What do you love about your kitchen? There’s probably some aspect that you truly appreciate, since most of us spend a considerable amount of time in the kitchen — whether it’s to cook or entertain.
The kitchen is now the place to gather, entertain, plug in a laptop, charge the cell phone and more. Cabinets are designed to wring every inch of storage out of available space. Design continues to evolve. There are ever-growing ways to make kitchen life better.
So yeah, there’s lots to love in today’s kitchen, and when the question was put to readers, it yielded tales — of pot racks, spice cabinets, pop-up mixer shelves, butcher blocks and sneaky storage compartments. Here are 11 tales of kitchen can-do, each a short case study in the immediate payoffs of practical thinking.
Doing cartwheels over racks
Robert and Mary Lou Simmelink are in the middle of a remodel of their Shorewood, Wis., home, but already love their “speed rack on wheels.” It sits next to the stove, under a counter, ready to be pressed (or pushed) into service. It gets used a lot.
“I used to be a pastry chef, so I had used speed racks for years in my professional life, but it never occurred to me that one would be useful at home. I saw a picture in a kitchen inspiration design book that included one and it was an ‘aha,’ or really a ‘duh!’ moment,” said Mary Lou.
Robert, executive chef at Alto-Shaam, makers of food service equipment for commercial kitchens, agrees.
“The best thing we did was to put a half-size speed rack that is on wheels next to the stove,” he said. “We use this for hot trays coming out of the oven, such as the Christmas cookies. … We can also park hot saute pans just before plating. I plan to use it to stage platters of food and ‘back-up’ food when we entertain. This way, the back-up food is away from the guest and we can all have a good time in the kitchen without clutter.”
‘Sold,’ to the couple with kitchen smarts
Dean and Valerie Ferber know a thing or two about shopping around. The previous owners of the Ferbers’ cottage-style home in Hales Corners, Wis., had an antique bread table. It gave the antique-loving Ferbers an idea. They hunted flea markets, antique shops, estate sales. At one antiques mall, they spotted the perfect piece: a woodworker’s bench. But at $1,100, it was too pricey.
Then, on the way to another store, they stopped at an auction and found a bench covered with paint and equipped with two vises. Where others might have seen a mess, the Ferbers saw potential. But first they had to win it.
Bidding started near the price of that first bench they’d seen, but there were no takers. The price dropped to $500, then $250, then $100. Finally, Dean Ferber raised his auction paddle. The auctioneer asked for $125, and a man in front held up his hand. Dean Ferber bid $150 — and the 1880s work bench was theirs.
“And all Wifey could say was ‘How are we going to load that thing?’”
With some help, they got it into their van and were off.
For Elizabeth A. Gorzalski, a yearlong remodel began with one realization. “It took me seven years to accept my wheelchair status,” said Gorzalski, who was in a car accident and also has a muscular disorder. “When I finally realized, ‘this is it,’ and I accepted it (the condition), I redesigned my kitchen so I could entertain and cook and enjoy it.”
With the help of Eric Wright of Rockwood Construction in Wauwatosa, Wis., and cabinetmaker Rudy Steiner of StoneTree Woodworks in Mukwonago, Wis., she has a kitchen that works for her. It started with a unique measurement. Steiner told her, “Let’s measure where your nose is. We won’t put anything higher than your nose is.”
One element she’s especially fond of: The space below the counter at the stove that allows her wheelchair underneath, “allowing me to cook safely,” she writes.
Another nice touch was the height of doors. “I had a very old dog who never left my side,” she said. “The doors are exactly the right height (from the floor) so that I could pull them out and ‘Buckles’ would not be disturbed.”
Buckles is gone, but her two dogs now, Sir Reginald and Max McGee, benefit from the same design detail.
Judy Holzmann of Campbellsport, Wis., saved up to remodel her kitchen, then went hunting for deals — and found them. She figures she saved nearly $14,000 by getting merchandise on eBay, and design showrooms. She sent along a spreadsheet to prove it. “Hope you don’t mind my enthusiasm — this project took five years to plan and save for so we wouldn’t go into debt,” she writes.
She loves the openness and flow of the new kitchen, and all the new appliances, but if she had to pick one thing?
