Home decorating

Kitchen designs "No Nos"

11:45 AM

I spent a fair chunk of my weekend cleaning the kitchen. In depth cleaning. The kind of down and dirty and super exhausting mega calories burning cleaning. The kind that should have been easier if 1) the maid did care a bit more and 2) the kitchen was planned more intelligently.

It took me 2 hours on Saturday, and a whooping 6 hours of intensive steam cleaning and scrubbing to get it to a "cleanish" level...yes that bad!

As I got the grease off every possible surface and cleaned the cabinet doors my maid caked in Atta since my last cleanup 3 months ago I figured out my kitchen is a case study of everything one should NOT do when planning a kitchen. I'll even let the cheap laminate that comes off and the fact there is no space for my slightly wider than normal fridge slide. There are way too many others things that should have absolutely no space in a kitchen in urban India.

Are you ready for some oh so Pinterest worth picture (insert sarcasm)? I have no "before pictures" all these are the "after pictures" that got my maid saying "Itna Saaf" (how clean!) this morning (glad she noticed too! Half of that cleaning should be part of her daily and weekly chores).

Anyway, here are all the poor design thing all kitchens should be rid off in pictures :

Marble floors. India has an obsession with marble. It is fashionable, reminiscent of the opulence of the Mugal Era and people want that palace feel in their home. But you know what? Marble SUCKS. It truly does, because it is a porous stone, that doesn't do well with harsh cleaning products and absorb a lot of dirt and grease. In a kitchen this is a disaster, and it doesn't come clean. Remember people, the Mugal emperors had a horde of servants cleaning round the clock. Besides, I am willing to bet that kitchens weren't marble clad in those days as no member of the royal family probably set foot in there.

Lost useless space. This along with other books and crannies is a dead space. It wasn't even designed for the gas cylinder as there is a hole in the wall that connects to the cabinet on the left. We are yet to figure what that space was ever meant to be. It is too narrow for a cooking range or a built in oven, and too narrow for a dishwasher. It is the big deep space (in which I totally fit) that is unusable. The gap in the back of the counter top allows a gas pipe to go along with all the cooking grease that slides off the wall and down to the floor. It took me over an hour to clean that space.

Backsplash from hell. Once upon a time I read an article by an inspired lunatic that claimed Indian kitchens do not need these fancy Western style "chimney". I wanted to strangle that journalist reading it. Cleaning that crap every 3 months reminds me of that article. Chimneys are God sent people! Woo much so that a previous tenant clearly had one installed and took it away when they moved out (see the drill holes in the picture?). I have been toying with getting a cheap chimney to absorb and filter the oily fume. Because every 3 months I spend an hour cleaning that backsplash. In theory my maid should be wiping it clean with Mr Muscle and a cloth after each cooking session, but in practice she doesn't see why it should be done.
Yesterday I killed one of my steam cleaner's brush getting the gunk off.

Antiquated storage elements. These wire racks made oddly of sense in a large well ventilate kitchen of yore. My MIL still has one in the open. The problem is when these vintage elements are forced to adapt to tiny poorly ventilated urban kitchens. I dread cleaning that rack. I see the all the way each time I do. Because no matter the amount of scrubbing, steaming, and spraying the gunk from living in a polluted city combined with the oily cooking fumes of the nearby stove means everything in it is caked in a layer of sticky goo. And yup, for aesthetic matters, that rack is inside a cabinet.

Impossible to clean nooks and crannies. You see that gap up there? I don't know what the carpenter smoke when he built that kitchen, but this tiny space is too small for any brush, vacuum cleaner attachment or along to go in. It is however a haven for cockroaches. I sprayed it and they all came flying out, temple of doom style. There are several of these crazy corners and cracks in the entire kitchen. Impossible to clean of course.

