...because home doesn't happen overnight.
I have fond memories of my mom cooking in the kitchen. She could quickly scan the contents of the fridge and pantry and whip up a homemade meal based on her inventory. When she bought groceries, she planned meals on the spot according to what was on sale that week. All with a smile on her face and four kids in tow. Sadly, I did not inherit my mom’s culinary skills.
These days I cook frequently and I’m actually a decent cook, but cooking didn’t come naturally and it wasn’t an innately joyful experience for me right from the start. However, over the years, I’ve come to enjoy it. (!) Here are a few things that make cooking more enjoyable for me.
Planning ahead. By 5:00 p.m. my brain is fried and my patience tank is nearly drained. It’s much easier for me to start dinner prep when I know what I’m making and when I have all ingredients on hand. Having to put meal prep on hold (or cancel it all together) to hunt down a missing ingredient is THE WORST. So once a week I glance at our family calendar, plan seven to eight dinners and make a grocery list. Every week is different. When things are running smoothly (rarely!), I plan an entire week of homemade meals. Other times, I pencil in Chipotle when Mabrey’s ballet class runs close to dinnertime. In my book, planning a meal out is still meal planning!
When it comes to grocery shopping, I like to tackle it the same day each week. For me, that’s Wednesday. The boys are in school, the stores are well stocked and I avoid the weekend crowd. (When I was working second shift as a pharmacist, I would shop for groceries at a 24-hour store once a week after my shift was over to avoid crowds and make it a kid-free errand.) If someone is sick or our schedule is unexpectedly thrown off and I’m not able to get to the store, there is a local grocer that offers curbside pickup. I put in an online order and Steve picks it up on his way home from work. The few times I’ve done this, it’s been a lifesaver.
For weeks when I anticipate total chaos (like when Steve is traveling and I’m flying solo), I set up a Blue Apron delivery. I’m able to select which meals I want to try and get fresh ingredients in exact proportions delivered right to my doorstep in a refrigerated box. Typically, I order two dinners from the family plan. It might not sound like much, but subtracting two dinners from my weekly meal planning helps tremendously. That’s two fewer meals I have to think about. Blue Apron is great for week-long vacations, too. (Just remember to change your delivery address before and after vacation!) I have it delivered to our destination at the beginning of vacation. It gives us a chance to get our bearings and hunt down a local grocer if necessary. I supplement with food I bring from home, and we always like to try out local restaurants as well.
Crowd-pleasers. Finding a meal that checks all the boxes for five people can be challenging, but, when I know I’m making something everyone will eat sans complaints, it makes my job more enjoyable. Oftentimes, I get stuck making the same things over and over. When I’m in a rut, I bust out Blue Apron recipes that I’ve tried in the past with success and recreate them with store-bought ingredients. I keep recipe cards of our favorite meals in a magazine file at the kitchen desk for reference, and sometimes I browse the online cookbook. To this day, our favorite family meal is the first one we tried!
The right tools. For me, that means quality over quantity. I’d rather invest in one really good, versatile piece that I use on a daily basis than a dozen meh things with very specific purposes that I use maybe once a year. Over the long run, buying this way usually costs less. I recently replaced a cheap, nonstick pan we bought over ten years ago. Ironically, everything stuck to the pan and I found myself mumbling four-letter words under my breath every time I used it. Cleanup was a disaster requiring extensive scrubbing even after a long soak. I invested in a Scanpan from Blue Apron’s market and, oh my word!, it’s a game changer. It produces flawless dippy eggs (a.k.a. eggs over easy) and is a cinch to clean. It’s also nice to know that a bunch of toxic chemicals aren’t leaching into our food.
Here are a few more kitchen items that I use on a regular basis which make cooking easier and more enjoyable for me: a gas range (so fast! so efficient!), non-drip oil and vinegar cruets (they also make great wedding and housewarming gifts), easily accessible spice jars, a wooden spoon rest (I broke no less than three ceramic ones before investing in a robust wooden one), coconut oil in a mason jar on an open shelf (I keep an oversize bulk jar in the cabinet and refill the mason jar as needed), stainless steel measuring spoons and cups, a vegetable knife (the 365+ knife line from IKEA is surprisingly awesome), a large cutting board and a multipurpose set of ramekins (I use them as ingredient, snack, dessert and dip bowls).
