Creating Efficient Kitchen Storage

I hope everyone enjoyed the last post about our kitchen renovation!  Although it took the better part of 8 hours to put together (yikes!), I really enjoyed being able to share our projects!  In case you missed it, you can find that entry * Here *. It will give you better insight into today’s topic:  Creating Efficient Kitchen Storage.

One of the qualities about my husband that I love, is that he is just as borderline OCD about some things as I am.  Even when he’s not, he at least understands when I need to be….. which eventually will bring me to talk about our post-it note covered kitchen…. but let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Early in the floor-plan designing process, we worked with a local kitchen cabinet shop to help us create renderings and proper measurements and cabinet choices of everything we wanted.  We had done preliminary measurements and created a 2d drawing of a layout, but we had no idea what cabinet sizes we would be working with, or what choices we had.  As I said in our renovation post, one of our goals was to increase the amount of storage in the kitchen — which means making EVERY square foot count.  We wanted help to make sure we learned about all our options and could then pick the best one for us.

Most of the kitchen was easy to figure out.  The space itself and the appliances dictated a LOT of the layout. We made our best guesses at the other cabinets and storage solutions, and received our draft copy of the 3d sketches.  Our kitchen looked so cool on paper!  The only task left before finalizing the designs, was to make sure that aside from being a ‘cool’ looking kitchen, we had to double check that it was going to be efficient and provide us with the storage we needed.  Below, I have outlined a few suggestions for how to check a kitchen for efficiency and maximum storage.

Creating Efficient Kitchen Storage:

Planning storage for our kitchen was actually a LOT easier than we thought – mostly because we tore out our kitchen down to the studs, and could put anything we wanted back in it’s place!  Most people aren’t so lucky…or crazy as us.  While I will be writing this from the perspective of a complete kitchen renovation….the tips and suggestions that I will outline DO also apply to anyone wishing to simply evaluate and re-organize their existing kitchens.  Every room is different, and every family has different needs and items depending on how the kitchen is used.  So, please feel free to amend my suggestions as you see fit for your own situation!

Step 1: Assess the current situation 

Before moving or changing ANYTHING, take a snapshot (literally if you’d like!) of your current kitchen.  Open all the doors and drawers. Take inventory of the items you have.  Reacquaint yourself with what is really going on in your kitchen.  Did you take a good look around?  Notice all the details? Realize you had 3 pizza cutters but no ice cream scoop?  ….seeing as we were tearing out the old kitchen and hadn’t even moved in yet –we skipped this step other than looking around the room going “blech! tear it out!”

Step 2: Identify the Function

Here’s the tough ‘thinking’ part of the whole project.  Sit down with a piece of paper or your favorite note-taking device.  Call in an decision-making members of your family (I doubt young kids would have serious input on this one or sit still long enough — but do keep them in mind!).  It’s time for the “Kitchen Talk” meeting.  Your task here is to come up with a list of “Things your kitchen needs to do”.  What I mean by this, is what functions does your kitchen have? Do you need to have space to cook dinners frequently? Store take-out menus or pantry items? Do you bake a lot and need space for bakeware and mixing bowls?  Is the kitchen an eat-in room/homework room/mudroom/mail or office station/etc?  Do kids need a space or drawer of their own? What happens in your kitchen? What do you WANT to happen in your kitchen?  What isn’t working and how would you change it?

For us, the list looked like this:

  • Storage space for cooking, baking (pots, pans, utensils, mixing bowls, spices)
  • Storage space for dishware (everyday dishes, bowls, glasses, mugs, teacups)
  • Storage space for small appliances
  • Storage space for cutting boards and baking sheets (tall/thin)
  • In-kitchen pantry (the closest thing we had to a pantry was the basement about 30 feet away, otherwise we had VERY little food storage in the kitchen)

Since we were also renovating… we added a few construction/layout items to address things that we hated about the old kitchen. This list looked like:

  • Plenty of counterspace to have at least 2-3 people working at the same time
  • Counter space on at least 1 side of the stove (so we can put down pot lids, or keep ingredients closeby)
  • 2 entrances/enough walking space for 3-5 people to be comfortable moving around the kitchen
  • Some sort of seating and/or charging or mail drop station (we had no kitchen table so we created a counter with bar stools against one wall)

Step 3: De-clutter. Keep only what you need!