Too deep cabinets. This one is known as the "place were the things go to die". I got rid of heaps of cockroach infested boxes of plastic boxes. Steamed cleaned the crap out of it because it was where the maid kept the oil bottle (and spilled but didn't bother telling me or cleaning it). This cabinet is so deep and big that my 5'8 self can fit in all heavy of her 150 pounds! It is not stocked wi two boxes of glass jars that I hope won't go and die in there, but no guarantee. This is the big one usless cabinet. We store nothing we use too regularly in it because it is time consuming to fish it out, and akin to an archeological expedition (Insert Indiana Jones theme music here)

Lower cabinets close to the floor. The bane of my existence are these bloody unfinished cabinets. They are just 1cm off the ground, on an equally nasty to clean marble tile. All the dust you sweep will end up flying in the door gap and caking your cookware in dust. I clean that regularly of course, but it still comes back way way way too quickly. And the idea of opening them to dust once a week is lost on the maid. She doesn't get it. Who cares if the pressure cooker has dogs hair?

Wooden cabinets and drawers. The cheap laminate work is only meant to impress people, so it is saved for the outside of cabinets. The inside is plywood that has been quickly varnished in uneven tones. It does come clean...eventually...with a lot of elbow grease, detergent and steam. Lining the shelves in newspaper is worst, the old paper stays stuck to the wood making it that much more unhygienic. I spied plastic liner in a store. I might end up buying it soon, because I am oh so done scrubbing these twice a year!

My kitchen was probably designed when the building got built 20 years ago. Back then people led much less hectic lives. Pollution wasn't the problem that it is now. And maids were probably a bit more reliable too. It clearly hasn't stood the test of time. So much so, that if this flat weren't a rental, the kitchen would be the first thing we would renovate. As in break out the sledge hammer and start with a clean slate renovate. If that says anything about it.


  1. Anonymous3:23 PM

    As far as I can remember, the old houses had no marble flooring. They had basic cement floors which were polished so that you could see your face in it. Sometimes they had tiny stone chips- black, white, red. Glass was embedded in it to create rectangular patterns. The rooms had black or red boundaries. You can still find it in old houses in small towns of India. It was pretty much the only floor design known. The floor was hard and could be cleaned in one mopping action. Low maintenance but very effective. Looks dull but better than fancy tiles or marble.

    The old houses had racks to keep utensils like this


    We too have wire racks and a stell shelf. More than the grease, it is the rust which is damaging them. In my childhood I have seen big baskets for keeping utensils. I think with our woks, pots and pans Indians perhaps use more utensils than anyone. Storing them was always a problem.

    As an when people got money, they build these cabinets. That is what must have happened in your kitchen. There was nothing like a designer kitchen and even today modular kitchens are expensive if you have not invested in it right at the beginning. That empty space was most probably for another cabinet as dishwasher/oven was unheard of twenty years ago.

    Btw, talking about utensils, do you know that in olden days there were people who carried steel utensils on basket over their head and roamed from door or door. They exchanged utensils with old clothes. The more clothes you give you become eligible for a bigger utensil like a pan or degchi. In those days steel utensils were probably expensive and not easily available. They were called "Bartanwalas" (those who deal in utensils). Like all other "wallas" they too have disappeared from the urban landscape. It is one of those curious things which you can't even explain to today's generation.


    1. The flat we rented in Chennai had those open shelves for utensils. The steel and wire racks are more modern I guess, but yeah they are though to clean and they do rust. Mine has a few rust spots on top of the oily grime that doesn't come off :-(
      That under the stove gap is a real mystery, we have no idea what it was meant for at all. It has no shelf, and it was clearly not intended as a gas cylinder spot because there is a proper cabinet for that right beside that gap. As you said, dishwashers and built in ovens were totally unheard of when that thing got built. It is a totally useless, oily and dust collecting spot that has no logic whatsoever. I don't even want to try getting some shelves under there because every 3-4 months I end up having to clean heaps of grease that drips down the wall from behind the stove. At least not until I find a simple design and affordable chimney to help filter the fumes. I know one will fit because a previous tenant had a plug and the holes drilled in the wall to install one.