On a different note, I detest using a peeler. I grew up watching my mom and grandma peel fruit and veggies with a paring knife and that’s how I like to do it. Although, did you know the easiest way to peel ginger is with a spoon? That’s one of the many little tricks I’ve picked up from Blue Apron over the years.
A soundtrack. I enjoy cooking way more when I listen to music, podcasts, TED talks or NPR. Earlier this year, I added a small radio to a corner shelf in the kitchen and it makes me ridiculously happy. It’s become part of my cooking routine. Something about having music or an audio story playing, keeps the kids calm and interested, too, which is a nice bonus.
A tidy kitchen. When it comes to cooking, I like to start and end with a clean kitchen. Before I start prepping a meal, I quickly brainstorm my next moves so that I use the least amount of cookware possible. It should come as no surprise that many of my favorite meals to prepare are one pot recipes. (I love Blue Apron’s beef picadillo recipe just for this reason. I cheat and use microwavable rice.) I heard somewhere that the best cooks clean as they go. If that was the only criteria for culinary success, I’d maybe have a chance at becoming a world-renowned chef. Ha! When our bellies are full and the dishes are cleared and the dishwasher is humming along, now that’s my happy place. Top it off with a glass of wine and I’m on cloud nine.
Do you like cooking? Does it come to you naturally? What do you do to make it more enjoyable? Do you have a dedicated grocery shopping day? What is your favorite everyday cooking utensil? Any podcast recommendations? Also, I’ve been thinking about doing a little kitchen tour. You know, have a look in the drawers and cabinets to see how everything is laid out. Is that something you’d be interested in? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
If you’re new to Blue Apron, the first 25 readers can score two free meals on their first order by clicking here.
P.S. – An organized sink cabinet.
*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog.
images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking
We recently stayed at this amazing modern cabin in Lake Leelanau, Michigan. The home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms plus a powder room and is modestly sized. (If I had to guess, I’d say it’s roughly 1,800 square feet.) Immediately upon arrival, it felt airy and spacious thanks to numerous windows throughout, vaulted ceilings in the main living space and, of course, the innately uncluttered decor that typically comes with a vacation rental. Once we settled in, however, I noticed several space-saving tricks that weren’t as obvious. I thought I’d share them with you since many of the clever ideas could easily translate to a residential property. Here they are…
1. A built-in entry closet. The small entry is sandwiched between a powder room and exterior walls, leaving very little room for a legit closet. Recessed IKEA cabinet frames maximize storage space for outerwear, bags, sports equipment and other miscellaneous.
The top cabinet provides hanging space while the lower cabinet houses several drawers. Often times, the space below a hanging rod is underutilized, so I thought this setup was ingenious. In a real home, I could see the drawers being used to corral mail, parent-teacher communication and children’s homework. You could even designate a drawer for each child.
2. Loads of kitchen drawers. The kitchen occupies one wall. The owner opted for a trio of windows with lake views in lieu of upper cabinetry. (Duh.) The base cabinets open to reveal ample drawer space.
Shallow drawers are ideal for smaller items like silverware, cooking utensils, cutting boards and baking sheets. Deeper drawers are perfect for pots and pans.
A single pull-out below the sink provides hidden storage for trash and recycling bins and also houses dish soap, dishwasher detergent and extra trash bags. The lower drawer to the left of the trash is actually a drawer dishwasher hidden by a cover panel. The compact size allows for a separate drawer above which houses silverware and makes the task of unloading the dishwasher a breeze.
FYI – I mentioned my thoughts on having a trash pullout at the sink in this post, and my concerns were validated. The setup worked well for us when there was only one person in the kitchen, but we tend to clean up after meals together and prefer separate zones for trash/recycling and dishwashing. Otherwise, the person at the sink is constantly being asked to move out of the way. That’s just our preference.
Yes, this is an IKEA kitchen and, no, I didn’t know about it when I booked the place. I was so excited (and, quite honestly, surprised!) when I opened a cabinet and made the discovery. All the cabinet frames and drawers in the house are IKEA, even the bathroom vanities.
