A Peek Into My Kitchen

My kitchen flawed in design and lacking in space

My kitchen flawed in design and lacking in space

My apartment in New York City is the proud host of the kitchen from hell. Its inherent flaws in both design and location remind me that in this home a good meal is not just created, it is earned.

Despite these flaws, I adore this apartment. The quirks of the kitchen are endearing to me. It amuses me to watch others come into it and think that they can open the drawer to get a spoon without switching the setting on the dishwasher to “pots” in order to be able to open the drawer. I like watching my husband open the dishwasher (which I feel so grateful to have) only to realize he must first kick the garbage in lest the racks won’t slide out. My favorite flaw by far, just beating out the crooked, inaccessible sink and backwards, unusable cabinet is the cascading spice rack. One false step in pulling out the smoked paprika and you’ve got an avalanche of spices, Mexican achiote, Indian garam masala, Chinese star anise and more, all uniting in their fall toward the floor causing a crash so loud that the dog next door begins to bark incessantly while you run to get the broom and the woman downstairs bangs on the ceiling in warning that you have violated her sense of peace. Our favorite is when the racks slip in the middle of the night and we awake with our hearts pounding wondering which one of us forgot to bolt the door and in what gruesome way the intruder might kill us. No matter how many times I try to rearrange the spices, the unstable racks still make the most sense in terms of space.

A good cook can make a good meal from any kitchen, whether it’s just a fire in the woods or a halal cart on the street. My kitchen is more than functional and has conveniences that I’ve never had before (dishwasher!). That being said, some of the angles into which I have to contort myself to wash dishes or reach for a plate are ridiculous. I’ve consulted a design manual addressing common kitchen design flaws and I’d say my kitchen has almost all of them.

When you first enter the apartment, you are immediately in the kitchen. This doesn’t bother me terribly, although it is slightly awkward. Over the course of time I have identified several other “gaps” in this kitchen’s personality that cry out for some sort of design solution.

Lack of Countertops

Lack of countertops is probably one of the biggest design flaws in the kitchen. However, living in Manhattan, I never really expected more than the two small slabs this lovely rental came with. In order to accommodate the lack of counter space, as there’s no room for an island, I create tenuous piles of used pots and pans and stack plates upon napkins that I move around systematically and balance carefully like playing a game of Jenga when I cook.

Sideways corner sink
Sideways corner sink. “Oh, and don’t forget to press ‘pots’ on the dishwasher before you grab a spoon.”

Red Zones

The top three areas in the kitchen are the sink, refrigerator and the stove. These areas are basically considered to be the red zones of the kitchen and should not be blocked or obstructed in any way. My biggest issue with this kitchen is the awkward angle of the sink. It makes food preparation and cleanup almost painful as my hips are scrunched against two corners and I’m hunched and reaching over the the sink. Also, the small gap between the counter and the stove inspires complete frustration when I drop food in there. In NYC you always have to worry about bugs so all areas must remain immaculate. The fridge seems to be fine, though it has no handles and it is apartment-sized (another euphemism for small). The lack of space for garbage leaves me stacking the recycling by the door, which makes it difficult to open more than 45 degrees.

No Storage Space

The cabinets in this apartment are very tall, but only two of them are accessible. Note the pots and pans in the window (and the one cabinet that opens toward the window). The dishwasher is a huge plus, but it has its own issues. To open the dishwasher door you must move the garbage, which is carefully placed in the only gap in the kitchen. I use the dishwasher as a drying rack and storage for when there aren’t enough dishes to run the dishwasher. Loading and unloading the dishwasher requires me to stand ten feet behind the sink.  Lack of storage space creates the need to make room for the main appliances, leaving the lesser appliances for the inaccessible cabinet that faces the window.

My Favorite Spice Racks (Best issue of the kitchen)

The spice racks deserve a paragraph of their own. Lack of storage and counter space required me to be creative in finding a spot with easy access to spices.  A few months ago I had a big fight with my husband because I was out to dinner with a friend and I got a text from him saying “be careful when you walk in”. No other details.