      Continental uses a lot of different pots and pans too :-) just very different ones that are a bit more stackable inside cabinets. When I first arrived in Idnia I found it interesting that all you really needed to get yourself started was a pressure cooker, a kadai and a regular sauce pan or two. We usually need 3-4 sauce pans and a skillet as a starter kit in continental cuisine. Then of course both Indian and continental cuisine have a whole bunch of speciality pans you add to your basics overtime.

    2. Anonymous5:13 PM

      I think Indians had problems with both bathrooms/toilets and kitchens. Bathrooms/toilets because cultural and social practices made them a "no go area" for most Indians and kitchens because they were female bastions. Women probably did not have that say in these things. When houses became more modern, all these things came into focus.


    3. You are right, in India bathrooms are taboo, in Europe they moved back into the house quickly because of the weather and the fact people didn't want to go to the "outhouse" in the dead of winter to relieve themselves.

      Kitchens in Switzerland served a very important double duty in the old days : cooking the food and acting as central heating. In old farms the kitchen almost occupy the entire ground floor and all the bedrooms are built above it. It is also large enough for people to gather in and has a big table so that people could keep warm. In the winter people used the leftover coal or cinder to put in special bed warming pans that were made of copper and had holes in them, as well as a long handle. The pan was rubbed inside the covers and sheets in the bed to warm the space before people got under the sheets to sleep as beds were still quite cold. Those old bed warming pans were work of art, Google antique bed warmer copper and you will see prime examples.

    4. Anonymous9:27 AM

      I think that gap was probably meant to keep the dustbin.


    5. I doubt, this kitchen has a double sink with a huge cabinet space underneath, I don't keep my dustbin there but there is space for it. My dustbin is a pedal bin that is quite tall I keep it in a corner. But if I had a smaller open bin I think I would want it under the sink. The gap in the picture is huge, as you can see my cane stool fits nicely. And I can got in that space myself without feeling cramped.

  2. Anonymous3:43 PM

    I have always associated Indian kitchens with grease, spices and somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere. Then I got to see those super clean American open air kitchens right next to the drawing room. It was strange and surreal. What do they cook in such a kitchen or do they cook at all?? I still find these open air kitchens a bit strange. I guess you have to keep the kitchen all neat and presentable because it is open and open to scrutiny by the visitors.


    1. Apple,
      The 'open air' kitchen came into fashion in America for two reasons-
      Being clean & having a clean house is a matter of pride- Americans like to show off their clean kitchens.
      Americans also like to show off all their expensive new kitchen appliances (dishwasher, microwave, double oven, refrigerator, range, trash compactor, toaster, food processor, stand mixer, etc.)expensive wood cabinetry, and expensive stone or tile countertops & flooring.

    2. The open plan kitchen is very American, you don't find them much in Europe and almost not at all in Switzerland. I myself would totally freak out having one because the pressure to keep it neat and clean to a near picture perfect level would be too much.
      I. Switzerland we usually like closed kitchen because of the smells and fumes, even though we use chimney to contain them to where they belong. But we also do still have dinning table in the kitchen if we can, this is one of these cultural things, kitchens have a small informal dinning corner. I miss that in India.

    3. Anonymous5:06 PM

      People used to sit and eat in kitchens during olden times in India. The plates were placed on small stools. Ofcourse the kitchens were big in those days. There were various dos and don't with the kitchen as explained in this article



    4. My in-laws have one of these big kitchen in which there is a 6 seater table. It is the nerve of the household, the family and casual visits hot spot. We even really only enter the house through the backdrop straight in the kitchen there. The main door is only used for important formal guests :-)

