Sunday, April 26, 2009

Considering the Kitchen; Does Size Matter?

Thanks to Reinventing Dad for his suggestion of this week's topic -- The Kitchen:


There’s a lot to like about American kitchens – especially the ones on TV ads. They are all huge, painted white and bathed in blinding sunlight. Actually, most of them are a lot bigger than typical British kitchens, unless you live in Manhattan of course.

The trend I’m trying to buck, which is sneaking its way over the Pond I see, is the live-in kitchen. You know, the great big room, which also encompasses living quarters and a small office area? I had one of those in my last house. I thought it might be good for keeping an eye on small children while cooking the dinner. It is if they’re bolted into a high chair, but once they become mobile, they are just mini death traps, following you around as you carry scalding hot things from one surface to the other.

The live-in kitchen also means you can’t get away from the dishes. We had a sofa, chair and TV in our last kitchen, and even though I’m not the world’s most “domestic” person, I couldn’t relax while the stupid pans with wooden handles (i.e. not suitable for the dishwasher) sat by the side of the sink. In my present house, which we gutted and redesigned, my kitchen is an entirely separate room, complete with doors; there’s not a comfy chair in sight! It’s meant only for cooking and eating, although I must admit to a mini office taking up residence next to the bread bin. (I must find a better place for in-coming mail.)

My greatest joy in the kitchen is the little hose that comes standard with American sinks. It sits right next to the big tap(s) and is great for hosing down the sink, blasting sticky things off plates before they go in the d/w, and even for keeping lippy teenagers in check etc. In the beginning I was prone to soaking myself before I realized it’s best to point the thing at the sink before turning the water on.

My biggest kitchen regret is that the built-in draining board is almost unknown here alas. Corian, a counter-top manufacturer, do a fab continuous counter top and sink, with built-in draining board, meaning that you can clean up and tip it all straight into the sink, (which of course has a waste disposal). However, most Americans, if they wash anything by hand, place a tea-towel next to the sink (sometimes a hand towel, they can’t seem to distinguish the two) and pile everything precariously on there. They do sell “European” draining racks in the stores, but that’s just one more piece of kitchen equipment I have to find a home for isn’t it?


I'm standing outside my kitchen door trying to imagine American-sized appliances in there. Currently, we have a washer, dryer, refrigerator, freezer and a stove in there. The reason I'm standing out here trying to imagine it is, if they were all American-sized, I can't imagine being able to fit in there with them. And my kitchen is unusual only in that it is relatively large; when we briefly considered moving, we viewed two-story houses that had less space than our flat, and the kitchens were tiny.

To be fair, I have been in some houses that have kitchens the size of the ones I remember from the US, but they are the exception. The new flats they are chucking up all over the southeast—lovingly referred to as breezeblock barracks—have kitchen half the size of ours.

But for all that, I have few complaints. Despite the fact that all of the appliances measure about 20 inches wide and fit under the kitchen counters, they are plenty big enough. Seriously, American fridges might be big, but they are mostly filled with crap, and you really don't want to go poking around in the hidden depths for fear of what you might find. And, as a single man in the States, when I kept my fridge clutter-free, it simply looked pathetic holding only a six-pack of Corona, a bottle of milk and some left over pizza.

Our freezer actually holds more than my American freezer did, and the washer and dryer, though they can't hold nearly as much as an American washer/dryer, are adequate if used intelligently.

But the stove—this malevolent electric monster too small to hold a full-sized turkey and with only two temperature settings (not hot enough, and way too hot)—has been the bane of our existence since moving in. And I doubt it's suddenly going to get any better. I can see it now, sitting there at the end of the counter, just waiting to inflict more mischief on me. On those few occasions when we do cook a large dinner, things have to be cooked in shifts, so the food is either burned, cold or still on the stove being heated up. We use the microwave a lot.

Fortunately, even imagining it stuffed full of major appliances, I can still reach around the door way and fetch a beer out of the fridge. I think I'll do that now and continue my ruminations from the safety of the balcony.

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  1. The size of the kitchen does matter. Mine is like a long corridor and is difficult to pass people by. There is not room for a dishwasher.
    However, I wouldn't like to have an open plan kitchen/diner/ sitting room. Imagine all the cooking smells getting into the sofa. And there couldn't be any clutter left in the kitchen as the whole place would look slovenly.
    Its good to have a kitchen door that can be shut and everything kept separate from the sitting area.

  2. Word about great rooms, I want none of that. Aside from not wanting people seeing into my kitchen I don't want to watch tv in giant room (too much light).

    My actual kitchen is of the big eat in variety, but was laid out by a crack whore who forgot to build the other half. So it should have two or three times the cabinet and counter space it does and maybe even a dishwasher and island besides. I guess that's just the lot of renters.

