Thursday, September 27, 2007

Document Your Remodel

Kathy Price-Robinson of LA Times' Pardon My Dust has a great post on Photographing your remodel: It's for your own good.

Photography shouldn't just be utilized for Before and After pictures, but also for "During" pictures.

You should do shots of your project every day; documenting the entire remodeling process and progression of events.

You will find the images handy down the road when you need to remember where that plumbing pipe runs.

You will also thank your prescience should you have a disagreement with your contractor.

Either way, take the pictures and file them away.
You might even include them in the document package you pass on to a new owner.


Can a Kitchen be Big AND Green?

There's a post over at K+BB Green Are Big, Open Kitchens Green? that merits further comment:

Ellen Sturm Niz, K+BB editor, asks:

...Are big, open kitchen layouts environmentally friendly, and how so or how not?

I think the relative "greenness" of a kitchen has more to do with the products chosen and the people using the space than the size of the space...To a point: 500 sq. ft. kitchens are NEVER green, just ostentatious.

These are not times for conspicuous consumption, but instead for careful contemplation of our impact upon the earth.

Homeowners who employ green recycling can do so in any size kitchen.

Those who purchase Energy Star appliances may pay more at the outset, but the products will pay for themselves in energy savings over their lifetimes.

Here's hoping we can get back to appliance repair and renewal as a concept so that appliances can last for several lifetimes as they once did.

There was a time when everyone "made do" and repaired items in their households, and the Fixit Man's shop on Main Street was an integral part of every community.

I still see people happily using old Chambers ranges. Some products stand the test of time well.

The concept of throwaway appliances, computers, everything, is actually a fairly recent phenomenon. It is entirely possible to design and build such products that will last indefintely if repair parts are available and they still function well.

Aside from self-cleaning ovens and electronic ignition (which have been around for years now), what really sets apart a Chambers range from a Viking? Not much at all. Both are well made products that could conceivably last forever with good care and timely repair.


Why Is My Kitchen So Small and Cut Off?

Ellen Sturm Niz, K+BB editor, asks in her post Are Big, Open Kitchens Green?

While recently lamenting the cramped cooking quarters in my 1950’s New York City apartment, I wondered why designers in that post-war period wanted to close off the kitchen?

Early American kitchens were at the center of living in much smaller homes.

In homes of the wealthy, kitchens were the province of servants. As such they were built modestly, with pine and fir trim and beadboard walls.

In those days, it was the servants themselves who had the open kitchens in their own small homes or quarters.

Later, as the middle class rose in the Industrial Revolution and servants were no longer employed in most gracious homes, the woman of the house moved into the same kitchen her servants had occupied.

The Great Depression simply reinforced such customs.

The kitchen didn't change with the loss of servants, just the cook changed. And she served her family just as the servants had done before.

Post WWII saw a huge home building boom as soldiers returned from the war, married, and started families.

Builders continued building kitchens as they had for several generations, and women who had worked in the factories returned to their previous habits, albeit a little wiser.

The woman of the house was the only one who usually cooked, and the kitchen was still not considered a "public space", where entertaining took place. That designation was reserved for the living room and dining room. The kitchen, at most, hosted family breakfasts and children, or close friends and relatives.

There were some exceptions, like Frank Lloyd Wright and Joseph Eichler, who designed and built open kitchens. But for the masses the closed kitchen habit was hard to break. I wonder myself if it might have had to do with women wanting a "place of their own" in small houses.

As houses have grown in the last 15-20 years we have undergone a revolution in our thinking about kitchens and their place in our homes. The walls have come tumbling down, family rooms have been built, islands reign, and the kitchen has come out of the shadows.

We have come full-circle and the kitchen has been opened up and re-integrated into family living space.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NARI Remodeling Budget Worksheet

In my blog roaming tonight I came across a new blog called Kitchen Planning and Design, Not a lot there yet, but nicely done by a homeowner, Peter, blogging on his research for his own remodel.

Anyway, he pointed me to a new feature on the NARI web site:

A very handy Remodeling Budget Worksheet.



