Cooking

Tiny Kitchen Tips

Expert advice on how to make the most of limited kitchen space
Hang kitchen tools on a pegboard
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table

Imagine your dream kitchen: the archipelago of butcher-block islands, the five-foot-wide industrial range whose potential you'll never fully realize, the endless array of copper pots hanging from the ceiling—oh, copper pots, aren't you beautiful?

Now look at your actual kitchen. If it's anything like mine, your sink is filled with unwashed pots that can barely fit into your cabinet, your dishwasher (if you have one) doubles as extra plate storage and your oven is filled with $40 cookbooks.

To help us achieve inner peace with our tiny kitchens, we contacted three experts in the field: Amanda Cohen, chef/owner of Dirt Candy and former occupant of one of the smallest kitchens in New York City; George Venson, owner of design company Voutsa and the tiny-apartment poster child who was recently featured in New York Magazine; and George Monos, owner of and head kitchen designer at Waterfront Kitchens in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Here are their tips for making your tiny kitchen work for you.

Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of beloved Lower East Side vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy:
At Dirt Candy's last location, which was only 400 square feet (including the dining room), Cohen used hooks to transform just about every flat surface into a utilitarian storage opportunity. "Conservatively estimating, we had about 500 hooks screwed into every single surface—walls, pipes, ceiling, ovens, doors, shelves—so that if you needed a mandolin, it was hanging in your face," she says. If you have empty wall space in your kitchen, consider installing hooks, shelves or a pegboard à la Julia Child. Besides giving your cabinetry some breathing room, this storage technique will put your cooking tools out where you need them.

To make room when you're actually cooking, Cohen's advice is simple: "You have to clean as you cook, so everything happens in stages, which teaches you to break down a dish into its components and make them one at a time." Clutter is public enemy No. 1 in a tiny kitchen, and cleaning will keep your pots and pans from overflowing onto the counter, which you need to cut things on.

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George Venson, founder of stunning hand-painted wallpaper design company Voutsa:
The cooking area in Venson's 275-square-foot Chinatown studio isn't so much a kitchen as a culinary extension of the living room. To make the space feel more unified, Venson camouflaged the kitchen into the living room. "Everything is wallpapered, even the refrigerator," he explains, "and I have an Afghan rug on the ground." If your tiny kitchen is in your living room, which it probably is, try decorating it like your living room. It will make two tiny rooms feel like one seminormal room.

Another thing Venson recommends is the removal of stuff. For an enlightened design soul who believes that "fulfillment ultimately comes from highly efficient, minimal-waste consumption," moving into a tiny kitchen forced Venson to rethink what he really had to keep, which did not include things like a giant French press. Think of your tiny kitchen as an excuse to simplify your life down to the things you really need and the things you really love. Everything else can go.

George Monos, owner of architect-approved kitchen design company Waterfront Kitchens:
As a kitchen designer, Monos applies a similar maximum-efficiency approach to buying appliances. "Beyond organization, the most important element in small-kitchen design is understanding how you live, what you cook and sizing the appliances appropriately," he says. Rather than buying a huge Thanksgiving-turkey-size oven that you're only going to need once a year, Monos suggests a smaller, multifunction 24-inch oven.

The same holds true for the second most important appliance in your kitchen: the dishwasher. Rather than buying a normal full-size dishwasher, Monos suggests downsizing to a single-drawer version that's half the size. "Though you may have to run it twice (or even three times) after preparing a larger meal, most of the time it will take several meals to fill a dishwasher." In the meantime, you can add a drawer right below it to maximize space. Now that's smart.

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