How I Made the World’s Tiniest, Most Awkward Kitchen Work

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When my husband and I saw our last apartment during an open house, we were beyond excited. Not only was it on one of the most charming streets in New York City, but it also had stairs — inside the unit! The bedroom and bathroom were upstairs, and the living room and kitchen were downstairs.

The apartment was a totally charming, wacky triangle shape — we had never seen anything like it. (It was an old firehouse that had been converted to apartments!) We just had to live in it!

It was after we got the keys, when we went back to measure, that I spotted a huge deal-breaker. At least, it would have been a deal breaker if I had noticed it the first time we were there.

(Image credit: Lisa Freedman)

I knew the kitchen was on the small side. And even though I’m a frequent cook, I was willing to overlook its size in order to have everything else the apartment offered. I was actually excited to be in a small kitchen because I thought it would make me a smarter cook.

That one deal-breaker, though? The oven door didn’t open all the way!

Remember when I said the apartment was a triangle? Well, the wall with the front door was angled in front of the oven and the freaking oven door could only be opened a third (a third!) of the way before hitting the wall.

There was a dishwasher under the sink, which opened all the way and made the whole thing even more maddening. The kitchen couldn’t even hold that many dishes, so a dishwasher was totally unnecessary! If the dishwasher had been nixed from the plans and the oven had just been swapped with the sink, the door would have been able to open! Argh!

But those things didn’t happen, so I was forced to get creative in that kitchen.

(Image credit: Corelyn Coates & Jennie Palluzzi)

How I Made the World’s Most Awkward Kitchen Work

1. I edited my kitchen gear.

The oven issue aside, the kitchen had just a few cabinets. Before we even moved in, I went through everything we owned and gave the stuff a heavy edit. Duplicates and stuff I hadn’t used in the last year got donated. Stuff that was sentimental but had no immediate use, well, that went into temporary storage at my parents’ house. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)

We only moved with the stuff we used and needed. Honestly, I found it cathartic and was happy to no longer have to dig through the boxes of icing tips in order to get to my round cake pans.

2. I stole counter space from my living room.

The counter space you see in the photo above is it. That was all the available space to work. There was obviously no room to add an island (again, the oven door didn’t even open!). I added a large wooden cutting board to the top of the stove, which I’d use when I needed prep space and take away when I needed the burners.

I also, wait for it, used my nearby coffee table. A lot. It’s where veggies got chopped, dough got mixed, and meat rested when it came out of the oven. It wasn’t ideal, but it was necessary.

3. I changed what I was cooking.

The oven situation meant I could no longer make casseroles or cookies (baking dishes and cookie sheets had to be seriously angled in order to make their way into the oven and I couldn’t have eggs sloshing around or cookie balls rolling off the tray). I started making more muffins and baked chicken in a deep baking dish. And I made lots of stovetop soups and chilis. We were managing just fine.

The worst part was just looking at new recipes and having to ultimately decide if it was something I could get into my oven — it usually wasn’t.

I was ready to move after the first year, but we ended up staying for two (moving is expensive and annoying!). Now we’re in a new apartment. It doesn’t have stairs and it’s not on the most adorable block, but the oven door does open all the way (I checked before we signed the lease!), so I’d call it an upgrade.

Someone else I know got an apartment before realizing it didn’t have a full-sized fridge! Has anything like this ever happened to you? Tell us in the comments.