Location: Putney, Vermont
Design and food writer Deborah Krasner couldn't figure out what was wrong with her kitchen. It had a sink, refrigerator, and stove arranged in the classic work triangle, just as tradition dictated. But there was no way for her whole family to prepare meals together without getting in one another's way. And, according to all of the books on the kitchen design, no alternative existed.
So Krasner set out to rethink the situation. She began to research the subject and mentally rearrange the layout of every kitchen she saw. Soon enough she came up with a solution—the zone theory—and a book, Kitchens for Cooks (Viking Studio Books, 1994). First friends started asking her for help and then she began to take on paying projects.
Now, a decade later, Krasner has had a hand in the creation of dozens of kitchens across the country and become a regular contributor to a variety of publications, such as Food & Wine, and National Public Radio's The Splendid Table. Only recently, however, did she apply her theory to her own kitchen in Putney, Vermont. The old space suffered from awkwardly arranged appliances, outmoded storage cabinets, and dated stick-on vinyl floor tiles. Krasner's redesign remedied these flaws and resulted in a kitchen that performs like a pro.
In the Zones
The triangle theory was born in the 1940s, when women typically flew solo in the kitchen. But having had to jockey for position with her husband and two children over the years, Krasner became skeptical of the scheme. She developed her own design concept based on the separate workstations found in many restaurant kitchens, where multiple cooks work simultaneously. Krasner groups all complementary appliances, storage devices, utensils, and supplies together, creating four zones: hot, cold, wet, dry.
The heart of her kitchen's hot zone, for example, is a six-burner cooktop, which has a built-in pot-filler faucet mounted on the wall above it, two deep drawers underneath it for pots and pans, and on either side of it, within easy reach, spices, knives, and tongs. Meanwhile, the cold zone is anchored by a built-in 36-inch-wide refrigerator and pullout pantry. The wet zone features an apron-front sink, a dishwasher, drainage racks, and storage for things like colanders and an electric tea kettle. Then there's the dry zone, centered around a 10-foot-long white Vermont marble–topped island with drawers full of baking-related equipment, including spatulas, parchment paper, and flour sifters.
Before ordering or building cabinets, Krasner suggests taking stock of everything you'll need to store. "Group all of your items into the four zones," she says. "Then subdivide them again by height and measure to make sure that the things you want to keep together, like measuring cups, can be stored in the same place." Planning storage space down to the last inch allowed her to forgo upper cabinets, which she finds awkward because they require lots of reaching. Instead, her new base cabinets are outfitted with drawers—34 of them. "Properly internally configured drawers, to be exact," she adds. "You can't just stack dishes on top of one another without dividers to hold them in place."
Even her refrigerator has a pullout bottom freezer. She also uses an often overlooked space: the toe kick. By mounting her base cabinets 8 inches above the floor (the U.S. standard is 3 to 4 inches), she created room for an extra row of drawers around the perimeter of the room, recessed a few inches so there's still room for toes.
The one beneath the double oven, for example, holds casserole dishes and baking sheets, while the pullout under the sink is reserved for cleaning supplies, scouring pads, and sponges. Other toe-kick drawers keep root vegetables cool and dark. One caveat: Most American appliances have a "curb line" that's designed to line up with a 3- to 4-inch toe kick; European models, however, often have higher curb lines that match up with the profile of raised cabinets.
A Corking Good Floor
Bending over the sink, chopping vegetables at the counter, and overseeing the sauté pan and stew pot for hours at a time can be exhausting work, particularly if the floor underfoot is hard and unforgiving like ceramic tile or concrete. But Krasner has a solution: cork. "It's a super-resilient material and it's just beautiful to look at," she notes. Cork is also a great sound
absorber, important in a roomful of stainless steel appliances and marble and soapstone countertops. While the material's durability has historically been a concern, new cork surfaces are sealed with coatings of polyurethane that prevent staining and slow wear and tear. Plus, natural cork is renewable and recyclable. Two other resilient (and green) flooring options are bamboo and real linoleum (itself a mixture of ground cork, linseed oil, and pigments), which is available in countless patterns and colors. Any of the three is guaranteed to put a spring in your step.
In The Know: Dumbwaiter
Beaneath the trapdoor in the kitchen floor is one of Krasner's most relied-upon assistants: a Woodwaiter. It's an electric elevator that moves standard 16-inch lengths of firewood (or any similarly sized object) from one floor to another—in this case, from the basement to the kitchen. The contraption is installed between existing floor joists and rests at a convenient loading height. At the touch of a button (or turn of a key), the device comes to life, lifting or lowering a 200-pound load up to 8 feet in less than a minute. Starting at $1,145. WB Fowler; 800-290-8510; .
Tuscan White Beans with Sage and Rosemary
Krasner isn't just a kitchen designer, she's a kitchen user. She has two cookbooks under her belt, including the James Beard Foundation Award–winning Flavors of Olive Oil. From its pages comes this versatile dish, which can be served room-temperature as a side salad, spooned over bread for an appetizing bruschetta, or turned into soup.
1 pound dried white navy or cannellini beans
1/2 cup 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 fresh sage leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- Soak beans overnight in cold water to cover. Drain and set aside.
- In a 5-quart heavy pot, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When it simmers, add the garlic and sage and cook until fragrant but not browned, about 2 minutes.
- Add drained beans and cover with an inch of fresh water. Cover pot and bring to a boil.
- When the water boils, remove cover, turn heat to low, add salt, and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until beans are very tender.
- Drain off any water, and add remaining oil, mi well. Salt and pepper to taste and garnish with rosemary. (To use as a soup, don't drain—instead, add water and puree.)
If you'd like to visit—and cook in—the kitchen featured here, go to for information on Deborah Krasner's culinary vacations.