Right now and until lockdown is abolished, there is no place other than home. Within these walls we work, teach our children, exercise, cook, entertain ourselves and our families. It is also the place that offers us peace and tranquillity to fall asleep at night only to wake up and do the same thing all over again. These four walls are always vitally important to our wellbeing but as all our existence is currently centred exclusively within them, the significance of that space and how we interact with it is accentuated during these turbulent times.
A large body of scientific research has established that "more mess equals more stress" and this happens to be even more relevant when we are forced to spend most of our time inside that mess.
Clutter constantly bombards our minds with excessive stimuli, causing our senses to work overtime on matters that aren't necessary or important. Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on, it inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, create, and problem solve and it makes it more difficult for us to relax, both physically and mentally.
In our series of articles about how to reshape or redesign our home space during lockdown, this week’s focus falls on the kitchen and how to make or return that multi-functional, dynamic area of the home to its optimal state. Below are a few simple guidelines, aimed at identifying potential issues with our kitchen space and a set of steps and tools which can help fix these problems.
SET YOUR KITCHEN GOALS
Start by thinking about what you want your kitchen to accomplish. Is it simply a space
which enables you to cook or does it serve a multi-functional purpose by being an area where children do homework, the family dines and entertains? Perhaps it also serves as a part-time office? Do you expect it to be a sociable space, where you mingle with others while you cook? Being clear about our kitchen goals is essential. Why? Because our goals become our guidelines, our go-to checklist every time we ask “Do I really need this?” as we begin the process of clearing out and sorting out. When we spend less time taking care of a cluttered kitchens, we have more time to make delicious meals and linger in conversation at the dinner table, to make room for loved ones, to prioritise relationships. That is what makes the kitchen the heart of the home. It is where body and soul are fed simultaneously.
Once your kitchen goals are clear, begin to declutter and clear out cabinets and drawers in a methodical way, perhaps setting a time limit to the task. The time allocated really will depend on how much needs to be cleared out and how thoroughly this job is to be done. But as a general rule, for a medium size kitchen, two to three hours should be a good start. The purpose of this exercise is not to empty everything out of the cupboards or to reorganise items inside those cabinets, instead, the focus is on deciding what to keep, what to donate (if that is a viable option and obviously at a later date, post-lockdown) and what to throw out.
Here are some useful guidelines in determining which of the above three categories the contents of your kitchen cabinets fall into:
Do I use this? Not to be confused with “Will I possibly use this one day?”
Is this item extra? How many wooden spoons do we really need? Evaluate what is needed and used on regular basis.
Would I buy this today? I find this really helpful question, especially when considering decorative items. Ask yourself if you still love it and if it is still your style. Is it adding beauty or functionality to the space or is it just adding to the clutter?
Does this help to make my life easier? Every kitchen has items that are not considered essential but if they are used regularly or save time and effort, they have earned their place in the “keep” pile.
Relocate Anything That Does Not Belong in the Kitchen - Kitchens are notorious collection areas for odds and ends - mail, children's homework, purses, keys, and all that stuff in the infamous junk drawer. Identify a new “home” for each out-of-place item and move it there.
Clear the Worktops - Routinely cluttered worktops could signal that too many daily-use items (toaster, coffeemaker, teapot, knife block, chopping board, etc.) are permanently stored there. But this convenience fallacy ignores the fact that most of the time these items sit unused, taking away valuable space or simply preventing the worktop from remaining clear, thus serving in establishing that much needed feeling of space, cleanliness and minimalism.
Don’t forget the kitchen sink - Put away any cleaning supplies (soap, brush, sponge, etc) that currently clutter up the sink area in a space easily accessible from the sink, such as in the cabinet or drawer underneath it.
