A family whips up smart ideas worthy of a chef’s cook space
Project: Transform a galley kitchen in a pre-war apartment into a functional space
Before: Since galley kitchens are, by definition, usually small and narrow, renovators typically decide to open up the layout as much as possible when remodeling—whether it involves partially removing a wall or creating a passthrough. However, Daniel, a Culinary Director at Serious Eats and his wife, Kate (a director at VICE) decided to buck the trend and embrace their floor plan, updating it to make it a true chef’s kitchen.
There were some very visible problems that had to be addressed. The kitchen’s floor tiles had developed corrosive stains over time that could not be scrubbed clean, the cabinets extended to a generic height that wasted space, and some unfortunate layout decisions positioned an old, hulking fridge at the entryway. Worse, the fridge and stove footprints forced the right side of the galley into three abridged sections that were not useful for real food prep. On the other side, plumbing risers in the wall pushed one section of cabinetry out by a few inches, creating an odd corner in the middle of the countertop and adding a few inches of cabinet bulk right at eye level above the sink.
Design flaws aside, the room felt claustrophobic, so most visitors assumed that the problem was with the galley itself. Common in pre-war apartments, the dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room could conceivably have come down, and everyone asked about it. But Daniel and Kate found themselves advocating for preservation as the galley began to play a central role in their big-picture decision-making. Ultimately, Daniel felt really comfortable in a galley: It was like a residential approximation of a commercial restaurant line. Rather than lamenting its limits, he saw it as a pro’s set-up. Wherever you’re standing, everything is within reach!
Daniel and Kate turned to Sweeten, a free service that connects renovating homeowners with vetted general contractors, for help in finding a design and build firm. They had saved up for this renovation and wanted it to be right—making their two-bedroom, pre-war apartment in Jackson Heights, New York, even more desirable.
After: The general contractor that Daniel and Kate found through Sweeten shared the couple’s vision, committing to getting the fridge out of the entryway as well as installing custom cabinets to expand storage vertically. Offset cabinets were traded in for open shelving above the sink.
Daniel also appreciated the contractor’s focus on design decisions like cabinet door orientation and space between features, freeing him up to get a few chef’s details exactly right. Daniel wanted to avoid putting the microwave in a prominent spot and was concerned about cleanliness in an above-stove location. It now lives on an open shelf underneath the counter, where it’s an accessible tool but not a visible feature.
The Sweeten contractor created a dedicated cabinet for cutting boards, and most pots and pans are found in pull-out sliding cabinets rather than stacked in drawers, so they take up less space but are still easily grabbed. A towel bar, mounted just below the counter by the sink, has become major real estate with S-hooks added for small items for hanging.
Daniel and Kate decided on marble hex tile for the floors. It brings a natural element of warmth with a shape that is familiar in homes of a similar era, and it bounces light from the kitchen window with a little glow. Color for the custom cabinets became a tortured decision. Daniel and Kate paid extra for additional cabinet samples when they found that paint swatches didn’t really help them envision different tones, and agreed on a navy finish that paired well with brass accents already in the home.
Daniel aimed for a real chef’s prep space with sections of cherry butcher block. It needs mineral oil but is otherwise not that hard to maintain with cutting boards regularly in the rotation. Around the sink, the couple chose a section of white quartz for easy maintenance and to protect the butcher block from water stains. Standard white subway tile adds a simple gleam and contrast between the cabinet lines.
Bonus: Being avid cooks, Daniel and Kate really wanted to have appliances that could elevate their culinary skills. Key considerations for a new stove were powerful burner output and controls on the front of the oven; having the control panel on the back stand was too out of the way. Recipe experiments and heavy use mean that a food writer’s oven can get pretty gunky, so extra points for minimal nooks and grooves went to the stove they chose. The sink is an undermount with nice depth for lots of pots and pans, and the faucet is a simple gooseneck model with no side accents that might get in the way of a scrub down.
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