Cute! was my first thought when I saw the kitchen of the fixer upper we bought. It was casual and fun with a black-and-white vinyl floor, white cabinets, black counters with white speckles. New appliances were all it would need I thought—until I moved in, unpacked, and cooked.
In this case, Fun did not mean Functional. The batwing sink—a two-bowled model that sits in an inverted V at a 90-degree angle in the back corner of the kitchen—has caused trouble from the moment it was installed way back when.
The bowls are too small to hold a 9-by-13 pan, which must be washed at an angle, which means water splashes out from the sink onto the counter, which was not caulked where it meets the laminate countertops, so there’s often standing water inside the sink cabinet. From years of water rolling where it shouldn’t, the door to the sink cabinet itself has swollen nearly an inch at the top and doesn’t close completely.
To compound trouble, the dishwasher is installed directly next to the sink cabinet, which means that when the door of the dishwasher is open, I have a space of 10 inches to stand while moving items from sink to washer.
Now, I’m not a huge person and I’m relatively flexible, so I am able to twist sideways to load the dishes, albeit awkwardly, with more water dripping on the counters and floor. But then, last winter I pulled muscles in my back and contortions were out of the question. So, for months I had to back away from the sink completely, holding my wet dishes, and crouch over the front of the open dishwasher door so I could load straight on. It was a pain that saved me from more pain, though it was extremely impractical.
In fact, the design is doubly impractical: the lower level apartment has a nearly identical kitchen with the dishwasher immediately adjacent to the right sink rather than left as it is in the main level of the house. Both the kitchens were built as part of an addition sometime in the 1990s, so someone took the time to plan the layout— without really thinking about the practicality of the choices.
Until recently, I wouldn’t have considered myself a professional builder, but I have decades of experience living in homes, carrying out all the tasks one expects to be done conveniently in rooms designated for those tasks, like cooking and laundry.
Many aspects of homebuilding and remodeling are regulated and routinely updated to keep us safe in our homes: structural, plumbing, and electrical codes, for example. Design, though, is often a preference—recessed lights or pendants, wood floors or carpet—but there are design principles we treat as rules, tried and true elements that just make good sense, like the kitchen “work triangle” I learned about in seventh grade homemaking!
Had the original designers of my kitchens sought competent advice, we could’ve gone with new countertops, appliances, and paint to freshen our kitchen. But with the tiny corner sinks, ruined cabinets, and nowhere to stand, we’ve had to gut and start over—and we’re being thoughtful about the design, opting for a galley kitchen to rid ourselves of the corner sink trouble.
In this age of instant information, a quick Google search can take us to sites like Houzz for articles and opinions about configuration and finishes. Another great resource is The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), which has developed guidelines for placement of kitchen appliances, sinks, counter work areas, cabinet and counter space, lighting and more. I found them on Kitchens.com.
Of course we might not always be able to meet every guideline, given the layout of our homes, and our budgets, but it’s good to have those minimum numbers in mind when you’re planning to remodel, or before you go house hunting.
The NKBA’s recommended minimum space between a corner sink and the dishwasher is 21 inches. My kitchens have 10! That means there should’ve been a 12-inch cabinet between the sink cabinet and dishwasher.
No wonder cute didn’t cut it.