Purge the Pantry - Organising foods in the pantry in logical groupings makes it easier to notice what is running out and needs replacing. Invest in a set of like-sized, stackable containers, which allow to keep the pantry clean and organised.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
They may be built for cooking, but today’s kitchens are often designed with so much more in mind and under increasing pressure to perform a variety of crucial roles such as food preparation, family dining, relaxing, working and entertaining. With this in mind, a good layout and adequate storage are more important than ever. We want our kitchens to be a family hub where everyone can come together for meals, yet still have room to do our own thing – be that to unwind on the sofa, to catch up with TV, to browse the Internet or fit in some homework. Regardless of size, having somewhere in the kitchen to enjoy a glass of wine or supper with friends allows us to be part of the conversation while preparing the meal and that leads directly to the crucially important factor of space planning.
Organise Work Stations
When it comes to the functional aspect of a room, a good layout makes the most of the available space and keeps everything well organised, with the most regularly used items always being easily and effortlessly accessible. But it is not all about storage. Flow is an important consideration, especially in an open-plan space or where there are several doorways, or an island to work around. Using the layout to steer traffic away from dangerous hotspots and towards user-friendly areas instead, such as a drinks fridge or seating area, will ensure that your kitchen is a practical, safe and sociable space for all its users, including guests and children.
The Golden Rule of Kitchen Organisation: Eliminate Physical Steps
How should a home cook begin to think about organising his or her work space? By reducing the number of steps they take. Chefs set up their spaces to reduce movement during service; equipping our home kitchen so that we don't have to take many steps while cooking is the secret to making it feel functional and organised.
Get Your Flow Right
Food funnels in a professional kitchen from storage to prep to line to pass, and that is what it should also do in a home kitchen. Almost every home kitchen is designed around the famed triangle, which connects the fridge, sink and hob / oven, thus enabling good flow while working.
The best way to wrap our heads around the idea of effective organisation would be to divide our kitchens into four distinct stations, each with its own purpose: a cleaning station, a preparation station, a cooking station, a food storage station.
The idea behind these stations is to house everything as near as possible to its corresponding station. The prep station is the place for tools like mixing bowls, knives and chopping boards. Perishable and non-perishable products go in the food storage station, whereas cleaning products, bins and the dishwasher should find their place in the cleaning station. By recognising these stations and organising accordingly, our kitchens will be set for and ensure maximum efficiency.
The Cleaning Station
The space under the kitchen sink is the ideal spot for storing household cleaning products of every description, but it can also present a few challenges. The protruding pipework can make it tricky to fit items in neatly, and the low position can make it difficult to access products at the back, without knocking over those at the front. If your below-sink storage isn’t quite working, consider these clever ideas to discover some tidy inspiration.
When planning and designing a kitchen, my personal recommendation to clients is to always opt for drawers, instead of shelved cabinets. The ability to pull out a drawer with its contents, and make it all immediately accessible, to my mind, has a significant advantage over shelving, the back of which is difficult and cumbersome to reach, therefore rendering those items stored at the back almost redundant or forgotten. If replacing existing internal cabinet fittings is not possible, consider installing pull-out wire baskets or cabinet organisers, readily available from high street and online retailers such as IKEA and Amazon.
The Preparation Station
A good amount of worktop space needs to be dedicated to this section – this is where ingredients are laid down after washing, where we chop, assemble, mix and generally prepare all our food. There needs to be enough room for appliances such as food processors, pasta or sous vide machines, for chopping boards, bowls, trays, etc. The cabinets below this section of worktop should house all of the above items for maximum efficiency and ergonomics. When designing this area, I also allow for the storage of tableware such as dinner and breakfast plates, bowls, cutlery and all other types of serving dishes.
Turn the Sink Into More Worktop Space
Worktop space is always at a premium, but there's an easy fix to add just a little more, should that be needed: a chopping board that fits over the sink creates an extra space for cutting and is an inexpensive and easily achieved way of extending this much needed space. Many of these have built-in colanders to help make food preparation a breeze and add an additional functional component.
The dishwasher is also a part of the cleaning zone, so naturally, it makes sense for everyday dishes to be stored in close proximity to that zone. It is also wise to place the rubbish bin on one side of the sink, or underneath it, and the dishwasher on the other, so that dirty dishes can easily be scraped, rinsed and placed in the dishwasher, preferably without taking a single step. As a general rule, the position of the dishwasher should be to the right of the kitchen sink for right-hand users and to the left of the kitchen sink for left-hand users. This makes the cleaning of plates and loading them in to the dishwasher easy and effortless.
