small space living: our kitchen

I am inspired and motivated by my surroundings. Or not. I really am affected by light, color and surfaces. While I can easily tune out unmade beds and a floor littered with tutus and books, there is a certain way I like things in the areas where I create. I like order and white space. My counters are clear of tsotchkes. I like to work with old stuff, handmade tools. I like bright natural light and complimentary colors. I want to spread out, get messy and involve my kids.

The kitchen in our little apartment is my biggest challenge. It’s small and dark and for this mama who likes to twirl around with two kids while chopping, sautéing and baking, it doesn’t work. Or, rather, it works differently and it has been my quest to figure out how to work with this small, dark space.

Work with it. Work it.

sleeping foot :: kitchen

A few weeks back I was cooking angry. I chopped a carrot on my cutting board next to the stack of dirty dishes that never goes away. Those damn dishes remind me of those old cartoons where the pig is moving hay with a pitchfork but the pile size doesn’t change. Ruby was pleading to get up and help. I had two things cooking on the stove and the pans didn’t quite fit next to each other on the two back burners (the front big burner is broken). The pots fought for space like two toddlers for mom’s lap. The dishes and I fought for space like two frat boys in a bar on ladies night.

It is no fun to have this thing I love (making meals for my family) and then squish it into something I don’t like. Now, I totally believe life is about perspective and focusing on what we want, being open to every situation’s possibility for growth and understanding. I own my approach. So I decided that I was responsible for this kitchen shit storm. Surely I could find creativity and peace in this corner. Certainly I can happily make food here.

I’ve found that in this small space, micro adjustments make a huge difference. And I’ve found it’s easy to shake it up, rearrange–even if only for one day. Things that make our small kitchen work:

1. Allowing for more time to make food. Multitasking can’t really happen. We chop cabbage and move it onto the bed (for real!) so we can mince garlic and so on.

2. Embracing my slob. It’s messy and cluttered and piled when we cook. Always.

3. Moving the kitchen table around for meals.
PhotobucketLast weekend we moved our table to the living space/by the front door for a few days. It was totally in the way but the natural light made meal time fun.

4. Making room for my kids to feel apart of it, even if they can’t really be a part of it. Margot and Ruby really miss cooking with me. And I miss it too. There isn’t space for a chair, isn’t space for their bums on the counter. So, I’ve been giving them small jobs to complete at the table, hoisting them up to add ingredients to the pot. And, when I am doing something like heating water or grinding coffee, they sit on the counter and ‘help.’

5. Storing many of our utensils and dishes. The less we have, the less we have to wash.

6. Making soup and other one-pot meals. I posted a question to facebook about favorite slow cooker meals and got some wonderful ideas.

7. Maintaining a cleared kitchen table. It is SO easy for us to pile leotards, car keys, half-eaten granola bars, wet mittens on our table as it is the only surface in our home. Everything feels more manageable when the kitchen table is empty.


7. Making simple meals and eliminating risk of failure. We can’t really cook in the oven. (Although every one ate the irregularly-cooked pizza and burned-to-shit biscuits I made…) We eat a lot of vegetables, rice, tofu, beans and noodles in various combinations.

PhotobucketOur simple go-to breakfast: Cream of the West, mashed banana, rice milk and peanut butter

8. Finding humor in the fact that our oven only bakes at 500 degrees.

9. Candles.

candles make fish tacos glamorous

10. Having fun making food. There’s always room for that.

My next addition is to make this kitchen island. I just need to find the perfect dresser (oh, and I finally gave into pinterest, which is where I found this treasure…).

So that’s our kitchen and my newfound adoration (adoration? hmm. tolerance maybe. but adoration came out so I’ll keep it) of it. A good challenge is always welcome. And, whoo boy will I LOVE counters, a functioning oven and daylight in a few months!

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In this week’s mama digs I wrote about an awesome run and how I thought I was pregnant a few weeks ago. Click to read happy with what we’ve got.

:: :: ::

Winner of the gorgeous skein of Twist & Twine yarn:

Hazel said…
The yarn is gorgeous, but like you I don’t seem destined to knit! It took me 3 years to knit Rob a simple scarf! I love that Margot wants to take your photo now, and I love the dancing shots. I wish I could say I don’t normally dance like a muppet – but it wouldn’t be true.

