Tiny House, Tiny Kitchen. Does It Work?

“The heart of a home is the kitchen”, say a thousand design guides and real estate adverts.

It didn’t use to be, at least here in New Zealand. Kitchens, like the act of cooking, were hidden away. In most houses the kitchen was a closed-off room where visitors wouldn’t see mum’s bent pots or hear her scraping, from burnt pan to plate, a heap of Continental Savoury Rice.

Then about 1980 the kitchen’s status began rising — alongside the status of women, I theorise, and accompanying their greater clout over the designing and buying of homes. Women didn’t want to be isolated from others in the house, slaving away over a hot stove.

Alongside that were all the cultural and economic factors that made us more informed, sophisticated and aspirational about food and entertaining. As part of this, kitchens were to be spacious and cunningly designed, with “islands”, pantries, butler’s sinks, silent dishwashers and soft-close drawers.

Pardon the social history tangent. The point I’m getting at is: In this great historical trend toward enormous and glittering galleys, what does it mean to have a tiny kitchen?

Is it workable? Is it safe? Will it stink or steam up the whole house? What is lost in the concession to tininess?

The kitchen of the Mustard Yellow House.

Our Great Tiny Kitchen

Our kitchen is a fraction more than 2 metres by 2 metres, taking up the front quarter of the house.

It’s arranged in a U-shape , which is one of the few layouts possible in a tiny house on wheels.

A galley kitchen can work in a tiny house. Tom and I have stayed in this one:

The Doris Jean design — Piha, New Zealand.

It’s a beautiful house with its own advantages, but the kitchen size would have got me down. Too little storage.

Putting Things Away Is Important

Storage space in a tiny house is precious. To my way of thinking, and to our way of living, putting a lot of that space in the kitchen is a must.

That’s because you need a fair amount of “things” in a kitchen, and for safety and cleanliness you need to be able to put it away.

Built-in shelves in the Mustard Yellow House’s kitchen.

And putting things away is important for another reason, which is linked to both interior design and psychology. Clear surfaces, benchtops and access-ways make a tiny house seem bigger, more orderly, less dark, and sufficient to its basic job. Clutter can cause stress.

To avoid this demoralising and dangerous clutter, you must put your pots and dishes away. Which means you have to wash them.

Our small double sink.

The Clatter Of Pot And Plate

I have no dishwasher — there’s no space, and it’d be too big a power drawon our solar. I do the dishes the old way, in a sink of hot water with eco-safe detergent, and with the radio or a podcast playing.

Careful How You Reach

The pantry is as big as you’ll get in a tiny house, but its smallness can be a trial.

To create space on the shelves, I’ve shifted what supermarkets call “baking needs” to plastic tubs in a lower cupboard or on the floor under the cupboards. (Unused floor space in a tiny home? Never!)

Even after that, and with lazy susans and can-stacking shelves, the pantry is packed and it’s easy to knock things over while reaching for what I need.

I suppose it would be easier if we were the kind of people who used only salt, pepper, baked beans and one kind of oil. The occasional knocked-over bottle is the price we pay for food sophistication!

Tiny Cooking

Some thoughts on how cooking in a tiny home is the same as, or different from, how things are in a bigger house.

  • It can get smelly and steamy. So there’s an electric fan and three windows. Dinner smells can still linger, though, especially upstairs in the bedroom. Better to roast or bake than to fry. I haven’t tried a full-fledged dinner party yet, but I’d do it in summer, when guests can be relaxing outdoors rather than in the path of cooking smells.
  • It’s pointless cooking up big amounts of stuff like stock or keeping lots of leftovers, because there’s too little storage room for it. So we usually cook what we need that day.
  • With organisation (i.e. not cluttering up benchtops) it’s possible to cook quite complicated meals. Need to serve four? No problem.
  • A chopping board that’s big enough to sit across the sink has turned out to be a big advantage.
  • There’s no space or power for a microwave oven, so I’ve rediscovered how to heat things in pots or inside the oven. As I type this, it’s the first time I’ve wondered if I miss having a microwave. So the answer must be “No”.
  • Our oven, a gas-bottle-powered Thetford Caprice, exceeds expectations. It’s small, so no roast turkeys, but it has cooked everything just fine. That said, the grill switch is playing up.
  • Alexa, the virtal assistant, is a help in the kitchen! “Alexa, timer 12 minutes”; “Alexa, sink light 50 per cent”; “Alexa, second timer, 15 minutes”.

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