I thought to myself, “What could this possibly mean?” Is this a real warning? Is this a flirtation? What danger could be lurking behind the door?” Well, I found out soon enough. I walked in and all of the chef’s knives were scattered along the tile floor, covered with a rainbow of rosemary, paprika, curry and everything else. Appliances sat in pieces upside down and blades were strewn across the kitchen. It looked as if the FBI had overturned the kitchen looking for the secret recipe that could create world peace. I counted to ten before I asked my dear husband, why on earth he would come home to this disaster and leave it for me to clean? I may have yelled a little before I let him explain, as in my mind, there is no possible explanation for leaving this alarming mess.

His explanation was precisely the alarm. He admitted that he was so shocked by the state of the kitchen and the knives and processing blades that he could not believe that the spice racks falling could have caused such damage from that angle. He wanted my opinion as to whether we got robbed and ransacked or whether the force of the spice racks falling could have caused such mayhem. We forensically reenacted the angles and assured ourselves that indeed this was gravity, not an intruder.

Ventilation and the Fire Alarm

Kitchens should have a good ventilation system in the design. Cooktops should have good air vents to allow for cooking odors to flow out of the duct work and out wall mounted or rooftop vents. This being said, I know very well how well my fire alarm works. Even with the “fan” on, if I cook anything in the oven at over 450 degrees, the place fills with smoke and the fire alarm goes off incessantly. We remedy this problem by having my husband stand there with his hand over the thing until I can lower the heat enough to alleviate the problem.

Gaps and Spaces

Another kitchen design flaw is not allotting space for garbage and garbage containers. Ah yes, the gap between the stove and the countertop. This tiny gap leaves no room for the recycling, which just sits in the empty space in front of the handle-less refrigerator blocking the ability to fully open the door.

Tiny garbage can in gap between stove and countertop blocking the dishwasher door
Tiny garbage can in gap between stove and countertop blocking the dishwasher door. Where would you stand when loading dishes in from the sink or putting dishes away?  

Bathroom Location

Having a bathroom right off the kitchen is less of a problem than I originally thought it would be. Keep the door closed and you’re good to go (most of the time).

Every kitchen has its quirks and I’ve learned how to manage this one flawlessly, except for maybe the crooked sink. Despite all of this, I never feel more at home than when I’m in this kitchen and feel so grateful to have a space of my own, flaws and all, as a backdrop for my creative cooking.

36 thoughts on “A Peek Into My Kitchen”

  1. Love your writing style! Although my kitchen is bigger with lots more cupboard space, you must open the oven door before opening the utensil drawer, so I can relate a bit!
    Thanks for sharing:)

    • Thanks so much for reading and for your comments. That’s hilarious about your oven door! I think it makes the place endearing!

      • Yeah, but sometimes I forget about it and start anew thinking of ways to change it. Adding on is way to expensive, Moving it down would put the stove right up against the frig. My latest idea is to push the stove back about 4 inches. Now if I can only get my husband inspired to do it.
        Love you’re description of of the spice rack!

  2. i live in nyc (brooklyn) as well . i grew up here so i’m used to making the best of what little room i have. i find it difficult sometimes, especially the lack of counter space, as well as no windows (huge bummer when i take pictures). it seems like you make the best out what you have as well 🙂

    • The counter space is the killer. I will try to heed Nigella’s and Julia’s advice and embrace it. Maybe we’re learning an essential skill and we just don’t know it yet! I grew up between Coney Island and an hour north of here (Warwick, NY).

  3. Somehow I missed this post! Fabulous! And I should give you credit for the whole cookbook post that might be trending now!

  4. I’m smiling – what a terrific post! My kitchen is tiny, too, and I have friends asking how I can possibly cook as much as I do. Over the many years I’ve spent in my small space I’ve come to appreciate it, quirks and all, and am quite proud of all I create. It’s cozy and well used – two good characteristics, I think! I love all your descriptions and illustrations and I’m sure you’ve cooked many fabulous meals there. Thanks for the peek!

    • You are so sweet. I totally agree with you. Looking forward to cooking many great dishes along with you and reading about your adventures as well!

  5. You’ve just inspired me to make a similar post about my kitchen. Though it is not quite as quirky as yours, it does have its flaws. But thankfully due to my neighbour who is a builder and carpenter (and an utter blessing to have bought a house next door to), we’ve managed to convert a crappy space with second hand cabinetry which was pulled out of another house, into a well functioning kitchen.

    I have however in the past rented some very apartments with very dodgy kitchens!

