Soggy cold cereal, warm memories

The Old House Web
"The floor was linoleum, and there would always be dogs on the floor. There was a big, faded green sofa, and Floyd the farmer would smoke a lot in there. The kitchen had the smell of leather, manure, baking bread and yeast, always the smell of maple syrup and wood from the wood stove."-- Christopher Kimball, editor of Cook's Illustrated magazine, remembering the kitchen he spent summers in as a young boy in Vermont.

From "Cooking Spaces," by Helen Thompson and Anna Kasabian, 2002.

Cooking Spaces, a new book by veteran writers Helen Thompson and Anna Kasabian, is filled with such reminiscences as the above passage. You'll find plenty of practical advice and tips on everything from backsplashes to kitchen organization, but the real appeal of the book lies in the exploration of what makes a kitchen the heart of the house.

Kasabian talked to a number of world-class chefs on both kitchens past and their current home kitchens. She and Thompson offer some sound advice on designing a kitchen that is more than just a place to prepare food. These excerpts are from their book, Cooking Spaces, available in The Old House Web Restoration Bookstore.

island kitchen

This kitchen has it all -- a large work island with storage, a pot rack for practical storage and visual interest, and a nice integration of hardworking stainless steel with country style wood cabinets.

Cooking spaces that work make life easier, whether you are an ambitious home chef or a busy professional who dines on take-out food. The first step to an efficient kitchen is to think about your cooking lifestyle and how you use your kitchen. Start by deciding what you will be doing in your new kitchen, and then calculate how much time you will want to spend in the kitchen.

There are five functions that a well planned kitchen must make room for:

  1. Storage
  2. Food preparation
  3. Cooking
  4. Eating
  5. Clean-up


Often used pots and utensils are within easy reach on these restaurant-style open shelves.

  • Keep often used pots within reach of the stove and oven. A cluster of pots hanging above a counter is both easy to reach and visually interesting. Do not suspend pots directly above a stovetop, where grease and dust will collect more easily.
  • Arrange storage for easy access. Frequently used items should be kept somewhere between knee height and eye level.
  • Restaurant-style trays outfitted with canisters keep beans, rice, flour and sugar dry and neat. They can be installed in a drawer and free the counter of clutter.
  • Think vertically as well as horizontally. Incorporate vertical slots in a cabinet near an oven to store large flat baking pans and cutting boards.
  • Display everyday items on open shelves above the countertop. This arrangement works best if the dishes are used and washed daily. If not, store them behind glass doors, which prevent dust collection and show off the colors and patterns of dishes.
  • Don't settle for the ordinary, such as stock cabinets. Scour junk and salvage shops, restaurant supply companies and auctions for furniture and accessories that can be adapted to kitchen use.
  • Since the kitchen is an all-purpose space, especially if you have children, bring order to the chaos by including a pull-out drawer where toys can be quickly stowed.
  • Slides, shelves, hooks and sealed mini-cabinets make pantry systems adaptable to the kind of food storage a cook really needs.
  • The kick plate under the cabinet doesn't have to be wasted space. Drawers can be added to hold stepladders, accessories and kitchen hardware.
Food preparation


Don't settle for stock cabinets, instead think of innovative uses for yard sale treasures. This metal topped table makes an interesting all purpose work area.

  • Consider the kinds of foods you prepare, how many people you cook for and whether you share prep space with others.
  • Islands are the workhorse of the kitchen and are worth having even if it means reconfiguring space to fit them in. They offer well-organized storage and a roomy work surface for everything from meal prep to informal dining. They are always a handy spot for friends to gather.
  • Islands work best when unencumbered by appliances. With legs, they appear lighter and less blocky.
  • Place the island in the middle of the room so the cook can interact with family members and guests.
  • Incorporate stove burners, work counters of varying heights and a small appliance center so that key activities can be focused in one area.
  • Squared-off edges block pathways: Round off kitchen islands and cabinet edges to make the kitchen more user-friendly.
  • Take a tip from restaurants: Stainless steel is a workhorse material for any kitchen, residential or commercial. Keep a cutting board handy to prevent scarring and scratching countertops.
  • Awkward cabinets in narrow spaces become useable when they are outfitted with pullout shelves to hold spices and condiments.


Colorful tiles, rather than a clutter, make this backsplash interesting and practical to clean.

  • A stove hood can easily become a major design element in a kitchen. Although some cooks prefer the extra headroom a downdraft system installed at the back of a stovetop allows, a stove without a hood often looks bereft.
  • Adding a second stovetop for specialty cooking, such as grilling or broiling, is realistic for serious and frequent meal preparation.
  • Keep frequently used utensils in plain view and within easy reach.
  • Consider designing in a special kitchen nook to pursue a hobby like baking or wine tasting.
  • If possible, put water where you need it most. Overhead faucets over stovetops save cooks the unpleasant task of toting heavy stock pots from stove to sink and back again.

cover kitchen

Banquette seating in the dining nook and open storage of everyday dishes maximize the use of space in this kitchen.

  • If you have children, a bar area for quick meals may be your best option.
  • A central cooking island is a good place to include a child-height counter. Run a low shelf across the length of the island for a good spot for kids to pursue their own cooking interests or enjoy meals.
  • For small spaces, a banquette or window seat will free up room for extra seating.
  • Displays of favorite collections can make the kitchen a place to relax and enjoy dining.
  • Kitchens are intensely personal spaces. The best of them have the mark of their owner indelibly expressed within.
  • Make dishwashing and food recycling simple by choosing the sink, drainage space and dishwasher based on the amount of work you do.
  • Do not stint on the space needed to do the job right.
  • To keep backsplashes from looking cluttered remove as many of the electrical outlets as possible and run them under cabinets.
  • Extend solid surface counters all the way up the wall. These integral backsplashes eliminate seams and crevices where dirt and grease collect.
  • Wood floors are warm and easy to keep clean. But they require extra protection around wet areas, and may be too much of a good thing if you also have wood cabinets.
  • Vinyl is soft underfoot and absorbs sound, but can discolor with age.
  • Linoleum is made from natural materials, is soft underfoot, sound absorbent, durable and low maintenance. Unsealed seams can become conduits for water seepage.
  • Properly sealed slate and limestone floors will wear well over the years and come in many appealing colors. But these materials will be cold underfoot and they reflect noise. Light colors also show dirt easily.
  • Ceramics and concrete are the most durable of flooring materials. However, they can be hard on the feet and legs, brutal to dropped dishes and slippery when wet.

Anna Kasabian has written about interior design and architecture for The Old House Web, Country Living, Yankee, Coastal Living and other publications. Helen Thompson is an editor, writer and photo stylist for Metropolitan Home Magazine. They teamed up to produce "Cooking Spaces." The above excepts and photos are published with permission of Rockport Publishers, Gloucester, Massachusetts.

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