Monday, September 24, 2007

Milagu Vellam

You need
Pepper powder -1 tspn
Turmeric - a pinch
Buttermilk/beaten curd - 1 cup
Water -1/2 cup

Ghee - 1 tspn
Mustard seeds -1/2 tspn
Red chilly - 1 nos
Methi seeds -1/2 tspn
Curry leaves

Boil half cup water.
Add pepper powder,turmeric and salt.

When it boils and starts to thicken, add buttermilk/beaten curd. When the quanity of water is reduced by nearly half, you can add buttermilk. You need not wait till it becomes a thick paste.
The conistency required is watery.

When the mixture starts to froth on the top, remove from fire. You should be careful at this stage, if you let it boil more, the curd/buttermilk will get curdled.

Take a pan. Add ghee. You can subsitute gingely oil for ghee. Add mustard, red chilly,
methi seeds and curry leaves. Add the seasoning to the milagu vellam.

The word vellam means Water in malayalam and malayalam words are an integral part of Kerala Iyer lingua. As the name suggests, the consistency of the gravy is watery. This is usually prepared for dinner in my house during rainy days.

Very light and healthy milagu vellam can be eaten with hot rice, with pappads or any vegetable side dish as accompaniments.

Problem Kitchens & How to Fix Them II

There's a new K&B blog on the block called Kitchens & Baths 360, by Leslie Plummer Clagett, the editor of Woman's Day Publications Kitchens & Baths.

She is re-doing her own kitchen on the blog and has introduced us to the space with some photos and a floorplan (rough).

As soon as I saw the images I knew I had to reference them to my Problem Kitchens & How to Fix Them post below.

Leslie's kitchen has at least two of the problems mentioned in my post: Too many doors, and awkward bumps.

Her floorplan sketch just shows the kitchen, without showing the surrounding rooms, so I can't speculate on a solution now.

I'll email her and see if I can find out more.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Chena Arachukalakki (Yam coconut chutney)

Arachukalakki is basically a variant of chutney. The basic ingredients for any type of arachukalakki is coconut, green chilly, curd/buttermilk.The vegetable used may vary. Depending on the vegetable,some ingredients are added.

Now coming to chena arachukalakki you require the following ingredients

Chenai/Yam cubed - 100 gms
Grated coconut - 1 cup
Green chilly - 3 Nos
Pepper corn - 5 nos
Tamrind paste - 1 tspn
Ginger - 1 small pcs



Oil - 1 tspn
Mustard seeds - 1 tspn
Asofeotida - 1/2 tspn
Red chilly - 2nos
Buttermilk/Beaten curd - 1 cup

Grind all the ingredients in a mixer to a caorse paste.
Do seasoning and add to the grinded mixture.
Pour the buttermilk to the pan which is used for seasoning. No need to boil it.
Add the buttermilk to the mixture and mix well. Adding buttermilk to the hot pan enhances the taste.

Arachukalakki can be served as main dish with hot rice and papad. Mostly it is served as side dish with molukkootal as main dish.
Salt pickled mangoes or gooseberry can be used for arachukalakki. In that only the basic ingredients are needed. Salt can be added later if required, since salted mango/gooseberry is used.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Did I get this right?

I received this email today regarding yesterday's post on Problem Kitchens.
I figured I might as well bring it over to the blog to answer.
That way more than just Mads will benefit.

Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2007
From: Mads
Subject: Did I get this right?

Hello. I was impressed by your website/blog. I designed and built my kitchen myself. I kinda just felt things out and prayed I'd measured things right (it came down to the millimeter as I was not aware of how much space tiles and the respective glue could take up!) But everyone seems to love it. Since you are an actual kitchen expert, it would be nice if you could give me your impressions. Thanks in advance for your time!
PS If it ends up on your list of Kitschy Kitchens, its feedback all the same...

This kitchen looks European Mads. In the US we would have a bit less space between the countertop and the upper cabinets. Either that or you are an architect:>o
They seem to like that effect.

In this image we have the left leg of a U-shaped kitchen:

You have cut the depth of the base cabinets to allow room enough for the dishwasher, sink and range at the top of the U. That makes your best countertop a bit shallower, but still usable.

