Kitchen Design

Designing Smart Kitchen Storage

May  1, 2013

What happens when food stylist, entertaining expert, and cookbook author Susan Spungen finally gets to build her dream kitchen? She does it right. Follow her lead, get tips, and plot your own perfect kitchen in Building a Dream Kitchen on Food52.

Today: How to plan the smartest, most efficient kitchen storage, whether you're building a new kitchen or just looking to revamp the space you've got. (Plus, 9 questions you might be forgetting to ask yourself.)

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As an avid and active home cook, and a food professional who uses her home kitchen as her workspace, the biggest thing I find lacking in my ordinary, kind of well-organized kitchen is good storage space.

Here’s a view of my cramped yet efficient kitchen. It requires constant effort to keep things in their place, and that black stepladder you see gets lots of use.

A decade ago, I turned what had been an eat-in kitchen into a workhorse of a space by doing away with the table and chairs (boo-hoo). I customized cheaply by installing Metro Wire shelving systems.

This gave me more storage space for some of my seldom used but still needed items such as a tortilla press, popsicle molds, bamboo steamers, and a huge vintage enamel salmon poacher. These go on the highest shelf, which is almost unreachable even when standing on a stepladder.

Believe it or not, I use most of this stuff on a fairly regular basis.

On some of the more accessible shelves is where the cake and tart pans of every description and size, my Le Creuset pots, and the large turkey roaster live. On the shelf I can actually reach without a ladder, things get a bit more mixed up.

I think you get the idea. While this was the best solution available to me -- since this is a rental apartment -- and it has worked well enough, it is far from ideal.

More: See the site of Susan's future dream kitchen.

Did I mention that there are no drawers at all in the actual built-in part of the kitchen? Who needs drawers? I do!! This vintage medical cabinet goes well with my 1920s kitchen, and houses some of my more precious items. It also features the only drawers in the room.

Though it is charming and handy to keep flatware in little stainless baskets I found at Ikea, and I’ve adapted to this way of life, I am so looking forward to how easy life (and cooking, and eating, and entertaining) will be when I complete the dream kitchen that I am building in Amagansett, New York.

Here's my advice for making sure you get the kitchen storage you've always wanted.

Get to Know Your Plans

One of the very first things I did when I first got the initial set of plans from my wonderful architect, Andrew Pollock, was to figure out exactly what would be stored where, to make sure that nothing would be forgotten, and that cooking and moving around would be as intuitive as possible.

It’s good to really study the drawings -- they can be confusing at first, but this is what will help you imagine the space, and therefore catch any mistakes.

Use Your Current Kitchen to Guide You

Andy did a first pass at the cabinetry design, indicating where all the cabinets and drawers (!) would be, and I did a little “paint by numbers” game where I designated in pencil what would be stored where. I used my current storage configuration as my guide, figuring there would not be any major category of kitchen supplies that I did not already have.

Don't Be Shy

It took some back and forth with Andy to work things out. I would suggest doing this to anyone who is undertaking the building of a new kitchen or a renovation. Why waste the opportunity of really customizing the storage space? It’s not a big deal now to turn two skinny drawers into one big drawer when it’s still all in paper and pencil.

For example, I asked that the end of the island next to the rangetop be extended, because I didn’t think there was enough space for me, and vertical storage was a must.

It’s important to be a proactive, involved participant in the design process when it comes to a functional and personal space like a kitchen. Only you know what you really want, so as good as an architect, designer, or contractor may be, their ideas might not be exactly right for you, and you will be living with your decisions for a very long time.


As the "shop drawings" are completed, which are the drawings the cabinet maker will produce to show exactly how the cabinets will be built, inside and out, I will have another chance to make sure all of the interiors of the cabinets are as I want them.

The Plan: Where It Will All Go

The Heavyweights: Most cabinets will have slide-out drawers to allow easier access to large, heavy items like small appliances. Large, deep drawers will accommodate pots, pans, bowls, and colanders. I need to make sure these will be deep enough for my tallest pots! These will all be stored close to the rangetop, where most of the cooking and prepping action will take place.

The Little, Messy Things: I want dedicated drawers for pot lids and for food storage containers. I find these to be two of the most annoying and difficult things to keep organized. I am hoping to find or design something to organize them within the drawer.

The Pantry: There will be one small pull-out pantry in the kitchen, and another in the “old kitchen” which is becoming an annex to the new kitchen. It’s just around the corner, so I don’t think it will be too far to walk for supplies.

The Everydays: I will store my everyday dishes, glasses, cups, and smaller bowls and platters on the side of the kitchen with the sink. This will make unloading the dishwasher easy. All of the shallow drawers that will hold flatware, cooking utensils, wraps, etc., will also be here. I have more drawers than I know what to do with, at least on paper, but something tells me I’ll find a use for them!