It’s your time to learn sister! Email me at Congrats!

46 Responses to small space living: our kitchen

  1. You’d be so ready to live on a sailboat and head south after this experience. Love how you’ve figured out a must-do to tend with a tiny space. You rock the small stuff, mama.

  2. ~ jessica says:

    I love that you embrace things so willingly. Very inspiring.

  3. Our kitchen is the most challenging part of our small space (besides not being able to fit more than 3 families in the house at a time).
    When I get into crazy garden-preservation season, there’s jars cooling on the floor, boxes of fruit on the table, bowls of salsa waiting for to be filled in jars on the counter. it’s high level nutty.
    The rest of the year it’s just normal nutty. :)

  4. Jeanne says:

    I love how you thought it out instead of just stewing in your tiny kitchen. While my current kitchen is “huge” comparatively speaking, the usable space is small. Then toss in two very willing kids…and my nerves get frayed. I think it is time I think it out as well instead of just getting short and fussy.

  5. Baby by the Sea nailed it – you could LIVE and love cooking on a boat. I have a small galley of a kitchen, but compared to the boat…it’s a hell of a lot bigger. And it’s the middle of our living space, so it makes me happy.

    LOVE, love, love the revamp dresser idea and would look terrific in a bold color like the French blue. How happy is that? (And by the way, welcome to the addition of Pinterest. Just chocked with way too many awesome ideals, recipes, and everyday inspiration.)

    You have a grill near by that won’t cook at 500 degrees?!? Thinking of you as winter retreats. TIme to start designing that garden!

    :) Jennifer

  6. Aimee B says:

    Zoe here on Aimee’s computer once again. As I will be until Jim returns from Portland with our one remaining macBook. Ugh.

    Anyway, feeling you on the small kitchen thing. The kitchen here is an old 40s kitchen, built on the 7-foot-square concept, so everything is reachable without needing to walk anywhere. Translation = no counter space. However, after living since late September with literally no means of cooking anything that couldn’t be microwaved, stepping into this little space in mid-January has made me much happier. I will certainly love to have (assuming we get) a kitchen with some counters, and (dare I say it?!) a gas stove again. Goodness I dislike cooking on electric!
    But, still, as much as I grumbled about my kitchen in Grand Rapids, the poor lighting, the funky oven, the electric stove, the lack of usable counter space, man!!! It had a dishwasher, stainless sinks, and room to twirl! That 4+ months with no cooking facilities… now that sucked dirty socks. I will likely never eat microwaved mac and cheese again.
    Connor, on the other hand, was in heaven. Not even the threat of Pad Thai to deflect.

  7. Wesley says:

    Our apartment is GENEROUSLY labeled as a 500-somethingoranother square feet space. Needless to say, I totally sympathize and understand the small space/tiny kitchen dilemma. Great tips for maximizing space and making mealtime less frustrating. We don’t even have room for a dining table, so our coffee table is our dining room. We’re moving to Helena this summer and I cannot wait to find an apartment where we can splurge on simple things, like enough space for a small dining table!!

  8. Kathryn says:

    totally luv the dresser/island idea! I wish I had done it before in the old/small house we have!! do it! you will luv it!! luv how u r making it work!! amazing!!

  9. Hazel says:

    Oh I still get a shock when I see my name at the bottom of a post and it’s made my day today!! Thank you, I’ll send an email.

    I hear you sister about small kitchens. I wrote a blog post about it too a couple of years ago. Looking back now I didn’t know then that I still had another 18 months in that crappy kitchen I was bemoaning.

    The oven thing, oh I know that, we rented a fantastic furnished 1950’s retro house for 6 months, and even the kitchen had the original oven and fridge. At first the novelty was groovy. But then I realised that it was near impossible to bake anything in that damn oven.

    At least it was only the two of us, but then two German Shepherds who for some reason like to lie right behind you also wanted to share the space. But that kitchen island looks the go. Amazingly though as soon as you do have more space to cook in (like in our hut) all the past grievances disappear.

