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Kornelia Santoro

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The ideal kitchen for happy cooking
By Kornelia Santoro   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Posted: Wednesday, February 03, 2010

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A small introduction into kitchen design


The ideal kitchen for happy cooking
Whatever you attempt to do in life, proper tools play a crucial role. When cooking, a suitable kitchen can make your life so much easier. For years I had to make do with a small cubicle which housed just the bare necessities. Probably I don’t have to point out that I did not feel very inspired by these cramped conditions. Then we built a house and I was in the lucky position to design my own kitchen.
Whatever your situation may be, to know some basic principles about kitchen design can be useful. Sometimes it already helps just to switch the placement of appliances. If you are renovating your kitchen or are planning a new one, I only can advise you not to rely on architects or professional kitchen planners. They will never be able to know you sufficiently or the habits and requirements of your family. Only you can understand what you really need and what fits you – and your budget of course – best.
Nowadays it is widely accepted that the kitchen is one of the most important rooms in the house. Unfortunately in India the kitchen is traditionally considered to be a place for servants and accordingly little thinking used to go into kitchen design. I have seen houses of wealthy people here who had a fancy tiny modern kitchen, where they did some cooking themselves once in a while. The main job was done in the servants’ kitchen though, a dark space where a coconut scraper, a kerosene cooker and a machete were the most sophisticated equipment.
Times are changing everywhere and nowadays it is a lot harder to find domestic help here in India. Even rich people understand that they might have to do without round-the-clock service one day. Being European I grew up without servants or cooks and – honestly – we value our privacy very much. We don’t want a live-in maid to cater to our needs. My cleaning ladies, who take care of the house, give me enough trouble. I don’t want to have to deal with a cook as well, as I have mentioned before. I am happy to do my own cooking and my husband has no problem to make coffee first thing in the morning.
Our new kitchen has vastly improved our life although we had to go through quite a lot of trouble with our contractor and architect to get what we really wanted. When we decided to build a house first of all we bought a lot of literature about architecture and planning. I purchased a couple of books about kitchen design as well which were a great help. Writing this book I checked out information on the internet about kitchen design. Unfortunately most of the websites are heavily influenced by advertisements and I cannot recommend any of them.
If you plan to build or renovate a kitchen, I can only advise you to go to a first-class bookstore and buy some books, or get them to order them. There is plenty of literature available. I don’t want to suggest any specific books as it is difficult in this country to order foreign literature.
When planning your kitchen you first have to ask yourself what you really need. Do you like to bake and roast or do you prefer fried and boiled food? Do you need a microwave for heating food and popping corn or can you do without? How much fridge space do you require? How many sinks do you need? Is there one cook only in your kitchen or do you want enough space for 2 or more cooks? Do you want to have breakfast and simple meals in your kitchen or do you want to use it for cooking only? One of the most important questions is: Do you want to place your washing machine in the kitchen? If yes, you need some more space, not only for the machine but also for related appliances like dryer, iron, ironing board and storage space for dirty laundry.
Once again I can only recommend that you start by analyzing your needs and wishes.
Don’t rely on anybody but yourself when it comes to planning your kitchen.
Although we had a contractor who worked with one of the best architects in Goa, he absolutely had no idea about kitchen appliances. It was a hard fight to get all the inlets and outlets right and I had to check and correct everything myself. Don’t expect your architect to do the needful. Usually they are men and have no idea what is going on in a kitchen. No offence, please!
Traffic report:
When planning a kitchen, start with analyzing the traffic it has to support. People will go into your kitchen and move from the fridge to the sink, the cabinets and the cooking range. Are there children in your family who need easy access to drinks and snacks? Will there be traffic through your kitchen to other destinations? Is there a back door, a pantry or a basement door? Mark the main traffic routes on your layout plan and start from there with the planning. If you have a small kitchen with a lot of doors, it might be helpful to consider closing one of them to reduce traffic and gain more space. Furthermore it is important that the kitchen has an easy connection to the dining and living space of your house or apartment. Most of our free time is spent in these areas and a good design can improve your family life a lot.
The work triangle, the quintessence of kitchen design:
