Thursday, February 13, 2014


If you've ever been to my house for a dinner party, you have surely heard me grouse about my kitchen's "One Great Fault". The original owners hired a fancy kitchen designer to help them plan it, but all I can say is, it must have been someone who never actually cooked. It was ever so pretty to look at, and had some really cool features -- like a warming drawer, and some hidden chopping blocks (so well hidden, in fact, that we didn't even discover them until years after moving in) -- but there was one little feature they somehow overlooked. Counter space! A fairly major oversight, in my opinion. Or, at least, I used to think so.

The other day I came across something in my Life Is Meals book of days, by James and Kay Salter, and it got me to thinkin'. It was from an essay called Jason Epstein's Kitchen, and it went like this:

In his own kitchen, there's a fireplace with a knee-high hearth, an upholstered armchair, and only about two or three feet of workspace on a butcher-block counter. The other couple of feet are taken up by an elaborate espresso machine. Doesn't he need more space than this to work? "No, the more space, the more mess you make," he says. The first rule is to clean up after yourself as you go. He's cooked dinners for as many as fifty people here without any problem.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, though I had been trying to "simplify" my life for about 20 years now, the one area I had never been very successful with was my kitchen life. Why? Because I kept thinking "If only I had a bigger kitchen" things would get easier, when in truth, all that ever got me was a whole lot more stuff!

It wasn't until we moved here, and I had to pare my kitchen down to the barest essentials, that I really started to hit my groove as a cook. It made me realize that simple techniques using basic tools, and a few of the freshest, best quality ingredients you can find, are usually the most delicious. It also made me much, much better about cleaning up as I went along, since there were no counters on which to pile things! Granted, it's almost impossible to give one of those fancy, multi-course dinner parties here (I don't care what Jason Epstein says!), but know what? To tell you the truth, I never really liked doing those in the first place, and now I have a legitimate excuse not to! I'm much more of a Mexican pot luck kind of gal, where everyone brings their own specialty to the party, then takes their pots and casseroles home with them when it's over!

Come to think of it, perhaps that is why I love this small house and my wee little studio so much. They've taught me to figure out just what is essential to my happiness, and to pare away everything else. I love magazines like Where Women Create, but more and more I am just overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that most of those women must corral and organize. I have come to realize that, if I did have an entire room just for my art stuff, I would probably spend more and more time shopping for and organizing my supplies, and less and less time actually making art! Luckily, I figured out early on that what I enjoy most is just sketching and painting, rather than collage and assemblage, so I was able to pull in the reins before I strayed too far down that path where you become obsessed with collecting papers and ephemera. If I'd had a larger studio, I might not have noticed until I had another mountain of stuff that never got used.

Sooooo, now I'm thinking that this kitchen re-do I'm being sucked into might be a golden opportunity to pare things down even further. I still have way too many serving pieces that almost never get used, and other things that are strictly for show. My goal is to keep only those things which are both beautiful and useful. Like my teapots, which never get put away, since they are always in use. I mean, seriously, is there anything more beautiful than a well-made teapot?


Teri H said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this! Amen to simplifying by going smaller!

Diane said...

Yes, smaller is in most cases probably better. I have to reign myself in with respect to art books and supplies. Somehow I can end up spending more time reading and buying than actually doing.

Corrine at said...

We live in a wee house too and still have too much. I have been spending the last two years whittling away like you and my studio is in my tiny office now and I love that it can only overflow a bit, and I am content to work in my 30x60 space. Love that orange in the kitchen. xox