Dear James: My house has just an average-sized kitchen and I am totally remodeling it. Do you have any guidelines for selecting or designing kitchen cabinets or counter area for the most usable space? -- Jennifer F.
Dear Jennifer: Your question is an interesting one because the storage in 95 percent of new and remodeled kitchens is very poorly designed. The cabinets and drawers may be high quality and well-made, but the storage basics are just not well thought out.
A typical example is having a drawer or a compartment in a kitchen drawer for knives, forks, spoons, etc. This might sound like a wise plan because you always know where the knives are, at least until your children put them in the wrong place.
Actually, a much better way to store cooking utensils is by their specific function and where they are used most often. If you use a paring knife most often by the sink and the bread knife on another countertop, store each closer to where it is usually used. The paring knife can be stored in a slot in the countertop and the bread knife can be stored in the breadbox.
This one item might save only a few steps and a few extra motions, but when you sum up all these extra motions for a large meal preparation, the time saved can be significant. It is not unlike how an industrial engineer lays out a work space for a worker in a factory. The goal is to minimize the extra motions that just waste time.
Before you buy any of the base cabinets (under the countertop) and upper cabinets (on the walls over the countertop), make a list of the items you want to store in them. Categorize them by how often they are used and where they are used in the kitchen.
For example, there really is no need to store all your spices in the same location. You may have some spices that you use almost every time you cook and others you seldom use. Store the frequently used ones near the front at eye level in prime storage area. The others can be put in a harder-to-reach location.
Many seldom-used items can be stored on top shelves in the back of the cabinets to free up the more easily-accessible areas. In most kitchens, the backs of many of the upper cabinets are never used and the front areas are cluttered with these items.
Next, subcategorize the items by their height because this will determine the required height of the drawers and cabinet shelves. Some short items can be placed on tilted (staircase) racks inside a drawer to reduce the drawer height. One inch clearance above the items is all that is required. With this planning, you can now have the cabinets designed with the proper height drawers and shelves.
Keep in mind the easy-access zone for most people is a height from the floor of about 22 inches to 55 inches. This area is easy to reach and see without bending or stretching. For handicapped or elderly people in wheelchairs, the upper range for easy access is about 46 inches. Some other storage tips to consider are storing larger plates vertically in racks in the upper cabinets. When stacked one on top of another, the top one many be difficult to reach.
James Dulley's column, "Here's How," can be found at creators.com.