The countertop looks like teak, very nice to work on and well away from water and the range. That's a plus. Also inexpensive compared to other choices...Or is it concrete???

Your choice of simple white cabinet doors is good in a small space. You seem to have chosen all doors for simplicity. Another architect "thing".

Ordinarily I would frown on brilliantly colored tile on the backsplash (because it tends to jump forward), but the overall impression of these tiny mosaics visually recedes, so that's good.

Looks like you used LED (I hope) puck lighting under the cabinets. A good choice for energy efficiency, although the five scallops on the tile are a bit distracting. Fluorescent strip lights, behind a light valance, would have been a bit better choice I think.

The fridge, on the left in shadows, looks like you managed to recess it into the wall behind. Good idea! Floor space in a small kitchen is too precious to waste.

The microwave takes up a bit of your precious counter space. I would have placed it up in the wall cabinets, suspended under one of them. It's in the right location for functionality though.

I love the stainless??? trim at the back of the counter. Very nice.

That dishwasher looks mighty close to the corner. I imagine that was a concern when you were putting the whole thing together.

The next images are the top of the U.
Here's where you broke the rules and qualify for "Kitschy Kitchen" status.
On the left we have our dishwasher. It actually looks like it obstructs the door around the corner...Probably a trick of the camera. I would have recommended a white one to integrate better with the cabinets and not draw the eye to it. I've yet to see a kitchen where it makes sense to make the dishwasher a focal point.

The integrated stainless sink with drainboard is a good idea. But I would have placed it over to the left with the drainboard under the wall cabinets and the sink away from the range. Having the sink bowl right next to the range is not dangerous, but it certainly provides no room for staging prepared food for cooking. Placing the dishwasher on the right of the sink would have also solved the dishwasher in the corner issues. An end panel between the dishwasher and range would then have been necessary to support the counter.

The faucet is great, but over scale for the room.

The six burner range, looks to be 30" or thereabouts, is also overkill for the size of the room. A 24" model would have been more suitable.

The best thing on this wall is the FABULOUS HOOD with the asymmetrical extension.
It's great that you sacrificed upper cabinets in favor of this beauty.
I also love your dishrack and other hanging accessories, as well as the sculptural bowls so lovingly arranged on top of the hood.

The tile going way up the wall is also great. Looks like you have very high ceilings in the kitchen...nice.

Here we see the right leg of the U.
Unfortunately you have a pipe chase obstruction in the corner so you lose valuable counter space next to the range. It does look as though you have enough clearance that it is not unsafe.
Interesting. That tall window tilts open at the top.
Again the cabinets around the corner are shallow depth to provide as much space to the range sink area as possible. I see two tiny drawers there, under the window. Those seem to be the only drawers in the kitchen unless you built some behind the doors. I certainly HOPE you did!

This view is of the opposite wall, I assume.
Here you have created an eating counter and some storage above, neatly obscuring a radiator underneath.
It's also your coffee station.
Not much fun eating facing a wall, but you've made it as cheerful as possible.

Overall I'd say you took lemons and made lemonade (except for the sink next to range issue).
Did you remodel at all to achieve this overall space?
Or is it as it was?
Did you take "before" pictures?
After all the work, if you had it to do over again with unlimited funds; would you do anything different?


Looks like discussion of MAd's kitchen is getting around the blogs.

MAds has his own:

Post Recontruction. A Tale of Life in Italy

Laurie Burke comments on Kitchen Design Notes.



Crispy Masal Vada


Channa dhal - 1 cup
Finely chopped onions - 1 cup
Green chillies to your taste
A handful of chopped coriander leaves
Hing - 1/2 tsp
Ginger and Garlic - finely minced, 1 tblsp


1. Soak channa dal exactly for 1 hour and drain it.
2. Grind it without adding water. the mixture should be coarse.
3. Add rest of the ingredients and mix well.
4. Make small balls and flatten them.
5. Heat oil and deep fry the balls.

Eggless Banana nut muffins!

Well this is not my recipe. I got it from a blog. This is a no egg recipe. It came out beyond my expectations. Here is the link to the recipe.