    • Ha! Make that neighbor your best friend. Send him overseas to me! I can’t wait to read your kitchen posts. The small space in the apartment, while a pain during cooking is actually much worse for photography. My composition is always very tight because there is nowhere to spread out! You’ve nailed it!

  6. Wow! I’ve lived in apartments with some *tiny* kitchens in Japan, but they were more like long, narrow, hallway-type kitchens (with zero counterspace unless you put a cutting board across the top of the sink), I actually think your kitchen, despite having more counterspace, looks like it might be even more frustratingly-shaped to work in… I’m impressed you get any cooking done at all, let alone some delicious-looking dishes!

    • The Japanese kitchen doesn’t sound like a picnic either! It’s so interesting to see and hear what other people’s cooking experiences are like. Thanks for checking out my tiny place! Your recipes are awesome btw.

  7. Hi! Your kitchen looks like mine in architecture and mishaps. Even so, its my favourite space in the house 🙂

  8. So funny (and real at the same time). 🙂 I am happy to learn about your cooking art. Saludos.

  9. Such beautiful photography on your blog! I love the close-ups of the food!

    I lived in New York City for 10 years and I can totally relate many things you say, with two in particular: 1. Our beloved NYC offers some of the most awkwardly designed kitchens I have EVER seen, and 2. regardless of that, good cooks can make good food no matter what conditions they find themselves in. Give NYC a big hug and kiss for me. I miss it.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I will send your regards to Broadway! 🙂 I love that you can relate. Sometimes I get frustrated with the kitchen, especially those spice racks, but it forces me to be creative.

  10. I’ve been in NYC for a little over 25 years now, and there’s only been one apartment that had lots of counter space. It was the one in the East 50s, in Manhattan. I miss that place.

  11. One of the greatest posts about kitchen space and love for cooking and baking and home ❤
    Who can live without any of these? 😉

  12. Hola Amanda, I have recently discovered your blog and I thought I’d leave you a comment to thank you not just for your great recipes and entertaining prose, but also for describing in minute detail the challenges a tiny kitchen poses on a city cook. I am over the moon with my larger kitchen now (little perks of living in White Plains, I guess), but coming from Europe and loving American cooking blogs I have always found kind of frustrating to work on the many wonderful recipes I wanted to try… without having the space for all.those.gadgets.and.mess! Thanks for showing us we are not alone.
    All the best and keep up the great cooking and writing.

    • Ana! Muchas gracias! What a lovely comment. It kind of made my day. I’m so glad you finally got a bigger kitchen! I fawn over people’s lovely kitchens, but ultimately you make do with what you’ve got and learn to love the quirks. I’m so glad you found my blog and left such a lovely message. Un besito!

  13. Totally adorable. Love your story…love this kitchen. It’s the happiest kitchen I’ve ever seen… ❤

  14. I can’t believe I’ve not read this yet, but how amazing are you to contend with such a space? Your posts are always so wonderful and your food so varied – anyone would think you had a massive farmhouse kitchen!

    • Oh I wish I had a farmhouse kitchen. That is my dream. I’ve learned to make do with the problems of the kitchen, but a lot of times I have so little space that it’s frustrating. It’s so funny when people who read the blog come over and are like “What? That’ can’t be”. Then they watch and see that oh yes, this is it. 🙂 Thanks, Trix.

  15. Love the way you’ve let us look into your kitchen. It’s always about the cook, not the kitchen. I actually cringe when I see monster kitchens with all the bells and whistles and wonder why the need for all this excess if the only appliance ever used is the microwave to reheat frozen dinners!

    • You and me both! I fly into a rage when I walk into gorgeous kitchens of people who don’t cook. The reaction is visceral. Everyone who walks into my kitchen actually is kind of shocked and horrified. But it’s about making do and being grateful for everything you do have, which I truly am. Thanks so much for reading and poking around. So happy to have you here.

      • Or the massive designer knife block filled with blunt knives! Travelled around Italy with a little Victorinox serrated knife, brilliant and never blunt. Now give this as a gift whenever I stay with friends. And don’t even get me started on the whole Thermomix cult! Sorry….rant over.

      • I use a victorinox chef knife! What a great gift giver you are! I hear you about all the fancy kitchen stuff.

  16. wow,…cool man,..?
    from photoshop or hand made?

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