The Process of Designing Our Farmhouse Kitchen – Some Questions I Asked Myself And Where I Chose “Style Over Practicality”

If you have ever stressed about your kitchen design and want to nail the coveted “practicality versus style” formula, then this post is for you (and know that you aren’t alone). In my recent book (which you should pick up if you are remodeling) I talk about asking yourself these questions before tackling a kitchen design, so I figured today I’d answer them myself. I kinda wish I had done this before, hilariously, because doing so I realized some things about us…here we go.

How Much Do You Truly Cook? And What Do You Make The Most?

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: #janstewary: how soup changed my life (& body)…really

This question is to basically help you figure out how high a priority different things in your kitchen should be in regards to space, storage, layout, and material choices. A big cook or a big baker requires more amenities, more easy-to-access serving pieces, more pots and pans, harder working (or very specific) surfaces, and for big entertainers, you might want full double ovens, a speed oven, and a larger 36″ fridge, for instance. If you cook once a week then you don’t need a 48″ range and don’t need to stress about how far away your pantry is from your counter. What you don’t want to happen (which still might) is to go through a kitchen renovation and realize that it’s not working for how often and what you cook. A great exercise is to go through an average week (with a partner if they are involved) and really notice what you NEED or better yet WILL USE FREQUENTLY versus what you just want. Think about how often you reached for something and where you wished something had been. Here it is for us:

  1. We make salads most days for lunch (thus the larger 30″ fridge column) full of tons of fresh produce. A lot of washing and chopping is involved. For this reason, we thought about where the sink was in relation to where I would want to chop, and how close the compost is. It’s not ironclad, I don’t HAVE to chop my veggies there but it was good to think about a day in my life and how I want to use the space. (I also don’t know where I’m going to want to be in this kitchen at different times of the day because I haven’t lived there, which is a disadvantage for sure).
  2. I cook an easy meal probably 3-4 nights a week. Usually involving a lot of chopping and stirring, then a more kid-friendly side for them. We are big seasonal grillers so we’ll likely cook on the bbq a couple of nights a week (which doesn’t exist yet because we don’t know where we’ll want to be grilling).
  3. We rarely bake (as of now). Not because it’s not wonderful to have baked goods, I’m just not good at “science” or “details”, and I’m SO MESSY/clumsy (making cookies with the kids is always a disaster), and if I’m being honest I don’t want baked goods around every day. If you are a big baker you are going to want a marble island, and well, I don’t know what else you need because I’m not a big baker :). As I write this it all feels so dumb and common sense, but it’s not I promise. You see all these kitchens in magazines and you might just say “let’s do that” but it might not be for you.

I will also say that Brian and I don’t need a super space-efficient kitchen for crazy fast meals. I actually don’t think that most families should prioritize this so much. The mountain house has the fridge off to the side (so we could have a prettier layout) and it has never once bothered us. Those layout necessities (like the triangle) are often not that big of a deal. I have put a fridge in the pantry before and it never once bothered the family. It’s literally 3 more feet, two steps, that’s it.

Do You Entertain A Lot?

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: all the what’s, why’s & how much’s of the portland kitchen 

Yes and No. The only time we entertain is when we have daytime outdoor casual family parties – i.e. Easter and the 4th of July. We do not have large formal dinner parties and I’m not sure we ever will. I get hosting anxiety when it comes to sit-down meals (unless you are a very, very close friend) but we have friends with kids over ALL THE TIME and I “make food” or we grill. I’m a homebody and prefer them to come to me and love nothing more than my close friends sitting at the island, sipping some wine with me while I throw together a soup. Rarely are there multiple courses. It’s more about casual gatherings with easy-to-make snacks and meals. This means we don’t need things like warming drawers, a 60″ range with different fancy tops, or a prep sink (one sink is enough). We could deprioritize that stuff in favor of other things.

If you entertain a lot you might want to be near everyone else so you don’t feel left out of the party (me!) so an open concept kitchen might suit you better. Or maybe you like quiet cooking time with a friend and want to shut off the visible mess (also me?) so no one can see. There are pros and cons to both, obviously.

