Make a (very) small kitchen work harder

[Click here or on any photo to see a slideshow of the products mentioned in this post.]

It's the dream of practically every serious home cook to own a spacious, tricked-out, restaurant-quality kitchen with a ginormous Viking stove (or two). But the truth is that you don't need a ton of space and gadgetry to get the job done. Witness Mark Bittman, the New York Times food god (is that too strong? OK, minor deity):

My own kitchen, which is what many New Yorkers would consider halfway decent (and is much like the one my mother cooked in when I was growing up), is about 7 feet long and 6 feet wide. … It's here where I develop and test most of the recipes for my cookbooks and articles. So imagine my surprise when I posted a picture of my kitchen on my blog a few weeks ago and received a flood of e-mail messages from readers who wondered how someone could write large and evidently useful cookbooks, even a weekly column for The Times, while suffering such deprivation. (In the middle of all this, a young journalist called and asked what, after all, I considered essential in a modern kitchen? "A stove, a sink, a refrigerator, some pots and pans, a knife and some serving spoons," I answered. "All else is optional.")

Seven feet by 6 feet. Folks, that is a seriously small kitchen. How do you cram a stove, a sink and a refrigerator -- let alone the essential pots and pans, knife and serving spoons -- into a space like that? And perhaps just as important, how do you do it stylishly? (I would venture, ever so meekly, to suggest that the venerable Bittman falls a little flat on that last requirement.)

Here are a couple of options to inspire you:

Stove: Viking is known for its behemoth ranges, but it also makes a surprisingly sweet, and unsurprisingly pricey, 24-inch-wide stove. It comes in a range of colors (ha ha, pun: range ... ?) including a hot little red number.

If flexibility helps make your space work more efficiently, though, you might consider products that separate the cooktop from the oven -- or in a really tight situation, you could settle for a toaster oven like Chef Pepin's (unfortunately, apparently discontinued). You won't be able to roast a turkey, but on the bright side, now you have an excuse for not hosting Thanksgiving!

Sink: A small farmhouse sink like the 24-inch London model from Porcher keeps lines clean and uncluttered. It comes in white and stainless steel, with a rack that fits on the bottom to let dishes dry there.

Refrigerator: If you've got the kitchen height, your key is to go tall and skinny, because narrower models will have a much smaller footprint. Dorm-size refrigerators are an obvious place to turn, but if you'd like to be able to keep more than a pint of milk at a time, you're probably going to want a human-size unit. And who says it has to be white, black or metallic? Smeg, an Italian brand, has candy-colored retro-style fridges that are simple enough to blend in with a number of styles.

[Click here to see a slideshow that includes the candy-colored Smeg fridge and other products mentioned in this post.]

Pots and pans: Even if you've managed to edit your collection to the Spartan essentials -- a saucepan, a skillet, maybe a Dutch oven -- presumably you're going to need some storage. A rolling island could stand sentry in an adjacent room, if it doesn't look too kitchen-oriented; when you need to draft it for active duty, just wheel it on in. Bonus: Voila, portable counter space! Catskill Craftsmen makes a 40-inch model that doesn't scream "kitchen."

"A knife": The one essential kitchen knife is the chef's knife. America's Test Kitchen calls it "perhaps the single most used tool in our kitchen" and offers a comprehensive buying guide. But hey, you've saved so much space on the appliances that maybe you can afford to splurge on -- gasp! -- a paring knife and a bread knife, too. Still, don't waste precious counter space on a storage block. Instead, mount a knife block under a cabinet. You can rig up something pretty simple and attractive with a magnetic strip, as blogger Kaela of Local Kitchen did -- but as she mentions, you can also find off-the-shelf options like this one from Wusthof. That might be safer if you live in an earthquake-prone area like California and you don't want to worry about knives falling off onto your kids' hands while they're pouring cereal. Wusthof's under-counter knife block also swivels to keep the handles out of the way when you're not cooking.

All-in-one: For the truly space-starved, Avanti makes a "complete compact kitchen" that incorporates a (tiny) sink, two electric burners (but no oven), a 3.8-cubic-foot refrigerator (but no freezer) and even a tall, thin storage space.

[Click here to see a slideshow that includes the all-in-one kitchens and other products mentioned in this post.]

Or, for a costlier all-in-one package, you could always go for the Circle kitchen from Compact Concepts of Germany. Possibly not the most practical, but certainly attention-getting.

P.S. Speaking of Mark Bittman, have you seen his recipes over on Shine, Yahoo! Homes' sister site?

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