It’s the 1950s. Your mama’s – or grandma’s – kitchen has three essential drawers – one for silverware, one for knives and cooking utensils, and one for everything else. It’s called the junk drawer. Hard telling what winds up in it: Crayons, shoelaces, potholders, some recipes, a hammer. You can bet your Swanson frozen TV dinner that kitchen drawers have come a long way since then. But underlying their design is the basic principle of function. “First you need to consider how you want to use each space in the kitchen,” says David Tyson of Tyson Associates Renovations, “and then install drawers accordingly. It really is an ideological approach – form follows function.” A full-service designer and general contractor in Charlotte, Tyson walks his clients through an assessment of how they use their kitchens before recommending the types of cabinetry, including specialized drawers. If a client does a lot of baking, for example, Tyson creates a baking center which might include vertical slide-outs for storing cookie sheets and trays. “Do they need a three-drawer or four-drawer configuration on their other pull-outs? You can lose valuable space if the drawers are too deep,” he points out. Stretching limited space is the key in kitchen design. “Accessibility is everything,” declares Debby Binnick of The Binnick Group, a kitchen designer and cabinet manufacturer’s representative. “It’s all about how a kitchen works, not (just) how it looks.” Fellow kitchen specialist Caren Bistany of Bistany Design agrees. “Kitchens are such a big investment, and the industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. It pays to do your homework first,” she says. Consultants like Binnick and Bistany will typically design an overall plan for kitchen organization before any decisions are made regarding materials or finishes. Just what’s on the market these days for the world beneath your countertops? According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), a big trend of 2010 was the beverage station. This functional destination within a kitchen typically houses under-counter refrigerated and wine cooling drawers, as well as drawers containing stemware, coffee cups, silverware, tea, sugar and the like. In 2010 these cooling units were being installed by nearly half of all kitchen designers surveyed by the NKBA. Trash and/or recycling pullout drawers were installed in 89 percent of kitchens by NKBA members by the end of 2010. Indicating an increase in concern over the trash generated in kitchens, pullout trash compactors under the counter were being installed by 11 percent of designers at the beginning of 2010. A year later, that figure had risen to 18 percent. Other accessories to help de-clutter countertops and organize countless other items in kitchen drawers: Tiered silverware trays. The bottom is fixed and the top operates on ball-bearing slides. Both are removable. Knife block drawer, which frees up countertop space while hiding knives out of sight. Can storage. Store and access canned goods at adjustable heights. This rollout drawer can double as a cabinet for taller items like wine and liquor bottles. Spice drawers. Removable shelves are cut at angles for easy access to spice jars. Tilt-out drawers. Installed in front of the sink, they’re ideal for storing garbage liners or plastic wrap.Cutting board. An increasingly popular pullout feature in kitchen islands. Vertical file dividers. For those important papers, bills and files that pile up in the corner of the kitchen that has evolved as the “home office.” Accept the inevitable and designate this space for what it is by adding some organizational structure. “Magic” corners. These clever swing-out units are the ultimate answer to the question, “Who was the genius who shoved all of that stuff into the corner out of reach?” When the door is pulled open, a shelf automatically rotates while simultaneously moving the back shelves to the opening. Refrigerated drawers. For both indoor wet bars and outdoor kitchens, these units provide supplemental cold storage for homeowners who love to entertain. The publication Consumer Reports, however, indicates that while the units may provide convenience, buyers will pay a premium to purchase and to operate. Warming drawers. One solution for keeping dishes warm while you're waiting for guests to arrive or putting the finishing touches on the rest of the meal. Microwave drawers. These appliances bring an integrated look to the kitchen by freeing up counter space while being tucked into a cabinet. With the proper inserts, other drawers can be specialized for storing bread, root vegetables, those plastic cartons (and mismatching lids) we all accumulate for leftovers, and, yes, junk. There are even advances in the operating mechanisms for drawers. For instance, Blum is one brand that offers a new device that controls the closing action and pulls in the final inch of travel very slowly. This “soft close” feature is becoming popular in households with energetic children who never met a drawer they didn’t slam. Why emphasize storage underneath counters? As Debby Binnick points out, “The population is aging, and one of these days we might not be able to reach items in those higher cabinets. I like designs that take into account the concept of ‘aging in place.’ The lower the storage, the more accessible it is to everyone regardless of their physical capabilities.” While many homeowners continue to prefer custom-made cabinetry, pre-fabricated units can handily meet others’ storage requirements. Caren Bistany points out that some odd-sized spaces – like corners -- need to be built to specification, but she advises clients to go online for ideas. “People are already accustomed to online shopping, and if you’re just looking to organize an existing kitchen, there are some excellent online options,” she says, citing kitchensource.com and rev-a-shelf.com. Contractor David Tyson also recommends IKEA for great storage ideas at good prices. There are no cookie-cutter solutions for getting the most of one’s kitchen space, but the experts agree that it’s not your grandma’s kitchen any more.
More information Want to give your existing kitchen drawers a boost without a complete makeover? Here’s a sampling of online resources for organizational inserts: