When we first viewed our pokey little townhouse in Alexandria 4 years ago, Senhor R was doubtful. ‘But we can’t cook in that kitchen!’ He said. But since I do the cooking, we took the house, and I took on the Corridor Kitchen as my personal challenge, determined to conquer it.

As we move out now, I can’t say I haven’t bitched about the kitchen constantly; the lack of exhaust fan, the florescent lighting, the lack of bench space, the damp, the mould, the lino, oh yes, AND THE FACT THAT IT FLOODS EVERY TIME IT RAINS. Or did, until last month. But the fact is, I’m a much better cook than I was 4 years ago, and the kitchen is why. What follows are the top 5 lessons I learned from cooking in my Corridor Kitchen.

Lesson One: Neccesity really is the mother of invention.
If you have an ok kitchen with only a few irritating aspects, chances are you can let them slide – not quite enough cupboard space? Get rid of some stuff. Small sink? Grin and bear it. But if your kitchen is very basic, you will be making improvements. Constantly. And your creativity will know no bounds.

When it came to ideas for our kitchen, there were literally no wrong answers. And as an added bonus, the kitchen was so ugly that it didn’t matter what we did to it. We were free to focus completely on utility and throw aesthetics out the window. This was actually incredibly liberating and…

  • We came up with an ingenious combination of hanging rails, hooks and magnetic strips to hold our knives and most used utensils.
  • We bought a massive bookshelf from a law firm that went into liquidation to use as our pantry.
  • Friends donated us a kitchen island made out of an old artist’s trolley.
  • Senhor R rigged up a complex system of extension cords and powerboards so that we could have more than just two appliances in our kitchen. So what if I could never use the microwave at the same time as the kettle. *

Lesson Two: lack of storage can actually be a good thing.
It sounds completely crazy, but as I move into my new kitchen which seemed initially to have so much storage, it has become very apparent that the important thing is not how much storage you have, but the quality of that storage.

In a ramshackle custom-altered kitchen like the Corridor, we were forced to create our own storage, thus that storage was custom designed for us. The kitchen became a work-in-progress (as much as it could in a rental property) and was user friendly precisely because it was user designed. Commonsense aspects of this design included;

  • Eye-level storage
  • A combination of visible and hidden storage.
  • Prioritising items based on frequency of use.

I found this post over at Small Notebook invaluable in our old house.

Lesson Three: The bench tops are always shinier in the kitchen next door.
When I viewed the apartment we’re moving into now, I was blown away by the kitchen. But now that we’re unpacking our stuff, there are aspects of the Corridor Kitchen I’ve really come to appreciate. The massive pantry made of bookshelves, for example, or space for a bin.

Although I know that not everything in the new kitchen can be perfect, I guess when I was working within the ridiculously rigid constraints of the old one, I figured that every kitchen out there was better than mine, in every way. But of course there are things about the new kitchen I don’t like. I’d rather have more cupboards than a dishwasher, for example. I crave more shelves inside the cabinets.

Lesson four – I love shelves!!
Shallow, open shelving makes everything visible and you always know what you have. I never really appreciated this until now. In our last place, most of our belongings were stored on shelves because there was no built in storage except for the kitchen cabinets.

Turns out we can’t just throw all these shelves away and what’s more, in some ways they are actually better than ‘real’ storage. This is especially true in the case of food, where they make everything accessible and visible. Who cares if the outside of your olive oil bottle gets dust on it?

Lesson five: ‘Useful’ items aren’t always that useful.
Too many of a useful thing is still too many things! I’m looking around at our one million plastic containers and our one million pyrex containers thinking…what the hell do we need all these for again? Why do I have 4 frypans? What’s the logic behind out two sets of cutlery?

I guess I assumed that because we had limited space in our old kitchen, everything in there must have been necessary. But of course that’s not the case. When there’s space we tend to fill it – you never find an empty kitchen drawer.