From a design standpoint, I liked the seamless look of the single panel fronts versus several individual drawer fronts. Opening one drawer to gain access to another drawer really wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be. Inside and out, the cabinets are tidy. The custom fronts are furniture grade plywood outfitted with raw brass pulls. I loved the warm, natural look. I also loved the owner’s decision to repeat the cabinet design in the bathrooms. It just made the entire house feel really cohesive.
3. A freestanding pantry. With no room for a walk-in pantry, a floor-to-ceiling pantry is an effective alternative.
Not only does it provide storage for dry goods, it houses dishes, bowls, glasses, mugs, serveware – even a slim refrigerator with bottom freezer! An open space above the refrigerator acts as a minibar out of kid reach. Note: There is no microwave in the house which perplexed us at first, but the only thing we missed it for was popping bagged popcorn.
Once again, drawers, drawers and more drawers glide in and out for easy access and loads of storage. The placement of dishes and serveware near the dishwasher facilitates dishwasher unloading.
4. A kitchen table. No dining room? No problem. A large table punctuated by a pair of oversized pendants takes the place of an island and acts as buffer between the kitchen and adjacent living room.
Reclaimed wood and an X-base are reminiscent of a farmhouse table, but the waterfall edge is a modern touch. A mix of vintage chairs lends a casual vibe. I loved the juxtaposition of the rustic table and chairs against some of the sleeker elements in the space.
5. A custom, low-slung media stand. An extra low media stand allows the flatscreen to reach just below the window line, allowing for uninterrupted views of the landscape.
The simple design raises the flatscreen to a comfortable viewing height and provides space for thin electronics and books.
6. A desk behind a sofa. Bringing in a console table is the knee-jerk reaction when considering the space behind a floating sofa, but what about a drop-leaf table that doubles as a desk? It’s an instant home workspace!
In a traditional setting, I could see it being used to pay bills, check email, work from home and tackle homework. It’s conducive to adults and children alike.
7. Nightstand alternatives. In moderately sized bedrooms, nightstands can crowd the room and eat up precious floor space. Floating shelves attached to an extra wide headboard are an effective option.
There’s just enough space for a glass of water, a candle, eyeglasses and nighttime reading material.
They’re great in children’s rooms, too! Forgo lamps and mount wall sconces on the headboard.
In one of the bedrooms there wasn’t quite enough room for shelves, so the owner brought in folding chairs to flank the bed. Bonus: The chairs can be used for extra seating in a pinch when company visits.
8. Pocket doors. Here, a pocket door separates a powder room from the hallway. When space is tight, everyday motions like opening a door can be cumbersome. In hallways or in doorways that adjoin two rooms where the space required to accommodate a swinging door is minimal or non-existent, consider installing a pocket door.
Another pocket door separates the master bathroom from the master bedroom.
I hope these ideas inspire you to think outside the box when coming up with space-saving solutions in your own home! Admittedly, there were so many great details in the cabin that I had a hard time condensing them into a readable post. (Still, here I am at 25+ photos and 1,000+ words. Are you still awake?!) I encourage you to go back through the images and make note of more features, like the simple trimwork, the flooring materials, the mirror-less powder room, the mirror at the end of the hallway, the freestanding soaker tub, the DIY platform beds (constructed of the same plywood found in the kitchen and bathrooms), the custom cabinet bases, the artwork and ALL. THE. CORNER. WINDOWS. What catches your eye?
P.S. – See more vacation houses here and here.
images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking
It seems the consensus is that you guys would like to continue seeing and reading about IKEA kitchens regardless of which cabinet line – AKURUM (previous) or SEKTION (current) – is featured. For that reason, I will continue to share the best of the bunch that come my way. Thanks for reading!
Obligatory preamble rambling: When we were renovating our kitchen, I searched high and low for any information I could find on IKEA kitchens. The results were few and far between. We did end up with an IKEA kitchen (which we love) but I’d like to shed more light on IKEA kitchen renovations from the perspective of other real life homeowners. It’s something I wish we would have had access to when we were considering IKEA for our own kitchen remodel. Plus, it’s fun to see how others use IKEA to suit their personal style and needs in the kitchen. I hope you find these posts helpful and inspiring – whether you ultimately end up with an IKEA kitchen or not. Enjoy!