In western architecture the work triangle used to be the fundament of kitchen planning. This triangle is formed by the refrigerator, the cooking range and the sink. According to conventional rules, the triangle is the shortest distance between the fronts of each appliance. The triangle should not be longer than 8 meters (26 feet). A single leg should be at least 1,23 meters (4 feet) and not more than 2,74 meters (9 feet). The cook should be able to walk without hindrance from appliance to appliance.
I followed this rule when planning my kitchen and I am really happy with it. Some friends of ours have built a huge house with an equally huge kitchen and they did not deem it necessary to consider something as prosaic as the work triangle. The result is a beautiful kitchen where you have to walk seven meters from the fridge to the sink… cooking in this kitchen requires a lot of exercise.
Although the work triangle has been a useful guideline for generations, nowadays it tends to be too simplified. We have a tendency to use more than 3 appliances in the kitchen; the microwave and dishwasher have to fit into the concept as well as the blender and other gadgets. Still the triangle remains a good starting point.
Choosing the right equipment:
After having placed the triangle on the layout of your kitchen, try to decide about the rest of the appliances. If you want your washing machine in the kitchen, try to separate it from the main cooking area and allow enough space for all the necessary items around the washing machine.
I decided to remove my washing machine from the kitchen, although my architect did not like this idea at all. Instead of building a huge kitchen with an island in the middle, I opted for a smaller kitchen with an adjacent laundry room. This laundry room houses my washing machine, an extra fridge and plenty of storage space for cleaning utensils, tools and other things which I don’t want to have around in the kitchen. It also has a huge stone sink for heavy duty cleaning which comes very handy. In my laundry room I can make all the mess I want…in case of chaos I just close the door and my kitchen looks all neat and tidy.
If you decide to purchase a dishwasher, try to place it directly next to the sink. I own a dishwasher which has greatly improved my life. I used to leave all the dirty dishes in the evening in the sink. The cleaning lady normally did the dishes first thing in the morning. This attracted a lot of ants and other pests and the cleaning lady never did the dishes to my full satisfaction. Now I just rinse all the dishes in the evening, load the dishwasher, switch it on and my kitchen remains clean. Additionally I know that all my crockery has been washed perfectly.
In the west we have plenty of options for cooking ranges, wall mounted ovens and integrated cook tops. In India you can get everything you want but you will have to pay a hefty price for imported items. Furthermore it can be problematic to get them repaired and you have to consider frequent power cuts. Otherwise you can easily get left without heat in the middle of preparing a dish.
Choosing electric ovens and cooking tops only makes sense if you are the happy owner of a big generator or if you live in an apartment building with 24 hour electric supply. If you are wealthy enough for this, you might consider purchasing an imported kitchen. There are several options available nowadays and the companies also offer to design your kitchen. If you are on a limited budget though, you can save a lot of money by designing your kitchen yourself.
Even if baking with a gas oven can be tricky, I am quite happy with my gas cooking range. It offers five burners, a quite big oven with a grill and automatic ignition. It is a common brand in India and servicing is not a problem. If you can, try to place the gas bottle for your cooking range outside the kitchen. My cooking range stands in a corner of the kitchen and the gas pipe goes through a hole into a small structure which houses the gas bottle. This greatly improves the safety of my kitchen.
On top of my cooking range I have a vent hood which gets rid of the cooking fumes. When choosing a hood consider the suction power, easy cleaning options and the way the fumes have to take to reach outside. My hood is located at an outside wall, so the fumes can be blown directly outside. If the way is too long or twisted, a hood will never be able to work properly.
The fridge is one of the essential appliances in a kitchen and especially in India you never can have too much fridge space. As a rule of thumb you need half a cubic meter (500 liters) for the first two family members and another 0,04 cubic meters (40 liters) for every additional family member. This may seem a lot for Indian conditions but it is very useful to have this amount of fridge space. I have a big fridge located in the middle of my kitchen and 2 more fridges for extra storage: One in the laundry room next to the kitchen and one on the first floor of the house.
What you absolutely need in a kitchen in India is the best water filter you can get your hands on. The water filter should be located next to the sink and the filters should be easily reachable for maintenance. Reverse-osmosis-filters nowadays are quite affordable and I believe they deliver better water quality than any water bottled in plastic. Plastic bottles tend to ooze solvents into the water and you never know what you buy.
Connections for appliances:
Inform yourself about all the connections you need for your appliances. Don’t expect your architect or contractor to know what is required. I had to battle for the connections for my dishwasher: Most of the times the contractor and the architect are absent from a building site and you have to deal with unskilled workers. The following list provides basic knowledge. If you choose fancy appliances, you might need additional connections.

