Lessons from a Passionate Cook on Small Kitchen Design: a look inside


A small kitchen with a big space in Boston's South End.

A small kitchen with a big space in Boston's South End.

This ambitious small kitchen in Boston's South End is loaded with lessons. It's owner, Tony, is a passionate cook and his engagement in the design of his kitchen was pivotal to its smart outcome. He put a lot of thought into the details.

Tony had a real desire...a kitchen for serious cooking. He needed to optimize a small space for a bounty of equipment and supplies. And the architecture of the kitchen had to mirror his love of space. Here's a story of how it worked.

THE 'BEFORE' PICTURE

'Before" photo of this South End kitchen. 

'Before" photo of this South End kitchen. 

Tony's old kitchen lacked spirit and function and certainly was a poor cousin to Tony's enthusiasm. As Tony will show us, a lot of his design choices came from recognizing what he didn't like...his pet peeves.

THE DESIGN MODEL

The architect's model. The kitchen design is a series of 'L's.

The architect's model. The kitchen design is a series of 'L's.

As Tony explains it, "the design is a series of 'L's. That's basically what we were seeing whenever we were thinking of wrapping things or how things extended." The architect's design was very much based on Tony knowing specifically what he wanted stored and where..."I even knew the heights of things, I knew I would store certain things in certain places, and so we knew how deep we wanted certain drawers, and then everything became a pattern...I got into that little detail...I think a lot about space though I'm not formally trained as an architect."

Once the model was developed, Tony adds, "It was basically Paul and Karla [KR+H's designers] who took the design and conceptualized it, and then we went into picking materials and how to integrate them." The design process unfolded at a pace that insured all of Tony's plentiful kitchen functions and contents were taken into account.

And Tony remembers, "They [Paul and Karla] told me this was a fun job. They knew it was very well thought out. I can be very detail oriented, and they weren't annoyed by that."

THE FOYER

Architect's model and photo showing how the 'L' design works to create a foyer.

Architect's model and photo showing how the 'L' design works to create a foyer.

Tony wanted to banish the feeling of "I'm walking in to my place and here's my place." The overall concept of the 'L' design worked to create a foyer, a slight pause on entry to the home from outside life. This transition space was defined simply by horizontal cross pieces extending over vertical cabinetry. the foyer is a poetic representation of the 'L' design's quality of extension.

DELIGHT IN THE DETAILS

Tony's thoughtful study of his work habits and aesthetic preferences informed every step of the process. Following is a sampling of both Tony's ideas about his space and the designers' responses. (The designers include the architect, and KR+H's Paul Reidt and Karla Monkevich.)

South End Kitchen/sink area

Tony: "I don't care for facing walls so that's where we came up with the sink moved to face the living room. I knew I wanted stainless steel counters with a deep sink." Designers: The sink and surface can be a fully integrated seamless composition with shape and size perfectly suited to the program.

Tony: "I wanted a higher countertop for some of the baking and cooking I do. Generally higher than your standard countertop for rolling pasta, cutting cookies, etc." Designers: Worked with Tony to select butcher-block material for the counter and set the height to his specifications.

Tony: The butcher block counter also provides an overhang. "I knew I wanted my stool right here. I knew we were going to have glass [shelving] here and this suspended look." Designers: Karla designed glass shelving framed in the same machine age aesthetic as the other metal components in the kitchen's design.

Tony: "No cupboards below the counters. It had to be drawers; deep drawers. I wanted to maximize the space. They had to be drawers that hold a lot of things. Also, I wanted to be able to change how I'm using this drawer space."  Designers: Top quality, heavy-duty hardware to support weight of stored items; moveable dividers integrated into drawers for easy re-organization.

Tony: "I got picky with certain cutouts." Designers: Worked with Tony to create a vertical opening in the shelving above the butcher block counter that allows light to flow into the living room while maintaining a division of space.

Tony: "I don't like cupboards that make you reach behind things when you need to get something." Designers: Two industrial-like trolleys were designed that park above the refrigerator and pull out on ceiling tracks. Each trolley comes into the work space and offers its contents all the way around.

Two views to show how the trolleys above the fridge extend into the workspace.

Two views to show how the trolleys above the fridge extend into the workspace.

LIVING ROOM VIEW

Living room view of the kitchen.

Living room view of the kitchen.

Tony also knew this: "I don't want to sit in my living room and see the kitchen." The kitchen loses its work attire and cleans up nicely as it presents to the living room. Partitions help define the living space architecturally and also offer useful storage. In Tony's living space, you can stand back and appreciate the exposed brick walls, floating shelves enhanced by lighting, and a useful and lovely bench (that opens for storage.)

There's plenty of shelving for cookbooks, display, and more deep spaces for hidden storage. After demolition, newly discovered space allowed for a tall wine rack (to left of drawers). The middle "drawer" cabinet has a drop-down front that Tony uses as a sideboard for serving.

"Drawer" cabinet opens for use as a sideboard.

"Drawer" cabinet opens for use as a sideboard.

One of Tony's favorite things is a small but effective pass-through to take dishes from table to kitchen.

Pass-through to kitchen above bench area.

Pass-through to kitchen above bench area.

PASS-THROUGH LESSON

Tony loves his pass-through that allows for dinner clean up. He still laughs that Paul (Reidt) said it was never going to be used. Tony told Paul, "No, actually it will be used because of my little quirk - people don't do dishes in my house; they don't clean; they are not allowed; and I don't do it at their house so it's all fair trade. So it will be used. I like the design of it, I like the look of it, and I especially like its function." Paul reflected, "The cook knows more than the kitchen designer about his means and methods. I can see where my idea was based on my own experience, and it was not tempered with Tony's understanding. A great lesson in listening to the way your customer is working and making choices."

The kitchen's tall glassware cabinet can be admired from the living room. 

The kitchen's tall glassware cabinet can be admired from the living room. 

ILLUMINED REDESIGN

The tall, lighted glassware cabinet in the kitchen can be admired from the living room. It was not a part of the original design. In the course of demolition it was discovered the original idea for a stereo/bar area had to be modified because electrical panels were uncovered that restricted dimensions. But what at first appeared to be a space problem became a space solution both practical and aesthetically pleasing. As Tony says, "It turned out to be an important addition because it was one of those conundrums - where the hell am I going to put my glasses and coffee mugs?" Interior lighting in this tall cabinet creates a luminescence and sparkle that is especially lovely at night.

RAVIOLI NIGHT

This kitchen houses an extraordinary amount. Just for starters, Tony has two ovens, two Cuisinarts, a mixer, and an ice cream maker. And, remember, Tony doesn't like cupboards that make you move this to get that...so besides two trolleys (see above), Tony has a rollout spice cabinet above counter and a roll out baking cart below.

Roll out spice rack. 

Roll out spice rack. 

Ravioli Night!

Ravioli Night!

It's ravioli night! The "L" design concept for Tony's kitchen comes alive! Out rolls the baking cart. Deployed for preparation, it gives easy access to the baking supplies and machinery it stores, and it creates another counter space, creating a U-shape for working. Task lighting can be repositioned. Tony pops in a custom-fitted wood top over the sink and the whole kitchen is ready for pasta making! "To me it's a great use of space, says Tony. "Basically you could only get one person at a time in my old kitchen. Now three people can be in here for pasta production...someone is rolling, someone is cutting, someone is folding. You can get all that in. Ravioli is the thing...you need a lot of space. It's all functional and when you're in the living room you don't feel like your in the kitchen."