Big Family, Little Kitchen: How We Make It WorkUncategorized
Already, I’m hesitant to use the title above. I know plenty of families bigger than mine and I know other families with small kitchens. However, we have more than the national average of kids and a smaller than average kitchen so hopefully this post is helpful to someone. But seriously, if you’re one of the few people with 23 kids and a small closet for a kitchen, it’s understood your life is 10 times harder than mine and you’re a saint for dealing with your circumstances so bravely. Plus, I know these are first world problems. I KNOW that people in other parts of the world are living in hut the size of my kitchen. I will donate money to an appropriate charity immediately after finishing this post.
Now with all the disclaimers off my chest, let’s talk small kitchens. First, bear with some background. Up until about four years ago, our kitchen was a front porch.
The existing kitchen was at the back of the house and was also the main entrance. It was small, dark, ugly, and crowded with coats, shoes and whatever the kids dragged inside. Even when we bought our house, we knew eventually we’d redo the kitchen. We were tolerating it until then.
Once we got Fulton’s diagnosis and knew a wheelchair was in our future, all house plans now became focused on making this 1920’s bungalow accessible Through donations we put a large ramp, deck and sliding glass door on the back of the house which opened into, you guessed it, our kitchen. The cabinets, stove, microwave were in an L shape in one corner with the refrigerator in the opposite corner. Now we also had another doorway taking up wall space where there had been storage.
Once the ramp was in place, the next issue was the tiny doorway between the kitchen and dining room. You couldn’t see from the kitchen into any other rooms of the house and if Fulton parked his chair near the doorway, no one could go in or out.
Widening the doorway would eliminate most of the cabinets in the old kitchen, but building an addition to move the kitchen and widen the doorway was also out too due to cost. On a whim, I took a measuring tape to our screened in front porch. We consulted with a contractor and it would be within our budget to enclose the porch. That would also allow us to turn the old kitchen into a mudroom; something every large family dreams about.
So we moved the kitchen.
People who saw our porch before are often amazed that it was big enough to house a kitchen, but the tape measure doesn’t lie! I designed the kitchen from the ground up, keeping in mind the minimum space we would need to house food and kitchen stuff for our family, while trying to prevent it from feeling as tiny as it is (about 240 square feet including the school room.) Here’s what we did:
- I knew we needed a huge fridge and a dishwasher so we willingly sacrificed cabinet space. Our lower cabinets include one lazy susan corner, one sink base and one set of 12 inch wide drawers.
- I chose to put cabinets only on the wall over the stove, but I got the tallest cabinets I could to maximize the space. We built in a spice rack (behind it is a cement column) to use otherwise wasted space. Two open shelves hold our mugs and coffee, plus medicine.
- Everything has a designated space and everyone in the family knows where everything goes.
- We have white walls, no curtains, and lots of lights which keeps it bright.
- We prioritized top quality appliances. If I’m going to be cooking large meals for all these hungry people, I need appliances I can count on. Had we been renovating a large space, I’m sure it would have been hard to install more cabinets, counters, flooring, lighting, etc. and also afford the appliances we purchased. The double oven is awesome for cooking big meals and keeping food warm, plus our microwave can also be used as an oven. Our refrigerator is huge, like the size of our old kitchen. But it holds everything! For example, a whole twelve pack of cider in one door compartment!!!! Worth. every. penny.
- I store very little on the counters. What you see is used frequently ( yes, even the bread maker).There’s also not much on the walls. It’s less visual clutter and less to clean.
- To make up for the lack of counter and cabinet space, we invested in a sturdy kitchen cart with a towel rack, drawers and lots of open space for pans and our mixing bowls.
- We left open the walls where the front windows of the house used to be and added some counter so people in the dining room and kitchen can easily see one another and pass food and dishes back and forth. This is great for entertaining, and it lets me see how the kids are doing when they’re cooking something themselves without me being right on top of them.
- We don’t buy a lot of kitchen gadgets and we constantly recycle plastic wear. When those two little shelves at the bottom of the upper cabinet to the right of the stove start overflowing, I throw stuff out. I also am constanly getting rid of travel coffee mugs, water bottles and character cups. My kids each have their own cup so we don’t need to keep tons of extras on hand. We got new pots for Christmas and I immediately tossed the old ones. I don’t keep anything “just in case.” I don’t have the space and honestly, I can’t think of any time I missed something. In our first house we had four sets of dishes. FOUR! Now we have two, the ones we use daily and our china that we break out for all special occasions. It’s stored in the dining room.
- I store our roaster pan, large stock pot, grill gear and plastic containers that belong to other people on top of the refrigerator. Plus candy I’m hiding from the kids.
On the other side of the kitchen is a large wall of cabinetry that is our pantry and school storage. I also keep lesser used appliances up high. These were all in-stock unfinished cabinets from Home Depot that we painted ourselves. We used Cabinet Coat paint and it stands up well to all the scrubbing I need to do. The desks were scored off Ebay. We also left the wall open where the front windows used to be on this side so if you stand in the school room you can actually look the whole way through the house and out the back sliding glass doors. It’s pretty cool.
Now, there are some downsides. If one of the little boys drives their wheelchair into the kitchen, and inevitably parks between the kitchen cart and the refrigerator, YOU SHALL NOT PASS! And, if the same little goobers drive into the school room and turn around, they’re likely to hit a desk or, snap a door off the pantry cabinets. It’s difficult for more than two people to be working in the kitchen at the same time, so it’s not uncommon for whomever is making dinner to also be yelling “Get out of the kitchen!!” It’s also not uncommon for the counter space we do have to get covered with dishes and food prep fallout.
But for the most part, I love our kitchen. It was so great to plan everything and then watch it come to fruition. I’m confident we used every inch in the best way possible and as a result, the space is efficient and enjoyable to use. Plus it’s a good dance floor.
Any questions? Is there something missing from my small kitchen that you couldn’t live without? How big is your kitchen?
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