Three years ago, Sarah and her husband, Drew, bought a 1902 fixer upper in Seattle. While they were impressed with the size of the kitchen, the finishes and layout left a lot to be desired. The red walls, orangey oak cabinets, pink countertops and peeling linoleum floor had to go, but the new homeowners didn’t have resources for a complete overhaul. Over the course of a week, they painted the walls and cabinets, added inexpensive hardware, applied marble contact paper to the countertops and installed wood lookalike peel-and-stick flooring. They affectionately referred to the mini makeover as their “stick on” kitchen. It bought them some time to live in the space and figure out what did (big windows!) and didn’t (angled stovetop + hood, peninsula) work. Two years later, they tackled a full-on remodel and utilized IKEA cabinet frames. I asked Sarah several questions about the project. See her answers and the incredible results below!
Which items in your kitchen hail from IKEA?
We bought the cabinets and hinges from IKEA. We sourced all other items elsewhere.
What made you decide to source these items from IKEA?
There were three things that sold us on IKEA: 1) The hinges are really high quality. Every time I go to IKEA I just want to open and close all the drawers. 2) All of the accessories fit perfectly! I know that seems minor, but I love that our utensil divider doesn’t jostle around in the drawer. The same goes for our pantry organizers. Once the cabinets are in, it’s so much easier to find/make the perfect place for everything. 3) We read so many great reviews. It seemed everyone who had installed an IKEA kitchen was happy with their decision. Most complaints were about the installation process, but we had planned to outsource that anyway.
Who designed your kitchen? What aesthetic were you aiming for?
We hired a designer to reconfigure the space and make sure all measurements were correct. She helped us determine the size of the island and ensured adequate space for traffic flow. (If I would’ve designed it alone, the island would’ve been way too big!) We chose all the finishes and fixtures ourselves. We wanted a kitchen that felt clean and modern but not totally out of place in our 1902 house. The shaker doors are timeless, but the way we used the subway tile to cover entire walls immediately spruced up the space.
Did you assemble and install all IKEA kitchen components yourself? If not, what did you seek help with?
We hired a contractor, NW Homeworks, who specializes in IKEA installations. They put together our shopping list and assembled and installed everything.
How did you customize your IKEA kitchen to suit your needs and preferred aesthetic?
We customized almost everything! The doors and drawer fronts are custom. We bought the sink, appliances, countertops and hardware from non-IKEA sources as well. When we bought our home, I wanted to remodel on day one, but I’m glad we waited. Two years later, we had a very specific idea of what we wanted. Our designer helped with the new layout, but we selected every detail of the design.
How long was it from design to the final product?
It took us about a month to complete the design. We went back and forth several times on the configuration of the room. We moved the sink, and once I wasn’t locked in by plumbing/gas lines, I wanted to try everything! From demo to completion, it took nine weeks.
How long have you lived with your IKEA kitchen? Have you encountered any problems?
We’ve lived with our new kitchen for six months, and, so far, we love it! It’s beautiful to come home to at the end of each day, and it’s just so functional. I know where everything is which makes cooking and cleaning up so much easier and quicker. It’s super efficient.
What is your favorite thing about your kitchen? Least favorite?
I love the new layout. We reconfigured the whole space which really made it more open and user-friendly. Originally, we were going to keep the same configuration because it was cheaper, but we realized that, once we got the layout right, it would be easy to update the space over time. If we ever decide to repaint the cabinets or replace the countertops, we can. By far, spending extra to get the layout right was the biggest and best decision we made.
The only thing I would do differently is nix the upper cabinet lighting. During the design process, I thought warm light streaming through the glass front cabinets would be so cozy, but I seldom remember to turn them on! I think I’ve turned them on twice.
I noticed there’s a microwave and wine fridge in the island. Would you mind sharing your thoughts on (the placement of) those appliances?
