14 September 2014

Thinking outside the box - or inside the box if you divide it up

The kitchen is the last room of our house that needs a make-over.  We've painted all the bedrooms, renovated the bathroom, removed or moved just about every non-load bearing wall in the joint, added a deck, moved the front door, turned a wasted front entrance alcove into a sewing room (or study if you buy our house at some point).

Not long after moving in we did move the kitchen from its original location into the dining room. It took about five years. The kitchen was the hub of the house and not in a good way. The hall to the bedroom ended in the kitchen, the lounge opened into the kitchen, the dining room was separated by a half-width wall, the back door was in the kitchen. The kitchen and dining room are exactly the same size, but because the kitchen was the cross-roads to everywhere in the house it often felt quite cluttered and busy.

Original kitchen looking towards the back door, photo taken from what was then the dining room.

Original kitchen, taken from the same point, but looking towards the hall and lounge room door.

The original dining room (now kitchen) on the other hand, is a corner room. We closed off the opening between it and the lounge room, leaving just the wide opening between it and the kitchen (now dining room).

We didn't walk in and think, "Oh, that has to move." It was one of those happy 'aha' moments. The stove was on the wall between the hall and lounge room openings, and the back door. A potentially dangerous spot, but there was nowhere else it could go. When the stove died and a friend offered us their old (but good) gas stove, we realised the new stove wouldn't fit there. It was two burners bigger than our old stove. Finally we decided to put the stove in the then dining room, which had the added advantage of us being able to install the gas supply on an external wall.

About a year later a friend, who installed kitchens for a living, helped hubby move the two floor to ceiling cupboards/pantries to the dining room. We lived with the half/half arrangement for about four years, before moving the sink and remaining cupboards into the dining room.

Our current kitchen cupboards are bit of a mish-mash. We realised quite early on that the existing cupboards wouldn't work long term in the new setting. For one, there was a breakfast between the kitchen and dining room, and we didn't want that. It's currently in a corner, being annoying because it's so deep. For two, the original kitchen didn't have enough cupboards or counter space so some of our cupboards are free-standing bits we've picked up. We've got gaps between cupboards, behind cupboards. And, most annoying for me, very little usable, workable counter top space.
Current kitchen, taken from about where the fridges are in the photo above.
Current kitchen taken from about the back door (in the photos above).
Two years ago we refinanced and included money for a kitchen renovation. Then I was made redundant. Until I have a permanent income, I prefer the money to sit on my mortgage than to be spent. It's hard to eat a new kitchen :-) In the meantime, I've been dreaming and planning.

Our kitchen is quite large (3 x 3.6m; ~3.2x3.9 yards) but most of the space is empty floor space in the middle. I've looked at floor work benches, but it would be right in the middle of the work triangle (fridge, stove, sink) and would be really, really annoying.

This diagram doesn't show all the mismatched cupboards and gaps, but the photos above do. The dining room is to the left of the plan. The darker grey, thin rectangle (to the bottom left) is the wall between the kitchen and dining room. Behind the fridges (bottom left corner) is a 3/4 height wall. It used to be a walk-through from the lounge to the (then) dining room. We only blocked it with a 3/4 wall to allow for air flow. Behind the sink (grey rounded rectangles to the right) is the kitchen window.

On Friday the Girl and I visited Ikea for some bits and pieces (and bought more than we planned). I was wandering through their kitchens looking at ideas, when I realised that most of their display kitchens are about the same size as ours, BUT they include dining spaces or walk-in pantries or big work benches. And then we saw it - a kitchen divided into about thirds, with two thirds as a working kitchen and the other third shelved as a walk-in pantry. The whole kitchen was no bigger than our space. Although in the Ikea design the walk-in pantry was actually a walk-through pantry with one end open and an opening on the side at the other end, I could see just how to make it work in our house.