The Cooking Station
This is the area designated for the hob and for cabinets housing pots, pans, spices, cooking utensils and all other items necessary for the cooking process. Images below illustrate some well-designed, practical storage solutions. As already mentioned, when designing any kitchen I would recommend the usage of drawers, and this area would be no exception. The images below are just some of the ways these drawers could be utilised to facilitate easy access to everything needed while standing at the stove. And, if well organised, these drawers can really maximise all the space available, thus fitting and housing much more than would be possible on shelves within a cabinet.
The Food Storage Station
Practical cabinets make day-to-day chores easy and enjoyable. They use every inch available and give access to the very back of drawers and allow us to keep everything we need for specific tasks together.
Consider the layout of your kitchen, the specific cabinets available to you to determine the right solutions for your kitchen. Whatever the size or shape, cabinets should always afford clear visibility and easy access to contents. Here are some variations on the type of food storage and how best to utilise the space available in your kitchen:
The Tower Larder Unit
Whether off-the-shelf or bespoke, if well designed and planned, tower larder units make maximum use of space. Shallow shelving on the doors and pull-out drawers or shelves ensure that every item can be reached easily. Allowing for different heights and grouping items by kind also serve to fill in every centimetre of available space, while requiring minimum effort in looking for ingredients. #Hettich manufacture and supply quality, versatile yet affordable internal metal larder inserts, which can be retro-fitted, if your current set-up is lacking in functionality and ease of access.
The Corner Unit
You can make optimal use of corner space with a well designed corner cabinet. Whether a "magic corner", which allows the user to pull out the entire contents of the cabinet in a smooth action with a soft-close mechanism or kidney-shaped shelves, gently gliding out past awkward corner obstacles - the size and layout of your kitchen corner cabinets will determine which of these would best serve your needs. What they all have in common is the accessibility and full utilisation of what in the past used to be a cabinet with limited functionality and storage capacity. @BlumUK and @HafeleUK provide mechanisms which can be independently sourced and retro-fitted for corner cabinets in need of updating.
Innovative Exposed Shelving
We often think of our living area in two-dimensional terms, as a floor plan. However, if we imagine it as a three dimensional space, we open a whole new world of possibilities, and with that - discover considerably more storage space available to us.
Open plan shelving is a very quick and impactful way to establish both interest and practicality in a kitchen. A word of warning - it is very easy for these open plan shelves to become a new clutter zone in your newly-decluttered kitchen, so be very selective in what you display and position there. Ideally, open plan shelving should be dedicated to sightly or structured items.
Grouping glasses, bottles or objects which look the same will prevent possible temptations to over-display, accumulate too much or store items which are not needed or have no place in that setting.
Open shelving can also be used to inject structural interest in an area and to link two adjacent spaces by cleverly disguising what would otherwise be a plain wall. Employing clever and masterful carpentry skills would be a way of revamping or completely changing the look of a kitchen or an open plan kitchen / dining / living space. Tailoring the layout and design of the open plan shelving or box shelving should be carefully considered, so that all items you intend to accommodate there can best fit that space and so that storage opportunities are maximised to their fullest.
The same rules of using restraint and grouping identical or similar items would also apply to all types of creative shelving. Although the overriding purpose is all these to cater for your storage needs, design shines at its best when it combines practicality with aesthetics in equal terms,
therefore striking a magical balance and this should be the guiding principle when planning and implementing any type of open storage shelving solution.
The purpose of this article has been to offer some ideas on how, in simple steps, we can reclaim our kitchens by clearing unwanted clutter, purging over-fulled cabinets, grouping or segregating areas and restoring the functionality of the heart of our homes. And if this process has made you rethink your entire kitchen layout, it is best, before you make any plans to embark on a building project, to first invest time in conducting extensive research and defining your optimal space layout and kitchen floor plan. And when lockdown is finally lifted, you can get design ideas on building your perfect kitchen. Until then, stay safe, healthy and positive and good luck decluttering!