  10. Love how you always turn frustration on its head. We bought our house only on the condition that we could still afford to remodel the kitchen and add a dining area (because it didn’t have one and hot be damned, I wasn’t going to go another year of my life without an effing kitchen table). I admire people who make small kitchens work and don’t brood over it. That said, my husband and I have both noticed that we make *much* better meals now that we have a bit of counter space : )

  11. Kelly Cach says:

    “kitchen shit storm” and “burned-to-shit biscuits” for REAL had me laughing out loud! I’m not laughing at your situation; I just think that it’s the funniest word ever. I LOVE that word. It’s my go to word of choice when I feel the need to cuss. And then laugh. It’s so satisfying. I can get my frustrations out verbally and then feel better because of the laughter! Okay, enough of that.

    The pinterest island is AWESOME. And so is pinterest. I just bought paint for 3 different projects inspired from there as well as painted an old door we had with chalkboard paint—also found on pinterest. Just as long as I actually follow through and not just get addicted to pinning cool stuff!

    Can’t wait to see what you come up with. I know it will be inspiring :)

  12. memomuse says:

    Small spaces are tough. I lived in my parent’s basement apartment. I hardly cooked, but it was the small kitchen that really got to. It was the lack of light. I need light. But you have big ole Montana sky. This is your yin for your yang. Once you get in that house, ah!!!!!! Oh the joy. I enjoyed the cussing! Always love some good cowgirl cussing. Shitass is my favorite cuss word. And if I had to cook in that small kitchen of yours (let’s remind everyone I don’t cool all that much) I would most likely be saying, Shitass. You got this Dig. It’s just the ying to your big ole yang coming. Plus it’s good writing material.

  13. Kelly says:

    Work it girl! I love your optimistic attitude adjustment. At least you know the end’s in sight. :)

  14. KWQR says:

    Love your approach to challenges! We have plenty of space but way too much stuff… am working on simplifying our home but warehouse living & love of neat old stuff is a deadly combo. Don’t know how you do it without an oven though… baking is my favorite meditation. Or, more honestly, cookies are!
    I recently gave in to pinterest too… love all of the inspiration, hate the time warp that happens whenever I am on it.

  15. Meghan says:

    so cute. as always, your perspective kills me. and i pinned a sweet one-pot, super easy mac anc cheese the other day and made it tonight. supes simple and really, really good. perfect for cramped cooking. did not find the mustard necessary:

  16. Christa says:

    Love that you didn’t even seem to consider eliminating your kitchen table/ family dinning spot even when you have such limited space.

  17. NatureGirl says:

    Thank you for the gentle reminder that my “small space” is not necessarily That small…there is no bed in my kitchen anyway. And, yes Ma’am I absolutely pinned that blue kitchen island!

  18. BRH says:

    Madly in love with the sleeping foot photo. Just got done reading your Mama Digs column. Oh I am so with you–and all the comments there were great, too. Lately, we’re done, but I hope I don’t regret it… And have to say that your relationship with your Mom (and her sweet comment over there) is amazing. Enjoy.

  19. I never know if you read your comments, but here is a mac and cheese recipe that is our standby; it only uses broil, so I think you could swing it in your oven.

    3/4 pound medium pasta shells
    1 tablespoon butter
    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2 cups whole milk
    2 cups grated Cheddar
    1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    kosher salt and pepper
    1 16-ounce package frozen broccoli florets

    1. Cook the pasta. Drain.
    2. Heat butter in large pot over med. Add flour; cook, stirring, for 2 min.
    3. Whisk in the milk, cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, 4-5 min.
    4. Add 1½ c cheese, stir until melted. Stir in nutmeg, ¾ t salt, ¼ t pepper.
    5. Add pasta and broccoli, toss to combine. Transfer to a broilerproof 8-inch square (1½-quart) baking dish.
    6. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ c cheese. Broil until golden, 3-4 min. Enjoy!

    PS- I hear ya on the small kitchen. Our 1940s gem has a small kitchen but thankfully this helps reign in my messiness/sprawl; if I don’t have enough space, I need to clean the kitchen!

  20. ctb says:

    you MUST have your handy andy make you a cutting board the size of your sink. place it over the sink for more counter space, plus no more looking at dirty dishes as they will tucked under. dig it.

  21. @BRH, I am madly in love with that photo too.

    @Crystal and @Meghan, Hmm two mac and cheese recipes in one post means that dinner tomorrow! Thanks.