  3. Cosign on all of this.
    The counter tops (or bench as they say in the EU) in India are too low to be useful to do anything on. I'm just a little taller than you Cyn & I have to go sit down at the dining table to chop vegetables, scoop cookies, or whatnot. Otherwise I'm nearly bent in 2 trying to use the countertops.
    We have the unusable cavernous laminate/wood cabinets that are host to legions of cockroaches & termites also. The bare wood drawers I've taken to lining with pages ripped from magazines monthly (Elle & Vogue work quite well for this). I'm rather spoilt for nice cabinetry as my dad was a professional British cabinet maker.
    On ventilation-
    We've looked quite a bit at new houses & flats being built in India recently. There seems to be a trend to design kitchens & bathrooms with no windows & or little to no ventilation. Note to Indian architects & designers- India is hot & humid, all bathrooms & kitchens must have a window IN ADDITION to a chimney/exhaust fan. Mouldy, dank, dark & dirty places are not where people want to live.

    1. Anonymous4:51 PM

      We have windows in kitchens and bathrooms. Flats do have these facilities but stand alone houses or old style houses may have this problem of ventilation. Sometimes the houses are build close to each other.


    2. There was no windows in my bathrooms in Geneva, but the ventilation system was top notch with a central vent system in the whole building. In India I had a few homes that had poor ventilation system despite windows because there isn't enough space between houses, or the buildings ventilation shaft has been illogically planned. The kitchen always have some bad ventilation system in Idnia, despite exhaust fans being installed in places. Indian cooking produce oily fumes that get stuck on everything. Chimneys solve that problem but they are a novelty still. I'd rather soak the filters in boiling water every 3 months and scrub them clean than steam the entire kitchen, it's far less time consuming. Plus these chimneys come with a built in light that shine a nice light right over the stove allowing you to see much better at night.

    3. Apple-
      All the new 'high rise' flats we looked at in Gurgaon & Noida had NO windows in the kitchen. There was a door to a windowless storeroom on one end of these kitchens & another door to the living quarters on the other end.
      About half of these new flats had no bathroom window either.
      New houses were about 50/50 with half having windowless kitchens & baths.

    4. Looks like these developers found a new novel way to save money on the building cost :-( people would not even question it because both bathrooms and kitchens in India are the rooms people don't place much importance upon.

      This is something that amazed my husband in Switzerland. The kitchen in the flat in Zurich was a semi open plan, as in there was a high bar counter and window that separated it from the living room. The kitchen was about half the size of the one we have now in Mumbai but it had a built in oven, a stove, a built in fridge and freezer, a broom closet and twice the cabinet space we currently have, not to mention enough counter space to prep food without loosing you mind.

      If we owned the flat we are in right now, I would tear the entire kitchen apart and replan it entirely from scratch to maximise the space.
      I am a fairly minimalist one, I only truly keep what is essential and my kitchen already feel cramped. I know neighbours with similar kitchens in the building that live in joint family settings and have confessed they absolutely HATE the kitchen because there is no counter space left storing water bottles for a big household, the fridge, the tiffin boxes, the huge bulk purchases of flour, dal and rice and all the various pots and pans and gizmos and doodahs the living in in-laws insist on keeping. and most of these kitchens are modular-ish just not designed with any sort of practicality in mind because clearly the one who did draft the plans was a guy who probably never spent time in a kitchen thinking that they are a woman's domain :-(

    5. Anonymous4:21 PM

      I live in a colony where we only have apartments. I have yet to see a kitchen or bathroom without windows. Yes, kitchens and bathroom are carved out of whatever little space that is left after the living rooms. We keep our grocery supplies in our store room in big steel tins, The store room also doubles up as the pooja room. People who do not have a store room may have problems. We actually put our water bottles, oven, mixie, medicines etc. on our dining table near the kitchen. It could not be used as chairs could not be put due to space constraints. We have never used the dining table anyway. I have seen fantastically designed kitchens in small spaces with proper storage. It all depends upon the imagination of the developer and also the inhabitant, what he expects from the space. In apartments it is not possible because of the set designs but in stand alone houses you can use the space intelligently.

