When designers discuss storage needs with their clients, there’s usually a reference made to finding a place for everything so countertops can be clear. That means no toasters, no coffeemakers, no blenders…no anything.
However, simply shoving those items behind closed doors or moving them to the basement or garage isn’t necessarily a solution, since they are likely to rarely be used, or seemingly lost forever.
Instead, designers are much more thoughtful about finding better ways to store kitchen items used every day, as well as those brought out for special occasions. Additionally, storage needn’t be entirely utilitarian, as many storage solutions can enhance the beauty of the space.
This month, Kitchen & Bath Design News asked designers to share thoughts and projects that highlight better ways to clear the counter.
In the 20 years that Heather Cleveland has been designing kitchens, she has found some clients aren’t always as confident in their kitchens as they could be, or would like to be. Oftentimes, she indicates their hesitation is related to inadequate storage.
“People feel like they should cook more, and they want to cook more,” says the owner/principal designer of Heather Cleveland Design Studio in Alameda, CA. “But they’re intimidated by cooking and by their cluttered kitchens, which have become landing places for so much stuff…books, mail, kids’ art projects, accessories they don’t need or use, etc. All of it needs to be cleared before they can start dinner, and they often end up calling DoorDash instead.”
To eliminate this scenario from occurring in her clients’ kitchens, Cleveland focuses on storage solutions that strike a balance between concealment and accessibility, i.e., items need to have a home, but they also need to be easy to put away and easy to access.
“We don’t want clients keeping items they use every day on their counters,” she says. “That means finding a place to store them that is convenient. It’s about finding the best of both worlds…counters are free of clutter, but people aren’t going to their garage to get the blender.”
For instance, not long ago, Cleveland met with a client who likes to bake with her young kids. However, she didn’t do it as much as she had hoped because her stand mixer was heavy and bulky, so the designer proposed locating the appliance in a base cabinet with a hydraulic lift.
“We eliminated the roadblock and presented her with a solution where she doesn’t have to ever lift her mixer,” she says.
For other clients, general storage was a concern. And because the homeowners are avid cooks who love to entertain, they have a lot of extras such as cookbooks, table linens and napkins.
“We doubled the size of the new kitchen by eliminating a wall, which housed their refrigerator and pantry,” she says. “But we couldn’t just move those items to the wall parallel to it because that was the front of their house, and it featured a giant window. That meant we had to be very thoughtful about storage so there wouldn’t be any wasted space.”
To accommodate table linens and napkins, the designer incorporated a built-in bench, which also doubles as seating for guests. Cookbooks are stored on open shelves next to the double ovens and in a base cabinet along the perimeter of the kitchen. The latter, thanks to a necessary support post, could have otherwise been wasted space.
“We took a problem and made it a design feature, while also gaining storage from something that could have been an eyesore,” she explains.
The oversized 12′-long island serves as a storage workhorse, with an array of organizational pullouts and an electronics’ charging drawer lined with felt, which is a ‘must-have’ for all of Cleveland’s designs.
“It’s prettier than having electronics charging on a countertop,” she says. “Tablets and phones are out of the way, easy to find and they don’t visually mar a beautiful kitchen.”
Glass-front upper cabinets make the kitchen visually lighter, which was important given the soffit that was necessary to accommodate ventilation. They also give the client a place to store colorful glasses and items brought home from travels.
Balancing function and aesthetics
When addressing storage in a kitchen renovation or new construction project, Montana Shrader, CID, M. Elliott Studio in Wimberley, TX, considers it from a functional as well as aesthetic aspect.
“A good kitchen should have both,” she says. “Functionally, it’s about finding a place for your things. For example, does a client have a pantry? Do they have a lot of appliances? I find that most clients don’t necessarily think about where they’re keeping things until we renovate. Then they realize that everything can have a place.
“We also want to consider decorative elements,” she continues. “People want to see certain items on display. In one recent renovation, our client had a lot of pitchers handed down from her mother, so we displayed them in a way that she sees them when she walks into her kitchen.”
For another recent renovation of a galley kitchen that lacked the customary storage-laden island, Shrader addressed functional storage via deeper-than-standard base cabinetry and a tall pantry for dry goods.
“Increasing the depth of the base cabinets to 30″ gives my client a lot more storage,” she explains. “Adding pullouts, which we prefer over shelves, or including drawers means items won’t get lost in the back.”
Since there wasn’t space for a walk-in pantry, Shrader included a tall cabinet, locating it next to the refrigerator.
