The Splendid Kitchenette

Posted July 13th, 2009 by Tyson and filed in Issue 9: Food and Cooking

pastaI like to eat.

A lot.

I have to digress here and note that as I have grown up, I have never ceased to be astonished by the amount of time, energy, and sheer activity required in the maintenance of a space and the life it contains. Spending hours preparing a meal and cleaning up after it remains a concept almost impossible for my mind to accommodate.

This makes eating difficult.

So, barring a magic kitchen that prepares my food and cleans the dishes, I’ve discovered that in order to eat food that I can enjoy, the preparation and cleanup must be extremely easy. In order for that to be the case my food storage, preparation, and cleanup station MUST be simple and efficient. Having my own tiny house has given me the unprecedented luxury of designing my own highly functional simple cooking setup.

I’m not going to write about recipes or my philosophical perspectives on food in this issue, except to say that I avoid purchasing meat that isn’t fish, that I’ve started my first garden this year, that I am averse to cooking anything that takes longer than thirty minutes and unlikely to prepare anything that requires more than an hour, and that I rather despise recipes. (Cooking, for me, is almost always an exercise in improvisation, and frequently draws on an idea I like to call MexItalian Fusion).

I would like to talk a bit about my kitchenette, which is something to which I’ve devoted a fair bit of time and experimentation.

Here is the layout.

Small Living Journal Cooking 006

(Not that It’s actually been entirely implemented yet. Far from it. But I’m pretty sure that this is what it’s going to ultimately be like. I’ll start with what I’ve got so far, which presumably is the most important elements.)

The bulk of the primary storage, preparation, and cleanup is laid out linearly. I have 11.5 sq/ft of counter/workspace which is directly adjacent to the stove. I think this may be the most important thing of all. In my cooking experience, nothing is more frustrating than inadequate prep space located more than arms length from the stove top. (Nothing has delighted me more than having my buddy Dylan, a chef, test out my kitchen and tell me he thinks it’s more functionally designed than most full-sized kitchens – another victory for the design-by-prototype approach.) Eventually, this location will also host a small cabinet for essential foodstuff, as well as recessed under-counter storage,  and a couple stools that can live underneath as well for simple eating at the counter.

Directly to the right of the counter space, located under a window, is the little Magic Chef four-burner apartment stove. (The window location is rather crucial because it provides great ventilation). This little champ is only 20 inches wide and less than 24 deep, and more than adequate for the sort of cooking I do. These things are cheap used ($60 dollar range) and as common as flies, and this one is converted over to run on liquid propane. (As is the on-demand water heater. This makes for a completely propane driven kitchen, which lends itself exquisitely to off-the-grid living powered by two 5 gallon propane tanks.)

To the right of the stove is a big, ugly, plastic utility sink. It had been sitting outside the shop at work doing nothing for about a year until I asked my boss if I could have it. It gets the job done for the time being, but if I can find a sink of the same dimensions but with two basins, that’s the sort of thing I really want.

So here’s my big idea for dish cleanup and storage – the little dish cabinet is going to be located directly above the sink (high enough up to avoid banging your head). But it’s going to have an open bottom, and instead of shelves it’s just going to be dish racks, thus integrating dish washing, drying, AND storage. Pretty cool, huh? I’ve heard a rumor that this is common in Spain.

As you can see, there appears to be something located directly under another window, obstructing the access to the sink. This is a little (probably Ikea) rolling island butcher block that I picked up used for $7. It more or less lives in that location, partially obstructing sink access, until it’s time to cook or clean, at which point it easily rolls over a few feet and blocks off access to the bathroom. Not the most elegant arrangement I suppose, but it gives me another 2.5 sq/ft of counter space, some shelving, and utilizes the principle of Sequential Access in a way that’s not terribly inconvenient.

In the corner by the island and the bathroom door is a hypothetical floor-to-ceiling pantry. This will be used for bulk dry food storage, etc.

Small Living Journal Cooking 002

On the other side of the bathroom door is my latest folly, the newly restored Randall icebox, presumably built in 1921 (if we are to believe the ancient sticker pasted inside the ice compartment).

It was my Christmas present from my parents, who had had it forever. My dad had been using it to store hydraulic fittings for a couple decades. I’ve spent the past six months restoring it, off and on. I stripped out all the old lead paint, tarpaper, and nasty paneling, put in a bunch of extruded polystyrene insulation, and put her back together. Friday I finally inaugurated her with thirty pounds of dry ice, a 12 pack of coca cola, and a gallon of milk.

I’m still working out the kinks, but i’ve got an ice-cold coke for anyone who wants to come visit. Unfortunately that’s about all I can offer. I just checked on it and all thirty lbs of dry ice has all sublimated away in 48 hours. I have to go back to the drawing board on this one – one of the obvious drawbacks of the design-by-prototype approach.

My cooking setup is rounded out by a salvaged charcoal grill I’ve got out on the deck. There’s really not much else I could ask for in a kitchen. Sure a microwave and a toaster oven would come in handy, but they consume a lot of electricity and take up more space than I can afford to sacrifice.

Somehow, I think I’ll get by.