I hate the way microwaves look, but I’ve always missed their usefulness when we’ve gone without one. Putting the microwave in the island solved the eyesore problem. For the most part, it’s been great. Initially, it was annoying because the buttons aren’t at eye level, but, I learned the layout of the keypad and no longer have to squat down to look at the buttons and it’s totally fine.
We could probably do without the wine fridge, mostly because we weren’t able to find a great mid-grade option. There are cheap ones that are really loud and quiet ones that cost thousands but, at least in the size we needed, they’re weren’t any good quiet, affordable options. I drink sparkling water like it’s my job. It’s been nice for that, but it’s one of the least used items in the kitchen.
What’s behind the black pocket door?
The short answer: A powder room.
The long answer: The backstory on our house is actually pretty crazy. The Seattle housing market is nuts, especially if you are a first-time home buyer and have no idea what you’re doing. Prior to buying our house, we lived in a small apartment (only 600 square feet!) in Capitol Hill. We loved the neighborhood and wanted to stay close, but we were basically stuck choosing between small apartments or million dollar houses. When we came across affordable family homes, they would sell within 48 hours for well above asking price. Then our amazing realtor introduced us to a builder who had just bought the old house we live in now. The house was on a sizable lot, and the builder’s plan was to move it forward and build three townhouses in the backyard. The previous owners had added an addition to the back that would have to be removed to make room for the new townhouses. He offered us the house and we saw it as great opportunity to live in the Capitol Hill area while still gaining square footage and not overspending.
Looking back, it was an insane way to purchase a first house because it was so complicated. They literally picked up our house (with its 115-year-old chimney) moved it forward ten feet, poured a new foundation and then set the old house down on the new foundation. We would drive by when the house was in the air (for several weeks!) and just hold our breath. Thankfully, it worked out. The builder began moving the house in January, and we moved in by July. We got a new foundation out of the deal which is great for a house our age.
Most old Seattle houses don’t have a bathroom on the main floor which is why the previous owners had added on to the back of the house. (The addition contained a storage room and a full bath.) Since the builder had to remove that part of the house, he added a half bathroom accessed by a pocket door so we would have a bathroom on the main floor.
Would you recommend IKEA as a source for a kitchen remodel? If so, which items?
We can only speak for the cabinet frames, drawers and hinges, but, for those, we would highly recommend IKEA!
Would you consider IKEA for a future kitchen remodel?
Resources of note:
cabinets, drawers, hinges – IKEA
lower cabinet paint – Benjamin Moore wrought iron
upper cabinet paint – Benjamin Moore white dove
drawer fronts and doors – Unhinged Custom Doors
pendants – 8″ globe pendants, West Elm
pendant lightbulbs – Rolay 60W edison style vintage filament
tile – Daltile rittenhouse 3″ x 6″ subway tile, Home Depot
countertops – carrara grigio quartz
sink – Blanco precis super single bowl in cinder, Amazon
hardware – Pi square pull bar
paper roller – George and Willy
island counter – walnut butcher block, The Woodworkers’ Candy Store
fridge – Kenmore elite french door
stove – Kenmore pro dual fuel range
dishwasher – Bosch 500 series
microwave – LG (We have the same microwave and love it! – Dana)
Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your kitchen! It’s beautiful.
What a transformation! I think Sarah and Drew’s decision to get the floor plan right was smart and will prove to be a worthy investment in the long run. Nixing the angled stove/hood and opting for an island over a peninsula completely changed the way the space works and looks. Did you notice the addition of a window to form a trio of windows above the sink area? Who wouldn’t want to wash dishes with that view?! I love all the classic material choices. Even though it’s a tuxedo kitchen (dark lower cabinetry, white upper cabinetry), it feels timeless. My favorite design moment is the open shelving in the corner. It helps to break up all the upper cabinetry and built-in hood. Not to mention, it’s a clever spot for stashing cookbooks.
Want more inspiration? You can find an entire IKEA kitchen series by clicking the See Real IKEA Kitchens button in the side bar.
Do you have a project (big or small, IKEA or non-IKEA) that you would like to share with House*Tweaking readers? Email me at housetweaking (at) gmail (dot) com for consideration. Thanks in advance!
images: NW Homeworks