  3. Mike-is your washer in the kitchen? That is a common complaint from Americans. And nothing about the single basin sinks and not rinsing properly? Oh right...that one's been beaten like a dead horse.

    Toni- when you say European drying rack, do you mean something like this?

    I had one of those until the late 90's when we moved into an apartment with very little counter space in the kitchen.

  4. Melissa - yes, but definitely not made of wood. They get very "squidgy".

  5. Melissa: yes, the washer and dryer are in the kitchen. I don't find this odd as, when I was growing up, that was where the washer dryer were, as well (we had a small house with no receiving room, mud room, cloak room, second bathroom, formal dining room or media center). Since they sit underneath the counters, they are not obtrusive. And I have come to terms with the single sink years ago.

  6. My kitchen is a rarity over here. It is extremely large. I could fit an American fridge in there, well if I could get it through the door frame, which I can't.

  7. I love my walk-in fridge. I can see Mike's point, that most people's are so stuffed full, that you have no chance at all of reaching the food at the back, and if you did, you'd find it had been there since 1998. I solve this problem by not keeping my fridge too full. So it's like the fridge I had in the UK, but I don't have to keep emptying shelves to find what I want. And when it's Christmas, I don't have to resort to putting milk outside and hoping it doesn't get unseasonably warm.

    I like the big oven too, although I do feel guilty when I heat up all that space simply for one tray of cookies, or a few baked potatoes. As for the self-clean option, when it heats to kiln-like temps and reduces the grime to dust for you to sweep out delicately, well, that must use up my annual carbon footprint allowance (I still do it though - I used to HATE cleaning the oven). I suppose it saves the planet from those noxious chemicals that they market as oven-cleaners (which never worked that well for me).

    The word "broil" confused me at first. I know now that it's "grill", but of course here, "grill" means "barbecue". Kitchen life. It's a whole new language to learn.

  8. I like the fridges you get here that come with the ice dispenser and filtered water. Very 21st C, apart from of course they were standard in the US in the 1970s...

    I lived in the tiniest studio in Manhattan (possibly) my first year here. It was barely big enough to fit a single bed and me. It was fully renovated between my renting it and moving in - when I walked in the first time to move in all my stuff, I exclaimed "What a HUGE fridge" at exactly the same time as my (american) boyfriend exclaimed "What a SMALL refridgerator!"

  9. To quote from "When Harry Met Sally" - I want what FF&F is having!!

  10. Those bloody outside-of-fridge ice dispensers used to be the bane (sp?) of my life. They are a magnet for little kids who insist on pressig all the buttons. Along comes an unsuspecting grandparent, and before you know it you're winching them off the floor and it's another bloody hip replacement!!!

  11. Few things in life are as frustrating as those little under-the-counter fridges.

    In the first place, why are they so small and in the second place, why are they UNDER the counter? Whenever anything is wanted, looking for and retrieving it requires a trip down to the floor to look for the bloomin thing.

    A fridge that size in the US is considered barely adequate for a freshman (first year uni) dorm room. It holds next to nothing and cooling capacity seems to hover somewhere between coolish and not so much, making daily trips to the shops a necessity.

    Now, I'm exposed to the little darlings only in holiday cottages where none of the furnishings (especially the beds, but that's for another discussion) is up-to-date, but considered adequate for a week or two.

    A British friend once told me, stars in her eyes, "My American fridge is being delivered tomorrow!"

    First time I'd ever heard the phrase "American Fridge"--sort of the equivalent of the US "English Muffin." Hadn't thought a regular old appliance like the big lumbering thing in my kitchen, so necessary to modern life, something to be taken for granted, was a) coveted and b) considered "American." A fridge, after all, is a fridge, isn't it?

    That was before I'd made acquaintance with that bane of the holiday-maker's exsistence, the hire cottage "refrigerator"--some lacking even a teeny weeny freezer compartment! I mean, how do you make ice without a freezer?

  12. When in Kenya, before moving to the U.S., I lived in an 'American-style house' built by my American landlady. At the time I didn't understand the meaning, and it was only when I moved here, that I understood: a house built out of the hillside so with stilts on one side, and a huge, white light-filled kitchen. What a shame my real American house doesn't live up to its predecessor.

  13. OOh-err! Those houses built into the mountainside always make me a little nervous. I'm sure they're probably built on very solid rock, but still...

  14. "I like the fridges you get here that come with the ice dispenser and filtered water. Very 21st C, apart from of course they were standard in the US in the 1970s..."

    Not that standard. I've lived my whole life since the 70s and never had one. (Of course, I live with my mother and SHE refuses to get one on the grounds that it's stupid to tell people "You can't have ice, that part of the fridge is broken", so there you go.)


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