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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House Beautiful Kitchen - Smaller Focus

I follow so many great people on Twitter, but cannot stay on Twitter constantly, so I'm sure I miss many great tweets. Oftentimes, I'll catch tweets that really relate to something I'm thinking about or bring me great new information, as I'm quickly scanning, and I'm delighted. This morning is one such occasion. I happened to catch House Beautiful's tweet, in part, on a case made for refrigerator drawers in a small kitchen.

This REALLY spoke to me because I have thought about this issue a LOT. The issue is if one should substitute refrigerator drawers in place of a traditional tall refrigerator in a small kitchen.

This is a personal issue for me as well as being a basic kitchen design issue that I am interested in.

We own our own little piece of New York City. At the moment, our apartment is used full time, as our son, attending college, is living here for perhaps one more year. He and his girlfriend cook up a storm most nights a week. The tall, old, 33" refrigerator is packed.

As my husband and I talk about the future, we'd love to be in this apartment on a part time basis for the foreseeable future.

Last year we removed the wall that separated the kitchen from the main living area in the apartment, exposing the kitchen. It was the very best thing we could have done. It opens up and combines the living area and the kitchen but makes the aesthetics of the kitchen more important than ever.

So, in thinking about renovating our kitchen down the road, I consider three issues, as I think everyone must when designing a small kitchen space: resale, fumction, and aesthetics.


I think the default position on resale considerations is that a tall refrigerator is better than refrigerator drawers for the vast majority of potential buyers. I think that is safe to say. In our case, we think we will hold on to this apartment down the road, but we do not feel 100% sure which makes resale an issue.


Bending, bending, fruit near the floor, sift through food (while bending.) Limited storage...and where does the freezer go? Platters, larger quantities of refrigerated food storage? Better think about that.


Aesthetics IS an issue in kitchen planning and should be examined carefully, the plan with and without a tall refrigerator. My heart wants to forget about the two issues above and build in refrigerator drawers solely for aesthetic reasons! In a small space, yes, I agree with the designer of this featured kitchen by House Beautiful...refrigerator drawers can be an enormous plus aesthetically as opposed to a tall refrigerator - even a fabulously built in slim refrigerator.

That's the thing...aesthetics, at least in my world, are as important, and sometimes more important, (gasp) than function, to which I, personally, am (sometimes) willing to adapt to. That's the other thing...if you go with your heart, make sure your head is very well aware of potential consequences (oh, how responsible, sigh)

I don't know what I'll end up doing when we eventually renovate this kitchen, but I know I will consider ALL issues very carefully and I'll beware of my emotions taking control of the decision. Then, I just may say, ok, whatever, I really want to open the kitchen up to the max, come what may. I can see that. :)


Do you know about the kitchen of the year? It's being built as we speak in the middle of Rockefeller Center in New York. Designed in collaboration with Ina Garten, one of my favorite cookbook authors of all time. I think I have every cookbook she's authored! The KOTY will be on display from July 20-24.  I'll certainly be attending the event!

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Reader Comments (10)

This is the only magazine I read every month. Amazing high end kitchens! Can't wait to see this year’s project however I'm a little confused because this is a temporary kitchen for show only. While it may get reconfigured to fit an actual home but I’d rather see a REAL kitchen get the kitchen of the year.

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike Springer

We have both in our new kitchen -- a tall, FD regrigerator, and refrigerator and freezer drawers -- and we are happy we do.

We had huge issues with where we could fit a tall refrigerator in our old house which had so many windows and doors. We took out the one solid wall in the kitchen to open it up to the adjoining room so that we would have ample eating space, and to open the kitchen up to the rest of the house. That one solid wall was where the two items that require vertical space -- the range and hood and refrigerator -- previously resided.

Many many people, several kitchen designers and an architect looked at the space, and no one really came up with the right solution. We ended up losing two windows so we could put a range and hood in, which was actually fine, and tried to put the fridge and freezer as two separate units in the same part of the kitchen. Only when the cabinetry was being installed did we realize how awful and boxed in that would end up looking and feeling, and had to do a big redesign in the middle of our renovation.

