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Designing Smart Kitchen Storage

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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.)

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

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