This is a tough one for a LOT of people…. and it’s also one of the reasons we renovated our kitchen right as we were getting married and moving into the house (for better or worse!).  We didn’t have a chance to accumulate the ‘stuff’ that comes with running a kitchen over a number of years.  We were animate about family and friends NOT buying us every kitchen gadget known to man, too.  Knives do a LOT (like slice eggs, avocados any other ‘specialty utensil’ actions!)  We do have one or two trinket-type items for the more tedious tasks… but for the most part, our kitchen doo-dads are kept at a minimum.  A few tips for de-cluttering:

  • Keep what you need. Keep only what you need.  Only keep what you need.  If you don’t need it, don’t keep it. If you….. ok, you get it.   Get rid of old, stained, rusty and broken utensils and things you haven’t used in the past few years…. I have friends and family that keep things that sort-of work. If it doesn’t work — toss it.  There’s nothing more aggravating then going to use something in the kitchen and finding out it doesn’t do what you need it to do. Its almost as bad as finding out mid-way through cooking that you forgot to buy an ingredient!
  • Not EVERYTHING has to be stored in the kitchen.  Those Christmas mugs you use 1x per year?  The fourth 2qt pan that you bought ‘just in case’ on Thanksgiving? The cake pan that you used to make exactly 1 birthday cake?  The HUGE mixing bowl that your husband can wear on his head (Yup. An example from our own house….this mixing bowl is so large I’m pretty sure I can use it as a toboggan in the winter.).  STORE IT ELSEWHERE.  Reserve a shelf in the basement for these items, and only bring them up when you need them.  If you don’t use them in a few years, consider donating or selling the items.
  • Does it serve its purpose for you?  Many times we keep items because they do that one special thing.  As I stated earlier — many kitchen items can be dual purpose.  A food processor can be used as a blender in a pinch.  Knives can stand in for a lot of the specialty slicers and choppers (and typically take less time to clean afterwards!).  Make sure your items do what you need them to do.  Get rid of anything you don’t use, can use another utensil to perform the same action, or tried once but hated using.

Are we good?  Do you have your donate/sell/toss piles all set?  Did you manage to cut down on the “stuff” you need to fit back into your kitchen? I hope so!

Step 4: Create the Plan

Once you have an idea of what you want your kitchen to DO…. and you’ve let go of all the unnecessary items that take up your precious space….you can then start planning where you want things to GO.  For us, this was really easy to do on paper with the 3d sketches.  I simply wrote in where things would go on the drawing.  When the cabinets arrived and were installed, I wrote all the things down on post-it notes and stuck them to the cabinets (hence my post-it note covered kitchen.  It stayed like this for about 3 weeks as we slowly moved items in and received more from our wedding.  We got many questions about our orange post-it notes!)  If your cabinets are in and staying in, you can move right to the post-it note step…..of course you can always put them on the INSIDE of the cabinet if you don’t want to appear outwardly nutty and over-organized like me =)  I found that having this visual cue helped me walk around the kitchen and really picture those items in their new spots — before I went through the effort of putting everything away and the realizing I hated it.  If you can do this with a list instead of visual cues – go for it.

To do the ‘post-it note kitchen’, it is helpful to identify the most efficient practices in a kitchen.  To do this, I think it might be easiest to give a short list of suggestions, and then show a photo of our kitchen, and explain why I put things in certain places.

—– The best tip I can give: Make Items Accessible! —–

  • If you cook at your stove, make sure everything you need is at an arms reach.  The time it takes to walk across the kitchen to get a wooden spoon is EXACTLY the amount of time it takes for something to boil over and get gunk all over the stove (or at least that’s how it feels!).  If you open the oven door, there better be oven mitts and hot pads or trivets next to you!  This same principle applies to the other appliances in your kitchen.  Put the necessary items closeby!
  • Think about flow.  When you’re done with dinner, where do you naturally put the leftover dishes/food?  Is tupperware and saran wrap closeby?
  • What about work stations? Do you have a baking station, or somewhere where you like chopping ingredients?  Are the knives, cutting boards and mixing bowls closeby?
  • What do you use most often?  Do you have to climb or contort to get to these items?
  • Do you mind things out on the counters, or do you want everything hidden away in drawers and shelves?  For us — we wanted just about everything hidden.  If you don’t — there are some awesome solutions for knives, spices, utensils and other ‘out in the open’ items.  I’ll cover a few of these in my next post.