Gas cooking range with auto ignition
Power plug, gas connection
Vent hood
2 power plugs: one under the hood, and one next to the exit hole (10 centimeter diameter) in the wall
Electric oven or cooking range
Power plug
Power plug, water inlet, water outlet at least 50 centimeters high
Washing machine
Power plug, water inlet with adequate water pressure, water outlet
Power plug, steam outlet (can be a window close by or a hole in the wall)
Reverse-osmosis-water filter
Electric plug, water inlet, water outlet

Kitchen cabinets:
The cabinets greatly influence the look of your kitchen. What you choose depends largely on your budget. Keep in mind that the surfaces should be easy to clean and water resistant. If you want to choose wood for making cabinets, you have to be careful to purchase seasoned wood. If wood is too fresh – which is unfortunately the norm nowadays - it will change shape while drying. Kitchen cabinets made from wood normally don’t close well after some time.
Wood should undergo at least one year of seasoning before it can be used. Unfortunately this rule has largely been forgotten by carpenters in India. They will happily use fresh wood and tell you “no problem” with a smile. Remember that “no problem” always means: “No problem for me”, never “no problem for you”. The best advice our architect gave us was the following: “When somebody tells you no problem, usually the trouble starts”.
If you can afford it, absolutely go for cabinets and overhead cupboards with doors. Choose the best hinges you can get your hands on. For drawers insist on metal runners. Avoid open shelving as much as possible: Dust will settle everywhere. Ants and cockroaches love to scuttle around open shelves, not to mention the omnipresent rats.
Working surface:
As with fridge space, you can never have too much working surface in your kitchen. There are many options for countertops, from polished cement to marble, depending largely on your budget again. In India stone is quite affordable, black kadappa being the cheapest, but not the best. This black stone stains easily, is rather soft and keeps on oozing black dust. For a little more money you can get one of the beautiful granites of India, which last a lifetime and endure any kind of rough treatment. Although marble is beautiful, I would not use it as countertop. Marble stains easily, can crack when exposed to heat and is difficult to keep clean. Polished cement probably is the cheapest solution, but it never lasts really long.
The height of the counter top should be chosen according to your body height. The standard in India is 72 centimeters. For me this is much too low. My counter tops are 92 centimeters high, as I like cutting vegetables and cooking while standing. I must confess though that my cleaning ladies suffer greatly from this height. They are a lot shorter and have trouble cleaning dishes in the sink. However I rather enjoy my high counter tops when I am cooking and I don’t have to crouch to do my things. After all I own a dishwasher and there are not many dishes to be cleaned by hand.
Kitchen sink:
In India basically you can choose between stainless steel sinks and custom made stone or cement sinks. If you want to build a sink, make sure you have some skilled workers at your disposal. If they get the angle of the slope wrong, you have to live with water puddles in your sink. I proudly own 2 jumbo sized stainless steel sinks with anti-scratch surface. Although they cost more than double than a normal stainless steel sink, the investment is well worth it. The anti-scratch surface is a lot more resistant and a lot easier to clean than your common smooth stainless steel surface.
Kitchen Island:
If you have a big kitchen, you might want to fit it with a kitchen island. Again, the options are endless. An island can be everything from a simple dining table to an extra cook station fitted with a sink and a hood. At this point I cannot go into details. If you want a kitchen island, inform yourself and get a very good kitchen planner.
Remember the following guidelines: The work aisle between an island and the opposing counter should be at least 1,06 meters (42 inches) wide. If there are 2 cooks, the distance should be at least 1,22 meters (48 inches). If you want to use your island for eating meals as well, plan a seating area which has 61 centimeters (24 inches) for each person.
Although your kitchen might leave much to be desired, don’t despair: Great food can be prepared in the humblest of conditions. You are the cook; you infuse your dishes with your energy, your spirit and your personality. Whatever the surroundings, if you cook with love, it makes a great difference. May I wish you happy cooking, always!

Web Site: Kornelia's Kitchen

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