What makes a great kitchen? It's more than an abundance of natural light, gorgeous cabinets, and acres of marble (although those are very nice to have). A great kitchen works for you but also reflects your personal style. I love my Kitchen now, but I waited for 25 years to have the Kitchen of my dreams. Twenty-five years!
We’ve lived on three continents and made more international moves than I care to remember, but in each new place (most of which were rentals), we learned how to make every kitchen work and feel like us on a limited budget.
My main criteria for a kitchen are the following:
- Decent work surface. You've got to have somewhere to put that chopping board if you want to make anything, and counter space is critical. But here's the thing: it doesn't have to be in the Kitchen! We had a tiny galley kitchen (like touch-the-sides-while-standing-in-the-middle tiny). So, we ripped out the chipboard cabinets and installed some hacked IKEA shelving instead.
I used our Dining table next door as a workspace, and though not ideal, it meant that we could all gather round, and the boys could help with food prep. If you lack both counter space and a dining table (and I've been there, too), you can purchase a small rolling workstation with storage underneath that can pull double duty as a bar for parties! BTW: Both my boys are pretty decent cooks now, by the way—so silver linings.
- You need somewhere to stash pans, plates, and all the ingredients and utensils you need to cook. Your Kitchen will have some storage; the trick is to maximize and supplement! Investing in shelves, a rolling island, or hanging racks can make a big difference. We found a cheap chest of teak mid-century drawers in our small Menlo Park rental and stashed it in a corner.I bought a slab of pastry marble and plonked it on top, so it served as great storage, an additional work surface, and a cute way to hold small appliances. You've got to think outside the kitchen box and get creative to make it work sometimes.
- Assuming you have a working oven and stovetop, we can put those aside and focus on the sink. Our rentals mostly had those depressing stainless-steel versions from the 80s, but you can find plenty of good-looking, serviceable sinks and faucets The kitchen sink is the thing everyone uses multiple times daily, so of the three upgrades, I would start there. If you have a sad-sink situation, ask your landlord before changing it. Sometimes, they'll pitch in for replacements if you're willing to do the work. If that's still not an option, you can always focus on a lovely sink-side setup!
If you can’t renovate yet, take heart! As my friend Bruce always says, "Any kitchen with a decent cutting board, nice dish soap, and a clean sink is a good kitchen."
So, there you go.