Poor design is truly not at the top of the world’s problems, but an ill-designed kitchen is a daily (and often costly) insult, and may detract from one of life’s great joys: cooking together and eating. When considering the tiny house kitchen, the goal is to subtract as little as possible from what I already have: the ability to cook a wide range of food for a group of up to 10 friends. Having designed and built out a small rowhouse kitchen 4 years ago, there are a few design principles that have allowed a full range of cooking options with limited kitchen space. This will need to be adapted even further for the tiny kitchen- but hopefully not too much.
1. ‘All is one’. The motto of Dr. Bronner’s soap can be taken and applied to the kitchen: only possess what can accomplish the most tasks with the least, but best, equipment– the fewest number of appliances, cookware, types of glasses/plates/silverware, and storage vessels. Deliver the greatest variety of food with the least, but best, ingredients. Keep counters clear, decorative schlep be gone. This philosophy is not good for Macy’s stock, but is quite well suited to a well-designed kitchen. More specifically, I have whittled my current kitchen down to the following things, with no apparent decrease in functionality from a much larger, widely stocked kitchen that any moderately serious chef might have:
- 3 motors: a KitchenAid mixer, a blender, and a small food processor. If needed, the mixer motor doubles a dough kneader, ice cream maker, pasta press, grain grinder, juicer, food strainer with appropriate attachments. With it, and a high quality chef’s knife, there seems little reason to have a full size food processor. A smaller food processor suffices for coffee grinding, pesto making, peanut butter processing, etc.
- 3 heating elements: the stove/oven, microwave, and upright toaster. There is simply no reason for a rice cooker if you have a 2 quart pot. Be gone Foreman grills, electric kettles, crock pots and myriad other devices that clog cupboards and duplicate functions.
- 3 knives: a 8” chefs knife, a bread knife, and paring knife are really the only essentials, along with kitchen shears. Possibly an extra chef’s knife if there is to be regular co-cooking.
- 6 Pots: There seems to be really just 6 essential pots: a 2 quart, a 4 quart (a 4 quart pressure cooker is even better), 6 quart, 12” fry pan, a 6-8 quart enameled dutch oven, and a 10 qt. pot.
- 3 types of glasses: only 3 types of glasses seem necessary: mason jars (pint and quart), wine glasses, and mugs for hot beverages. All other special-use vessels are secondary and unnecessary. Consider that the mason jar alone may also serve as small leftover containers, vases, a cocktail shaker, oil candles (there’s an attachment you can buy), cocktail and punch glasses, etc.
116 jars on the wall...
2. Good food is beautiful, and should not be hidden. There is a lovely whiteness to salt, a mahogany sheen to kidney beans. The kitchen is about food, yet kitchen designers consistently and shamefully seem intent on hiding it in pantries and cabinets. Yet when opened, the ‘modern’ pantry is a confettied disaster zone of colored plastic, paper and foil packagings. It is difficult to see what we have, how much is left, or if it looks good to cook with or eat. Then even when organized, the true substance of the food is hidden by food marketers behind gaudy packaging, so that even when we are in our sanctified homes we are still being marketed to. I use a simple and highly space efficient way to organize food, one that also reinforces healthy whole food eating habits: the use of standardized, cheap, durable, non-toxic and beautiful mason jars, organized on a rack. The jars work to store dry goods, frozen and refrigerated food. All use the same lid (use only wide mouth- a mason jar funnel is useful for loading the jars).
Building a mason jar rack is simple carpentry, and can be constructed for less than a single custom cabinet. The mason jar system allows display of food (beans, nuts, dried fruit, sugars, spices, grains, etc). I shop primarily in bulk, then liberate the food when it comes home, repacking in mason jars. This will reduce the size of mixes, cereals, and begin to cultivate a bias against corn-syrup sodas and artificial foods and canned products. Canned vegetables are typically mush compared to fresh or frozen, dry beans are far better (and cheaper) than their canned cousins (and can be made quickly too, with the pressure cooker, with excess frozen in mason jars). Canned tomatoes all contain BPA, so I prefer the ones in aseptic packages. For flour, sugar, and other goods requiring storage containers larger than 1 quart, use plastic stacking 2/4/6 quart restaurant supply containers (only #1 or #2 plastic, as the clear ones usually contain BPA).
3. The kitchen should be a warm place for cooking together, and must be designed as such. Just as it hides food, the ‘modern’ kitchen seems intent on hiding every tool behind solid doors, making it a frustrating experience for sous chefs to help (and chefs, who must constantly dig up the needed items for guests). If one can’t see it, how easy can cooking be for you or a guest? Therefore:
- Cabinets: Minimize them, and store in them the least essential things. To the extent that cabinets are used for glassware, plates, etc, have at least some in glass so things are easily viewed. After a bit of practice, I now have 1-2 completely empty cabinets.
- Countertops: In a functional, inviting kitchen, everyone should be able to make a mess on their kitchen counters without a second distracting thought to damage. We should be able to cut on them, anywhere, without having them dull our knives, drop glassware on them without too much chance of breakage, and have a surface that is warm and inviting (unless we plan on opening up a Cold Stone Creamery). I admit being scarred by the wrath of an ex for staining her granite countertops with lemon juice- but I think granite is simply an expensive, misguided choice for a functional kitchen. Everything else is passable, butcher block is preferred (with the one downside of 2x yearly oiling).
- Pots and tools: Try to hang them on walls, easily visible.
- Silverware: Mix silverware together in several mason jars and leave them out, avoiding the sorting or searching around cabinet drawers.
With these general principles in mind, how will the tiny kitchen shape up? The revised designs have a 9’ galley kitchen (in the 10’x22′ tiny house), with a 6’ folding table behind it. The majority of food will be stored in a mason jar shrine of 60-70 jars across from the couch that also is built to house books, the propane fireplace/hearth, and bottles of spirits. There will be no cabinets at head level. I will also likely dispense with: wine glasses, the oven (the microwave will also be a convection oven), the small food processor (it seems the blender can really do almost all the same functions), one of the 6 qt pots, and will limit the place settings to 5-6.
©2012 Brian Levy