  22. trbholt says:


    You know I would love to be a Gram to three!…..I remember I had just turned 40 and was wanting another child very badly, you were 14 & Trav was 12. All of a sudden I was feeling sad & lonely, panicked that my babies would soon be gone. The feeling lasted a while,we even discussed the possibility of reversing Dad’s vasectomy. It took about 2 months for me to settle my thoughts and be okay with where I was. I still often think of what it would have been like to have another child… and your brother are the best! NOW I have grandchildren & I get to experience the joy again!

    Love you Burb!

  23. Love you back, mom.

  24. Becky says:


    Thanks for sharing this! I can relate. I thought I always wanted 2 or 4 kids – something about even numbers for the math-geek in me. When we went ahead with #3, we said we weren’t necessarily committed to a #4. #3 came about 20 months after #2; which was a crazy spacing for me – I was new to being a stay-at-home mom (& to 3! kids no less) & #2 wasn’t quite a baby any more, but wasn’t quite independent enough. While my husband knew nearly right away that he was done after #3, it took me quite a bit longer to let go of the idea of a #4. But my desire to sleep is a strong one – I know I function best with a reliable sleep schedule. If a #4 were to surprise us, I know I could handle it; but I also like where we’re at right now. With a 7, 4, and 3 year old, we’re saying good bye to diapers, people can put on their own clothes/shoes/coats, they feed themselves, AND they can work together to get buckled into the car!. These things are exciting…..

  25. via

    Oh, we have the *exact* same conversation, even though we’ve just emerged from the midst of newborndom ourselves and into the fun, smiley, giggly stage. But. But, my back *hurts*. My body is neglected and well, I’m happy with what we’ve got. I’m excited to blaze forth with two souls who will replace our own. I get it.

  26. Blaze forth! Yes. It IS exciting to think about though.

  27. AMY says:


    I am not nearly as far into the having 2 kids journey as you are…
    I was good with one. The #2 surprised us and now it feels like it was always this way.
    but in the back of my head I’m just not sure if I am done. I love being pregnant, I love new tiny little babies, everything about them – tiny bums, wrinkly skin, warm longggg cuddles, I love it.
    But there are days when I am shrieking in my head about ‘I can’t wait until you can all put your own coats on and get in the truck by yourself and do up your buckles’ …. those are the days when I am good with what we have. Those days are when I am ready for the things to be easier.
    I guess we will see how it goes….
    Thanks for reminding me that its okay to be happy with what you have, even if sometimes you want more.

  28. Katie says:


    We spent last year having that exact conversation on and off. Sometimes I wanted it badly. Sometimes Eric wanted it and I didn’t. I think it’s quite natural for these thoughts to ebb and flow. The twin gene runs heavily in my family. I just think about that most times combined with rounding the corner to 40 and I’m *pretty* sure we’re complete.

  29. Oh man, the twin thing is in my family too! Every generation as far back as we know there are twins (on my mom’s side). Every time one of my cousin’s gets pregs, the whole fam squeals wondering if this will be the twins in our generation. Hasn’t happened yet…

  30. savagemama says:


    That is the exact conversation Seth and I have!

  31. savagemama says:

    Let’s try that again. Screaming kids made me hit enter a little too soon. And, yeah, that’s where I was headed. We have the same conversation a lot. He’s absolutely fine where we are. I am too but then biology comes knocking and my body wants another baby, maybe more than mind does. Okay, that’s all. Back to the screamers.

  32. Biology! Yes. Dang it is so real.

    Well, you had kids 23 months apart and then I did so if you have a third then…

  33. Zoe says:


    We have the three children I always wanted, and now our youngest is almost 18 mths, life really is a whole lot easier (except for the international flights thing – I’m from England, but live in the US so we don’t get “home” nearly as often as I would like). I do sometimes think of having a 4th, but my husband is like Andy, and very happy with our three. And there always has to be a last baby anyway, so it might as well be Violet, my little cuddle monkey.

  34. jen says:

    Do you have plans to reno the kitchen for new renters once you can move into the house? The space looks like it has such potential but the fridge and oven in a closet is so weird! Good for you for making the best of it–knowing something is definitely temporary is helpful too, I think.

