The Small Kitchen Design Checklist

In the next stage of planning for East Melbourne Apartment, we cover some off the key things to consider when renovating or even designing a new kitchen for a small space.

We hear all the clichés… “The kitchen is the heart of the home”, “Kitchens sell houses”, so what happens when your kitchen is burdened by the inflexibility of size? What happens when your kitchen has more in common with a yacht’s galley or an empty nesters caravan? Does it make it a house without a heart? Or a place avoided even by the most slippery real estate agent? Well not quite, but it certainly impels you to get smart very quickly on the use of space and planning to maximise the functionality of your new kitchen.

In the next step of planning for East Melbourne Apartment, we cover off some the key things to consider when renovating or even designing a brand new kitchen for a small space. However, our key mantra and number one tip is to plan early, because on building projects decisions come quickly and once made they are very costly to unmake!

1. If remodelling an existing kitchen, do not discount the original design.
What? I here you say. Isn’t the point of a renovation about updating and improving both the original design and aesthetics? Yes it is, but often the floor plan has already been well considered for the space, and that solution is often the best design outcome that you can achieve.

In East Melbourne Apartment, we demolished the kitchen, and tried a variety of different options, but the original shape and location of bulkheads meant that the original U-shaped kitchen offered the best outcome for bench space, cupboard space and integration into the floor plan.

Often you can save time and money by just updating cabinetry and appliances within an existing design. It hurts me to say it, but we really shredded money on pulling everything out only to reinstall new cabinets.

2. Analyse how you plan to live in the space.
Often said, but never followed through. Take the time to analyse how you will actually live and work in the space. Our ideal world of how we use the space often bares little resemblance to how it is actually used. Think of it this way, we are pretty familiar with our habits (good and bad) and how we live, so with the best intentions, planning based on changing those habits, is like all those broken New Years Eve resolutions. If you love sitting up at a breakfast bar having breakfast and reading the paper, include that option. But if you don’t, the extra overhang of the bench and stools will really impact on the space. If you desire that your bench should look clean and minimal, but you are not that tidy (come on admit it) build an access cupboard to store every day appliances like the toaster, coffee maker, and blender. Also while the importance of a traditional “work triangle” seems to be embedded in our brains our friends at Fisher & Paykel reject that notion. Their head of industrial design, Mark Elmore, says: “There are many more advantages to be gained through the use of distributed appliances. Consumers can choose to position modular appliances or combinations of appliances wherever they think they’ll be most useful in the kitchen, entertaining and living spaces.”

Another key element is to think about how you work in the space. Is your kitchen a one-man operation or are there more people in your kitchen than a MasterChef audition? These things help you think about what appliances are critical, desired or just a luxury. It also helps you think about layout, and a traditional kitchen workplace. In East Melbourne Apartment we split our duties up into front of house and back of house, so our formal crockery and tableware are not located in the kitchen, but in joinery that opens up to the living area saving us lots of space, and making entertaining that much easier.

3. Understand the sight lines and determine what to expose & what to hide.
I have never been a fan of the completely open kitchen, in fact I have always been sentimental about the kitchen as a self-contained room distant from the living space; a space for preserving, cooking, working and doing. I have always liked a kitchen with its own external access and the idea that it’s more a functional space and had aesthetics to match. Well that’s my romantic vision and times have well and truly moved on, and East Melbourne Apartment is integrated into the living space. However, we designed some aspects of the kitchen to be visible and other parts to be hidden. We hid the bench tops, sinks and appliances from people sitting in the living area, but lowered the bench top adjacent to the dining area for visual and practical connection.

So I think it is important to capture some of those sentiments and here are my top three points:

1. Connect the cook! But not with the ugly back of house like sinks and appliances.
2. Are you being served? Create a servery bench or bar to improve kitchen functionality.
3. Hide or Seek? Think about what should be seen from areas outside of the kitchen.

4. Design cabinetry that is ergonomically efficient. 
Cabinetry design has come a long way, with all types of amazing pieces of equipment to help a difficult space become a great deal more functional. In our design for East Melbourne Apartment, we used a number of clever cabinets to help us maximise our space. In the corner cupboard we used a simple Lazy Suzanne from Ikea, which is incredible for capacity and access. In our large overhead cabinets we used hydraulic lifts on the doors that opened up to maximise access and ease of use. In our major pantry we used two large pull out cupboards with internal drawers. All super sensible and available from all the flatpack kitchen shops, or even available to buy and retrofit.

We were also keen to utilise any space to its maximum ability. In one area we had a small surplus space of 200mm, which we turned into a vertical wine rack, and it takes a dozen bottles. In one blind, hard to access corner we put the door on the outside, so that it becomes a place to store crockery and the Christmas tableware. It’s not used that much but when it is it is very easy to access.

5. Select appliances that maximise your functionality and use of space. 
Get the right tool for the job. We have always heard tradesmen say that if you need the job done right then you need the right tools, and nothing truer can be said for the small kitchen. We were very deliberate in thinking about the quality and capability of our appliances, and this can make a very big difference as to how functional and efficient your kitchen can be.

Key considerations were:

a) Fridge
The fridge is a big box, with big doors and is used very frequently. In East Melbourne Apartment the fridge needed to look beautiful and compliment the design of the kitchen. We also wanted to have french doors, which did not have the width of opening further impacting on the space of the kitchen. French doors are awesome, you can organise the contents in line with how you live. One side for high frequency items like milk and the other for cooking staples is our rule of thumb. Another key consideration is having a large freezer drawer, which because it’s not accessed as frequently our emphasis is ease of access and volume put away. We also felt it was important to have a fridge with chilled water and ice. This may seem like a luxury but it was super important for us as it reduces how frequently you need to access the tap and sink when it’s occupied by the cook. With all of this in mind, we chose the Fisher & Paykel ActiveSmart™ Fridge – 790mm French Door with Ice & Water.

b) DishDrawer™
Definitely a no brainer for us, the Fisher & Paykel Integrated Double DishDrawer™ is an independent drawer-based dishwashing platform that includes the ability to operate independently so different wash cycles can operate simultaneously to accommodate a variety of loads. We rotate the drawers every second day, so they become a surplus cupboard. The drawers are also more efficient to use and access in a very tight space. A design feature was also to integrate the DishDrawer™ in the joinery, so we needed to find the right machine for the space!

c) Cooktop 
Ok so this is the really hard one to find a point of difference. Our space was not only small but its bench top was more shallow than normal. We also had to really think about how we cooked and how frequently, and how many pots we had on the boil. Consulting with the chef, it was decided that we would go with gas (we already had the plumbed in connection) and that we never really used more than 3 hobs at any one time. The other issue was that we needed a long skinny cooktop, because of the depth constrains of the bench top, and we also really wanted to use the space when not cooking. Sounds like mission impossible right? Well actually no, the uber sleek and award winning 90cm CookSurface Cooktop again by Fisher & Paykel more than fit the brief.

d) Oven
Full function and as big an oven space as possible with good internal lighting. I know this sounds a bit crazy, but in a small space it is often difficult to get ambient light down low. We wanted to be able to easily observe how the cooking was going without opening the doors. Another aspect that we required was to have an oven that self-cleaned properly and not just as a marketing slogan. Cue the award-winning Fisher & Paykel 60 cm 11 Function Pyrolytic Built-in Oven; this one is definitely the oven for the job.

So this is our Small Kitchen Checklist, in the next edition we will talk to the team at Fisher & Paykel about the kitchen and get their advice and expertise on our needs, as well as examine their range of products.

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