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Give Me the Wisdom to Change What I Cannot Accept.

3acb7ae28e0e66cc12e323e5a75f46f1Space and the design elements we place in it are inanimate.  We animate the elements in a space, or in a set of spaces.  We dictate placement, design elements do not.  We organize space; we don’t let constraints dictate the placement of elements, this is the very essence of what is known as “bad design”.  Certainly we have to practice design based on constraints, but we don’t have to constrain our thinking.

In my experience when things become increasingly complex, you’re moving away from a solution.  When things become simpler, you’re moving toward one.  This is true in life as well as kitchen planning, but let’s keep it, well, simple.

So, as for the “cool” interior fittings for cabinetry:  the wire gizmos, corner “solutions” and the vast majority of Rube Goldberg, better-mouse-trap, MacGyver claptrap?  These are NOT, in fact, solutions.  In most, if not all cases, the problems they solve are created by the designer in the first place.

As an example, let’s take two 24″ wide pantry cabinets 84″ tall.  

Make one nominally 24″ deep and fill it with wire “solutions” so you can “use” the space in the rear half of the cabinet.  Make the other nominally 14″ deep and use adjustable shelving of the simplest kind.

The 14″ deep unit will hold half again as much as the amount of food the 24″ deep unit will, or 150%.  

It will also cost about a third as much, or 35% of the cost of the 24″ deep unit.

So, if you’re going to line up the fronts of fridges, ovens etc with pantries, the best solution is to use the 14″ deep units:  pull them flush at the front and “waste” the space behind them.  Or you can put a jog in the wall and give the space to the room on the other side of it.  This works particularly well when a laundry or storage room is behind the kitchen and you need a bit more depth for the actual laundry equipment, so it’ll flush out with the cabinetry.

The wall is something many designers see as a constraint.  I believe it’s just another element to be placed as the designer sees fit.

The Proximity Principles include this concept:  Wide and shallow, good.  Narrow and deep, bad.  Narrow and deep require hardware solutions which translate to high cost. 

7f575f0c3aeda9709bbdde1341d3e32dSo, let’s move to one of my absolute favorites in the “pet peeve” category, the corner cabinetry “solution”.  Again, the term “solution” should NOT be allowed here.  Designing a kitchen with corners in it in the first place is what causes the problem.  So, here’s a thought:  rather than cause ourselves a problem and then have to develop a solution to solve it, how about we skip all that and just design a better kitchen in the first place? 

This would imply a set of developed principles which, in the process of their development, had cut through the complexity and organized a simpler, better way of designing products and planning the space in which to use them.

The corner of a kitchen is like a piece of fruit in a bottle that a monkey sees.  He reaches his hand into the bottle, grabs the fruit and then can’t pull his hand back out.  In this way, he creates his own problem.  The fruit is only beneficial if the monkey can access it.  He can see it, (as we can “see” the space in a “cabinetry corner”) but he can’t reach in and pull it out.  So there’s an instant conflict – instinctively he wants to grab the fruit, and having done so, cannot actually “use” it.

If you find yourself with a design problem, the solution, even though difficult to see, is always contained within it.  The solution, of course, is to turn the bottle upside down and let the fruit fall out of it.  As designers, we need to be smarter than the monkey – turn the “problem” upside down, inside out, or whatever works to let you see the inherent solution.

The list of worst strategies, in roughly descending order of their waste of space, is something like this:

1.    The corner drawer stack

a.    This is a set of extremely complex design + product elements which causes rectilinear drawer footprints to be contorted into bizarre “arrow-head” shapes, silly and useless sharply angled dust-collectors that pull out of a corner at a 45 degree angle to the 90 degree corner they “solve”.

2.    The so-called “magic corner”

a.    This allows one set of wire shelves on a very complex articulated pair of frames to pull directly out of a cabinet front adjacent to the corner, to pull behind it a second set of wire shelves so they can be accessed by the user. 

b.    A simple stack of drawers as wide as the cabinet front in question provides more and more easily used space than the wire shelves, and the articulated (read: complex) nature of the wire shelves and their frames are a mechanical disaster waiting to happen. 

c.    The front will mis-align with use, and the re-adjustment of it will be problematic in the unlikely event you can get someone to arrive to wrestle with a problem that was, yes, self-inflicted.

3.    The “lazy susan”

a.    A classic blunder – the round footprint leaves almost half of the space unused, and the fact of two shelves as opposed to four drawers reduces the efficiency of   utilization by a third.

b.    If there is no “barrel” enclosing the rotating portion of this strategy, the loss of stored items in the areas outside the circular footprint is at least annoying and at worst renders the unit inoperable.

4.    The blind corner

a.    This is the least offensive of the strategies.  If absolutely forced I’ve been known to use it – the simple use of a single shelf and a door to access it, gives use of the space for items that need to be stored but are rarely used.  This allows some sense to be made of the inconvenience in accessing the corner footprint:  you only have to do it so often.

b.    This is used when space constraints are brutal, and the need for the extra space is actual.

Sorry to say this and I suspect (again) this will sound harsh, but as long as an interior corner exists in a kitchen plan, the design isn’t finished.  


Pete WalkerMr. Walker is a nationally recognized professional  and has created functional and aesthetic modern living environments for more than 400 clients, in addition to having designed over 3000 kitchens in 33 years of professional practice.
He continues to develop the proximity | kitchensystem.   Pete is happy to take questions, comments and critique.  You can reach Pete through his email address: pete@proximitykitchen.com, or visit the website at www.proximitykitchen.com

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