“From an efficiency standpoint, it makes sense to put the refrigerator and pantry next to each other,” she says. “From an aesthetics standpoint, it also keeps the larger-mass items towards the back of the kitchen, which keeps the rest of the space open.”
With regard to visually appealing storage, Shrader specified custom blackened steel shelves and a glass-front cabinet.
“The steel shelves were a way to accommodate – and showcase – display items,” she says, noting her client’s love of salt and pepper shakers as well as large bowls and cast-iron cookware. “They also provide storage from a less-traditional standpoint of upper cabinets with two or three shelves. Stretching them the length of the wall turns storage into an architectural feature and adds a contemporary touch that grounds the space.
“We’re also located in the [Texas] Hill Country, which is known for steel, cedar and a lot of stone,” she continues. “Our clients were willing to be pushed by design, and the steel shelves – as well as the burgundy-colored cabinetry offset against the light teal ceramic tiles – add interest to the design.”
Including glass in one of the upper cabinets is another way that Shrader highlights decorative items. Being able to see what’s inside also encourages guests to be more self-sufficient.
“From the living room you can see through the steel shelves and into the kitchen where the glass-front cabinet becomes a feature element,” she explains. “I also feel that, when you put things behind glass, you invite guests to help themselves to things like cups and mugs. Also, the glass breaks up the monotony of solid upper cabinets everywhere.”
Jessica Davis, principal designer of JL Design in Nashville, TN, remembers watching the television show “Designing Women” in her youth. At the time, her impression of the characters was that they were merely decorators. As time passed and other shows – and specifically the HGTV network – were launched, she, as well as the general public, gained a greater realization that design was something much more.
“Years ago, the extent of knowledge about design didn’t go beyond the local hardware store or a homeowner’s builder,” she indicates. “People didn’t understand its value. But now they are seeing what others are doing. They’re realizing that interior design and space planning is a ‘thing,’ and there’s a boom of interest, understanding and knowledge around smarter solutions.”
One important smarter solution is related to storage and the role it plays in not only functionality, but also aesthetics.
“Kitchens look so much better when the counters aren’t completely covered,” she says. “We’re working with a client right now who, admittedly, has a really small kitchen, which makes storage particularly challenging. But it’s our job to help overcome those challenges, and to clear their counters of their toaster, blender, coffeemaker, knife block…and even cereal boxes.”
One of Davis’ go-to storage solutions in any kitchen is drawers, and lots of them.
“Drawers are huge…everybody wants them,” she says. “They make so much sense because they’re so functional and they keep everything organized.”
When outfitted with accessories, functionality is improved even more. Consider, for instance, inserts that stack spices so they can be readily identified and accessed, and organizers with slots that fit knives perfectly.
“People want a specific place for everything,” she says.
Drawers were the cabinet of choice in a recent new construction project where nearly every base cabinet was a bank of drawers. Those in the oversized island are of particular importance to the family because they have young children who can self-serve certain items.
“They store cups, bowls and plates in the island drawers so their kids can easily access them,” she explains.
This kitchen also has an abundance of glass-front cabinets as well as upper cabinets that extend to the ceiling. Both are often-requested design preferences that clients may initially choose because of aesthetics, but ultimately appreciate because of the extra storage they provide.
“I don’t necessarily see it as a trend because I don’t see that request going away anytime soon,” she says. “It’s a plus for storage because you’re gaining space. Along with this ‘trend’ is the introduction of glass at the top [level], which serves as decorative storage. However, even beyond this area, we’re seeing more glass. It’s very rare that I would design a kitchen without glass-front cabinets somewhere.”
The ultimate in storage solutions is a working pantry, often referred to in Davis’ area as a scullery or dirty kitchen. “We seldom design a new construction kitchen without a working pantry,” she says. “At the very least, it will have a prep sink and some type of refrigeration, either a small refrigerator or a beverage cooler. We’ll also include extra storage for pantry goods as well as small appliances and dishes that aren’t used as much.”
Square footage of a kitchen doesn’t necessarily dictate what storage amenities Meka B. Jones includes in the space.
“Whether a kitchen is tiny or large, the way in which we store things doesn’t necessarily change,” says the NCIDQ/interior designer with Copper Sky Design + Remodel in Atlanta, GA.
For her, it’s about taking advantage of every square inch. Often, that means big, deep drawers for pots and pans; rollouts behind doors; trash pullouts; blind corner pullouts; vertical tray storage, and specialized accessories for cutlery, knives and spices. She also loves the reinvention of yesteryear’s pantries and appliance garages.
