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The kitchen dilemma

"Happiness is a small house, with a big kitchen." Alfred Hitchcock

We are trying to find a new home. Our house is lovely and easy to manage - other than that it has too much stuff in it and we should seriously declutter. It isn't small - medium size by Australian standards, huge by British ones. However our massive block of land is really getting too hard to manage, and we have to drive to the shops. And one day we not be able to drive anymore. So we would like to downsize. How ordinary is that? Almost everyone we know is doing it. We want a one-level house near the shops in Eltham. That much is clear. The rest is a bit murky.

Eltham is hilly, so that's the first problem. Finding a piece of flat land. The main problem so far has been that most of the houses we have seen have been too good to knock down and start again, and not really good enough for our last days. You see we want to live somewhere really, really nice that we can enjoy. Not something that just passes muster. My son is a lot more ruthless of course and would knock down anything but we balk at this. I'm not sure why. Maybe because of the time it would take to rebuild with life running out in the meantime as it were. Maybe because it almost feels like destroying somebody's life, somebody's beloved home.

Throughout our lives our various homes have either been built or renovated to suit the stage of life at which we were, and also what we could afford of course. But I guess they have steadily improved until I now pretty much have the dream kitchen - and I know I have written about this before.

I love my kitchen. The major appliances were carefully chosen and the layout designed by myself after some disappointing encounters with professional kitchen designers. The cupboards and drawers are all Ikea with their absolutely magnificent capacity for arranging the interiors as you wish. And yes it is large. The kitchen bench is very large, although, as I have written about before, it seems to me that at least 3/4 of it has been taken over by my husband.

This post is more of a reflection on whether I should accept a backward step and go small again. Back to my origins of working on top of a tiny fridge. After all there are only two of us now and we rarely entertain, but nevertheless the kitchen is my happy place.

"Kitchens should be thought of as the centre of the house. They need above all space for talking, planning, bringing up children, sewing, having a meal, reading, sitting and thinking. One may have to walk about a bit, but where's the harm in that? Everything will not be ship-shape, galley-fashion, but it's in this kind of place that good food has flourished. It's from this secret retreat that the exploration of man's curious and close relationship with food, beyond the point of nourishment can start." Jane Grigson

Obviously I have passed the stage of life in the lovely drawing at the beginning of Jane Grigson's book Good Things, and some of the activities she describes are no longer valid - sewing? Other ones are now necessary - a charging station and room for a computer or at least an iPad for starters. An appliance shelf. What she is right about though is that the kitchen is the centre of the house, with maybe a study being the second most necessary these days, maybe even part of the kitchen. But the kitchen also should include the dining room and access to the outside and another dining place, plus a barbecue. A simple barbecue will do - it doesn't have to be the whole outdoor kitchen thing.

People gravitate to the kitchen - from youthful parties, to toddlers, and growing children. The first act of a child coming home from school, or work at a later stage, is to go to the fridge to see what there is to eat. And the fridge needs to be a decent size as it's equally as important as the pantry for storing food. So there needs to be room for people to gather without getting in the way of the cook. There needs to be plenty of room to store all the pots and pans, plates, dishes and gadgets, however few of those you may have. And cookbooks too.

Below is the kitchen of one house we saw at the weekend. This particular house is pretty near to what we want, but when you start to think about it in detail you see its limitations. Viz the kitchen.

The photographs of course make it look larger than it actually is but yes, there is enough working space - unless David takes it over - I can see him spreading over the lefthand portion, which leaves just the space under the window, some of which would need to be taken up by a draining board. And I now see there is no dishwasher, unless there is one in the laundry, although I remember that as being pretty small. So a rather small workspace, although admittedly because of the David spread I actually only use a rather small space now.

There is only one oven and it's a Miele which I do not like - they are very small, and the only Miele appliance we have ever owned was a disaster. I can't reach overhead cupboards very easily. The fridge is tiny and custom-made for the space. The pantry is also tiny and with deep shelves so that you would have to shuffle things around all the time. But the whole thing is rather beautiful, so how can one logically complain?

If I had seen this kitchen when I was young I would have been absolutely delighted. But I can't help feeling it's a backward step now and I would have to throw out a whole lot of stuff.

Well why not? Do I need it all? Of course not. "You need to question every single thing – few are worth the space they use," says Deborah Perelman. I actually threw out a whole lot of stuff when we did our kitchen renovation, but sure - I could certainly throw out some more. Some things get used very rarely, but when they do get used they are vital.

There are advantages to a small kitchen:

"cooking is less tiring when everything is within reaching distance." Mark Bitman

Well actually even in my large kitchen virtually everything is within easy reach, and actually I don't think that kitchen has everything easily to hand. I can see me building more cupboards in the family room it opens into to store stuff and so I would actually be walking further.

"It concentrates the mind. There are fewer things to turn into a disaster zone, and it doesn't take hours to clean – you have to tidy as you go, so you can use the same space for whatever's next." Shaun Hill

Well as I wrote in my piece on Washing Up, I already wash as I go anyway. And I doubt that anything will stop David covering empty surfaces with stuff. Me too to a lesser extent.

Nevertheless I feel I am being greedy and selfish at wanting a brand new spacious, light-filled house with a large kitchen at its heart. I cannot logically justify it and, it is very materialistic.

It's a dilemma.

"You start out playing in kitchens, and you end up playing in kitchens." Trisha Yearwood

Yes, I would like a large kitchen in which to play, with a computer nearby on which to write this blog, and bookshelves stacked with cookbooks. Lots of light and a seamless join to the small but perfect garden - that somebody else will look after!


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