The kitchen is a special sanctuary whether you're into gourmet cooking or not. It's a place where you can pig out in peace, guzzle chocolate milk right out of the carton and eat cold pizza while standing over the sink -- and the calories will never find you. It has most everything you need, too: running water, fire, ice, sharp implements, large work surfaces, comfort food, greens (for those guilty moments when fiber seems like a good idea), and lots of potential.
The kitchen can be a homework station, a craft corner, a cozy spot for a heart-to-heart, or your fortress of solitude when the going gets tough. These 10 tips will help introduce your trusty kitchen to the 21st century and give it a well-deserved facelift.
Aim for Countertop Couture
Your countertops are the little black dress of the kitchen. They're the first thing, besides the cabinets, that people see, and from a functional perspective, they take the most punishment. Put your money where your countertops are by investing in materials that will take some pounding and last at least until the kids head off to college. No countertop material is completely carefree, though. Look for countertop options that offer a good balance between style and function.
Clear the Decks
Clean and streamlined is in, and giving your kitchen an upscale, modern look is one way to make sure folks are paying more attention to your design flare and less to the condition of your oven. Stow your small appliances so you can finally see enough of your countertop space to justify the price you paid for it. Once you've eliminated the clutter, get things organized. This carries a huge benefit: If your kitchen looks like you never use it, there may be fewer untidy midnight pizza extravaganzas in your future -- who'd want to soil those gleaming surfaces?
Create a Recycling Center
Ever tuck a dirty aluminum can into the regular garbage because it was just too much of a hassle to rinse it out? Admit it: Green living can be hard. Now that you've confessed that you might occasionally fantasize about pitching spent batteries into the nearest trash can, we can dish about in-home recycling. Become a recycling expert by adding a dedicated recycling center to your kitchen redesign. It's the best way to obey the rules consistently and get rid of all the bags and bins cluttering your kitchen floor.
Make Your Sink a Pot Spa
Have you seen those faucet fixture commercials that make you think everyone worth knowing is living the good life in Tuscany? Well, you may not be able to live in a villa, transform your kids into adorable cherubs or give your home a makeover with a simple faucet swap, but you can make life easier on yourself.
Gooseneck faucets (or high-arc designs) make cleaning pots a lot easier, and if you're trying to work more efficiently by cooking meals ahead of time on your precious weekends it pays to make cleanup as easy as possible. Some of these babies turn off with a touch anywhere on the spout or handle, and a few include handy companion soap dispensers. Yeah, everyone is into replacing the countertops and large appliances, but don't underestimate the value of making the sink your friend.
Overhaul the Range
Is your stove so begrimed and encrusted with gunk that the idea of having someone haul it away has you smiling into your pot pie? Well, step into the modern age with a whiz-bang range that will give your kitchen an instant update and show your mother-in-law that you do know the difference between Fahrenheit and Celsius.
One of the biggest trends in stoves these days focuses on quick, energy-efficient food prep. The induction cooktop is getting a lot of press right now because it typically delivers the precise heating you'd expect from gas heat, but at a 60 percent energy savings. Convection and steam ovens are two options that offer energy savings and free you from the browning and baking limitations of a microwave while still preparing food fast. If you want special equipment refinements like an onboard grill, a proofing drawer or a built-in griddle for those game time quesadillas, there are mix and match ranges around for you, too.
Whoever said you can't have a flat screen in the thick of the action? You can put one on your boat, in your van and even take one camping. You can install one in your cozy kitchen, too. Sure, you can mount a harness and place a television under a cabinet or put a portable unit on top of the fridge, but why not go high tech and buy a built in?
A few years ago, a refrigerator came on the market with a 13-inch monitor built right into the door. Now that's ingenuity. While you're dicing onions, you can cry along with the folks on "Grey's Anatomy" or keep up with your "American Idol" favorites. Although that most popular model has been discontinued, the concept is way too cool to stay on the shelf for long. Start a write-in campaign. The kitchen is a prime spot for a bowling-with-milk-bottles Kinect game, or even an under the counter karaoke machine.
French Your Fridge
If you've ever crammed a large pizza box into your side-by-side refrigerator at such a steep angle that the toppings ended up at the bottom of the box, you've experienced firsthand the limitations of some refrigerator designs. There are always items that are too wide or big to fit comfortably. Enter the newest, très chic way to chill your foodstuffs: the French door refrigerator.
Remember those 1930s movies where the heroine opens a set of French doors and floats out to a picturesque patio, leaving a gaping opening you could fit a piano through? A French door design provides enough space for your cookie sheet, crudité platter or the brining goose your husband insists is the only way to cook a bird (Emeril said so). Because you'll often be opening only one door, there may be energy savings with this design, too -- and it can fit in spots where a full sized door just won't work. If you want a flexible, modern fridge design, this one's deserves a look.
Put Glass Fronts on your Cabinets (or Go Doorless)
Lose your modesty. Throw off the shackles of restraint and self-recrimination. Don't hide your foodstuffs behind dark, oppressive cabinet doors. Let the light in. Offer visitors a glimpse of the real you by putting glass fronts on your cabinets or opting for open shelving. Those expired boxes of holiday crackers and stress busting chocolate covered pretzels are badges of honor that celebrate your flawed but valiant spirit.
Make the Family Room a Prep Area
Open concept homes invite the kitchen into the parlor for live entertainment, conversation and some desperately needed extra space. If you've ever tried to bake batches of Christmas cookies in a conventional kitchen, you know that all's fair in love and baking. Prepped cookie sheets balanced on the microwave, cooling trays on top of the refrigerator and strips of parchment paper taped to the light fixtures will become a thing of the past when you have a big new area to call "The Kitchen (Phase II)".
Put in a Skylight
Your mother may have had a nice window in her kitchen, but you can do her one better by installing a skylight in yours. The natural light will make cooking so much more interesting. You'll be able to really see the dried and canned ingredients you're using in your recipes. It'll be an eye opener. You'll also have the benefit of a little slice of nature without the view of a weedy garden and a deck that desperately needs restaining -- just fluffy clouds and blue sky.
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