“We have come full circle with pantry storage,” she says. “Long ago, butler’s pantries were a popular way to hide the ugly stuff. There was a shift in the mid ‘90s, with large McMansion homes and tiny closet-style pantries. Now we’re revisiting the concept of the large, walk-in pantry. Sometimes it’s just a pantry, but other times it’s a backup kitchen with a refrigerator and dishwasher, in addition to storage. I’ve been seeing more and more clients ask for a larger pantry, sometimes at the expense of their kitchen.”
Jones credits this pantry reimagination to current habits of her clients who tend to buy in bulk and need a place to store the excess.
Appliance garages are being reimagined, too. Rather than the corner cabinet with a tambour door, Jones creates hers from tall cabinetry that typically starts with a three-drawer base cabinet or a cabinet with rollout shelves. Appliances are stored at counter height with adjustable shelves above. Including an outlet means that, in theory, someone can use the appliance without ever moving it.
Maybe more importantly, it keeps counters free of clutter in spaces that are still trending towards open-concept rooms, i.e., rooms with few, if any, wall cabinets for storage.
“We still see people wanting to open up the walls,” she says. “That isn’t always possible since sometimes we do need wall cabinets. It’s a delicate balance between open and airy and having a place for everything.”
Jones’ storage-creating capabilities were put to the test in the recent renovation of a small, galley-style kitchen.
“I see massive kitchens all the time,” she says. “But with this kitchen, I was challenged to maximize storage, while also making the space pretty.”
Since she had to work within essentially the same size footprint, she looked up and incorporated cabinetry that reaches the ceiling. Those above the window are sheathed in white to lighten up the dark green cabinetry and blend into the wall, essentially allowing them to disappear.
To access the upper level, Jones included a library ladder that runs continuously around the room. Including a ‘parking spot’ at one end means it can stand straight up when needed.
“In bigger kitchens, upper-level storage is often decorative or for items that people don’t use often,” she says. “In this kitchen, we needed every square inch to be fully accessible.”
Many of the bells and whistles found in larger kitchens are also included here, such as spice, utensil and cutlery storage; vertical tray storage, and blind corner pullouts. She also added a recessed paper towel holder next to the sink. A disguised broom closet keeps cleaning supplies close by. Even the reinvented appliance garage and pantry make an appearance, with the latter being represented by tall pantry- style cabinetry. More unique storage can be found above the range, which is discreetly hidden with the ventilation hood. Both are tucked behind the surround and accessed via touch-latch hardware.
Useful and efficient storage
Jason Riemer, owner of Riemer Kitchens in Harrison, NY, works with a variety of clients who all have different storage needs. Some are young, first-time homebuyers who haven’t accumulated much and are moving out of apartments in New York City. Others are long-time homeowners who need to find a place for family heirlooms and may be renovating their kitchens for the second or third time.
“Each has a different vibe,” he says. “However, across the board we’re seeing a move towards a more contemporary feel in the kitchen. Surfaces are clean, and there isn’t anything on the countertop. Hiding things has become a priority, and finding creative ways to do that is an interesting part of the job.”
Items such as knife blocks and cooking utensil crocks are a thing of the past. Even cutting boards no longer have a home on the countertop. And although small appliances might remain, they are behind the closed doors of an appliance garage. Instead, drawers, doors with rollout shelves and pullout pantries have become the norm.
“We ensure there is ample drawer storage with organizational accessories so knives and utensils can go into them comfortably,” he says. “Even in smaller kitchens, where we might want to keep an open feel without a lot of wall cabinets, plates and bowls can be stored in drawers with peg systems so items don’t shift around. We’re also doing a lot more vertical storage in base cabinets and above refrigerators and tall cabinetry for cookie sheets, platters and cutting boards that can easily be reached by just grabbing a corner.”
A lot of these storage solutions can be found in a recent kitchen renovation where, although Riemer took down a wall to create a larger space, the designer still focused on creating useful and efficient storage.
For instance, the large island has an abundance of storage, including a four-drawer stack of cabinets that stores, among other items, placemats and napkins that can be readily accessed by people seated nearby. Riemer also included storage beneath the countertop overhang, which he indicates is ideal for less frequently used items.
Along the perimeter, he designed an intentionally decorative bar/coffee station with several glass-front wall cabinets above a petite countertop that is flanked by tall pantry cabinets with rollout shelves. Directly opposite, Riemer included several deep, wide drawers that flank the range. The top drawer is divided, with one half storing spices, the other half cooking utensils.
The refrigerator wall also features storage designed to serve as a mini office. Even the family dogs were considered, with food storage and a place for bowls planned out.
“Pets are always something we ask about…right after children!” he says.