In this photo, you can see the fridge wall and stove workstation well.  We definitely wanted storage over the fridge.  Originally I thought this would be great for holiday dishes, or items not often used — turns out — that upper cabinet stores our large mixing bowls and crock pot (because they don’t fit anywhere else!)   The counter next to the fridge has become my baking/chopping station.  Sugar, flour and other baking supplies are above the microwave (I don’t bake too often).   Below the microwave are 2 drawers – one for food prep utensils (ice cream scoop, specialty slicers, can openers, etc), and one for baking utensils (rolling pin, measuring cups, whisk, spatulas).  The lower cabinet houses all our pots and pans on roll-out shelves.  We also keep our strainers here.

Moving on to the island — we have 6 drawers.  Since this space is essentially the main cooking area, everything cooking related is here!  Top left, we have all our utensils (wooden spoons, pasta scoop, cooking spatulas, etc).  2nd drawer are the trivets and kitchen towels. 3rd drawer is all our seasonings (breadcrumbs, bulk spices, etc).  Top right is our spice drawer (stay tuned for my next post — i’ll give you an inside look at that drawer!), 2nd drawer is oven accessories (oven shelf pull, oven mitts…..ok this drawer is pretty empty still.) 3rd drawer is saran wrap, foil, plastic bags, etc.

storage2  Another view of the kitchen.  This shows the back wall really well.  The cabinet next to the microwave houses our dishes and bowls, and the corner cabinet next to that holds all our casserole dishes, liquid measuring cups, serving platters, and up on the top shelf — our chip and dip set, salad bowl, and tea/coffee carafes.  Again — keeping the casserole dishes close to the chopping station allows for easy assembly.  Keeping dishes close to the fridge/microwave area lets us heat up leftovers using the baking/chopping station – everything is in one spot!  The lazy susan in the bottom corner holds all our small appliances (blender, food processor, toaster, stand mixer attachments, etc).  Our glasses/mugs are in the upper cabinet by the sliding door.  While this is a little far from the fridge, it IS close to the sink, which is still fairly intuitive for glassware to be closeby.  The drawer holds our silverware, and the bottom cabinet is all our tupperware (we tend to drop plates and leftover food off next to the sink, so this works out well!)  Our under-the-sink cabinet holds cleaning supplies and trash bags. Hey — you see that tall thin cabinet in the front left of this photo?  Thats where we have our cutting boards.  There’s one on the other side with our baking sheets.

storage3This last photo shows off our pantry (wayy over on the wall there).  When we bought the house, the seller had a kitchen table here…but it blocked most of the sliding door.  We kind of knew that we wouldn’t be able to fit a table in here (which is fine since our kitchen is wide open to our dining room!), but we did want some sort of ‘resting area’.  We will eventually put a couple bar stools here.  As far as function, this area holds our pantry supplies (and our coffee pot on the counter).  Each cabinet has 3 shelves.  Top left cabinet has all our oils and vinegars, dip/gravy/dressing mixes, and all our ‘hot beverages’ supplies (tea, coffee, hot cocoa, etc).  Bottom left is all our can goods, peanut butter, cold drink mixes (iced tea and lemonade).  Top right is all our baking mixes, rice and pastas.  Bottom right is our snacks, granola bars and cereals.  Anything that doesn’t fit here goes in the basement.

As you might notice — our kitchen is not all that large.  It is (if I remember correctly), a 10×12 space.  And yet, we can fit a TON of things in there!  Chalk it up to good planning…

Step 5: Move it on in!  …and make adjustments

It’s time to put the plan in motion!  After mapping out where everything is going to be stored (and checking that your solutions will work for you and your family), it’s time to actually put everything away.  I tend to put on music while I do tedious tasks….and this was no different.  Who doesn’t love a good dance party?  Kids can definitely help with this step.  Having them help you put away silverware is a great sorting task for little ones.

It will probably take a day or two to get used to things in new locations.  This is where the efficiency part kicks in.  Hopefully, most of your changes have made things easier.  Make adjustments where needed.  For example, I originally had wooden spoons on the RIGHT side of the stove….but I kept mistakenly opening the left drawer so often that finally — I just switched them.  Now, spices are on the right, and utensils on the left!  It works a lot better and is still quite convenient =)

The nice part about re-organizing your kitchen?  You can always make adjustments and come up with alternative solutions.

So, go!  Re-explore your kitchen.  Experiment with solutions.  Did you find something that works for you that I didn’t mention? Let us know about it in the comments!

Also, stay tuned for the next post.  I’ll be taking you through my spice drawer and starting to share some great organizing tips to help drawers, cabinets and shelves do what you need them to do!


Chime in...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s