Are There Often Multiple Cooks In The Kitchen?

photo by tessa neustadt | from: emily’s kitchen and dining room reveal

OMG LOOK AT THOSE BABIES!! I don’t know the answer to this! I enjoy being in the kitchen more than Brian and I cook with an apron, mocktail (or wine), and music – like it’s 1950. But he is far better at it than I am and does all the grilling or joins me. During lockdown, we would have our pod neighbor family over on Saturday nights. We took them “around the world” (Lake Arrowhead has no cuisine except “American” and pizza) so Brian and I would do 3-4 dishes from a specific country (Vietnam, Argentina, China) just to have a different flavor profile for our bored little tastebuds. It was SO MUCH FUN. We also had a lot of time on our hands on the weekends in the winter. Since then we haven’t really invited friends over to our rental house, so I’m not sure how our entertaining style will change in regards to us actually cooking real meals together. Why does this matter? Well, technically you might need more space if there are two people and you might want it to be a more open concept. You might want the stove burners more spread out, for instance, or dedicated prep space for each person. During these fun quarantined nights we realized that we wished that our island didn’t have a sink in the middle so that we had more space to spread out and not just each have 24″ on either side. Not a big deal, but again going through the motions of a week or two of your habits will help you make some decisions that only you can answer. If you have a smaller kitchen with less than 36″ clearance between counters, then stagger your major cooking areas – sink and stove so you aren’t in each other’s way the whole time. Also let me be clear, bumping bums with your partner while making homemade bolognese can also be an adorable flirty way to start a date night at home…

Do You Have Kids? Or Are you Planning On Having Kids Here?

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: keeping the good of last year: new family (and kid-only) activities

Ok. This involves way more follow-up questions and if you have lots of kids then these will be obvious to you, but if you don’t then this is what you need to consider:

  1. Put dedicated kid stuff low so they can reach it themselves (both food, snacks, and plates/cups).
  2. Frozen food is our friend – ample freezer space (or a garage freezer) will save you many nights. You can’t hoard fresh produce like you can frozen vegetables, so don’t deprioritize the freezer. Our freezer in Lake Arrowhead is smaller than we’d like and so for the farm, we have a 30″ wide fridge and a 24″ freezer column. If you go much bigger than that and things can get lost easily, btw.
  3. Unless you can handle a lot of maintenance or love patina (age), then really consider your island materials. Real stone is not for all of us and THAT’S OK. Quartz is great, and some porcelains are so pretty these days that even I’m fooled! Painted wood can chip, whereas stained wood will dent (which is less noticeable). You can see below what we chose and why, but don’t let that affect you – this is a strictly personal decision. Here is a post to help guide you.
  4. Think about dumb stuff like size and location of cereal box heights (allow at least 16″ on those reachable shelves), ample Tupperware storage (ooh, sexy), and again easy to access bowls, plates, and flatware. Make your life easier and put them in lower drawers, not upper cabinets.

We have two kids (almost 7 and 9!!) and that’s it, but since we both work from home (and don’t get a lot of takeout) it just feels like our kitchen gets so much use, and so much wear and tear. See below for what practical things we sacrificed in the name of style.

Will Your Island Be Used For Eating?

For us, only sometimes. This seems like a dumb question, but I see so many islands with either no overhang or only 2 counter stools at the end, opting for storage. We went through this issue when we chose our vintage furniture island (no overhang yet). But In order for people to gather around an island comfortably, you want a decent overhang (14″ at least). We are big on nightly dinners together, so no, we won’t be eating at the island because all of us facing the same way is not our preference (the people on the ends never see each other!). Brian loves to feel like he’s at a diner counter at all times so he’ll eat there for lunch (I’ll be in the sunroom) and I would imagine some breakfasts, as the kids eat much earlier than us, but not at night. Thus our cute 4-6 person homework area/family nook in the corner (really hoping that works as planned). Remember we have the sunroom as a dining room but for everyday nights this will be our eating nook.

ALSO, if four people are going to be eating at your island you likely don’t want a sink or range on it. Keep it clear for serving. Our island at the mountain house is solely for hanging out while cooking, maybe having chips and guac, but not actually dining. There are many times when someone has been sitting there and I’ve splashed them with rogue dishwater (accidentally). So if you plan on eating meals there then think about not putting a sink or stove and keeping it clear.

How Clear Do You Like Your Countertops? I.e. How Much Visual “Stuff” Can You Handle?