      Most people in India have spend their lives in houses which were either too big or too small with very basic functional structures. So, probably they never had any idea about use of space. They took whatever came their way. We spent our entire life in a government accommodation and all government flats have the same design. Only the space increases as per the post of the occupant. But the designs are very basic. So, we had no idea about how to live in a flat or how a modern urban dwelling should be and also the cost involved. I am sure this is the case with many Indians who started from very basic and functional houses.

      Another big problem with Indians is big furnitures from their grandfather's time which have emotional value. You cannot have small rooms for fitting such furniture. I still have furniture from my mother;'s dowry which is around fifty years old.


    6. Europe is used to tiny accommodations and space management I guess, this is the norm in cities. In Switzerland the average 4 family member home is 900 square feet. We gain living space by usually having one bathroom for the whole family, or at the most one bath and one powder room for guests. The washing machine usually is squeezed in the bathroom IF the family even owns one. Most buildings have a common laundry room in the basement were you are allowed a slot to use it and pay the electricity consumed either with coins, or a special card that you recharge like a e-wallet.

      In Mumbai most flats don't have a store room, some don't even have an utility space for the washing machine (we are lucky, we have a tiny utility space). In Navi Mumbai our flat had a "maids room" which was a pit of darkness with a window giving on the dark and very dirty ventilation shaft. U.S., like most people converted that space into a storage room where we kept the rice, dal, and bull pantry items along with the empty suitcases, old books and odd stuff we didn't need often. In our current flat I have converted one of the 3 bathroom into a storage area, but it is too damp for me to consider putting food in there.

    7. What do Mumbaikers do with the washing machine if they don't have a utilty space for it?
      At our flat in Kathmandu our washing machine is out on the back balcony.
      I was amazed when I lived in Berlin in 1989 that the tiny apartment I lived in had a little front loading washing machine/dryer in the little kitchen (it was an Ikea kitchen prefab retrofitted into a building that was built in the 1850s- extremely well designed).

      b 4lo,

    8. Those who don't have an utility area or balcony, usually or put the washing machine one one of the bathroom. Or do without. In South Mumbai the "Dhobi wallah" are still doing a brisk business washing heaps of laundry daily. Some send the laundry out to a dry cleaning shop that also does regular washing. And there are still maids that will hand wash your clothes daily.

      I think even worse than not having much space for a washing machine in Mumbai is the fact that even with an utility area drying laundry is a pain with many forgoing the luxury of a window or balcony view in the name of clean clothes. DH and I schedule most of the heavy laundry on weekends so that at least during the week we get our space for ourselves. During the monsoon it becomes tricky as nothing really dries quick enough though. And of course we are lucky enough to have a washing machine space, a dryer would be out of this world.

  4. He he, I have a feeling that you've just described my own kitchen :)

    1. Haha are you the proud owner of an illogical Indian kitchen? :-)

  5. Growing up, our "Western" kitchens always had a bunch of cabinets and drawers, all wooden and poorly painted, of course. And obviously a chimney. What I would give for the cupboards and drawers now. In our tiny kitchen (hardly 2 people fit) we have only two cupboards, each with one shelf. Otherwise, we have that awkward empty space under the counter. There is seriously no room to store our food and dishes both. We have half of our dishes in the basket on the counter at all times. SIGH.
    Out of curiosity, what does your ideal kitchen look like?

    1. We had a kitchen similar to yours in Bangalore, except it was bigger, but completely bare apart from two tiny cupboards.

      My idea kitchen would be square and large enough to have a breakfast nook, or small informal dinning table like we have in most of Central Europe. Open plan kitchen scare me a little. The kitchen should have enough counter space to be able to work on. In the kitchen we have we have a tiny space in front of the stove, everything else counter space wise is taken by either the sink or appliances this is a bit annoying to know that all the space you are going to get are those 2.5 sq ft to do everything. There is way too much wasted space in that kitchen. Storage wise I would prefer having drawers and exclusively drawers under the counter, and shelves above.


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