A Kitchen Manifesto (Part 2)

You can read Part 1 here. It’s worth reading. Trust me.

Now. Where were we?

Oh yes. Historic kitchens are set up for simplicity and efficiency. Modern kitchens are…less so. We need to take the ideas of historic kitchens and apply them to modern day needs. Let’s get to work.

Planning the Functions

This kitchen has been marinating in my head for nearly two years. I have been through many iterations of ideas. I have a sink that I love. I have a stove that I love. I have a kitchen table that I love. I have a settee that I love. I need them all to work in the same room together. But…how?

As I kept working and reworking the layout, nothing ever clicked. I had all these pieces in the room. But still…something was off. Very off.

Copyright 1887

Copyright 1887

Copyright 1914

Copyright 1914

So I did what I do whenever I’m stumped. I started researching. First An Ideal Kitchen by Maria Parola and then The Efficient Kitchen by Georgie Boynton Child. Both books were written on how to set up kitchens. Both books were directed toward normal, every day homemakers. And both books had the same ground-breakingly simple advice.

When you begin setting up your kitchen, you must do one very important task first before even thinking of anything else. Ready?


Huh? What? Lay out your kitchen according to what you’re actually going to use it for? GET OUT OF TOWN.

While this seems completely straightforward, it blew my MIND to think about setting up a kitchen around what you’re actually going to be doing in it. Ok. Head is now on straight. Let’s do this. What needs to be done in a kitchen?

Here is an example list from 1914 in The Efficient Kitchen.

If you read this list, it’s actually amazing how many items on it still apply to today’s kitchens. And further more, look at how many different functions the kitchen had to serve. Laundry, warming, cooling, storage, cleaning, and more. These rooms had to work very hard.

It really made me think about what functions I need my kitchen to perform. So let’s make a list.

Paige’s Kitchen Function List

  1. Sink and supplies

  2. Dishwasher

  3. Stove and supplies

  4. Pots/pans storage

  5. Refrigerator/freezer. Full size.

  6. 4-6 feet primary work space. Counter height. Near stove. Clear of everything.

  7. Kitchen table and 4-6 chairs - for meals

  8. Wicker settee - socializing and non-table seating

  9. Dry food storage

  10. Dish and utensil storage

  11. Small appliance storage

  12. Pet food and feeding station

  13. Overflow work space

Ok great. I have my list. This is everything I think I need to make my kitchen fully functional.

Notice I said everything I NEED. Not everything I want. If you are working through this exercise, be very very careful to separate the needs from the wants. If something goes on this list, it must be absolutely essential to the functionality of the kitchen. Then we can avoid letting in the “noise of convenience” that often comes with kitchen design and having everything at your fingertips.

Ok. Back to my list. Now we start breaking it down. Here’s an outline of the future final kitchen. We have three doors. And six windows (eventually. Only three right now.)

Farmhouse Vernacular Kitchen

The kitchen originally had a pantry so I absolutely wanted to put that back as it knocks off so many items on this list. The pantry will hold food, small appliances, pet food, and excess pots and pans. Perfect.

Pantry Layout

By the pantry we will have a short run of wall that is essentially dead space. I’ll put something there to house dishes. If I can’t find a piece that works, we’ll build a china cabinet. Excellent.

Dish storage

The refrigerator will be most out of the way if it’s tucked in to a corner. Then I have my antique sink and vintage stove. They will stay approximately in the same place.

Layout with Appliances and Sink

I’ll connect the sink and stove with a run of lower cabinets. These will hold the dishwasher and provide near-stove storage drawers. The counter on top will serve as the primary work space.

Counter and dishwasher

Let’s discuss counters for a moment. In this plan the area between the sink and the stove is my main counter space. When cooking and baking, I am generally only ACTIVELY working in a 4-6 foot wide area. There’s only one of me, and my wing span is 5’4”. So that’s as much space as I actually need at counter height to be reasonably productive.

(Side bar. I know I know I know. I know you’re thinking that’s not enough space. Just hold that thought.)

Lastly the kitchen table and settee are free-standing so I will be able to move them wherever I want them to go. The table can serve as my overflow work space. Perfect. Ok! So that’s our finished kitchen layout….right?

Layout with Table and Settee

Well….hurmph. This is where I got stumped. I look at this kitchen plan. It’s good. It’s close. But it just isn’t quite right.

As much as I am a proponent of unfitted, historic kitchens, this plan just simply does not have enough work space. I don’t need any more active counter space. The run between sink and stove is plenty for every day use. But what I desperately need is the overflow, passive space. Where will I cool cookies? Where will the bread rise? Where will I drop groceries when I bring them home? Where will I lay out canning jars to cool?

I could use the kitchen table…but that has its own set of issues. You’re always working around a chairs. And if you need to set the table and also have extra workspace, you’re in trouble.

This won’t do. Nope. No. Definitely not. Now what?

Well, let’s look at references. Historic kitchens seem to have quite a lot of working space. No, it isn’t all in one continuous counter. But look how many different surfaces are available in the kitchens below.

Circa 1906. From The Craftsman Magazine.

Circa 1906. From The Craftsman Magazine.

Image from JL Mott Plumbing catalog circa 1911.

Image from JL Mott Plumbing catalog circa 1911.

Now let’s go back to the reference books. Look at this 1887 kitchen plan from An Ideal Kitchen.

This plan shows a movable table on wheels, a small table near the stove, a settle table (which can switch between a bench or a work top), and a hinged table. Technically speaking, you could use the dresser too as a resting place if you needed it. That is FIVE different work surfaces available to you, should you need them.

And what’s more, TWO of them are convertible. I am a versatility junkie. I like being able to rearrange my rooms on a whim. Having tables that are magically NOT tables when you don’t need them to be? SIGN. ME. UP.

Come on Paige. Think. Think. You know you’re almost there. Almost…there…


Then I remembered. A piece of furniture that I had long known existed. Something that I had often seen, always loved, but never purchased. For I did not yet know what I could do with such a piece.

And it was this piece that crystallized the entire design and took my ideas from a kitchen I liked to the kitchen of my dreams.

Mystery Furniture Piece

What piece is this, you ask? That’s coming up in Part 3. Stay tuned.

Part 1 is here.

Edit: See this is why we post things online. Because you see things I don’t. FEAR NOT. The dishwasher will be moving away from the sink some yet to be determined distance. Excellent point to all who saw what I did not for the last six months of staring at this layout.

Kitchen Manifesto Part 2