Thursday, May 31

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

I find inspiration in the old adage "big things come in small packages". I have always taken it to mean that one didn't have to be big and ahem, tall in order to make a difference. From my hardly-over-five-foot vantage point, I have taken the proverbial statement to heart.

But then again, there's that good ol' "size doesn't matter" phraseology out there and that's the one I have a little protest with.

Because it does indeed matter.

When it comes to the size of your kitchen.

I have mentioned it once or twice that a typical Dutch home follows a typical Dutch pattern. Houses tend toward the narrow and tall; just like the physique of the Dutch themselves. Our home is three stories of row house height, including two sets of narrow twisting stairs between floors. We call them the stairs of danger, but that is fodder for another post, another day. I shall make a note of it and share the story behind the moniker soon. But the house? The house has 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (meaning two rooms where one can take a bath or shower), 2 toilets, a living room, a dining room and the world's tiniest kitchen. t.i.n.i.e.s.t.

Possibly that last is an exaggeration since I have been in homes here where the kitchen is so tiny it is nearly non-existent. Like an afterthought perhaps. The builders stepped back and surmised all that their hands had rendered and then hit their foreheads with a resounding thud admitting "Doh! We forgot to put in a kitchen!" And then they converted a closet.

One of our first family outings after our arrival in The Netherlands was to the city of Dordrecht, where shortly after disembarking from the train we were adopted right off the street by the sweetest Dutch Oma in the world. She asked us if we wouldn't like to walk along with her and she would show us some lovely gardens near her home. I guess we had starry eyed tourist written all over our awe smacked faces as we wandered along the street. We accepted her invitation and she chatted away in Dutch to us as we walked along the streets and alleys. It goes without saying that the prattle was nonsensical to me as she happily pointed out shops and details about her city.

As we approached her house, it became very clear that she was residing in what once was a cloister for a convent there in Dordrecht. The snatches of Dutch my husband was understanding and translating confirmed this theory for me. We wandered through the gardens which were indeed lovely and arrived at the front door of her domicile. She eagerly invited us inside for some refreshment.

Placing her skeleton key in the lock, she swung the door inward and we all filed in. Into the tiniest house in the world. t.i.n.i.e.s.t.

Her living room was possibly a 10x10 foot space, crammed with furniture--a reclining chair, an end table, a round dining table with 4 chairs, an armoire full of books, a sidebar for storage, 2 or 3 lamps, a tapestry foot stool, a wooden chest under the single window--and knick knacks stacked on every possible surface. She chatted away to us about the photos prominently displayed around the room and insisted that we make ourselves comfortable while she served us some snacks. I turned to watch her work in her kitchen area. It couldn't be referred to as a room proper. It was literally an alcove in the side of the living room which had been updated to include plumbing for a sink, electricity to run the hot plate, a single small counter along with one small shelf above the sink for storing dishes and a tiny refrigerator in the corner. From that minuscule space she produced coke and cookies which she placed on the round table, and then bananas, and some grapes. Then little cakes. It was great, so great to be there and to be taken in and taken over by her hospitality. I only wish we could go back now and find her again, so that I could actually converse with her, rather than only being able to offer my paltry Dank u wel over and over again.

So, in truth that has to be the tiniest kitchen in the world. But the size of mine has to run a close second.

Galley style, recently remodeled (but not enlarged?) it is a sleek and lovely design with it's white cabinets, large storage drawers and 4--count 'em 4 cupboards. I have a gas top stove, a half-size dishwasher and a combination microwave/convection/electric oven which has the capacity to hold, exactly one 9x13 inch casserole dish. Or a small cookie sheet. What it cannot hold is a full size muffin tin, a deep dish roasting pan, or a turkey for Thanksgiving. Believe me, I didn't even try.

This will be telling. When I tried to take photos of this itty-bittiness to post alongside these words, I couldn't even get an angle in the room to take a picture of my tiny appliances and my tiny work space. That's how small my kitchen is.

But I don't mind so much really.

In this as with most everything in our lives, we have just learned to adapt and make do. Preparing for dinner parties is always an interesting sight, wherein I use every available space including the top of the refrigerator (which is also small) to hold plates and trays full of food not quite ready to serve, but which need housing somewhere until it's time for the table. The shelves of the fridge will be bursting with containers which I have expertly arranged and balanced so nothing gets squished. Or at least not squashed beyond recognition. I have even been known to ask one of the children to "just stand there and hold that for a minute" as I make space on my counter top for one more mixing bowl or cutting board moment.

I do regret that the space is just not conducive to lengthy chef lessons for my kids. I have very fond memories of cooking side by side with my Dad in the kitchen as he prepared meals for our family. I learned to cook under his tutelage and I am sad that there just isn't the space to have the kids in the kitchen with me. At least not all of them at the same time.

The one true upside I see to having such a tiny space is that I don't do a whole lot of baking here. That's not a bad thing, as the cookie eating monster that I am can do without a daily dose of snickerdoodles.

Trust me, these hips don't lie.


  1. ahahaha. I love the picture at the end. Wow. I admire you for your ability to adapt and make it work... I don't know if I'd do that. I think I'd do a lot of whining and make hubby take me out to eat. A lot. Hey, I guess that's not all bad!

