Kitchen Tour: Leela and Dave’s Tiny Bright Kitchen

updated May 24, 2019
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2011_3_24-leelakitchen023.jpgThis is my petite kitchen. After stepping into one dream kitchen after another in my work for this site, coming home to my tiny space can induce long sighs. What I’ve learned over time though is no matter how glam or un-glam your kitchen is, it’s the magic and creativity that goes on inside the kitchen that counts. And one day, I will thank my lucky stars for not having to use my floor as a work surface due to lack of counter space. Until then, join me for a tour!

My husband and I moved into our 500 square foot home in Portland, Oregon about a year ago. The place was ideal in many ways: great location, a huge garden, a porch and big windows, etc. The kitchen however, was not on the list of ‘ideals.’ Bummer. But we hunkered down and made the best with what we’ve got, pumping out simple and complex recipes most days. I love my kitchen because it surprises folks, they say things like, ‘You made 10 key lime pies for that baby shower in here?!’ That always makes me grin.

Painting the walls light gray and shelving white helps set the stage for our brightly colored homewares and makes the space feel light and open. Most of the items we use on a regular basis were picked up at markets or small shops around the world. I think this discongrous, “nothing matches” look works well for us, as we can always add, subtract to our collection, without spending too much or feeling attached to a certain style. This traveler/vintage store style also reminds us of where and when we got each precious little object. Our kitchen is where we share memories, cook meals together (tight squeeze for two people to be in there) and drum up ideas for the next trip!

10 Questions for Leela (and Her Kitchen)

1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
My cooking is inspired by peek-season ingredients and a whole lot of drooling over food blogs, namely The Kitchn! To me, there’s no greater pleasure than biting into the first asparagus of the season, blanched quickly then drizzled with olive oil and flake salt. Or slicing fresh strawberries into my morning oats — I think having grown up in Southern California, a land where everything is in season at all times (amazing and awesome in its own way!), makes me really celebrate nature’s own rhythm in the northern climes of Portland, Oregon where I now live.

2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
Pizza stone for crispy crusts, microplane for everyday zesting and nutmeg seasoning, petal pink Kitchen Aid mixer for impromptu chocolate cake making and my two best knives, by Furi — they are fantastic!

3. What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever cooked in this kitchen?
This past Fall, I cooked a vegetarian thanksgiving for 10. My Dad at my side, whipping up his infamous pumpkin chiffon pie with grand-marinier spiked chantilly cream, my husband sous-cheffing as I prepared a feast. On the menu was a chanterelle mushroom, hazelnut and ricotta crostata, corn bread stuffing, my Mom’s stunning raw cranberry and ginger relish, roasted green beans and oh yeah — special pancakes and coffee to fuel our cooking frenzy. This year, I’m determined to duck out of cooking duties, I’d love to go to a friend’s house or to Faith’s Thanksgiving dinner (look at what incredible a job she did!).

4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
There’s hardly enough room for one person to spread out with a few dishes going at once, let alone two or three like there frequently is. Thankfully, my friends and family are undaunted by the small space (or they don’t seem to sweat it too much in front of me). In a pinch, I use the floor as a surface for cooling hot pans of cookies or breads (practically the only good use of the easily-dirtied porcelain tiles). Great meals can come out of the most unassuming places.

5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently? [if renovated]
My husband Dave had the great idea to drill an Ikea wooden counter (used for a kitchen island in most cases) onto our existing tiny counter, and cut some of the cabinetry off of the shelving. This gave us more work area for prepping/chopping — and greatly transformed our almost no-counter situation.

6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
my collection of chopsticks, tea cups and spoons — I traveled all over the world and lugged these little items to use when I got back to the states. I’m reminded of our year spent in India, Vietnam and Turkey every time I sip chai from a tiffin cup, slurp pho with my chopsticks I haggled with a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh for and stir a pot of soup with a hand-carved wooden spoon from Istanbul. I love my treasures and recommend kitchen items as the best travel souvenir.

7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
One day, I’d love a big and dreamy open kitchen with tons of natural light where I can cook while hanging out with beloved friends and have lots of room to take pretty photos of my gourmand explorations. Also a garbage disposal and dishwasher are on my bucket list!

8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Crazed alchemist sorcerer. When I’m in the groove anything can happen. Also driven by seasonal ingredients, simply prepared.

9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
“It’s all in the details” — from my Dad. And a bit of biscuit wisdom from my Southern Mom: “Biscuits have to be both fluffy and crusty. If they’re all fluffy, they’re rolls in disguise.”

10. What are you cooking this week?
Tempeh tacos with lime crema, rhubarb grapefruit grunt, crunchy peanut slaw, big cesar salads, pistachio marmalade cake


• Kitchen Aid Mixer
• Stove: Kenmore (bought used off Craigslist)
• Fridge: Danby (bought used off Craigslist)
• dinner ware: vintage shops, thrift stores, estate sales, travels
• mason jars for storage: thrift stores
• aprons: Anthropologie, travels
• wooden counter top: Ikea
• knives: Furi
• ink painting: David Kilpatrick

Thank you so much for peeking into my kitchen!
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I love my aprons from all over the world! This polka-dotted number is from Seville, Spain. (Image credit: Apartment Therapy)