Modern kitchens are designed with equipment and working surfaces lining two adjacent walls, the third being occupied by a table that can be folded against that wall when not in use, so leaving uninterrupted walking space. The fourth wall can then comprise an opening to the dining-room and, maybe, a serving hatch — although hatches have rather gone out of fashion these days.
The most inconvenient shape of kitchen is the corridor type, frequently found where old property has been converted and use has to be made of a narrow passage. Here the equipment can often line one wall only.
Whatever the shape of your kitchen, get out some graph paper and plan it to scale, bearing in mind the principles of time and motion.
Consider the movements made by a housewife cooking a meal and serving it, clearing up, washing the dishes and putting them away. For the purposes of illustration let us deal with the first part of the job and, to simplify matters, we will dispense with the luxury of a dish-washing machine and consign the deep freezer to the garage or under the stairs.
She will take the raw food out of the fridge or larder and place it on a working top or table. Then she may put the meat in the oven and go to the sink to prepare vegetables, after which she will place them on a working top before transferring them to the cooker. Then she will get cutlery and napkins out of a drawer or cupboard, necessitating two or three journeys, and put them on a working top before laying the dining-room table. The dishes will now be taken to the stove to warm.
When cooking is completed she will lift the pans off the stove and cross the room to the sink to strain the vegetables. Back to the stove to keep them warm while she takes the meat out of the oven for carving. Food is put on the warm plates and transferred to the dining-room. Carving is now seldom done at table, thank goodness, because food is always at its best when served direct from cooking utensils.
Take a look at the badly designed kitchen at the top of the diagram and compare it with the well-designed one underneath, which necessitates only half the amount of walking backwards and forwards to complete the same job.
In the lower illustration the table folds up, leaving a clear passage in the centre, and appliances are arranged in logical sequence of use. What is more important is that there is a small working top over or alongside each appliance so that things can be taken out of a drawer or cupboard and stood somewhere straight away. Movements are sideways not across the room.
The height of the lady of the house should determine the height of working tops and wall cupboards. The difference between 840 and 915 mm for a working top may not seem much, but it will have a lot to do with her feeling fit or jaded at the end of the day. If, for any reason, she has to sit, the choice rests between 710 and 735 mm (28 and 29 in).
The best height for frequently used wall cupboards is about 1.5 m (5 ft) to centre, and shelves the same — low enough to reach without too much stretching and high enough to prevent a bump on the head.
When holding a dress rehearsal to decide at what height to have the fittings make sure that flat-heeled house shoes and not high-heeled ones are worn.
Cupboards not resorted to so often may be higher. For instance, if you are fitting a tall cupboard for brooms and suchlike, carry it right up to the ceiling and there will be no dust trap on top. The upper parts can then be used for longterm storage.
To reach such high parts, buy a stool with hinged steps attached. Mounting the stool from the steps ensures that the feet are placed in the centre and not at the side, as often happens when a chair is used. A lot of accidents are caused through tilting chairs.
Bespoke built-in kitchen furniture is naturally the best, because it is made to your specification. However, doing the work yourself is time-consuming and employing a carpenter expensive, so you may decide to buy ready-made pieces in knock-down kit form for home assembly.
These prefabricated kitchen units are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes to suit all kinds of kitchen. And if no option of heights is offered a little may be shaved off the bottom of the recessed kick plinth, still leaving room for your feet when standing against the working top.
Perfect planning is somewhat upset in old converted houses where part of a passage is used as a kitchen. But even here the best can be made of it with due thought.
When a person of average height stoops to open an oven door 1.25 m (4 ft) of space will be needed to permit another person to pass behind; and even then due warning of approach will have to be given. You can get over this by placing the cooker facing the opening leading to the dining-room. Or you can install a cooker with a waist-high oven.
Some town conversions allow for only the tiniest of kitchenettes, occupying an area little more than that of a large cupboard. This poses the problems of cooking smells and excessive condensation.
An extractor fan fitted into a window will work with real efficiency only when the door of the room is closed. But this is not always convenient and the appliance will then have double work to do — clearing the air in the dining-room as well as the kitchenette. If there is a fan there will be no point in opening the window; and the best thing will be to seal it up entirely and let the fan do the work. There will then be no nuisance from buzzing blowflies. To get the best service from an electric fan, install it in a wall or window immediately behind or facing the cooker.
In old houses there will be valuable space where the old kitchen range has been taken away. Think carefully how you can best use this: you could house the cooker or fridge there or turn it into a cupboard — in which case don’t forget to provide ventilation holes, otherwise old damp soot will ‘bleed’ through the bricks to stain the chimney breast.
If you are using the space for a cooker, check that the lintel is of sufficient height to prevent bumping the head, and don’t try to use the chimney as a direct fume extractor cowl. You will have to install a pipe with a curve in it and a fan, otherwise old soot will fall into the soup! And see that a shelf for the storage of flavourings, spices, salt, tea and suchlike is near the cooker where they will mostly be used.
To furnish the ideal kitchen costs quite a lot of money, and if you do not feel disposed to pay the full amount in cash you can get deferred terms for prefabricated fittings or buy them individually and build in stages. Manufacturers quote specially for the latter requirement, each stage being self-sufficient and self-contained and further stages an elaboration.
Building in this way costs less than buying the whole unit on deferred terms because there is no interest to pay, but it requires a high degree of single-minded determination to complete the deal. You know how it is: some unexpected expense comes along, perhaps a holiday that exceeds the budget, and bang go resolutions and the next stage of the kitchen unit.
Another drawback to building by stages is that you are virtually joining new on to old all the time, which could have an effect similar to that of the purchase of a new costume or suit to go with dilapidated shoes.
Apart from these general principles, whatever is in the kitchen should be bright and cheery, with vases and flowers and whatnot, so that the housewife can undertake her duties with a song in her heart.