New York may have some of the best restaurants in the world, and yes, you can get delivery 24 hours a day. But that doesn’t mean New Yorkers never cook at home. Unless you have an unlimited budget, you likely won’t be getting a “chef’s kitchen” with miles of counter space and a walk-in pantry. So how do you create more than just canned soup or mac ‘n’ cheese from a box? It just takes a little planning. We talked with Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, founder of TheKitchn.com — a daily blog devoted to home cooking and kitchen design — to get her expert tips on making the most of a small kitchen. And she speaks from experience. The Manhattan resident estimates that her home kitchen measures at just 45 square feet.
First rule: No sets
Buying kitchen items in sets may make sense financially, but before you buy that big box of Tupperware, really look at what’s included. If you are never going to need to store 10 things at a time, the empty containers will just be clogging up your cabinets. Same goes for pots and pans. Be realistic. Are you ever going to use a one-quart saucepan and a two-quart saucepan at the same time?
If you are known as someone who likes to cook, chances are you will get a lot of kitchen items as gifts. And these will probably include everything from specialty items that you may use once to seasonal décor more suited to people with linen closets (i.e. poinsettia kitchen towels for Christmas, Thanksgiving-themed cloth napkins). Write the thank you note, then find them a good home. You should also make a point to get rid of things you don’t use on a schedule, be it once a year or once a month. And that goes for food, too. Keep an eye on expiration dates for long-term items like olive oil. Knowing what is in your cabinets (and how long it’s been there) can also save you from buying things already hiding in the back corner.
Shop like a pro
The city’s restaurants have tiny kitchens, too, and commercial restaurant supply stores are really great sources for items that maximize space. For example, Gillingham-Ryan takes advantage of the gap between the top of her refrigerator and the upper cabinets by sliding two, three-inch deep hotel pans in the space like drawers. “In one, I have my mandoline and my scale. And then in the other one, I have recycling bags and string,” she says. “It’s inexpensive and it’s fun for design, too, to not have quite that ‘everyone went to Ikea’ look.”
Keep it clean
Tidiness really helps in a small space. “I think a lot of why people don’t like a small kitchen is that makes them feel tense and tight and cramped,” says Gillingham-Ryan. Anything you can do to make it more calm and relaxing is really helpful. If it’s clean and if it’s organized, it’s probably used a lot more often.
Think outside the drawer
Let’s be realistic — you’re probably going to have a one-drawer kitchen. And chances are it’s not going to be large enough to fit knives, forks, spoons, spatulas, ladles, and all the other utensils that cooks need. The best tactic is to choose one category of items for the drawer, and use crocks or jars to store the other. If you have a dining room table consider storing your flatware in a jar right there (makes setting the table a lot easier, too). Or store flatware in the drawer and put your cooking utensils in a crock next to the stove for easy access.
Profile your cooking style
No, you don’t need to get rid of all your small appliances. Take a good look at what you actually use and what will make cooking more enjoyable. Gillingham-Ryan uses her slow cooker all the time, so it’s worth making space for such a clunky item. If you bake a lot, you might want to have a KitchenAid stand mixer. Keep in mind that some appliances do double-duty. Even if you make a lot of soups or sauces and you’re into juicing, you probably don’t need a juicer and a high-powered blender.
Make your counter do double-duty
A smart way to expand limited counter space is with a butcher block cutting board. Gillingham-Ryan has one that sits between her sink and stove, and stays there. That means it acts as a countertop, but it’s also a cutting surface when she needs it. “For example, right now, there are dishes drying on it and there’s a Vitamix that I haven’t put away,” she says. “Then, when I’m cutting something, I don’t pull out cutting board, it’s just there.”
“Open floor plan” in New York usually means no wall delineating the kitchen from the living room – or even the bedroom. Create the illusion of separation by painting the kitchen wall or surrounding area (not just the backsplash) a different color from the rest of the apartment. It will feel more like a distinct room even though it’s all open.
The trick to maximizing storage space is using every inch wisely. Hanging pot racks clears up precious cabinet space while keeping your pans accessible. You also eliminate the need to nest to store, so the one you want to use never ends up at the bottom of the stack. Plus lids can be stored on top of the rack, reducing even more cabinet clutter.
Downsize if you can
Unless you drive to the suburbs to grocery shop (unlikely), chances are your refrigerator holds little more than what you could carry home from the store in two bags. Meaning that full-size fridge is just taking up space. If you own your apartment, consider replacing the fridge with a smaller model. If you rent, talk to your landlord. You may have to pay for the new fridge and the removal of the current fridge, but it could be worth it in the long-run.