20 in that kitchen many times. How, I don't know, but I did it.

I now have a brand new large kitchen, and cooking and cleaning is much more tiring. My actual work space is probably about 200 square feet, but I have a large adjacent walk-in pantry and a small adjacent butler's pantry. With the pantries and eating area, my kitchen is about 350 square feet.

In my small kitchen, the way we dealt with storage was first, not to buy things in bulk. No space. But we had no basement because it was an apartment. If I had had a basement, I would probably have just stored extra in the basement. We used every square inch of that kitchen. We had a narrow pullout pantry in an odd space next to the refrigerator, we built shelves under the sink so we could double up on storage there. I had a storage drawer under my oven, organizers for the insides of the cabinets, etc.

We had 9.5 foot ceilings so had some space above the cabinets. We stored little-used large items, like my turkey roaster, on top of the cabinets, and they were hidden by the crown molding at the top. I had a bar cabinet on wheels in an adjacent room that I kept food like cereal etc. in. I had caniserts on the counters that held tea bags, etc. We managed okay. But I shopped differently than I shop now. Now, I have 8 different boxes of cereal. Then, I had one or two.

If you have a closet not too far away that you can turn into a pantry, that will make a huge difference. I have a walk in pantry now, and it helps so much with storing small appliances that I don't use often, and bulk sizes of things like cooking oil or big bags of rice, paper goods, etc.

I'm sure you'll figure it out, and you won't even notice the difference after a while.

January 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

"BUT...is relocated storage now forgotten storage later?"
If it is, then the stored items are not really important.

I like your new home, Susan. Beautiful hardwood, sunny and open. The only thing I don't like is the tile in the kitchen. It looks as if it was installed over an existing floor. If it was my house, I'd get rid of it and put in the same hardwood as in the rest of the space.

I'm looking forward to your alterations/ improvements.

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

Your new kitchen looks fantastic. We are about to go from about 180 square feet to about 400 square feet of kitchen and I am so excited. We'll have a small pantry and ultimately a butler's pantry. I store formal dishes in my china cabinet and buffet in the dining room. I do currently have quite a bit of stuff stored in cabinets in my basement. There are some serving pieces that I only use a couple of times per year (fondue set, chafing dish, etc.). If I don't use it in within a year or two, then I sell it our annual yard sale. Just like your clothes, you probably use about 20% of your kitchen gear 95% of the time. You can also look at small appliances and eliminate items that perform the same or nearly the same function.

We are in the process of packing for our temporary move out of the house, and I am making some choices about what to bring and not to bring. It's amazing what you can choose to live without for 6 months, which leads me to question whether I really need it. I do cook probably 4-5 nights per week for my family of 3.

That said, I have LOADS of stuff jammed into my cabinets but I find it to be very well organized and feel that I have maximized every inch of reachable space. My current cabinets go to the ceiling and my new cabinets will as well. Soffits are a total waste of space in a kitchen of almost any size. I have scoured the Container Store for the best organization items to help make my tiny kitchen as functional as possible. Pot lids are such a pain to store so I found a wire basket/shelf that hangs under a shelf and the lids go in there. I use a hanging wine glass rack and store my toddler's plates underneath the glasses.

Good luck with your unpacking and organizing and never underestimate the power of a yard sale!!

January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Pictures are gorgeous!!!!!!

January 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRefrigerators

I was wondering do you find yourself using "compact" appliances like the microwave oven more in a smaller space ? Does having a large kitchen to work in affect the methods that you use to prepare food ?

January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKitchen Designer

I love the space. It will be an awesome space to redesign the way you want. I love the floors. Personally would not change them.

January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

My kitchen is almost exactly the same size as yours, but the sink and range are flip-flopped. I am quite happy working in it, but when my husband tries to cook something else at the same time, it's a challenge since all the essentials are in one zone so we are right on top of each other. I do have a closet a few steps outside the kitchen where I have a tall white wire shelf with many of my pantry goods and less used baking pans. Less frequently used roasting pans, food processor, etc are tucked in a rolling cart in the front hall closet (2 steps in the other direction). A free standing small china cabinet between the kitchen and pantry closet holds all the party essentials (wine glasses, platters, etc) which we use for our monthly party. Nice to have these goods zoned when they are outside the kitchen so you don't have to waste time getting things from multiple locations.
Having the kitchen open to the rest of our first floor works great (love feeling part of the action when I'm cooking too). And when we have parties the kitchen is always crowded - people love to gather in there.

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterColleen

I love this kitchen and open layout! I'm saving this for when we build in a few years.

February 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommentervICKI

A GOOD kitchen is not a BIG kitchen, big kitchens make you walk too much to be a comfortable and efficient place to work.

For storage, I find that closet-style pantries and shelving give you a lot more bang for your buck than cabinets, especially for storing infrequently used small applicances.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I hear you -- I just moved into a log home (1800 SF) with a kitchen that is really just one corner of the great room. I moved from a huge kitchen and love the openness of this smaller space. My suggestion is to take a hard, REALLY hard look at your stuff. Do you really need it all? Give what you don't really need to friends or those who are less fortunate. I have two concerns that I'm still tussling with: first, it's hard to keep it from looking cluttered if you leave much on the counters. I'm considering installing "garages" to smooth out the look. Second, I'm 5'1" and the shelves START at my eye level. Even if I stand on the counter I can't reach the top shelves. I need the storage space, but almost want a rolling library ladder (out of the question). Good luck with your new kitchen -- you'll love it!

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTulip's Mom

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