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Comfort in the kitchen.


The kitchen, more than any other part of the house, should fit the owner like a glove, yet too often the fit's no better than that of an oven mitt. Whether large or small, 2 years or 20 years old, most kitchens have plenty of room left for personalized alterations. Little can compare to--or make using a kitchen more enjoyable than--customizing it to owner-specific needs.

The place to begin, as odd as it may seem, should be with a list of annoyances. People tend to plan kitchen dreams with wish lists, says Ed Dahlin, an innovative kitchen-design specialist in the Chicago suburb of West Dundee. "The trouble with such an approach is that they circumvent the root problems,' Dahlin says, "and end up with a new kitchen and the same old aggravations they had $30,000 ago.'

Better to begin with what you don't like, and chances are the solution will outdistance the expectation. One of Dahlin's clients wanted to cut a hole in the kitchen floor to vent heat generated by the refrigerator. Instead, Dahlin suggested mounting the refrigerator's compressor on the basement ceiling and running the wiring and tubing through a half-inch hole underneath the built-in refrigerator. This stratagem not only displaced the heat more efficiently and artfully but reduced the compressor noise as well--a windfall not even anticipated.

The working environment of a kitchen may become so familiar that inconveniences go by unnoticed-- which explains the advantage of using a kitchen first, as it is; analyzing it; and compiling an irritation list before reaching for the crowbar.

One couple solved the problem of spice-cluttered cooking surfaces by inverting a cabinet drawer inside the range hood. A brick chimney surrounding the range housed nothing more than a three-inch vent hose from the overhead fan. So a self-contained drawer was ordered with the other cabinetry, fitted with two dividers, and installed vertically inside the vacant hood. A double-action catch holds the spice drawer out of the way when not in use but allows it to drop down behind the range for finger-tip access.

Another recurring complaint levied against kitchens, and not unfairly, is their inadequate lighting. Perhaps the last place a person would think of installing lights would be inside the base cabinets. Yet darkness is a constant nuisance to people with deep shelves and blind corners; they wonder why the idea took so long to come on, once they see the light.

Closet light sets with bumper switches that activate when the door is opened can easily be installed in any cabinet by handy homeowners. Wiring is strung between cabinets along the upper inside edge, and power is drawn from a convenient wall socket or accessed through the basement.

Throughout the kitchen, supplemental lighting can brighten the user experience. E. Dahlin & Associates regularly installs recessed lighting above sinks and work spaces, as well as accent lighting inside cut-glass wall cabinetry. Rather than the fluorescent tubes typically used under wall cabinets, Dahlin & Associates prefers working with specially designed incandescent modules that can follow curved lines, require less space, and use dimmers. When walls are open, individual controls can be installed for each light bank. Linked to one master switch by the doorway, all lighting can then be killed in a single stroke on the way out--a nice final touch.

Lousy attitudes can help, of course, in the quest for convenience, but even more so when they're creatively negative. One disgruntled house cook did not like the usual "three-handed' chore of activating the disposal while handling the food item and water faucet simultaneously. So she had a foot switch for the disposal installed along the kick plate of the base cabinet under the sink. The momentary switch must be pushed to stay on. It is located just above toe level so it can't be kicked accidentally.

Occasionally, unorthodox modifications can turn a sour product sweet. Exposed brick adds a wonderful rustic contrast to some kitchens but, among other prerequisites, requires a foundation. Although face brick needs no such support, it tends to look artificial. An unconventional amalgamation has been to use brick veneer with real mortar in the joints for a natural appearance that can fool the best of the bricklayers.

Technology often brings home better answers. One family didn't like the "suburbia look' of formica counter tops, the "grout gutters' of tile, the "shop maintenance' required with butcher-block maple, or the price tag on granite that "leaves you gritting your teeth every time you look at it.' And in their case the granite required six unsightly joints. Avonite brought them the look of polished granite at a fraction of the price and without a seam in sight. The West Coast product, available through most major cities, runs $100 per lineal foot.

Sometimes simple new products, such as the latest nonchipping Silacron molded sinks, can increase the functional aesthetics of any kitchen. But the kitchen still has that ordinary look. Slight shifts away from the traditional --such as custom-coordinated hand-thrown stoneware bowls by Norstad Pottery in place of the kitchen, vegetable, or bar sink--often cost no more than the standard yet imprint the kitchen with a creative touch.

Then, too, some homeowners seek old-world craftsmanship for real-wood cabinetry that's not easily found in a nuclear age. Grabill Cabinet Company of Grabill, Indiana, works pride into its dovetail joints on hand-selected walnut stock. Solid brass knobs, self-closing drawers, beveled panels for the refrigerator and dishwasher fronts, concealed hinges, sculpted edge-molding for the counter--no detail is compromised. A little group of old ladies in back of the plant gives the individual pieces hand-rubbed finishes between gossip.

Finishing polish on a kitchen counts in a big way. Frequently the smallest details create the broadest gap between well-done kitchen decor and that which is chef-d'oeuvre. Rather than offering clients a choice of generic print selections, Dahlin develops individualized motifs to maintain the design character of the room. Elements from the working pattern are then woven into the curtain and wallpaper materials by interior fabricators. Other matching elements are picked up in the hand-painted counter and floor tiles that blend but are not simply duplicated. Dahlin's final stroke is coordinating the design of the china dinnerware with the rest of the decor. Now, if he could just work the pattern into oven mitts somehow.

Photo: The age-old problem of spices cluttering the cooking surface was solved in this kitchen by installing a cabinet drawer that pulls down from inside the range hood.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:tackle annoyances first when designing a kitchen
Author:McQuilkin, Robert
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1988
Previous Article:Golden oldies.
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