Doing more with less – a way to think and design differently
Today’s shrinking economy offers up new opportunities to rethink how we approach home design. If you have been planning on renovating your kitchen and the economy has challenged your ability to move ahead with any significant projects, there are other ways to meet your needs. This can be done in a comprehensive and expansive way without being costly. The first question is whether the space feels small or is it that the space is functionally small. This breaks the task down into two categories. The way the space feels I will call “psychological space”. The way the space functions I will call “physical space”. Physical space is easily measured, such as how many square feet of floor area or how many linear feet of countertop. Psychological space is a little harder to quantify but is just as important as physical space as it directly affects how we feel, move, and act in the space. For this discussion I will focus on the creative manipulation of physical space and save the subject of psychological space for a future article.
Kitchen storage tucked under a stair
Some cost-effective strategies to address physical space limitations in your kitchen include:
• Define the problem – lead with the need not the solution
• Tune what you have - before you add to it
• Creativity and efficiency- rather than size and volume
• Think big, think long-term– but spend small… creativity is not bound by budget
• Create a master plan – Helps you move toward an affordable, incremental execution and avoids half-steps that must be undone
Examples of how to apply these principles:
You might identify the task as “I need a bigger kitchen” – but this states the solution not the problem. The only solution that fits this strategy is to spend a lot of money and build a bigger kitchen. This is limiting you to one solution, and a costly one at that, when we don’t really know what the actual problem is yet.
Define the problem
Let’s first clearly define the problem. The problem in one case, for example, might be stated as: I don’t have enough storage – First questions are how and why, or more importantly what do I need to store?
Tune what you have
Try going through your kitchen and look in each cupboard, drawer, closet, and shelf. Make a mental note or a list of which items you use once a day, once a week, once a month, once a year, even once a decade. Things you need once a day, or week, ought to be within easy reach of the main work area. In an ideally efficient kitchen the other items, not in the “once a day” category, might be located outside the main work area of the kitchen, in what you might describe as concentric rings surrounding the kitchen. The less you use the item, the more steps away from the kitchen the item would be placed.
If this is not the case in your particular kitchen you might now state the problem as: In all likelihood, my kitchen does not have enough storage because it is filled with things that I use infrequently but still must have access to on occasion. One effective strategy to try is something I call satellite storage.
1. This decorative cabinet contributes welcoming light and interest to the entry but is actually a butler’s pantry and is an integral part of the working kitchen. In this case the satellite storage cabinet performs multiple functions.
Kitchen Plan: Red= Kitchen, Blue= Satellite storage, Yellow= Virtual or effective kitchen
Creativity and efficiency
Start by putting the things you need once a day, or week, within easy reach of the work area. Now see how much storage space you have left. If you have already run out of space in the kitchen, the next thing to do is to look at the surrounding rooms for creative storage opportunities. These may include pantries, closets, hutches, and miscellaneous furniture pieces. If a furniture piece provides closed storage, what difference does it make if it is not in the kitchen proper and does not look like a kitchen cabinet? The wonderful bonus with this strategy is that usually, a natural consequence of physically enlarging a kitchen is that it starts to make the surrounding spaces feel smaller. This is especially true if kitchen cabinets start creeping into other rooms. If, instead, these satellite storage needs are hidden away in living room or dining room type furniture the kitchen has not visually or psychologically encroached on these spaces. No one will experience these strategies as a compromise of the surrounding spaces.
2. This is an example of a satellite storage strategy. The dark cherry cabinets are the working kitchen. The satellite kitchen storage consists of paint grade cabinets designed as simple built-ins that blend seamlessly with the adjacent rooms and give no hint that they contain kitchen storage.
If all these satellite storage opportunities are already full, it is often possible to go through the same once a day, week, month … analysis of the non-kitchen items stored in these areas and move things around accordingly. Another bonus in this process is that by ripple effect your whole house will start to become naturally organized to meet your true needs.
Think big, think long term, and create a master plan
Any alterations that you make will benefit you most if they are in the service of a long term plan. This can be achieved with a master plan. A master plan need not be expensive and it will in all likelihood save you money in the long run by avoiding the need to undo work to accomplish future improvements.
For example, by planning ahead you may very well be able to replace that leaky window now, but select the right size and location to blend seamlessly with the future kitchen renovation. Piecemeal problem solving on the other hand often creates more problems than it solves. For example, if instead you just replace the window in kind without looking ahead, you have solved one problem, the leaking window, but inadvertently created several new problems, because the window is the wrong size and in the wrong place to take the next alteration steps.
A more dramatic example of the value of master planning may come to light when future renovations are in spaces adjacent to the kitchen. Below is an example of how thinking ahead need not require expensive alterations but in this case by simply moving a door, the future potential of two rooms is unlocked. Without a master plan both spaces remain stuck with permanent dysfunction and limitations.
1. Existing kitchen layout
2. Kitchen Renovation without master plan
The existing kitchen suffers from small and disconnected spaces. Circulation cuts diagonally through the middle of the kitchen and the counter surfaces are somewhat chopped up. If one was to go ahead and fix the kitchen without a master plan, one might open the kitchen up to connect the space with the dining room. This solves the kitchen feeling too small but nothing has been done to remedy the circulation issues nor the chopped up counter space.
3. Kitchen Renovation with master plan
Another option would be to analyze the design problem as a whole suite of spaces and then by simply relocating one door, a major transformation is possible. This gesture increases usable counter space, eliminates awkward, wasteful diagonal circulation through both the mudroom and kitchen. It also makes room for pantry and storage amenities in the mudroom where none were previously possible.
So in summary, if you follow the principles outlined in this article, there are many incremental design strategies available which can dramatically transform your space. The alterations need not be extensive, expensive, or intrusive. By using the tools and techniques outlined here, combined with design forethought you can do more with less. As the tasks get more complex, it is often helpful to also enlist the help of a design professional.