It’s all well and good for a Unicorn Kitchen to look good — in fact, it’s really hard for a new kitchen not to look good — but the real test of a remodel is how it works. Our designer, John, was very excited when we first came to him with our project because he had grandiose visions of this massive, symmetrical design with breakfast bar and no point of egress to the deck, and a breakfast bar, and did we mention a breakfast bar? With every successive reworking of our plans, he kept making the changes we asked for but seemed loathe to listen to our insistence that we didn’t want an eat-in part in the kitchen. For me, a kitchen is all about performance; I don’t want a television, I don’t want a desk (or any expanse of countertop that encourages a pile-up of mail or other day-to-day non-kitchen detritus), and I don’t want seating. John had a very hard time wrapping his brain around that, but the fact is, a barstool area consumes otherwise work-only counterspace and clutters up the traffic patterns around wherever the stools are going. Considering our kitchen involves a huge island around which the hallway-to-dining-room and hallway/dining room-to-back-door traffic wraps, barstools anywhere around the outside of the island seemed to us to be just stubbed toes waiting to happen. It wasn’t an easy fight to win, but in the end, John relented. And I am eternally happy for that.
Meanwhile, the rest of the kitchen is zoning itself with time, as our daily usage patterns are making it all work out. For starters, we’ve got the island element that we insisted on in place of a breakfast bar — a book case.
I was concerned that it would be too small, because my cookbooks have been, for the last two years, taking up most of the shelves in the living room. But, not surprisingly, I discovered that I was willing to self-edit when it came time to shelve them in the kitchen proper. Rollie, however, was not pleased to have to give up some of her favorite climbing-and-hiding space.
To compensate for the imagined shortfall of bookshelfy storage, we sought out and found the perfect Modwardian bookcase pretty much right after John drew up our first plans. For a while after the kitchen was finished we considered not putting the bookcase in it, but in the end, we decided the space between the pantry and the dining room door looked empty, so our bookcase was deployed as a display case until the time when my cookbook collection becomes as unwieldy as I think it is.
Here’s the side detail that made us fall in love with this bookcase:
The next “zone” we designated, after the cookbook section, was the tea area. The little stretch of counter between the sink and the door to the deck is one of those danger zones that has the chance to end up that spot where you just randomly drop crap because it’s not a high-traffic area, nor is it big enough to be set aside for something vastly important. Pookie brilliantly declared that we could stop ourselves from doing that by making it into the station for our morning tea prep.
The angled edge of the counter has a panel on the front of it that looks decorative, but is, in fact, a cabinet for reals.
Elsewhere, I staked out the deep corner of the surround countertop for my canisters of baking ingredients (apothecary jars that hold ten pounds of flour, five pounds of sugar, and several pounds of chocolate pieces) and for the stand mixer. In my experience, even though that’s a lot of acreage of counter, the upper cabinets make it hard to use because you can’t really get a good lean over what you’re doing, so I didn’t feel like I was wasting any great space this way.
Now, the difficult space to delegate was the power alley and functional heart of the kitchen, the space where all the appliances are. We’ve got the 36-inch oven and the cooktop on the surround, and facing them on the island are the 30-inch oven and the microwave (which is not something I use often, and which is, awesomely, a drawer).
I had originally anticipated making that enormous island into my primary workspace, where I could spread out my hundreds of prep bowls and my heaps of waiting-to-be-chopped produce and whatnot. But the truth is that I have a cumbersome knife block, and I like chopping right next to my cooktop. So, while it isn’t the hugest workspace in a kitchen that has huge to offer, I ended up designating the space between the fridge and the cooktop as my primary prep area.
For Christmas this year Pookie gave me a bamboo skewer knife block for the fancy damascene knives that have recently been added to my collection, and as it turns out, it’s a delightful little shelf-y addition to the work area for my various and sundry sea salts.
So basically what all this sector designating has done is leave the huge slab of island open for a wide array of activities, like secondary chopping station when there’s meat going into a meal, or when Pookie picks up a knife to join into the fun. Or cooling baked goods while dinner’s cooking. Or being an out-of-the-way space for ripening tomatoes in the summertime. And having all that floor space around it, without any barstools, or seating section, or “this space is to be used for [Purpose X]” area, makes the island into an inviting space for kitchen passengers. While someone’s cooking at the stove, and someone else is tidying up at the sink, the “outer” sides of the island beckon for everyone else to comfortably socialize while out from underfoot. It’s a space that naturally welcomes everyone’s dream of that dinner party where all your guests end up in the kitchen, without crowding, and without a single stubbed toe.