10 Responses to “The Splendid Kitchenette”

  1. ScribhneoirNo Gravatar says:

    I like your kitchen layout and am also planning the over-sink drainer cabinet. My partner and I experienced one on our last (and only) holiday abroad (wow! is it really five years already?) in the Canary Islands so I would guess that you could probably find the idea in Spain as well.
    It’s just such a great use of space and saves having to put the dishes away, as well as not having to dry them! Major bonus!
    The old ice-box which your parents gave you looks great, good luck with that.
    I am posting about our fridge use today on my blog. Because we live off-grid we only use our fridge in the summer, we leave it switched off during the winter and just use it as a cool box.

  2. Tyson StottrupNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you like the layout, it’s been pretty functional so far. Actually, my buddy the chef was over for dinner Monday night and suggested that, since my counter was high enough, I ought to just leave enough space to dock the island underneath the counter when it’s not in use, eliminating the sequential access problem entirely.

    I have a crummy mock up of a drainer mounted above my sink right now and I’ve been pretty pleased with it so far, so I’m looking forward to the real thing! I’ll have to check out your blog. Do you have much of a problem with food going bad in your fridge without it running?

  3. Betsy McCullenNo Gravatar says:

    where can i find out more about that great over-sink drainer cabinet idea? i have searched the internet without much luck…maybe it would be under a slightly different name?? i suppose it might be easy enough to design your own IF i was inclined to be more of a carpentress! you seem to be talented at that kind of skill…can you share some tips or ideas? thanx, betsy

  4. Tyson StottrupNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Betsy,

    Sorry I didn’t reply to your comment several issues ago. I think I tried from my phone and then almost accidentally deleted your comment and got frustrated and quit.

    Anyway, I’m actually not sure where you would look for information on that thing. I’m not even sure what it’s called. I got the idea from an acquaintance a couple months ago, a man who had lived in Spain for a while. I was describing an idea to build a dish rack over my sink, and he said that in Spain they had an even better system, and went on to vaguely describe the over-the-sink enclosed cabinet dish rack. I just thought it made perfect sense, so I decided to build one. Not that I’m entirely certain how I’ll do it yet! I’ll probably do it like I do everything, which is in mock-ups and prototypes with junk materials until I get it about how I like it, then try and do a finished product.

    I’m really not much of a carpenter. Carpentry is pretty difficult and requires a lot of focus and concentration. My mind tends to wander and then I get myself into trouble. But, if I keep banging away and work steadily I can get things done. Slowly.

    The best advice for carpentry that I can offer is something my dad says; “measure twice, cut once!”

  5. RandyNo Gravatar says:

    Great post and good luck with your little kitchen. Sounds like you have just what you need with no waste and you seem to have really given a lot of thoughtful consideration to the layout, especially with regard to how you use it. You mentioned a drying shelf for dishes over the sink, frequently seen in Italy and France, were you aware that IKEA has just such a stainless-steel shelf? Theirs will actually fold up against the wall (to protect the old noggin) and then folds down again when you need. Certainly it can remain stationary, but you have the option. Thanks for your post and for the inspiration! Bon appetit!

  6. Tyson StottrupNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, fantastic! Thanks Randy, I had know idea that such an item was so readily available, I’ll try and find it. I’m glad you liked the post, too! From what I’ve seen, well thought-out functionality is the key to successful small living.

    Thanks again!

  7. Betsy McCullenNo Gravatar says:

    randy, could you provide us with a link to that particular product on IKEA? thanx, betsy

  8. RandyNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Betsy … here are two URL’s for IKEA … one is the folding dish drainer and the other is a page full of wall mount kitchen organizers that are really handy when you have a small space and limited counter space. Here’s wishing you ENOUGH! :)

    Dish drainer: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40110351
    Wall organizers: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/categories/departments/kitchen/10474/

  9. Grant WagnerNo Gravatar says:

    Since you seem handy about such things, why don’t you make your own icebox? You can save incredible amount of “coolent” if you simply have a chest type unit, opening on top. I would really like to make my own at some point.

    I remember reading not to long ago about an austrialian whom simply put a deepfreezer on it’s back, and a thermostat inside it to make a fridge. In the end. it used less than 100 watt/hr a day, which expecially by fridge standards are quite good, and quite reasonable by off grid standards too.

  10. TysonNo Gravatar says:

    It’s a possibility at some point. At the moment I’m pretty invested in the icebox I’ve got so I want to try and make it work. I just tore the whole thing apart and reinsulated it. It turned out that I had insulated the top and sides well, but there is a drain in the bottom of the unit to let melt water out of the ice compartment, so I hadn’t done a good job of insulating it there.

    I had used a bunch of extruded polystyrene insulation, which I wound up leaving in the top and sides, but I filled in the gaps with fiberglass insulation, and then I stuffed a bunch of that same fiberglass into the bottom of the thing. Then I used spray foam insulation to seal up all the holes and wrap all around the metal drain spigot. I weatherstripped the doors with some foam tape, and I think I’ll put some type of sink style s-curved pipe on the drain so that the water can escape, but it will create an air lock so the cold air can’t pass through the water and out the bottom.

    Anyway, I haven’t had a chance to fire it up again, but I think I’ll forgo the dry ice and just use regular ice and see how it works.

    Thanks!