Finally, it was my husband who came up with the solution, which involved putting a tall refrigerator in a relatively narrow space, that ended up having dead space behind it. Because of where it was, it had to be a fully-integrated fridge, it could not stick out into the aisle at all, which meant that it would not have a huge amount of cubic feet, and it would also be quite far from the range. So we ended up putting in two refrigerator drawers perpendicular to the range on one side, and two freezer drawers on the other side, in addition to the tall narrow range. I did it more for the added cubic feet of storage than for it to be near the range. Having the refrigerator closer to the range was way more important to the KD than it was to me, but it certainly is nice.

What I will tell you about refrigerator drawers is that I would not want to substitute the drawers for a tall fridge. They are harder to organize, things kind of pile up on each other, and there is some bending. Things also tend to fall over. Unlike a freezer, where hard frozen things can sit on top of each other without much problem, you can't really throw a roast chicken on top of a dozen eggs without fear of breaking the eggs. But I love the drawers for the extra storage space. One drawer I mostly fill with drinks, so I have space to always have cold soda and iced tea and beer, without cramming my regular fridge. In the other drawer, I keep things I need next to the range, like milk and eggs and butter, although I don't always remember to keep them stocked there. When I'm having a party, I can cram an amazing amount of stuff in there, and things like platters and pizza boxes fit just fine. Often balanced on top of other things, so not the neatest space, but roomy.

I would substitute freezer drawers for the freezer in a fridge. So maybe get a tall narrower all-refrigerator, with freezer drawers somewhere else. I love the freezer drawers more than anything. Drawers work better for frozen things than for fresh. And the drawers are a bit shallower than in my regular tall fridge/freezer, so things don't get buried as much.

I think refrigerator drawers are not really practical as the only refrigerator in a kitchen, but they are a great supplement, so you can have a smaller, fully-intergrated refrigerator, which might be more aesthetically pleasing. You can store food at the point of use more easily, and you can have extra fridge space in the kitchen instead of in the basement or garage. Everyone who sees them thinks they are super cool (no pun intended), so having them as an extra would probably help resale. Having them as the only fridge space would probably hurt.

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

Oops, meant "in addition to the tall narrow fridge."

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

Is there a proportion of a refrigerator in relations to the rest of the kitchen that is most ideal? I see that you've opted for a narrow, but tidy symmetrical design. Have you been able to integrate a large fridge in it successfully?


July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicolette

Jeannie, I agree with most everything you point out, and thanks for describing it so completely. It sounds like you have the storage and flexibility that you need with this configuration.

You mention the same cons that I mention about having only refrigerator drawers. But, those cons may also have to do with having the kitchen as one's "every day" kitchen as opposed to a part time kitchen, where one could be more tolerant, given less frequency of use. Regardless, it's a big choice to make. If I have a refrigerator drawer fantasy, it is to have one drawer just for condiments, so they do not end up on random shelves! I also like your thoughts about substituting a freezer for the drawers. That makes total sense.

Nicolette, the refrigerator size should be chosen based on your lifestyle. Jeannie's case is different, since a redesign late in the game took place. Proportion/size/balance is a factor too in the design, which means that sometimes both of these issues come into play and need to be very slowly and carefully worked through.

July 7, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

A condiment drawer makes total sense! Why not? I use one of my refrigerator drawers for mostly drinks, even though it is not necessarily the closest to the table, because it is just very neat and organized that way. I like reaching into the drawer and grabbing a cold drink.

I have to say that I love the flexibility that having both a full height fridge and separate drawers gives me. Some might find it maddening to have so many places to look for your food, especially when different people put the groceries away, but I don't mind. I do sometimes end up going from fridge to fridge looking for food, but that doesn't bother me. It just makes me feel that I have an abundance of riches!

My mid-kitchen install disaster could not have worked out better, except for all the extra money (and time) it cost. Our KD unfortunately (for him) ate the cost of any unusable cabinetry, because the mistake really was his fault (he did not disagree) and we split the cost on some other parts of the re-do. But the extra appliance costs were pretty staggering, and we paid those of course. I might not have spent with such abandon on a Thermador FD Freedom fridge, and all those freezer and fridge sets had it not been such an "emergency" many months into our kitchen install, when I just needed it to be finished, but I don't regret it. Our set up is so much more attractive and functional than any alternative design we had ever considered. I often wonder why three (no, four) KD's who looked at the kitchen, plus an architect, didn't come up with this plan in the first place.

I might have designed my upper cabinets a little differently had this been our plan from the beginning, but that's a small price to pay.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

Jeannie, yes, a condiment drawer has been my fantasy for awhile! I'm really interested in what you have to say about having separate drawers and how they function for you. Thank you so much for explaining how it works for you. Do you feel more organized as a result? That's really the question.