Penne Pasta with Pesto and Sun dried tomatoes

The only sauce I like in italian food is Basil Pesto. It is easy to make or readily available in stores. The recipe for pesto is as follows:

  1. 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  2. 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  3. 1/2 cup olive oil
  4. 3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
  5. 3 garlic cloves, finely minced


1. Blend all the above ingredients together while slowly adding olive oil.
2. Process basil pesto till it forms a thick smooth paste.

Assembling everything together:

  1. Heat oil. Fry chopped onions and any other veges as you like.
  2. Sprinkle salt and pepper.
  3. Add store bought sun dried tomatoes.
  4. Cook pasta as per the directions.
  5. Toss in the fried veges, basil pesto and grated parmasan if needed.

Crusty Garlic Bread!

I bought a french baguette from an American store. Sliced it and brushed the slices with olive oil, salt, pepper, dried rosemary and minced garlic mixture. Popped it in the oven at 400 degree F for 8-10 minutes.

Yummy Veggie Puffs!

Store bought Puff Pastry sheets

For the stuffing:
Potato onion masala


1. Fry onions, add jeera, ginger garlic paste, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, coriander powder, garam masala powder. When the onions are cooked, add boiled smashed potatoes and finally add coriander leaves and mix everything well.

2. Thaw the pastry sheet for 10 minutes. Then stuff each sheet with the stuffing, fold it. Bake at 375 F for 20-25 minutes.

Hot puffs are ready to eat.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Problem Kitchens & How to Fix Them

I was just reading John Audette's The Sweet 16: Principles for Building a Successful Internet Business, where he delineates his principles for creating successful Internet-based businesses.

Not really much to do with kitchen design, you say? True, but his 16th principle, Convert Liabilities Into Assets, stirred me to bring the discussion over here.

Converting liabilities to assets is what the successful kitchen remodel is all about, especially the kind of projects I do day in and day out.

Most of my projects involve kitchens that are a "problem" for the homeowners...A problem they can't figure out how to solve themselves.

This is especially true working in a place (the San Francisco Bay Area) where home prices are very high, and communities "close in" were built out long ago. People buy homes that are less than perfect and call themselves lucky to have found something...anything to call home.

Anybody can easily figure out how to remodel a kitchen that is essentially good to begin with. But it takes a special kind of designer to solve the problems in a problem kitchen, and turn it into a good kitchen that will never be a problem again.

Let's examine some of the kinds of problem kitchens I am commonly presented.

Problem kitchens very often have too many doors and traffic patterns. Consequently there is not enough contiguous wall space to place cabinetry and appliances in such a way that traffic will flow around the cook(s).

Problem kitchens very often are situated BETWEEN heavily used rooms or areas in the home, making the kitchen, and particularly the prep/cooking areas, a traffic thoroughfare.

Problem kitchens have architectural protrusions: Chimneys, pipe chases, bulkheads, stairwells, and other rooms, often protrude awkwardly into older kitchens. This is often because kitchens in "better" 18th and early 19th century homes were used by servants, not family members, and therefore occupied the "leftover spaces" in the home. Other times the reason is just plain poor design or previous remodeling choices gone awry.

Problem kitchens do not relate well to the surrounding rooms or spaces in the home. Many homes were, and are to this day, built without much regard for the "flow" of traffic within, and in and out of, the home, or the principles of good design and architecture. Only a small percentage of homes are custom designed, most being tract homes. Some kitchens are just plain misplaced in the home. Some are correctly placed, but surrounding rooms and spaces are misplaced or even just used for the wrong purposes.

People who buy and live in such homes often think a new kitchen will solve their problems. But, truly, their problems cannot be solved just by planning a new kitchen within the existing parameters and space. Some changes, usually only achievable by remodeling, will have to be made. What kind of remodeling, and how extensive it needs to be, are all part of the design process in studios like mine around the world.

By looking at the BIG PICTURE, of the entire home, the rooms surrounding the kitchen, and the kitchen itself; designers present solutions to problem kitchens in new and creative ways. Ways that homeowners usually do not see themselves...It's a forest and trees thing.

