Day 1 – The problem

I have had … issues … with the kitchen in our house since the day we moved in. It’s a long, especially narrow galley kitchen, and the people who put it in about 20 years ago made some curious design decisions.

For starters, there’s the wall oven. It’s a gas oven – I love gas hobs, but not gas ovens – and in recent months it has started to do dubious things like switching itself off while I’m cooking something. Also, it needs cleaning. It has a tall narrow cupboard to one side of it, which has been good for nothing but the broom. In between the oven and the bench is a narrow space of about 40cm, just enough to open the door on the grill oven and the warming draw, but far too small to enable me to position myself right in front of the oven when I am putting baking trays in and out.

Along one wall is a pantry cupboard, about 35cm wide, and a side bench and more cupboards. Good enough storage, but the bench is too narrow to serve as anything other than a repository for packets of tea, and for two larger appliances, my Kenwood mixer, and my food processor. I use both of these appliances a lot, so I keep them out on the bench permanently, instead of having to lift them in and out of cupboards every time I use them.

Because the cupboard and the pantry are 35cm wide, the bench on the other side of the galley had to be narrower than usual, to leave a wide enough walk way. That entailed a long and narrow hob, which takes up 110cm of bench space (compared to a more usual 60cm, or even 90cm). The extractor fan sticks right out over the hob, at just such a height that if you are stirring a pot on the back of the hob, and you are a little inattentive when you straighten up, you will crack your head on it. I have done so far too many times, and I’m surprised that you haven’t all heard my bellows of pain.

The sink has metal draining racks on either side, taking up yet more bench space to no good effect. And down the other end, at last, a proper bench. But it is constrained by a heavy half-wall at one end, which I think is probably part of the original structure of the house. It’s about 30cm wide – all dead space. The bench itself is only 140cm long, and some of that space is taken up by the kettle and the coffee grinder. Yes, I know well organised cooks ought to be able to manage in very small spaces, and indeed, I can, but I also have three children who are all learning to cook, and there is simply not enough space for them.

Behind the bench, on the same wall as the pantry, ‘though there is a door in between, is a small cupboard, at just the right height to catch Ms Eleven’s head as she walks around the corner. It wasn’t a problem when we moved into the house, but she has grown since then. We’ve kept a footstool underneath the cupboard, partly so the height challenged among us have easier access to the higher shelves in the kitchen, and partly to provide a small physical obstacle between Ms Eleven’s head and the cupboard.

It was possibly a well-designed kitchen 20 years ago. But I have found it very, very frustrating – difficult to work in, and full of compromise solutions. As the oven clock says whenever there has been a power outage:



15 comments on “Day 1 – The problem

  1. mimbles says:

    I once told an Enjo demonstrator that my plan for getting my oven clean was to buy a new one. I was serious.

  2. kate says:

    I learned to cook in house that had no benches (there was a table) and where the oven had no temperature markings. I have no feelings of nostalgia for it, nor do I miss the sharehouse kitchen with 1920s oven (which had huge gaps that let all the heat out) and miniature bench, or my last house with stove right next to the steps so a toddler could reach onto the stove. My current kitchen is better, but it’s dark all day and like most 70s kitchens it doesn’t have enough power points so the kettle & coffee machine have to sit on a thing just out of the main work area and we have to walk in a big loop around the bench to get from the sink to kettle. I managed some pretty good meals in all those places, but it would be nice if more kitchens were designed by people who actually use them.

    • Deborah says:

      I learned to cook in house that had no benches (there was a table) and where the oven had no temperature markings. I have no feelings of nostalgia for it, nor do I miss the sharehouse kitchen with 1920s oven (which had huge gaps that let all the heat out) and miniature bench

      I lived in those houses! Or to be a little more precise, the flat (shared house) I lived in when I was a student in Dunedin had those features. I got very good at judging the temperature of the oven with my hand.

  3. Mindy says:

    I’m guessing that you are renting? If so I would ask the agent to get the oven fixed. If not, I’d be tempted to rip the whole thing out and start again. After winning lotto.

  4. violet says:

    At least your kitchen isn’t so small that you have to put the fridge in the lounge! I can see a kitchen reno series coming – should be interesting.

  5. Mindy says:

    Cooks should be able to work in small well designed spaces. It’s still difficult to work in large badly designed kitchens. Kitchen renos (other peoples) are always fascinating.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I’ve rented houses with no bench space, or bench space in places that don’t work at all for cooking, but work for extra storage.

    In both cases I’ve used tables as benches with varying degrees of success.

    I do currently love my new house with a proper kitchen. I am lucky beyond words.

  7. Violet, I lived in a sharehouse where the kitchen was so small the fridge was outside on the veranda. Luckily it was in Sydney where you only need to wear scarves and gloves for 20 minutes in winter.

    Deborah, any hints about what the new kitchen will look like?

    • Deborah says:

      The space has kept us quite tightly constrained, especially because I didn’t want to break out into the family room, which is beautiful, with a gabled ceiling, and french doors onto a deck, and lovely sight lines. So I wanted to stay fairly much within the space of the original kitchen, and although the design of the old kitchen gave me grief, I quite liked the look. And of course, although we could grit our teeth and find the money for a new kitchen, we couldn’t go overboard on it.

      All will be revealed, I hope, all going well… tomorrow evening. Alternatively, there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

  8. Melissa van der Linden says:

    This was starting to sound like the four yorkshiremen (Monty Python)………”In my day we had no benches so I had to use my table” , “Oh, you had a table, my younger brother used to have to lean over and I’d roll the pastry on his back…. the only even surface in the house” , “What? Your brother had a straight back! Oh, how my hunchbacked brother would have loved a straight back”…….

    Seriously, well done Deborah. You’ve identified the problems and now you are doing something about it. We all love the idea of giving our kitchens an overhaul when they clearly aren’t working for us. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

  9. Che Tibby says:

    oooo…. interesting.

    i demand to see the plans before you renovate.


    • Deborah says:

      Too late! But the basic structure will be in by tonight, so you can take a look then, and give me your opinions about what I should do, which I shall, of necessity, ignore.

  10. Emma says:

    Ohhh… you know we just bought a house, right? A house with a narrow galley kitchen? Not this bad, but there have certainly been what appear to be conscious design decisions that, like your broom cupboard, just leave me completely flummoxed. This’ll be fun to watch.

    Also, my oven asked me for help just the other day. Unfortunately for it, this ‘help’ is probably going to result in it going to live on a farm in the country. Honest.

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