We spent much of our recent vacation in or near the kitchens of family and friends in Switzerland. As their building boom continues within a confined land area, the trick is to make smaller, more efficient living quarters. We are facing the same issue here in Maine due mostly to a need to save energy and cut down on construction costs.
The preferred style is the galley style kitchen, open at one or both ends, and with or without a pass through to the dining room. They are sleek and modern with state of the art appliances faced to match the cabinets.
Almost everyone I talked to said they prefer to have the kitchen separated, at least partially, from the living area. There is only room for one cook at a time in a small kitchen and the minimal sink and counter space gets cluttered pretty quickly.
Induction cook tops are the most popular by far; they are very quick, energy efficient, and easy to clean.
We also had a chance to taste some coffee made by the ubiquitous Nespresso Machine. The coffee was really good, the machine doesn’t take up much space, and it is less expensive than some high end espresso machines. Nespresso makes up for it with the 65 cent coffee capsules though; we stuck with the old fashioned French press for our coffee.
Small, special purpose wall ovens are increasingly popular. A bank of 4 small ovens takes about the same space as two standard wall ovens. The small steam ovens are a favorite. It is great to be able to microwave, steam, bake, broil, and warm plates in small, efficient, dedicated ovens.
Cooking in our family is a usually a communal activity but after a couple days of constantly bumping into each other we changed our ways to suit the kitchen. While there is a lot to like about European kitchens, there is some room for improvement.
Here are some tips for getting more efficiency out of a small galley style kitchen.
Create a pass through on the dining room side or create an opening on both ends of the kitchen. Most of the kitchens we saw had one or the other or both.
Install the sink and dishwasher on the pass thru side of the galley. A helper could then stand outside of the kitchen on the dining room side and use the sink plus the dining room table for prep work. After the meal, the dishes can be scraped in the prep sink and delivered to the kitchen through the pass thru. Almost every kitchen we saw had the fridge, sink and stove lined up on one wall. I can say from experience that this is not ideal.
Get a quick, high efficiency, restaurant style dishwasher to avoid the need to hand wash dishes between courses. Let’s face it; if you love entertaining, have room for only one sink bay and it takes an hour and a half to wash dishes in a small dishwasher, you are going to have to hand wash frequently to free up space and to keep up with the demand for dishes.
Use cabinet doors that either flip up or fold back out of the way to create the effect of a large open pantry while you are working. Close them when you are done.
The galley kitchens we visited were usually 10 to 12’ long. This doesn’t leave much room for a large fridge. There is certainly no room for extras like an ice machine. Everyone had a freezer on the top or the bottom, which provides much more available space than a side by side. The best place to put a fridge is near the entrance to the kitchen so people can get to it without bothering the cook.
Planning is really important in a small kitchen. You just don’t have room for many extras and you can’t find anything in a jammed packed fridge or cabinet. Luckily stores are never more than 5 minutes away from anywhere. There are even farm stands and often laiteries in most villages. The laiteries have spigots on an outside wall. You bring your own container and get your milk yourself.
Grocery stores in Switzerland are still only open from 8am to noon and then again from 2pm to 5 or 6. All grocery stores are closed on Sundays. I like the fact that you have to insert a 2 franc coin into the grocery cart to get it out and get your money back when you return it. You never see errant carts because of this. The escalators built for grocery carts are another nice feature. You just put your cart on the escalator and send it down to the parking garage.
The April issue of the Journal of Light Construction features a beautiful example of a well designed galley kitchen. It appears to be about 15’ long which is larger than most European kitchens. The 3 to 5 extra feet on each side makes quite a difference. This kitchen includes a pantry and a small desk area.
Given a choice, I would take space from somewhere else and put it in the kitchen. For me it is the heart of the home. A kitchen doesn’t have to be huge but it should be large enough for two people to work in comfortably and be well designed. A partially separated galley kitchen is a good option, especially for a small home.
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Owners: Christopher Robinson and Crystal Daggett Robinson