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Imagine that you hired a decorator who’s charging by the hour to give you some "tips".

  • (What you hear.) "I’d suggest getting rid of the things you don’t need or use. If that’s a problem, we can always design some storage solutions for you."
  • (What they mean.) "Get rid of the clutter or it’ll cost you a fortune to stow all this junk." (Ouch - and costly too.)

Here it is for free: you cannot decorate over clutter or dirt. Donate it, box and store it, recycle it: get it out! Keep only what you need and use and organize that.

There’s nothing more pleasant than cooking where everything you need is within a step or two. By organizing your kitchen, you will save yourself time, trouble and countless hours. Here are some organizational tips that you may like, loathe or laugh at, but they work in my kitchen as well as others.

Create an orderly pantry. "Like" items go together on the same or contiguous shelves. Soups all go together, canned meats like tuna or salmon, sauces such as cocktail sauce or marinades all should be organized and grouped together. Just by looking through each section, you will know what you need from the grocery. Create an efficient spice drawer.

It’s best to keep canned or dried spices away from heat and light, so a cabinet above the stove is not the best spot for delicate seasonings. Why not consider a drawer that is near the stove but not close to the heat? Then organize them in the drawer by alphabetizing them. (I can hear some of you giggling and saying that I’ve lost my mind, but believe me, if you enjoy cooking with more than just salt and pepper, this saves you time in the long run.) Time saved when you’re making your grocery list, and time saved when your mother-in-law asks where the cilantro or the fennel seed is. (You’ll be thanking me then.)

The perfect triangle.

If you’re fortunate enough to be building a new kitchen or gutsy enough to be remodeling one, you will more than likely use a kitchen designer to help you configure space for appliances and cabinets. The triangle created by refrigerator, stove and sink have always been the most efficient use of space. Double ovens are making a comeback, and the newest trend is dual workstations to accommodate 2 cooks!

Countertops bulging under the weight.

We’re back to clutter again, and I have to admit that I am meticulous about keeping counters clear. Put those blenders, food processors, electric knives, can openers, toasters, griddles, waffle irons, electric skillets, woks and cappuccino machines in a cabinet and bring them out only for use. Just remember that appliances are not decorative items - they’re tools, so store them in the toolbox called a cabinet!

Drawers, drawers, drawers.

One of the new trends in designing the perfect kitchen is to add drawers in place of standard cabinets that traditionally have one or two shelves in them. It’s an improvement in space planning and organization. It would be infinitely easier to find a pot lid in a pot lid drawer than shoved into the cabinet wouldn’t it? I have the old style, which can be helped by adding a lazy-susan, a pot rack insert, or just by stacking smaller ones into larger ones in the same place every time.

For those of us who use the drawers that we have for spices, tableware, serving utensils and the 'everyone-has-one-so-don’t-deny-it' junk drawer, there’s hope for us. There are all sorts of organizers on the market that will separate and coordinate all of our treasures. I like the silverware trays that are made of wood and use them for many drawers, not just my everyday forks and knives and spoons. They’re great for cocktail forks, spreaders, serving forks, ladles, decorative picks, corn-on-the-cob holders and the occasionally used knife sharpener.

Cabinets - including the one under the sink!

My bet would be that everything you don’t have a place for is here, right? It’s sometimes true in my house as well. Let me quickly urge all of us to take a good long look under the sink, and to remove all of the flammable, toxic, poison and otherwise harmful products. Let’s also vow to never leave a rag covered in furniture polish under there again. Heat generated from any source can set off an aerosol can - like heat from a nearby dishwasher or garbage disposal. As for the chemical laden dust cloth - it’s one spark away from a fire.

Our other cabinets - well, they’re like closets - they get messed up. All they need is a little straightening and maybe some purging. My rule of thumb is that if I have not used it, worn it or needed it in a year - it’s gone!

Once your kitchen is organized, you’ll be able to see that backsplash and decide whether you want to paint or wallpaper it. You will begin to notice things like your soffits that would look fabulous with some stenciled vines. Maybe you’ll even think of adding that miniature herb garden to the windowsill, and you’ll hang new curtains, or give everything a fresh coat of paint. Love your cookbooks? Put them on top of the refrigerator (in alpha or numerical order please) and add a trailing vine that cascades down the side. Purchase some inexpensive magnet frames and put your kids and pets on fridge display with purpose. Add a couple of fluorescent lighting strips under your cabinets for a soft, safe, 24-hour glow. And the ultimate decoration for a kitchen? A crystal bowl overflowing with beautiful yellow lemons. With your countertops clear, you can NOW add color and texture with decorative things.

Just think of it - no more "hunting" for those cans of stew, that bag of bagels or that jar of salsa. You’ll never have to guess whether you have garlic salt or minced garlic, and you’ll never have to look at your mother-in-law and say, "I have no screaming idea."

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