  2. That photo is my darling eldest boy, who hasn't yet appeared on this blog much. He said, "oh great you're taking a picture of my butt" when I asked him to demonstrate the width of the room.
    I promised him I would be discreet in the publishing...

  3. HAH! now this is asking for a comment if anything is.. We Dutch don't need much room to prepare our food, we just need a whole lot of love and a huge dining room that seats eight easy..:o)
    I will have to follow up on this post by making a picture of my kitchen...we could set a new trend here Jenn
    By the way, I bet most people in your street have already torn the middle wall out to connect the kitchen with the living room area.

  4. marloes-
    Yes! Please let's see a picture of your tiny kitchen too! And I have heard that over and again from the Dutch about the kitchen not needing to be big, it's the dining room that has the love! You will see though, from any American readers that a big kitchen is what we are accustomed to and can't imagine life without.
    If this were my house, I would certainly tear out the wall and extend the space in the kitchen. I like the whole open room idea.

  5. Since I'm not much of a cook the whole kitchen-as-an-afterthought seems kinda cool to me.

    However, I love the description of Dordrecht are your impromptu hostess. That was lovely.

  6. So maybe I will stop complaining about our tiny german kitchen, it is now no longer the tiniest! Small by american standards, but larger than your dutch one. I have been in german homes that have large, beautiful, spacious kitchens - so they are tending towards that in newer homes.

  7. hello - I've seen you 'around' the place and thought I should drop in - I'm glad I did and I can't wait to hear more about life in Holland!

  8. Ahhhh, small kitchens. Our kitchen in Toronto was so small that I had to house our plates and pans in the hall closet. I hear you and empathize, truly. My kitchen in Dublin was a closet, literally 1/4 the size of my bathroom.

    I think the reason Americans love big kitchen is that it allows cooking to be a social event. I know I love to have people over for dinner and chatting while cooking it always one of my favorite past times. That's hard to do in a cell.

  9. Um... let's see- when I move back to the States, I want a big kitchen, big bathrooms, big living room, big bedroom, big EXTRA bedroom, big tacky garage, big overgrown yard... get the picture? This from fifteen years of living in a beautiful, quaint, hilltop medieval Italian town, where quaint = tiny.

  10. To me, it sounds absolutely adorable and cozy and quaint and how I wish I could be there to see it!!!!!

    My BIL lives in London. It's very small there too LOL. All the appliances are half the size of ours here in Canada. They even remarked at how LARGE everything was when they came here. They were in shock! (I kindof got the feeling it was said in a way - to mean - we are overly excessive here) ;0) haha. Which. Is very true.

    I prefer yours.

  11. Nope. Mine's tinier. In fact, it is nonexistent! I'll take pictures. :)

  12. LOL but I bet you can reach everything you need without leaving your bowl eh?

    Nice blog

  13. I love that picture! And I love tall dutch homes... I briefly stayed in one about 9 years ago when I was on tour.

  14. kat-
    The newer homes here are also building bigger kitchens! But the older, full of character homes like ours, have the itty bitty kitchen space.

    Welcome! And thanks for stopping to say something!


    it's definitely grown on me!

    can't wait to see the pics!

    Lady M-
    That is most certainly an advantage!

    Thanks! Yeah, they are cool houses.

  15. I could probably stand to have smaller living areas; maybe then I wouldn't be such a pack rat!

    Seriously, though, I think Americans are used to having large kitchens because we have eat-in areas in the kitchen. In my family, all of the action centered around the dining room table, so that space was more important than the actual kitchen. At the table was where we sat over long meals and talked, or in the case of large parties, sat and rolled all the lumpia!

  16. I am in awe of your adaptability! A "tiny" kitchen (hey - it's all relative) put us off a couple of townhouses when we were in the market here.

    If you do find that sweet lady, take a photo of her kitchen for us too!

  17. songbird-
    Yes, that's where the action centers in this house too. Around the table. Lots of good memories are being formed there!

    passing on a home with a "tiny" kitchen here in Holland, would have you passing on EVERY home!
    But, really it all begins to work. It just takes some perspective...

  18. Hello Jenn! I am so happy to find your blog. The kitchen in our flat is fairly small as well but I think we have made the most of the space. However the second hall closet also serves as a pantry and storage for big appliances like the frite thingy. I will post some photos on my blog when I have the chance.

  19. Jules-
    Hi ya! I am glad you found my blog too as it enabled me to find yours!
    Thanks for the comment.

  20. I remember Dutch kitchens being so small that my mother didn't even want me in there to help wash the dishes. And, gosh, that didn't bother me at all.

    Great picture! Tell your son thanks for being so cooperative.

  21. The kitchen in my last home was very small, but I think yours may be smaller! A bigger kitchen was on my list of must-haves for our new house. The downside of having my big kitchen is that everyone expects me to cook in it! I thought I'd just hang out in there and maybe twirl a bit now and then. Now, I cook and I'm trying desperately to get good at it. I have the big kitchen to live up to.

  22. Old apts in Boston almost always have galley kitchens. It is my one requirement for our new place to NOT have one.

    Kitchens need to be large!

  23. anno-
    Ha! I am sure my kids would LOVE it if I banished them from the kitchen at dishwashing time. Unfortunately for them, that's when I vacate and leave the space to them.

    Twirl away friend. Surely kitchens were made for dancing!

    I so agree! I can handle this one for now, but the someday kitchen is going to have to have a little more space!