Very little for us. You might be surprised to know that I don’t love a lot of stuff on my counters on a day-to-day basis. We have a tray of everyday spices, a wooden bowl for onions/garlic, a basil plant, and a butter dish (we like room temp butter), but otherwise, I want it all hidden. If you are like me then consider an appliance garage (for a toaster, microwave, coffee maker, blender) or build those things into your pantry (like we are). Our kitchen in LA was so lovely, but it was on the smaller side and we had to have our coffee maker on the counter and it was just so messy every single day.

But I want art in my kitchen, pretty oils and spices, which is why we have two shelves flanking the range (which you’ll see next week). I just want them off the counter if that makes any sense. We are going to use your vertical space for those “moments”.

Where We Chose Practicality OR NOT

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: it’s finally here: the reveal of the mountain house kitchen

This is the biggest question that we all ANGUISH over when it comes to the kitchen. This didn’t use to be a thing – kitchens were at best utilitarian and warm, not the design center of the home. It’s like we’ve all been poisoned by seeing too many beautiful kitchens out there and now having a boring one feels like a missed opportunity. And it is if I’m being honest. But it’s such a personal decision as you are the only one using it. So we chose our stylish moments carefully, weighed the pros and cons endlessly and I hope we made the right decisions. But to be honest this kitchen might not be as practical as this mountain house. I think it’s just easier to make a more contemporary kitchen more practical than one that is designed to be more charming and old-world.

Let’s be clear, we would rarely if ever, choose an element that is ugly and practical. There are just too many great options out there that are both.

Where we chose style over practicality:

  1. Countertops – After months of indecisions (and starting with quartz), I just wanted real stone in this house. I love our quartz in our 1970s contemporary mountain house (above), but for an older, classic home we personally were willing to sacrifice some practicality for the organic pattern. We decided to only put it on the perimeter counters and we are comfortable with it aging. I hope.
  2. Vintage Island – Now, this does have a lot of functioning drawers so it’s practical in that sense (versus a freestanding table or just a shelf). The top of the table is wood and gorgeous and we didn’t want to cover it, but I am pretty concerned about how it’s going to age and what our wear and tear will do to it…and so is Brian. We are adding an overhang to it to match the wood, but does that mean our friends have to use coasters?!!!! Or will it be sealed so that it can be totally wipeable? If so, will it be shiny? The piece itself will be worth it, I KNOW IT, but I have concerns about how the top is going to age and if we will have to constantly maintain it. Maybe that’s something I’d actually like to do? Listen, if it bugs us we’ll put marble on top of it. The reason that we didn’t do that now was because there were no more slabs left (without a massive brown streak in the middle). But we can always put the honed granite on top if this wood drives us nuts.
  3. The Unlacquered Brass Faucets – We went with practical aged brass or polished nickel for the rest of the house, every other bathroom or mudroom, but for this kitchen, this gorgeous kitchen, I really really wanted patinated brass. Yes I will have to use the right soap and polish or it will tarnish and eventually have to be replaced (see this post where I demystify the unlacquered brass) but I feel confident this will be worth it.

Where we chose Practicality over Style:

  1. Cabinet Layout and Material – Not everyone agrees with this philosophy but I’d rather have stained wood that might dent than painted that might chip. We went with painted in the pantry but we are hoping that stained wood cabinetry in the kitchen won’t show the wear and tear as much. We obsessed over the cabinetry layout and functionality with Unique Kitchen & Baths so we feel very set that we have what we need (and some cute drawers mixed in :)).
  2. Lighting – We have four sources (sconces, art lights, pendants, and recessed), but the hardest one to put in stylistically were the recessed lights. They just aren’t my favorite in older homes, but we have learned like the rest of you that kitchens and baths need to be well lit simply for utility.
  3. We chose windows over upper cabinets (because we have the storage space in the pantry and the basement) and are putting electrical into the island for outlets.

So those are some of the considerations we applied to our kitchen design layout and if you are also renovating I hope these questions help you too. Stay tuned for the full design plan coming next week. xx

Opener Image Credit: Photo By Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: It’s Finally Here: The Reveal Of The Mountain House Kitchen

The post The Process of Designing Our Farmhouse Kitchen – Some Questions I Asked Myself And Where I Chose “Style Over Practicality” appeared first on Emily Henderson.