Allen Norwood

Find the best spot in your kitchen for small appliances — or banish them entirely

Find the best spot in your kitchen for small appliances — or banish them entirely
Find the best spot in your kitchen for small appliances — or banish them entirely Elkay.

I read the umpteenth online story about how we can rid our kitchen countertops of all those small appliances that gobble up space. You don’t need a toaster oven, it said, or even a microwave. Banish them, along with the rice steamer, and improve your life!

But we really like our toaster oven – a lot.

We use it several times a day. It’s quick and convenient, and it doesn’t make sense to heat up the big oven to toast a blueberry mini-bagel.

When I finally reached Lisa Carlay at International Kitchen and Bath in Davidson to have a serious conversation about how kitchen designers cope with small appliances in today’s open kitchens, she started laughing.

See, she agrees with me about toaster ovens. She didn’t want to give hers up – so, to save space on the countertop, she tucked hers into her large oven.

“People just crack up when they see that,” she said. “But my son turned on my big oven, and almost burned up my toaster oven.”

(Our toaster oven fits into our big oven, barely, but the rest of us probably shouldn’t try Carlay’s trick.)

Seriously, she does have to balance open design with the glut of specialty small appliances. Every time someone knocks down a wall, eliminating base cabinets, they increase competition for valuable countertop space. Most homeowners don’t want appliances atop their centerpiece islands.

“Islands are off limits,” she said, “so it’s more and more tricky to find a home for these appliances.”

Those stylish floating wall shelves that are becoming popular in open kitchens don’t help. They’re decorative and not designed for heavy stuff.

The best approach is one that lots of us do without thinking much about it: Keep a couple of the most frequently used appliances on the countertop and tuck the rest away. At our house, the toaster oven is joined on the countertop by the Keurig coffeemaker.

Those Keurigs are a special problem, Carlay said. They’re heavy, filled with water, with flip-up tops that make them too tall for some spots. They’re hard to slide, much less lift. If you find a countertop location that works at your house, leave the coffeemaker there.

Cabinet manufacturers offer all sorts of ingenious designs to help us store small appliances out of sight below the countertop: deep drawers, pull-out shelves and racks,and lazy Susans. Just be realistic about how heavy your appliances are, Carlay said, and how easily you can lift them onto your countertop when you need them.

She said clients seem to be requesting fewer appliance garages, even though modern versions are better looking than ever. Many of today’s garages have solid doors that flip or fold up, instead of the telltale slats like roll-top desks. When closed, they blend smoothly with the rest of the cabinets.

Comments at the bottom of those stories about banishing all small appliances include pleas from some folks who say they just cannot exist without a Vitamix or NutriBullet on their countertops.

But Carlay said she mostly deals with the opposite: “Most people try to get rid of things, and I say, ‘You need to be realistic.’”

Our countertops would be less crowded if all of us were more realistic before falling in love with fad appliances such as rotisseries and espresso machines. As Carlay pointed out, there’s a familiar pattern: It goes from the countertop, to the pantry, to the garage – to the yard sale.

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