  35. TRB Holt says:

    Burb~You made me remember when we moved from Minneapolis to upstate NY; we planned to build…DEAD of winter and I had two moving vans coming. One for storage and one for the “essentials” in our tiny, temporary apartment. You and Trav settled in, sharing a small room…each with 1/2 of his trundle bed…Woofer standing watch over his tiny new territory! All went pretty well, me driving you both each day to & fro the school where we planned to live, ME chasing down a little bully, (literally running him down…he was on his bike, he was 8 or 9 years old), pulling him from his seat and marching him up to the door of his apartment and “kinda” politely, informing his mama the pushing down, hitting, shoving face into the grass of my 6 year old son WOULD stop…and it did! DO NOT F#*k WITH MY CHICKS!! Ahhh the kitchen! Do you remember how itsy it was? The dreaded small table where you two happily colored Easter eggs 1 minute, (you knowing it was all for show, because Trav still believed in THE BUNNY, you were all the wiser) and the next minute put it “altogether” asking me if there was a Santa…a sad day for all. One important challenge for me there was to bake a Red Velvet Cake, in a very touchy oven…it was your Grandmother’s wedding cake, not the best finished product, but she loved it! Thanks for the trip down memory lane, you too will look back on small space camping and smile….xoxo

  36. Now that spring is slowly emerging…maybe you could set up a little work station outside for the kids and you…for cutting and pre cooking….and you might even enjoy eating outside, with a jacket ofcourse, this is a Montucky spring.

  37. Kerri says:

    500 degree oven = perfect temperature for baking homemade pita bread!

  38. I have been following your blog for a couple of years now and adore your family! You seem like wonderful people who really enjoy being together as a family. I feel as if I can relate to you!

    You have TOTALLY inspired me to step a bit out of my comfort zone and create a post about the unique small living space my young family of four is residing in… check it out if you have a moment!
    I can assure you, your space may just seem like a dream :)

  39. Lisa says:

    Cream of the West is my new favorite breakfast!! I use coconut milk instead and top it with blueberries and shredded coconut!! Thanks for sharing!! Delicious.

  40. you’ve mentioned you “eat a lot of vegetables, rice, tofu, beans and noodles in various combinations”….these falfal are super easy, quite delicious and actually get brown. Top with greek yogurt and serve with a salad or hummus and pita. Super easy and yummy:

  41. Amy says:

    Your moms stories always bring a tear to my eye and a smile to my face. A wise woman, that one.

  42. Jean says:

    Sigh, in our house anything with a flat, horizontal surface is a place for piles. It’ll never change. I do like a cleared kitchen, though.

    My God, you are going to be in 7th heaven with more space.

    Did you hear we’re getting a little dog?

  43. You inspired me to let my girl assist with making dinner (and washing the dishes after dinner) last night. She was so delighted. Not sure why I don’t do that more. Oh and I have that EXACT dresser, came to us when I was a teenager spray painted with a black and white camo pattern, painted dark red during my college years and then pepto pink, how it remains as my daughter’s dresser. Love the kitchen cabinet transformation.

  44. FinnyKnits says:

    Oh man, yeah. The kitchen. What a challenge. And not like a nice fun one where you learn things and feel better about life.

    At least, I wouldn’t. But you are better in that way. I bet you, of all people, can make this beast work. At least until you can break free into your new kitchen where I imagine you will revel THE PANTS off of it.

    Hey – just a thought from my college days – if your oven doesn’t work worth a damn, why not use it for storage? I used to put my off season clothes in there when my landlady refused to fix it.

    I also dumped aquarium gravel down the drain before I moved out, but I don’t recommend it.

  45. Melina says:


    Just want you to know…I’m living in the woods for a month, in a super intense W EMT program. But whenever i get into town and get a blip of internet, I tune into your blog and devour the writing and the photos and the updates. I may not be commenting as much, but I’m here sister! Looking forward to meeting you someday!


  46. Homestead says:

    Mmmmm. My kitchen is about that size and has pink countertops. We call it the Barbie kitchen. I have a gas cooktop that will not simmer (boil only) and a dead built in microwave (I store files in it) that took out the controls to the auto-clean on the oven when it died.

    I feel your pain.

    Also… I have the red version of your yellow table (it was my great-grandmother’s) but it is horribly faded (and the legs are rusting)…. any thoughts on how to freshen up the top?