After some fiddling with ideas and masking tape on our kitchen floor, I think I've worked it out.
In case you can't quite see it, the main difference between the existing and new kitchen layout is a false wall (the walls are the darker grey, thin rectangles) running perpendicular to the existing dining room wall (on the left hand side). After some discussion, we decided that if we recessed this wall by 300mm we could put a narrow set of kitchen cupboards along it. (Originally I was thinking of putting the fridges along it.)

The advantages of this design:
  • We use the available floor space, instead of it being wasted real estate. Our house is quite small by modern standards, and we can't afford to just have empty space if it can be better used.
  • A walk in pantry. What is not to love about a walk in pantry?
  • Space to store all the bibs-and-bobs we currently don't really have space for - brooms, mops, ironing board. Our "linen" cupboard is a mere 8 inches deep (next to useless). 
  • Fewer overhead cupboards - cheaper reno.
  • Shelves rather than cupboards in the pantry area - cheaper reno.
  • The new pantry can be built independent of the rest of the kitchen reno, which means cupboards can be emptied into their new space, rather than stacked in the lounge room or stashed in odd places throughout the house. Hopefully, meaning a less chaotic reno.
  • Dishes will flow from the stove to the sink to their storage. At the moment the sink is really the wrong way around for good flow, with clean dishes flowing towards the stove rather than away from it.
Ideas I'm looking at incorporating:
  • A rolling 'baking cart' that lives in the pantry (like this one). The mixer and standard baking supplies would live on the cart, enabling it to be pulled out into the working kitchen area.
  • The shelves in the pantry only being 30cm deep and including a worktop at normal bench height (sort of like this design from houzz, although I think moveable shelves would be more useful). Electrical appliances that currently get put away and pulled out, and put away and pulled out, could actually live on the counter-top and be used in place.
  • Spud storage (like this one) on the end of the recessed narrow bench.
  • A rolling pantry (like this one) between the fridges and the stove bench. It might seem "greedy" when there'll be a whole walk-in pantry, but standard cupboards sizes plus our fridges will leave a gap that one of these will fill beautifully. We thought we could use a heat-resistant, easy to clean material for the backing board to create a splash back between the stove and fridges. Because the whole thing pulls out it would be much easier to clean.

08 September 2014

Book Review - The Makioka Sisters

Last week's visit to the library was a bit of a mixed bag. A couple of books I didn't bother finishing; I really didn't feel they were worth my time or effort. But I got a couple of winners. The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki was one of them.

The Makioka Sisters tell the story of four Japanese sisters, living in the Osaka region as WWII breaks out. They come from a reasonably wealthy family that has fallen on harder times. The two oldest are married. Traditionally, the unmarried sisters should live with the oldest, but they choose (as much as possible) to live with the second sister. The story is essentially about their efforts to find a husband for the third sister, Yukiko, and is told mainly from the point of view of the second sister, Sachiko.

The novel was originally published as three books, and is quite long. There are a number of side stories, that don't really do much to move the main story along. It certainly wasn't a 'cant put it down' book.

What I enjoyed most about this story is that it is not a current book written by a Western author. It is a Japanese novel. It was written by a Japanese author in the early 1940s. Although the English version is a translation of the Japanese novel, it's not an "interpretation" of Japanese society by an outsider, to the time period or the to the society.

The insight this novel, therefore, gives to Japanese thinking and culture at the time of the Second World War is fascinating. The youngest sister is a bit of a rebel, but it is acceptable for her to have an art studio, to work every day, and, eventually, to have her own apartment. There is some concern that she may become a 'professional' woman, actually supporting herself entirely by her own efforts, and chose not to marry. All four sisters regularly travel considerable distances by themselves on public transport. All children attend school, a number of the women in the story attend university.

There is also wonderful insight into the regional differences in Japan, which I had no idea existed. To me, and I'm sure to many Westerners, Japan is a just "Japan", a single country. But this story highlights the differences in culture, food and language, particularly between Osaka and Tokyo.

I enjoyed this book and I'll be looking out for more works by the same author.