Monday, April 30, 2012

Kitchens (8 of 8): Cooktops and Ovens

At first glance it doesn’t seem that there is much to discuss regarding cooktops and ovens.  The only thing to consider is finding the one you like and all is done!  Not true. 

With all the advancements of technology and energy efficiency the basics of safety seem too often to be neglected.  This neglect begins at the manufacturing plant and continues through kitchen design and installation.

So let’s first consider the safety of the appliance itself.  When electric ranges were first developed they were made with a tall back panel that had all the knobs, etc.  Coming from an age of wood burning stoves this was a huge improvement.  But we are beyond that now and the appliance with the controls behind the burners is something that should be done away with entirely.  Scalding from bubbling and boiling pots and splatter from crisping bacon can be more easily avoided by selecting an appliance with the controls to the side or on the front.  This is available in both knobs and electronic touch panels so there is no excuse to select an archaic appliance with the controls in the most dangerous position.  Also the tall backsplash appliance is just hideous and should be shunned on aesthetics alone!

Now we can move on to other matters.  It should go without saying that the cooktop is a very hot place.  So naturally we want to place it right next to the wood pantry cabinet or wall.  YIKES!!!  I understand that some kitchens have been designed this way and it may be very costly to move the appliance to another, safer location.  Do not fret!  If you cannot move your appliance for whatever reason, then you should cover the adjacent combustible surface with something non-combustible (i.e. tile).  But let it be known that the cooktop, with its potential for fire, should be placed away from any vertical surface directly to either side.

Ovens are another concern to consider.  If your oven is part of your cooktop then the location is taken care of if you have placed your cooktop properly.  The main thing to consider when designing the location for your oven is landing surfaces.  When you are lugging a fully cooked 20 pound turkey, the last thing you want to do is test your physical prowess by traipsing to the other side of your kitchen to reach the nearest landing surface.  Modern design is to create a visually appealing place for your double ovens inside their own little niche.  Although this may look cool, you will be cursing your designer once Thanksgiving comes around.  So plan for immediate landing surfaces directly to the side of your ovens.  You will be a very happy and safe cook if you do.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kitchens (7 of 8): Microwaves

Microwaves have become a vital part of every kitchen.  Unfortunately they have been given little consideration in design.  This lack of good design is regarding the two most fundamental aspects of the microwave.  First is the potential for something very hot to be removed from the unit, like soup.  So naturally the best place for it is up high over a hot stove.  Ouch!  The microwave/hood is probably the worst and most dangerous appliance ever made.  Not only is the placement potentially hazardous, it also limits the use of your cooktop, making it difficult to reach the back burners, but also limiting the size of pots you can cook with since the bottom of the unit is lower than the cabinets on either side.

The best location for a microwave is around countertop height with a landing surface to the right of the unit.  This is because all microwaves are made with the hinge on the left side.  This is a highly used appliance – a little planning can make a big difference in creating a safe and well functioning kitchen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Kitchens (6 of 8): Sinks and Dishwashers

The sink is another heavily used fixture in the kitchen.  The ages have transformed the kitchen sink.  Originally, the sink was a single, large basin to which water was hauled to facilitate cleaning.  When plumbing was brought into the house the sink was divided and used to help prepare meals as well as clean.  Now one could wash and rinse.  The disposal improved this process as well, making it even easier to prepare meals.  The dishwasher changed the sink further by bringing back the single bowl since hand-washing was no longer necessary.  Further, the “prep” sink – a small, single bowl sink located away from the main sink, made meal preparation even easier and allowed for multiple cooks to work simultaneously.  Unlike other appliances and fixtures, there are very few rules regarding the sink.  Each person has their own preferences.

Dishwashers go hand-in-hand with sinks.  The biggest issue is to make sure you plan for the door in the open position.  I have seen kitchens with the dishwasher in the corner and the sink adjacent.  This does not allow anyone to stand in front of the sink and load the dishwasher.  OOPS!  That is not a mistake you want to discover after the kitchen is installed.  So find the sink that works well for you and don’t put the dishwasher in the corner.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kitchens (5 of 8): Refrigerator

Of all the fixtures and appliances in the kitchen, the refrigerator is one of the most used.  Not only is it vital for preparing meals, it is also heavily used by others in the household.  Inevitably someone will want to get a soda right when you are in the middle of preparing dinner.  For this reason the placement of the refrigerator should be (but often is not) at the outer edge of the kitchen.  It is most often placed against the wall furthest into the kitchen so anyone wanting to quickly grab a snack must shove and nudge their way through.  If the refrigerator is placed at the edge closest to the main access to the kitchen, then anyone needing a snack does not have to trek through the kitchen to get it.  Everyone is happier . . . unless mom says they are going to spoil their appetite.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kitchens (4 of 8): Work Surfaces

The kitchen is only as good as your ability to use it.  There have been many kitchens I have seen that look good but when you actually analyze how one would use it, they are very inadequate.  This is usually because there is not enough countertop area to prepare a meal, or if there is a decent amount of countertop space, it is in all the wrong places.

For a kitchen to truly function well there needs to be several areas of countertop throughout the kitchen.  One of the greatest errors I have seen is putting the cook surface right beside a wall or other barrier.  Not only does this create a fire hazard, it creates other risks of injury because a hot pan must be moved over other pots and pans to get to a landing surface.  This is also a problem if there is no landing surface near the oven (most often a problem with double ovens).  There should be landing surfaces (or countertop areas) adjacent to both sides of every cooktop and at least one directly to the side of ovens.  I have seen many ovens that are placed inside alcoves or other recesses creating a very appealing look.  When the kitchen is installed and completed, the homeowner loves the look . . . until they have to carry a 20 pound, fully cooked turkey from the oven while trying to avoid all the extra corners and walk to the other side of the kitchen to a countertop large enough to hold the oversized pan.  This usually results in copious amounts of ointment being applied to multiple burns.

Landing surfaces are crucial for each appliance and fixture.  At the sink it is more convenient to have a surface on each side to make clean-up easier.  The refrigerator should have a surface on the handle side.  This is a little more difficult to do with a side-by-side refrigerator, but should still have an area nearby (even directly across) so groceries can be more easily transferred to and from the refrigerator.  The microwave is often forgotten and should have an area adjacent similar to ovens.  More on microwaves will be discussed in a future post.

The long and short of landing surfaces is they should be present for every fixture in the kitchen and should be large enough to be useful.  Don’t scrimp on countertops.  You’ll be glad it’s there – at  least during Thanksgiving.