A practiced designer's fresh eyes are often all a homeowner needs to set off on a project that will not only create a wonderful new kitchen, with all the attendant accoutrements, but also an altogether better home; where the rooms relate logically and traffic flows without impediment.

So, if your kitchen falls into one or more of the categories above, be prepared to spend more money. Because your project is going to be more complicated and expensive to correct that just installing new cabinets, countertops, flooring and appliances. Reconfiguring space in a home is always more expensive than not doing so. But the rewards of such a project are vast, for you and all the people who will occupy your home in the future.

Such a project will add intrinsic value to your home, making it far more desirable and livable than it has ever been before. A problem-correcting remodel is also the most likely project to ADD value to your home beyond the cost, since problem kitchens drag down the value of the homes they live in.

And there has never been a better time to embark on such a project (if you have the money stashed away or are able to get an equity loan). Quality contractors are unbusy and looking for work for the first time since the mid-'90's. Materials suppliers are sharpening their pencils and discounting to stay in business. Even designers (like me) are wondering where their next project will come from.

You can actually SAVE money.

What are you waiting for? The wealthy shouldn't be the only ones to benefit from difficult times. Your dream kitchen awaits.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Buying A Fixer

Just ran across a great blog post on 1912 Bungalow, by an obviously experienced DIYer, called "Buying A Fixer".

The advice is so sound and well phrased that I can only direct those of you contemplating such a purchase there to read it for yourselves.

Restoring a 1912 bungalow, and ALSO bringing it into the 21st Century at the same time, is a admirable thing to do for a young couple just starting out in life.

...And then there are the BAD days:

"September 2006
I publicly confess that I have resentful feelings towards the house for the first time. I think I used the word "hate." And, in certain moments I do hate the house. There, I said it again. We are at an odd point in our restoration experience. The honeymoon period with the house is definitely over."


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thiratipal in 7 minutes


400 grams condensed milk
1 tbsp thick curd
3 tsp ghee


1. Mix all the ingredients in a deep dish.
2. Microwave for 7-8 minutes stirring the mixture every 2 minutes. Keep an eye on the microwave to prevent condensed milk from overflowing.

Pistachio Cake in 10 minutes!

You need:

Dry powdered pistachio - 2 cups
Sugar - 1.5 cups
Ghee - 2 tbsp


1. Take sugar in a pan, add water just enough to coat the sugar. Make sugar syrup of 2 string consistency. It takes about 10 min on low medium flame.

2. Add powdered pistachio to the syrup, mix well. Add ghee. Switch off the stove. Pour the mixture immediately to a greased plate. Let it cool for a few minutes. Cut into shapes. Enjoy!!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stories from the Heart of the Land

A New Public Radio Series
Sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and VISA

Ask some of the country's best radio producers to tell their favorite stories about people and nature...and what do you get?

Stories from the Heart of the Land, a six-part radio series featuring intimate stories from around the world about the human connection to land and landscape. Jay Allison hosts this new series that ranges across the world — from Australia to Newfoundland, Mexico to Tibet, now airing nationwide on Public Radio nationwide.

The Kitchen Sisters present CRY ME A RIVER a portrait of three pioneering river activists — Mark DuBois, Ken Sleight and Katie Lee, and the daming of wild rivers in the west. The story explores some of the dramatic efforts to save wild rivers, the rise of the environmental movement, and the power of individuals to make a difference. Produced by Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva with Martha Ham and mixed by Jim McKee.

Also in the series
- Elizabeth Arnold went to the woods with grizzly bears.
- Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister stalked coqui frogs in Hawaii.
- Barrett Golding jumped on his bike.
- Scott Carrier walked with pilgrims around a mountain in Tibet.
- Jonathan Goldstein packed a tent and went camping, reluctantly.
- Sean Cole turned on his TV. Don't worry, it was a nature show.

In addition to the producers mentioned above, the series features contributions from Charles Bowden, Chris Brookes, Neenah Ellis, Ann Hepperman and Kara Oehler, Kelly McEvers, Bill McKibben, Jon Miller, Dean Olsher, Sandy Tolan and many others.

