I've lived in six apartments over the last decade, which means I've cleaned, set up, organized, decorated, and cooked in six different kitchens. Along the way I've also bought a lot of things to fill out or improve these kitchens (and my cooking) — things like tools, storage gear, and pretty little pieces to add punch to the space or make me not hate some otherwise unchangeable aspect of it.
Not every purchase was a raging success (in fact, I'm still scratching my head over some decisions), but a few have proven to be worth their weight in gold. Here are the best and worst things I've ever bought for my kitchen.
Just a note: While cookware, small electrics, and knives should most certainly make any list of the best things ever bought for the kitchen, they're so fundamental to cooking that I'm not including them here. Instead, I chose to focus on the smaller, didn't-know-how-much-I-needed-them things for this list.
However, if you are interested in learning more about the best and worst things to buy (or register for!) on the cookware and tabletop side of things, check out these posts, which delve into those topics in more detail:
The Best Things I've Bought for My Kitchen
1. Epicurean cutting boards
Five years ago, on a whim, I bought two Epicurean cutting boards. In case you're new to this brand, Epicurean's boards are made from densely packed wood fibers (from recycled paper or cardboard) that have been pressed with a food-safe resin. The result is a solid and — as I now know from experience — extremely hard-wearing and durable cutting board.
I love these boards. I have other cutting boards: a bamboo board, a wooden board from IKEA, even a large, heavy John Boos chopping block (which has developed a crack, despite my meticulous care — what gives, John Boos?), and yet my favorite boards are these Epicurean ones. They're thin and lightweight, amazingly easy to clean and maintain (no oiling required, and you can put them in the dishwasher, although I usually hand-wash mine), and seem impervious to stains and smells.
Mine have developed a lovely patina over the years, too. I've never had any issues with flaking or chipping, and the knife scratch marks, which actually took a long time to be develop, now give the board a lovely, lived-in look. Best boards ever.
Buy it → Epicurean Kitchen Series Cutting Board in Nutmeg, $11.95 - $34.95 on Amazon (similar to the one I have)
2. Glasslock storage containers
Like Faith, I adore my Glasslock storage containers. I started with the 18-piece set a few years ago, and have added on individual pieces since then as I've needed them. I use them everywhere — the fridge, the freezer, the pantry. The lids (still) have a super-tight seal, the glass is thick and heavy (I've never had one chip), and the square and rectangular shapes make them easy to stack and store.
Given how long I've had these, how much they are in constant use, and how well they've held up so far, they were truly well-worth the initial investment.
Buy them → Glasslock 18-Piece Assorted Oven Safe Container Set, $39.99 at Amazon
3. A heavy-duty dish rack
Three years ago I lived in an apartment without a dishwasher, and so relied very heavily on my dish rack. I tended to wash dishes in big loads, and then pile everything in precarious piles on the dish rack to dry. Needless to say, most dish racks couldn't take the pressure. Finally, I stopped wasting money replacing these cheap wooden dish racks with more cheap dish racks, and decided to splurge once and for all on the Mercedes of dish racks. It was large, super sturdy, and easy on the eyes — a plus since I kept it out on the countertop at all times.
Splurging on a dish rack may seem like a silly way to spend money, but that's exactly why it was worth it to me. It's kind of my purchasing motto: If I know I'm going to use something every single day, and sometimes multiple times a day, I'm willing to spend a little more to make sure it's well-designed, well-built, and durable.
The dish rack model I got at the time (bamboo, now discontinued) took a beating for three years and was almost perfect. At some point the drip spout broke off, but since these dish racks have a five-year warranty, simplehuman replaced it for me with their newest steel-frame version. Amazing. I'm still a fan.
4. The RÅSKOG cart from IKEA
Okay, so this is cheating just a little bit, because I didn't buy this cart for my kitchen. I'd initially bought it for the bathroom, but when it didn't quite work there, I rolled it on down to the kitchen, where to my delight, I discovered it fit perfectly underneath my kitchen island. Now I use it to store the pantry staples I keep in small jars (dried fruit, seeds, some nuts), onions, potatoes, and my tea towels and dish cloths.
RÅSKOG, you are a wonder.
5. Clamp lamps
The island in my current kitchen (also a rental) had a sad, dim overhead light right above it, and no other lighting options around it. Since it was going to be our primary work space, I knew we needed to have some kind of spot lighting. Enter the RANARP wall clamps from IKEA.
They were easy to install, they look good, and most importantly, they actually provide quite a bit of light for that island! It's made cooking in this kitchen so much more enjoyable. I appreciate that it's not a permanent solution, too. I can take these clamp lamps off the wall and with me into the next apartment!
The Worst Things I've Bought for My Kitchen
1. A bunch of frames to cover the backsplash.
In an old rental kitchen of mine years ago, I decided to buy a bunch of photo frames and cover the backsplash with them. How cool! How interesting! How greasy. How smudgy. How not pretty after a while.
Now, I'm the first person to say that people unnecessarily freak out about things stored in the greaseway behind the stove. If you store things there that you actually use all the time — utensils that get washed frequently, for example — it's not a big deal. A backsplash full of glass frames that are a magnet for spots, drips, and streaks from a sink full of dirty water and stove splatters is another story entirely.
This was money wasted and a lesson in frustration. It'd have been better to leave the backsplash blank, or at least paint it with a scrubbable paint if I really wanted to do something fun with it.
2. Non-adhesive shelf/drawer liners.
I loved the idea of this non-adhesive shelf liner. It had great reviews and, since I'm fairly non-crafty, I didn't want to make a big project out of cutting and pasting liners into my kitchen drawers.
It was great at the start. My drawers looked neat and organized, and I thought the liner's tacky nature, despite not having any adhesive, would be enough to keep it in place. But alas, after opening and closing the drawers countless times (as one does every day in the kitchen!) the liner rolled around, shifted, curled up, and just became a general mess. I ended up pulling them all out and shoving them in the back of a cabinet for some other project they might be better suited for.
I would have been way better off going with adhesive Con-Tact paper and doing the project right from the start.
3. Dark blue carpet tiles for the kitchen.
One of my rental kitchen floor solutions a few years ago was to buy 10 FLOR carpet tiles to cover the ugly linoleum I was dealing with. I thought they'd be durable and easy to clean, as I know FLOR carpet tiles usually are.
The problem started when I bought the tiles in dark blue (the color on sale). However, dark colors on the floor have a tendency to show everything — every crumb, every water drop, every piece of lint. I'd spot treat and vacuum the tiles, but they — and thus, my kitchen floor — never really looked clean.
It was impossible upkeep. I still wanted to cover up that floor, but I'd have been better off going with a more forgiving color or pattern, or else a smaller, machine-washable rug, or a polypropylene rug I could hose off.
What about you? What are the best and worst things you've ever bought for your kitchen?