Eight years ago, Deborah Krasner designed her first kitchen.
Her family was converting a hay barn in southern Vermont into a house. Krasner, a food journalist and cookbook author, felt sure she had the savvy to create an efficient and stylish kitchen.It was only after the kitchen was complete that she began realizing her mistakes: The refrigerator and dishwasher could not be opened at the same time. The right side of the stove sat against the wall, affording little elbow room to the cook, and all the pot handles had to be turned inward.
"And this kitchen, which had been OK, suddenly became less than OK," says Krasner.
Her design errors prompted her to write her third book. Having authored "Celtic," a survey of home interiors from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and a cookbook, "From Celtic Hearths," Krasner combined her interests in food and homes to research and write "Kitchens for Cooks" (Viking Studio Books, $24.95).
She says while she had seen and read many kitchen books, none explained why kitchens are designed the way they are.
"I wanted to write a book that would help people to think about design, not just style," says Krasner. "I wanted to give home cooks a sense of why professional kitchens are the way they are."
At the heart of "Kitchens for Cooks" is an emphasis on zone-based cooking. In professional kitchens, Krasner says, preparation areas are divided into these zones to facilitate cooking and to accommodate more than one cook.
She divides her home kitchen into four zones: wet, dry, hot and cold. A wet zone, for example would be your sink area, where you wash and peel vegetables and wash dishes. Obviously, that's why dishwashers are always located right next to the sink.
Yet, under so many kitchen sinks, Krasner says, people store their cleaning supplies for the entire house. The only cleaners that need to be there are ones that pertain specifically to the kitchen, such as dishwashing liquid. Put the mops and buckets in a broom closet, she says, because the under-the-sink space can be better used for wet-zone utensils - colanders, a salad spinner and other such utensils.
In her own home, organizing the wet zone included things as simple as moving the coffeemaker from the other side of the room to the sink area. Until zoning her kitchen she had never realized the time wasted just by walking across the room to fill the coffee pot with water.
The dry zone includes dry food storage (pantry and cabinets) and food preparation areas. The hot zone includes the range and oven, as well as the microwave, toaster or any appliance that uses heat. This is where pots, pans, trivets, hand tools and the like should be stored.
The refrigerator and freezer are the center of the cold zone.
When she divided her own kitchen into these zones, Krasner says, it made food preparation and cooking much easier despite the kitchen's odd design flaws that had been initially built-in.
In the first part of "Kitchens for Cooks," Krasner explains the four zones, what belongs in each and how the zones may be placed in conjunction with one another so that food can go easily from cold to wet to dry to hot, etc.
She also discusses kitchen appliances, space planning and the pros and cons of different materials for cabinets, flooring and counters.
Of special interest to her is making kitchens comfortable according to the cook's height. The standardization of appliances in the 1940s is why standard countertops today continue to measure 36 inches high. But, as Krasner points out, cooks do not yet come in standard sizes.
In her own kitchen, she is quick to point out the things she did do right. She went without any overhead cabinets, eliminating storage space that people shorter than 5-foot-9 may have difficulty reaching. Instead, she uses an open shelf on the walls above countertops.
And while countertops may be standardized because of built-in appliances, islands do not have to be. In her home, the central island is 28 inches high - a perfect fit for her. She uses a stool to make herself taller when working at the other countertops.
If you cannot afford to build an island, she suggests buying a work table that fits your height. To find your correct counter height, Krasner suggests measuring the distance from the bend in your elbow to the floor. Subtract three inches to figure the best counter height for you.
The second part of "Kitchens for Cooks" features the kitchens of food professionals.
"I was looking for kitchens that were unconventional," she says, noting there are plenty of books highlighting kitchens that are simply beautiful. The kitchens in her book include those of cookbook authors, chefs and caterers.
Several photographs are shown of each kitchen and Krasner includes text to point out how each kitchen is suited to the cook and his cooking style. Some would be fantasy kitchens for most middle-income cooks; others are practical and inexpensive.
"The average cost of a kitchen renovation is between $20,000 and $30,000. I think that's a staggering number," Krasner says. "You can make a really pretty, functional kitchen for a whole lot less."
So, in the book, she also gives due time to discussing how to renovate a kitchen economically, where to cut corners and where not to.
"There are lots of choices involved in planning a kitchen, and you don't have to go high-end with every choice," she says.
In her research, Krasner began learning to identify common kitchen functions and problem areas, but, she says, "I never found anybody whose kitchen was designed as stupidly as mine."
Initially, she planned to redesign it when she finished the book.
"I thought I would turn around and renovate my kitchen, but I didn't," Krasner says, adding that decision was made partly because she has learned to live with the flaws and also because she's not spending as much time in the kitchen these days. Her family has agreed to a schedule so that her husband cooks two nights a week and each of her daughters - ages 9 and 13 - cook one night a week.
And the woman who's been the primary cook in the family for years couldn't be happier.
"It has completely changed my life," she says.