I had always dreamt of a great spacious kitchen with an island in the center, vintage details, and room for family and friends to gather. What my boyfriend and I got when we moved into our Silver Lake, Los Angeles, apartment was an 81 square foot kitchen that was initially dingy, awkward, and challenging. Fortunately, we did get the vintage details, so we went to work creating a colorful, functional space.
Our 1917 studio is comprised of several small rooms, and Gregory and I transformed what had originally been the dining nook into our bedroom. Thus, the kitchen is located just off the bedroom, and we wanted to make it fun and colorful to complement the adjoining space. (You can see more pictures of our space on Apartment Therapy.)
Though 81 square feet in total, the kitchen is actually split into two rooms: a 35 square foot cooking area which contains the stove and sink, and a 46 square foot pantry which contains the fridge, ugly water heater (I'll spare you the images), and storage space. There wasn't a lot of built-in counter space or storage, so we added a kitchen cabinet which we found at a former vintage shop just down the street (R.I.P., Den of Antiquity).
Sadly, it remains a challenge for more than one person to work in the kitchen, and we have agreed to a "one cook at a time" rule to prevent accidents. However, the cabinet with its drop-down leaf does allow a second person to come in and help chop vegetables. We dream of being able to knock down the wall to create a single, more functional room, but as renters on a budget, we have to make do.
We also added shelving to hold more pantry items and small appliances. I love putting pantry goods in jars. It gives things a more cohesive look and I could gaze at all the pretty grains and legumes for ages. Having them in plain view also makes it easier to remember what we have and to get inspired.
In my big dream kitchen, I would own stacks and stacks of different dishes. Having limited space curbs this impulse, but I do keep a small variety, and if I add something new, I usually have to get rid of something old. The kitchen is never static. New recipes, tools, and ingredients can challenge our creativity and we're always looking for ways – often just small ones – to improve and optimize our space.
- What's your cooking style?
My cooking style has changed a lot in the past few years, and this kitchen is partly to blame – or thank. Previously, I focused on time-consuming dishes and almost always followed recipes. I was also mostly a baker. Nowadays, I am much more intuitive, cooking by feel and often without recipes. The awkward space and finicky oven often prevent me from doing anything too elaborate, but as a result I am more confident in my own abilities to whip up simple, flavorful meals. I also attribute this to the inspiration I get from farmers' market produce.
- What inspires your kitchen?
Farmers' markets, ethnic grocery stores, travel, vintage 1950s and 60s.
- What is your favorite tool or implement?
Vintage British cabinet, over-the-sink cutting board, Dutch oven, tongs, microplane zester, digital scale (too hard to pick just one!).
- Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
My dad has never given specific instructions or advice (he doesn't use recipes, either), but just watching him in the kitchen as a child taught me a lot. I often find myself remembering and trying to recreate the flavors he fed us.
- Biggest challenge in your kitchen:
Not being able to both work in the kitchen at the same time. We love cooking together, but it just doesn't work here. I can feel comfortable in a "cozy" space, but Gregory needs room to create. Oh, and the old, oddly placed electrical outlets have been known to make us curse.
- Biggest indulgence:
Good olive oil.
- Dream tool or splurge:
More dishes! A good quality oven would be nice, too. We can dream...
- What are you cooking this week?
Figs with ricotta and lavender honey, red quinoa and greens with garlic and ginger dressing, acorn noodles, ricotta pancakes with cherry tomatoes, chickpea and carrot burgers.
- What cookbook has inspired you the most?
Deborah Madison's Local Flavors and Alice Waters's Chez Panisse cookbooks.
- What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
Every Thanksgiving, I make desserts to take to Gregory's relatives. Last year, I made a pumpkin roll, apple spice tart, and pear ginger cake. Despite my frustrating oven, baking for family on Thanksgiving is always my favorite time to cook. I always think about my mom cooking at the same time in her kitchen in Texas, my ancestors, and the people who might have lived and cooked in my kitchen before me.
• AT Book Alert: Update on Gregory and Emily's Silver Lake Sanctuary (ATLA)
• Greg and Em's Silverlake Sanctuary (Smallest Coolest Apartments 2006)
• Gregory's Refreshed & Refreshing Home Office (Unplggd)
(All images: Emily Ho)