Some questions to ask yourself as you design your space:

  • How far am I willing to walk for a coffee cup?
  • Will I mind bending over to use the microwave?
  • Rangetop? Stovetop? I’ve opted for a rangetop, which will allow me to store pots and pans right underneath.
  • Where will the trash can live? Can it be tucked into a drawer?
  • Do I want my compost container in the trash drawer, or on the counter?
  • Is there a good landing place to put down a heavy pan when removing it from the wall oven?
  • Will I mind walking into the next room to gather ingredients for a baking project?
  • Is there a place to keep coffee and tea supplies handy for streamlined mornings?
  • Am I forgetting anything?

These are all questions I am asking myself every day, hoping to make all the right choices to make my new kitchen a creative, functional, and pleasant space.

In Susan's new book What’s a Hostess to Do?, she explains everything you need to know to host an elegant party effortlessly and with elegance.

Her tips -- all 313 of them -- are time-saving (“Ten Jobs You Can Delegate”), money-saving (“In Praise of Cheap Wine”), and face-saving (“How to Word a Last-Minute Invite”), with 121 recipes for spectacular party food to boot. 

 Photos by Susan Spungen

Read More:
Renovating the Food52 Kitchen
De-Cluttering Your Kitchen
Our Favorite Kitchen Organizers

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Firecracker Karen
    Firecracker Karen
  • ardnasmoo
  • Ellen B
    Ellen B
  • Texas Sharon
    Texas Sharon
  • foxeslovelemons
I am a food stylist for print and film, a cookbook author, recipe developer, culinary consultant, and dedicated home cook.


Firecracker K. August 6, 2013
What a great article detailing your thought process. One of the coolest storage solutions I've come across is building storage into the kick plate of the cabinets or island. This allows for flat storage of platters or other flatter oversized items, opened with a gentle kick of your toe. Brilliant! I can't wait to incorporate that into my kitchen remodel when the time comes. Enjoy!!
ardnasmoo June 19, 2013
I went through a very similar process when designing my kitchen a few years ago. Here are a few things that have been really great:
1. Drawers, drawers, drawers! Whenever possible, use a drawer instead of a lower cupboard or instead of a pull-out tray inside a traditional cupboard door. A drawer inside a cupbord door adds an extra step each time you use it. And always full-extension - don't skimp on the hardware, it's what makes it work.
2. We were able to add 3" to the counter depth. We kept the standard 24" size cupboards and drawers, and just added the depth to the counter. Because of this, we are able to keep small appliances on the counter without losing usable space.
3. A plastic food service tray lines the top drawer next to the prep sink. This is where my compost and vegie scraps go before taken outside to the compost.
4. I agree - inventory your current kitchen, and plan a spot for everything. I grouped prep items near the prep sink, pots and pans near the stove, and the pantry near my largest work area.
Ellen B. May 23, 2013
If you are doing double wall ovens Don't make them both convection. The fan takes up a lot of room and I cannot use some of my larger sheet pans.
Texas S. May 21, 2013
I said 'finally' but I did make a decision I don't regret. I store my spices in upper cabinets on either side of my range-top, but did not opt for fancy fold-out racks built into the cabinets. I'm a spice-junkie, and keep waaay too many to fit into those racks, which use up a lot of the cabinet space. To the dismay of the architect, I opted for adjustable shelving and revolving plastic turntables. Savory spices go on one side and baking spices on the other. There can be a bit of extra walking when I cook Asian dishes that mix the two, but I figure it's a bit of extra exercise.
Texas S. May 21, 2013
Finally, I added a warming drawer - below double convection ovens which in turn are under a cabinet for sheet pans, muffin pans, cutting boards and cooling racks. I have rarely used it. I've discovered I can warm plates in the microwave, the depth will not accommodate all serving dishes or proof bread, and the position, just above the toe-kick, is super-inconvenient. Mine, a Wolf, takes a long while to heat up, and I often forget to turn it on in time. Mine's concealed by cabinet panel, no light reminds me to turn it off. Newer models, other brands, might be different.
Texas S. May 21, 2013
I also have one off-the-wall suggestion, maybe not as apropos for a weekend house: if you have a drawer for storing potatoes, onions, garlic, be sure it will accommodate plastic bins to protect the drawer bottoms and also locate it so that ductwork for heating does not go underneath - it will prolong the life of the food. I know it sounds pretty Type A, but I'm glad I did it.
Texas S. May 21, 2013
I am so very lucky to have built my dream kitchen several years ago in our current house. I have one suggestion to your plans above: Panasonic makes a very nice MW which can be built in, using strips - the cabinetry is just an open space - would make getting to it much easier than what I think I'm seeing in your elevation.
foxeslovelemons May 2, 2013
Even though it isn't ideal, I find this kitchen charming. Something about having everything you need IN the kitchen. My overflow kitchen stuff is spread throughout the house - basement, linen closet, rolling carts kept in a spare room. It's inconvenient.
carswell May 1, 2013
I went through the process when I bought my house - I gutted it and so was able to configure my kitchen from scratch. 15 years on and I'm still happy with the layout.

The only thing I would change is to take my upper cupboards all the way to the ceiling (my ceilings are just over 9 ft.). At the time I thought the space above my cabinets was wonderful for display - now I'd rather have that area boxed in with glass doors.