Kitchen Confidential - Lessons on Kitchen Renovations

Lessons learned from kitchen cabinet renovations to suit how to live, what to cook and things that you want to surround yourself with on a daily basis.

I must confess: despite many years working as an interior designer, my own kitchen was the first real kitchen I ever designed. I have designed plenty of pantries for clients, but they never did the majority of their cooking there since most of them were in offices. I helped a few friends with kitchen concepts, but only got schematic drawings out for contractors to price. When I renovated my kitchen earlier this year, it was the first time I was simultaneously designer, project manager and client. Despite all the headaches during a brief four week construction period, the lessons that I learned from the experience made it all worthwhile.

While proportional to the size of my flat, my kitchen is small though bright and airy. I dispensed with putting in standardised kitchen cabinets since I needed to maximise the real estate I had—and that meant that I had to use every square inch of both horizontal and vertical space.

There were a lot of things that I was already happy with, such as my pull out dry pantry that stores an assortment of spices, olive oil and other non perishable items. It is great having everything available at a glance; I highly recommend this feature to avoid rummaging through the top shelf for a can of tomatoes at the very back. I also liked my kitchen’s layout, with a big sink next to the window to make washing up more cheerful. A shallow 200 mm series of shelves is also very handy, as it fits the small plates or bowls I used on a daily basis.

As my former kitchens did not offer exhaust fans above the stove, I foolishly decided to remove the existing one to make way for more upper cabinets. Big mistake—as my kitchen is semi open. This means that my dinner guests are treated to the aroma of fried chicken or lasagna well past when they have eaten the dish. While I have a small fan and usually open the back door while cooking, having a strong exhaust fan directly above the hob would prevent my living room chandelier from collecting grease a little better.

However, I am glad that I swapped out the previous induction cooker with a two burner hob on a custom cabinet with space for a decent size oven underneath. I find an oven indispensable to what I cook, and mine is big enough to roast a chicken, yet small enough for toast or tuna melts. It does the job of a toaster nicely, saving me from duplicating an appliance. Any decent home cook will tell you that gas beats electric hobs hands down; for Chinese cooking, there is an urban legend that gas keeps culinary creations hotter. It is also safer to use—once the flame is off, there is much less residual heat compared to electric or induction burners. I have melted plenty of plastic colanders in the past to truly appreciate this feature.

I am also very happy that I found a home for a quartet of vintage Portuguese tiles I bought home from a Lisbon trip. Being a devoted flea market junkie, I scored some beautiful ceramic tiles that must have been chipped off a demolished building. They became part of my backsplash where I’ve installed an open shelf and peg rail, hacked from DIY site A Beautiful Mess. My contractor Kenny had never installed this before, and we exchanged more than a dozen calls on the topic until I finally assured him that I take full responsibility if everything comes crumbling down. I love looking at these colourful tiles when I make coffee in the morning, and appreciate the extra space to keep my mugs, coffee beans and kettle organised within easy reach. Since we spend so much time standing in a kitchen prepping, having lovely features at eye level makes the work that much more enjoyable.