A super-efficient Japanese kitchen

Following up on my previous post, here's more about kitchens - this time about their layout and how they should function. The more time you have to spend in a kitchen, the more important this is. (Have you noticed that people with big, gorgeous, expensive kitchens tend not to actually cook a lot?)

It is rare to have the opportunity to start out with a totally blank slate. My dream of dreams is probably to have some big, open loft space to lay out a big, open kitchen precisely the way I want. However, the house we bought is an old stone one, part of it built in the mid 19th century, part of it probably even older, and there are load bearing walls everywhere that cannot be moved or taken down without a whole lot of work. So my kitchen space will not be big, open and wide, but be in one small room with rather odd angles (which will probably be the pantry) and part of the living-dining area. I don't mind it per se - we did go for this old house over a bland, square modern build because of its quirks after all.

So, I've been contemplating compact, efficient kitchen design. Japanese houses are mostly quite small (the average home of a family of 4 is 75 square meters, or about 810 square feet) so the kitchens are usually quite compact. I found the following video depicting one woman's use of a very efficient galley style kitchen to be fascinating. It's from a professional home organizing/interior design company, and I think she works for them. But the house and kitchen are her own, not demo models.

She has a typical galley style kitchen (equipment and cabinets along two facing walls, with a narrow space in between), though the smallness is relieved by the fact that it's open to the dining/living area. She has everything arranged for maximum efficiency, and only have the equipment she really uses. While it might be impossible to be as efficient as her for most people, including me, there are a lot of great pointers, especially for people with tiny kitchens. Here's what she shows in the video:

  • She uses eco-friendly cleaning products to keep the sink and countertop clean, put in attractive jars right in front of the sink; baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) in one, and vinegar with some dried herbs in it to make it smell nicer in another. She also puts her dishwashing detergent in attractive dispensers so they can be left out without being eyesores. (Well she says they are attractive. Personally I would use another dispenser, but that's personal taste ^_^)
  • Kitchen towels and sponges are hung up from a rail suspended above. She uses hand towels as kitchen towels rather than 'fukin' (small cloth kitchen wipes that are typical in Japanese homes), and every night before going to bed she wipes down her countertops with the towel and dumps it in the wash. She uses clips with hooks for the sponges. This way, she says, the sponges dry out very well, don't get smelly, and last longer - and also keep the sink area looking tidy. (The clips are from Muji (Mujirushi) she says. I have to find them!)
  • In the storage area under her cooktop she only stores her frying pans (the square ones are tamagoyaki pans, but she calls them frying pans too), plus pot lids, all easy to take out in one movement. She uses the frying pans the most so they are there. (Note she has no oven under there - this is typical for Japanese kitchens; usually people have combination microwave-convection ovens.)
  • In the drawer next to the cooktop she has a drawer for oil and ingredient (soy sauce, mirin, sake, etc.) she uses all the time while cooking. The front half has just the essential bottles she uses all the time, and the back part is used to store backup supplies of the same bottles that are in the front. She says she has pared down her bottle selection to just the ones she really uses, but it's still quite a lot!
  • Salt, sugar, and other flavoring ingredients are store in the cabinet on the opposite side, and cooking implements like spatulas and ladles are in the top drawer on the cooktop side. She can cook while everything is left open, so she can reach anything she needs instantly. She always puts ingredients that come in bags, like salt, sugar and flour, into glass jars so they are easy to take out and put back. (And also don't make a mess by tipping over and spilling!)
  • In the second drawer, she has table setting things, like coasters and chopstick rests. She also uses individual trays to put the things needed for every person's table setting. (This sounds like a good idea to me - individual trays for each person, to just carry as-is to the table.) She has all the dishes and bowls and things positioned so she can take anything out with one hand.
  • Around the 4:05 mark she shows she has some basic toiletry supplies there too. This is because they have a 3-story house, and she doesn't want to have to run up (or down - she doesn't say) to the bathroom to face her face and things before making breakfast. (Personally I have a hard time conteplating brushing my teeth in the kitchen...but to each his/her own. For her I'm sure it makes her life more efficient.) She also has medications there, plus aromatherapy supplies and a sewing kit.
  • She only uses two stainless steel bento boxes for her kid's bentos, plus silicone cups that are reusable, and can be used directly in a frying pan to cook in. This eliminates the need to buy and store disposable aluminum or paper cups.
  • Everything has its place; for instance she has a section for beverages (I can't see exactly what's there, but I guess things like tea bags, drink mixes etc.) The kitchen is arranged so that her child(ren) can use it easily and put things back properly too.
  • She has all of her dishes and things coordinated so they all go together. When she's serving friends (or her daughter is serving her friends) for instance, she'll put the all the courses on the coordinating plates, stacking each subsequent plate on the other one. When the meal is over the stacked plates can brought back to the kitchen easily.
  • She only has the bare minimum of eating utensils. Under the sink, she has her stock of pots and pans and bowls. She has her old conventional cleaning detergent bottles and things in the back, which she hasn't used since switching to cleaning with baking soda and vinegar, so she is probably going to get rid of the old cleaning stuff soon. She loves her stainless steel bowls, which all have matching covers so she can use them for storing leftovers or pre-made items in the fridge without bothering with plastic wrap and so on. (She loves her bowls, and the colander. The set she shows after the lidded bowl set is from a famous designer called Sori Yanagi. I covet that bowl set myself...)
  • Her fridge and freezer are also very organized. Note that she has a separate freezer next to her fullsize refrigerator despite the tight space of her kitchen, because she works full time and she finds that being able to make things in advance and have an ample freezer stock to be invaluable. (She stuck some masking tape on her fridge to camouflage the colored parts that didn't coordinate with the freezer.) In her fridge, she stores everything in glass jars or ziplock bags, prepared or cut up and ready to go, not just dumped in there. She has things like bread stocked in the freezer.
  • In her appliance chest, all the appliances plugged into the switched power strip have tags on the cords so she can identify them easily. She always switches off the power to appliances not in use to conserve energy.
  • Since she always marks the contents of her ziplock bags in magic marker, there's a marker stored in the drawer next to the freezer.

And in part 2, you can see her in action in her super-efficient kitchen. I won't go through all the details, but note how she unpacks her groceries right away and gets rid of all the extraneous packing material - that really explains why her refrigerator looks so empty and neat! She cuts up a whole cabbage and stores the parts she doesn't need for dinner in a ziplock bag, and puts the kimchi in a glass jar instead of just leaving it in the plastic container it came in. She uses just part of the pork belly and wraps up the rest for the freezer.

(I like that you can tell the video really is filmed at her house, because you can hear around the 6:40 when her child comes home and calls out "I'm home (tadaima), I'm going to the library to return a book" and she says back "Ok, but come right back!"

I really enjoy watching these kinds of organizing videos. I hope you did too, and if you know of any others let me know!

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