Links to listen
Learn more
Web exculsive interviews and images

Hidden Kitchens Texas Hour-long Special with Willie Nelson

An hour-long radio Special narrated by Willie Nelson, chronicles the Texas experience through food and the stories of people who find it, grow it, cook it, sell it, celebrate with it, and write about it. Check your local public radio station for broadcast times in your area or listen to Hidden Kitchens Texas online at

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Comment on the Kitchen Cabinet Ordering Process

Susan Serra, over at The Kitchen Designer, has a post on the kitchen cabinet ordering process that is worthy of review and further comment here:

Ordering cabinetry is part of the service provided by all kitchen designers who represent manufactured cabinetry lines and maintain showrooms.

As Susan details, it is a lengthy and time-consuming process to get from designed lines on a piece of paper to a finished kitchen with cabinets installed correctly, as the clients expect and the designer planned them to be.

There are myriad opportunities for mistakes or oversights to creep in.
Once the cabinet floorplan, elevations and order have been prepared, every eensy little change requires changes on the plan, elevations, specifications, and order as well.

Very few clients understand the ramifications of changes and how they effect a designer's work flow and time.

As an example:
A few years ago a client was talked into changing the carefully specified custom hood I had detailed for their kitchen. A salesperson at the appliance store told the client that she could save $2000 by ordering the $5000 custom hood a little differently. The change was not substantial, and the savings was; so the client assented to the change and saved her $2000.

Problem was, the customization of the hood that I had specified allowed the mouldings she wanted to work around it and the cabinet door on the right hand side of the hood to fully open without striking the hood.

As is my custom, I had also written a caveat on the drawings that ANY changes in appliance specifications were to be discussed with the designer.

Some months later, during installation, the problem became apparent when the contractor tried to install the hood and it would not fit. Needless to say, the contractor was upset.

The upshot? The appliance salesperson denied fault and the appliance store refused responsibility. The client ordered the $5000 hood I had originally specified and ATE the $3000 hood she had on site. The project was delayed for six weeks waiting for the custom hood to arrive.

This snafu also says something about saving money dealing with such things yourself rather than dealing with a full-service kitchen dealer that installs as well. But that's another story.

I no longer sell cabinets, instead preferring to provide design services only.
But I usually write the cabinet order myself. The cabinet dealer discounts the cabinets to compensate and more than pays for my time (It's a continuity of design issue). I also prepare all drawings and details to be submitted to the cabinet company with the order. Included on my plan set drawings is also a complete list of selected appliances and their specifications. Same goes for drawings of custom appliances like the aforementioned hood.

I ask the dealer who provides the cabinets to fax me the acknowledgement from the cabinet manufacturer (I do not charge for this service to make sure it gets done).
Then we BOTH go over it with a fine-toothed comb.

By checking and double-checking we almost never encounter mis-made cabinets due to errors in ordering or interpretation (I learned long ago to NEVER say never).
It is painstaking work like this that goes most of the way toward ensuring a trouble-free cabinet installation, and a finished kitchen on schedule and on budget.

As Susan has detailed, every conscientious designer goes through a similar process, of painstaking checking and double-checking, behind the scenes, between the time your cabinets are ordered and delivered.

Consumers can do their part by making their decisions and sticking with them after completion of the cabinet ordering process.

We designers try to make the whole process as easy on our clients as possible; by getting answers to decisions in a logical progression (decision builds on decision), and by taking care of the nuts and bolts behind the scenes.

It's the unglamorous part of what we do.

CAVEAT: Not all designers check acknowledgements from cabinet manufacturers. Only those who are afforded the time to do so by their employers do so. Many stores which provide cabinets skip this step and put the responsibility on the consumer instead.
If you want to ensure that you are dealing with a company or designer who does double check your cabinet order, ask to see the FIRST RECEIVED acknowledgement from the last order they delivered. If it is not covered with annotations and attached to subsequent copies with corrections, it has not been checked.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Kitchen enCountertops

Get with Green has a great post on countertop choices for kitchens with an analysis of the relative "green-ness" of each material.

Relative costs are also discussed.

Most consumers would think that concrete countertops are "inexpensive"...Not unless you make them yourself.

Great site BTW.


COUNTERTOPS: 12 materials to choose from…which are eco-friendly?