“For functionality, silly as it sounds, my favorite thing is the built-in compost bucket,” she said. “So practical, and looks cool, too. I’m an avid gardener, so have been composting for years and using it in my flower beds.” Before the remodel, she composted in buckets kept outside the patio door. “In the winter the whole works would freeze solid. In the summer it just looked gross.”
Naturally, she found a great deal on the compost bin. “With all the ‘green’ products out there I knew there had to be something, and it took a lot of Googling to find it,” she said. She came up with one made by a firm called Rev-A-Shelf. She found the best deal by ordering it through Menards ($131).
The bin is set right into the countertop, installed in a “dead space corner next to the kitchen sink.” When the three-gallon bin is full, one of the kids takes it out to the compost pile in the woods behind the house.
Serving up suds
Trudy Hannam of Cedarburg, Wis., likes her kitchen just fine, but it was a small item installed by her 57-year-old son, Herbert (Jay) Hannam, that makes her life so much easier.
“I love my soap dispenser,” she writes, with more than a little excitement. “I got a new kitchen faucet this year, and my son installed it. He also had a special drill that he could use to make a hole in my sink and added a soap dispenser. Now I don’t have to bend over several times a day to get soap from under my sink when it is needed. It is absolutely wonderful! It fills from the top easily and directs a stream where needed.”
Terry Crevensten lived with the dated kitchen in her 1960s Cedarburg, Wis., ranch house for more than 20 years. Last summer, they finally gutted the kitchen, adding a family room and a mudroom. She put a lot of thought into organizing and making the most of the space, including creation of “lunch-making station.” But the element that sold them on the designer (Bob Sebastian of Brillo Home Improvements) was moving the sink to a corner.
“Although you can put carousels in the corner cabinets, they’re still not great and the corner counter can be a problem,” she said. “The design also put a niche above the sink and spotlight lighting, so we have some artwork there.”
Terri Walters said her “darling husband” Lee remodeled their 1930s home in Wauwatosa a few years ago and included lots of organizational features. The one that Walters loves, though, is the long, tall spice cabinet. There’s a reason it’s so tall.
“It’s a former ironing board cabinet that (now) organizes herbs and spices, makes them easy to find and is convenient to (but removed from) my stove and kitchen island,” Walters said.
“I have over 50 jars of spices and also store salt boxes, cookie decorating supplies and flavorings like vanilla and almond in my cabinet,” Walters said.
Turning talents inward
Kendall Polster is a welder who makes art and designs restaurants for a living. So he unleashed his talents on a challenging space: his own small kitchen.
“I put in a restaurant-grade, deep double sink from Fein Brothers,” he said. “I built the sink cabinet more as a piece of furniture on legs, not built to the floor as a traditional kitchen cabinet. I made it using all recycled oak … except for the maple I used in the two-inch-thick pull-out cutting board. The sink cabinet ended up only costing me about $60 in materials.”
Let there be light
Lori Cannestra, a self-described “kitchen design junkie,” had a big kitchen remodel and loves a lot of the details (like the custom spice rack, the phone niche and home organizing corner).
One small detail stands out for her: “Our simple, under-cabinet outlet strip. Tucking an outlet strip under the cabinets, rather than traditional receptacles every three feet, enhances the beauty of our tiled backsplash by allowing an uninterrupted, clean line across the length of the wall. It’s a small detail, but one that really improves the aesthetics of the design without compromising functionality.”
Measure by measure
Deborah Kramer of Onalaska, Wis., was determined that space would be wasted when she remodeled her kitchen. She measured cans and boxes to make sure they fit in the drawers she had in mind. To get every inch of space to work, she had pantry drawers designed to fit next to a long row of wine cubby holes.
“I had them plan the wine rack first and then make the drawers with the remaining space,” she said. “These pantry drawers pull completely out so no canned good is unseen.”
Kate Wilson did a remodel on a budget, with help from Home Depot in Milwaukee. Her new kitchen is bright and cheery, with lots of white and yellow, and it has great storage. Drawers rather than doors on cabinets make storage easier. One smart detail: “A front flip-out drawer above the under-sink cabinet that holds sponges, rubber gloves and scrubbers that I don’t want to keep out.”
Republished with permission from McClatchy Tribune News Service.