What about you? What lessons have you learned from your kitchen?

* When my Dad came to stay he was pretty worried we’d end up electrocuting ourselves.

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13 Responses to 5 lessons learned from my Corridor Kitchen

  1. Andrea says:

    I’ve learnt that despite having masses of cupboard space our kitchen is still never tidy! Tidiness involves putting things away ;)

    Also, one doesn’t need to fill the multitude of cupboards – why do I accept random second hand kitchen items as donations? Electric fry pan… you looked so awesome, yet I have NEVER used you!
    Andrea recently posted…Something took me to the top of a bridge

    • Lau says:

      I’m with you 100%! Tidiness also involves having an allocated place for things! There’s no such thing as ‘away’ if ‘away’ really means ‘shoved in a random cupboard/shelf/corner of the room’….

  2. Gaby says:

    No matter how much space you have, you’ll always manage to fill it. This is true for digital and physical stuff. I get what you say about open shelves but I think there’s stuff that’s better kept in closed pantries, away from light and heat.
    Gaby recently posted…Review: Amazon Steakhouse

    • Lau says:

      I agree, except our old kitchen had no light or heat (besides the oven). But yes you’re totally right, spices, oils etc. shouldn’t be exposed to light…

  3. Kat says:

    Our house has a pantry hutch type thing with shallow shelves. It’s pretty ace.

    We also have a kitchen draw with hardly anything in it. It’s astounding (well, maybe not so much when you see the epic amounts of cupboards this place has).

  4. Danae says:

    I bought my first electric wok because i couldn’t afford a fancy saucepan set, and was in a small rental house. It took some practice to get in the habit of trying to use it for as much cooking as possible, but it was worth it for the cupboard space saved, and it ended up taking the place of about 5 different sized pans. It heats evenly, non stick base, copes with large or small amounts of food, easy to clean.

    It’s also the best way to reheat pizza. Crisps up the bottom, heats through the slice without squashing the top.

    • Lau says:

      It’s so weird you mention reheating pizza, because Senhor R came up with that same plan the other day when we had this really soggy pizza. He put the electric grill on the coffee table and we crisped it up in front of the TV…

      Some gadgets are indispensable.

  5. Shane says:

    Small kitchens are character building. I’ll be interested to know how you utilise your new-found bench space. It’s equivalent to moving from a small single bed to a king-size: will you curl up on the edge or spread out right in the middle? Having always had ample bench space, I manage to use as much as possible for the easiest of meals. Eg, pizza: an area to make the dough, an area to cut up ingredients, a separate area to roll the dough (because the mixing bowl is in the previous area), an area to grate cheese. The other half absolutely hates this. I’m not sure how I’d cope in minimal space, but I believe I’m adaptive.

    PS. Your story really highlighted my unconscious hatred for deep pantry cupboards. Losing things at the back of the cupboard and re-buying things you already have but couldn’t find when you did the shopping list. UGHH! Why do I have three jars of thyme!!!??

    • Lau says:

      I’m with you, I have definitely ‘spread out’. Right now our island bench is covered in random crap we need to sort through! I have found now that instead of using one pan, one bowl, etc, I can chop ingredients, put them in a bowl, chop something else, go do something esle, chuck stuff in the *gasp* dishwasher…it’s lovely! But I’m sure after a while I’ll get so used to it I will cease to appreciate it.

      I hate deep cupboards!! My mum has this really deep pantry and she’s forever ending up with 6 tins of everything! It’s wasted space. I’d love to hear if anyone has tips for deep cupboards…

      • shane says:

        Deep pantries: I find more a problem at eye level and above. However some solutions are filing like ingredients from front to back. I once tried filing herbs alphabetically front to back and in adjacent rows but it doesn’t work unless everyone’s up for it – which they weren’t.

        • Lau says:

          Yeah, I was once cooking at someone’s house and their spices were all alphabetical but I didn’t realised and messed them all up! I felt so bad!

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