And, most of all, it's good that in light of the quick thinking solutions, that you do not regret your refrigerator purchases!I would LOVE to have seen the original empty floorplan, especially since you say no one came up with the end solution that you do really like.

July 9, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

The only thing I would guess would be tough about a condiment drawer would be that you are looking down on things in a refrigerator drawer, so it would be harder to identify what is what. From the top, a lot of things look the same. Also, bottles tend to fall over in the drawer, at least in mine, but if you had some kind of purpose-made insert, or put them in baskets inside the drawer, that would probably solve that. We could have ordered inserts for our refrigerator drawers that would organize things better, but they took up so much of the space in the drawers, we decided not to get them. I'm glad we didn't.

I just thought that maybe they should make refrigerator drawers the way they make the microwave drawers (which we also ended up getting as a result of our redesign, and which I also LOVE). The micro drawer has a soft close. You give it a little push or bump and it closes on its own, slowly, to prevent things from spilling. That would actually be a good thing to make refrigerator drawers more functional.

If you are already an organized person, I think having different drawers would make things extremely organized. I am NOT an organized person, and I have become more organized with separate drawers. Instead of things being in a big jumble, everything has its place. I don't have to fish around in the back of my refrigerator for stuff. With the shallower depth tall fridge, nothing gets lost at the back. I can see everything at a glance. Same with the drawers, looking down from above, I can see everything. And I think drawers are just in general very functional.

With the french drawer tall refrigerator, I have a drawer freezer on the bottom. I've never had that in my life, and I love it. And there is a slide-out drawer on top for smaller things, so they don't get lost. It is sooo much easier to organize things than before. Plus, with the Thermador totally flush fridge, the freezer drawer is higher than it is in most refrigerators, so no bending. The refrigerator is tough if you're vertically challenged, though, because the top shelf is VERY high up compared to most refrigerators. My MIL could not reach it.

As for the design, if you are interested, I could send you, or post if I can figure out how, one of the early iterations of the plan.

It was interesting how each designer who looked at it brought it a tiny bit closer to where it ended up, adding one more piece to the puzzle. And one designer who did not do a full-blown plan would have solved it, I'm confident, maybe even in a better way than we did. She was the one who first mentioned refrigerator drawers. We had already had a final plan, and then that kitchen designer and cabinet company essentially stopped returning our phone calls, even though they had a large deposit from us. We didn't trust them anymore, and weren't sure about the KD that worked with the GC we'd hired, so we started looking all over again. This woman used to be a designer for one of the high end cabinet companies, and decided to make her own line of cabinets and open her own company, and she opened a shop right in our town. We stopped in to her show room one day, and loved her, loved her showroom, loved her cabinets, and I like to use local businesses whenever I can. So we had her come out to look at the kitchen and the plans we had. She spent a lot of time looking and measuring and thinking about it, and said we could not put the refrigerator where we planned to put it, which was in the same part of the room we have it in now, but not recessed the way it is. She mentioned sort of under her breath "well, maybe if you put refrigerator and freezer drawers over by the range, it could work. I need to spend time to figure this out, there's got to be a way." We didn't end up working with her, for a variety of reasons, one being that she was overwhelmed with work at the time, if you can imagine, but I credit her with a lot of our kitchen. Her showroom kitchen ended up being our main inspiration kitchen, our ceiling was copied from her showroom as well, we used her idea of the drawers near the range, etc. We got all that from her, without paying her a penny, but I do recommend her to people ALL the time, so that is something, I guess.

Sorry for the long long post!

July 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

I personally love the drawers but think they are grossly overpriced. I will not use them in my Florida kitchen.

We also don't need much freezer space and therefore I'm still thinking about our refrigeration. Here in Germany we have an "all-fridge" in the kitchen, plus a smaller fridge in the basement which we turn on in the Summer months or when we expect guests and have to store a lot of food. In addition we had a large freezer for 20 years which I recently replaced by a small freezer box. My cooking habits have changed - I buy all fresh products and have no use for a large freezer anymore.

That being said, I think I'll have a sleek large all-fridge in our Florida kitchen and an additional small freezer box in the garage which we can turn on and off easily. Don't know if that appeals to future buyers of the house though, but maybe I shouldn't think that far ahead ...

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

This is sweet! Love it!

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