The Efficient Kitchen

Space-saving tips for easy organization
By Liz Zack

If you're looking for better ways to organize your cupboards and countertops, a handful of hours and a few good ideas are all you need to transform a cluttered kitchen into an efficient space for cooking and entertaining. We asked kitchen designers Susan Templer, of Templer Interiors in San Francisco, and Michelle Russell, of Atria Studio in Chicago, to share their best tips for streamlining any busy cook's kitchen. Their ideas will help you spend more time taste testing your favorite recipes and less time wondering where you put your spatula.

Install rollouts. When Templer works with clients on total kitchen remodels, she recommends rollout shelves and trays, which she considers some of the most efficient tools for cooks. Look for aftermarket versions that will transform a low, deep, hard-to-access cabinet into a well-organized drawer space for stacking heavy pots and pans.

Store utensils smartly. When counter space is at a premium, sometimes a ceramic pitcher of spoons and spatulas, however charming, doesn't make the cut. In these cases, Templer recommends installing a rail system with simple hooks for attaching ladles, tongs, and spoons. "I like rail systems on the wall on either side of the range, but avoid installing it behind the range since the utensils will get dirty," she says (from $12; 888-266-8246, www.thecontainerstore.com).

Put away the underused. Store seasonal cooking accessories, such as grilling spices and holiday cookie cutters, in separate plastic bins to keep them organized. Then "store the containers someplace high up, like over the fridge, in the back of a cabinet, or in a pantry," Russell says. This will free up space for your everyday items, and when you need to, say, decorate a cake, you'll be able to find everything you need for that task in one place.

Use cabinet dividers. Maximize storage space in deep under-counter cabinets by installing dividers. Such metal or plastic partitions divide the space from top to bottom so that you can line up all of your vertical storage-trays, lids, and cutting boards-in one section and small electrics like coffee grinders and juicers in another (from $8; 800-667-8721, www.kitchensource.com).

MORE GREAT IDEAS

Tame Coupon Clutter
Hang a small corkboard on the inside surface of a cabinet door, and pin coupons, which simultaneously keeps them out of sight, suggests kitchen designer Michelle Russell. This also makes it easy to pull corresponding coupons when you're scanning shelves to check supply levels before a trip to the market.

Divide and Conquer
Kitchen designer Susan Templer encourages clients to make use of easy-to-clean, aluminum wire mesh baskets for groups of things they use regularly, like condiments. For example, "Put all your vinegars in one, all your oils in another," she says. "That way you're never left hunting for what you need."

Move Plates Down Low
Most people store dishes in above-counter cabinets, but that's not always the most convenient place, especially if you can't reach items because of shelf height. "I recommend moving them to a large, deep drawer next to your dishwasher to make unloading it much easier, or near your dining area," Russell says.

Keep in Touch
Create a quick message center in a central location in your kitchen. Mark a 2 x 3-foot area of wall space, and cover with chalkboard paint, which turns any solid area into an instant writing surface (Benjamin Moore; $10 per quart). Buy molding at your local home store (stain to match your cabinets, or paint to match other trim), and create a simple frame around the chalkboard area.