What’s cooking at the cabin tonight? Something hearty, we hope. Because fresh air fun really builds an appetite. Make extra helpings, too. When you’re at the cabin, you never know who will drop by: kids, grandkids, friends, neighbors. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the pie.
And they all gravitate toward the kitchen. A good thing – as Martha Stewart would say – if yours caters to a crowd.
And it is easy to accommodate the whole gang if you keep a few principles in mind: an open floor plan, multiple work stations and the right kinds of appliances.
Cabin kitchens traditionally are open to the living area, according to Franklin and Esther Schmidt in their book, “Cabin Kitchens and Baths.” Early on, this was a necessity to conserve on heat and square footage, say the Schmidts. Today, log and timber-frame cabin kitchens are usually designed as part of a great room. Combined with living and dining areas, the open floorplan kitchen is geared toward socializing and eating as well as cooking.
An open-plan kitchen should also let you savor the outdoors while you cook. A wall of windows in the kitchen can offer lakeside vistas. French doors beyond a peninsula and breakfast room can beckon you down to the dock. Kitchens with a floor plan opening to a deck, porch or patio make entertaining a breeze.
But what if your retreat is a warren of small rooms? Think creatively. It may be possible to borrow space from an adjacent room, hallway or porch (if it has a foundation). Eliminating a wall entirely or even partially can turn a dark, isolated kitchen into one that’s bright, airy and connected to the rest of the cabin. This way, you can monitor the kids or stay in touch with guests while cooking.
Think Outside the Triangle
When you have a crowd to feed, it’s all hands to the pump. By involving family and guests you not only will get out of the kitchen faster, you’ll make each meal a celebration.
Augment the traditional work triangle (the shortest walking distance between sink, fridge and stove) with multiple work stations. Group the self-contained stations according to different functions: storage, food prep, cooking, baking, cleanup and dining. That way, Dad can prepare the steaks for the grill, Mom can prepare the salad, friend Suzy can sauté her signature shrimp appetizer and newly arrived in-laws can chat over their glasses of wine – all without bumping into each other.
Islands and peninsulas put the “fun” in functional. Not only do they create additional work stations, guests find them irresistible. (What’s not to like about sitting on a bar stool and chatting with the cook while you nibble appetizers?) Islands can even make mundane tasks like husking corn seem more of an adventure than a chore. Depending on your needs, an island can sport a small sink, cooktop, pot or plate storage, refrigerator drawers – even a dishwasher or recycling bins. A high wraparound shelf will hide clutter from the rest of the great room and act as a serving area or a counter to rest your beverage.
A kitchen should be at least 15 feet wide, say pros, to feature a central island. Peninsulas don’t require as much clearance as a freestanding island, yet they still provide plenty of counter space and storage.
If you have the room, the trend today is multiple islands. Perimeter islands replace walls in an open kitchen and let guests “moor” without getting underfoot. Interior islands provide additional space for storage, prep and clean-up.
A kitchen design plan must give full consideration to the type and placement of appliances. A word of advice: Choose reliable brands. However much you love your wilderness retreat, it may be hard to entice a repairman to visit. Second, choose appliances that will enable you to effortlessly whip up tasty meals and clean up easily. For example:
• Sealed gas burners contain spills. (Good if you’re the type who gets distracted by all the hungry swimmers running in from the lake.)
• Large burners and high-BTUs on commercial-style ranges boil big pots of water quickly – for preparing a boatload of spaghetti.
• Convection ovens – an option on electric and dual-fuel ranges – use fans to circulate heat around food, cooking faster and more evenly.
• Griddles and grills available on many ranges and cooktops are a great help in satisfying a crowd hungry for flapjacks or grilled cheese.
• High-capacity dishwashers with three racks have 20 percent more room than traditional models.
• Under-counter icemakers can produce up to 60 pounds of ice cubes a day – a hot summer nicety when serving gallons of ice tea or pitchers of margaritas.
• Refrigerator drawers store everything from gazpacho to nuts.
• Warming drawers let stragglers sit down to a hot meal.
• Hanging racks make handy storage for pots and utensils and keep items within arm’s reach in the cooking center.
No matter how you design your kitchen, make it a place where the generations bond over the day’s catch and friends exchange laughs along with recipes. And … say – whoever’s having blueberry buckle for dessert, mind if we drop by?
The Carter Kitchen: Baker’s Dozen
When Tom and Ali Carter were seeking a Shangri-la close to home they found it, appropriately enough, on Lake Shangri-la in Bristol, Wis. Just 40 miles from their primary residence, the couple and their 11 children spend weekends, vacations and holidays at the lakehome. Unfortunately, the original cabin kitchen measured only about 4 feet by 10 feet. So the Carters turned to David McNulty, a certified kitchen designer and president of Kitchen & Bath Creations in Park Ridge, Ill., to design a bigger kitchen.
“I wanted the new kitchen to be attractive and functional,” says Ali. Also, storage was a tall order. Another requirement: accessible and useable counter space for the older children. (The children range in age from 16 down to newborn.)
In response, McNulty designed a 225-square-foot addition with floor-to-ceiling cabinetry and a large refrigerator. Cabinets with seeded glass doors above the peninsula pull natural light from the lakeside into the space, while creating an additional 10 square feet of cabinets for storage. A built-in microwave cabinet features space-saving retractable doors, and a large appliance garage houses a toaster, blender, juicer and other small appliances.
Materials were chosen for low maintenance, says McNulty. Dark, antique-glazed alder wood cabinets hide everyday wear and tear, and the simple door style is easy to clean. Soapstone countertops, while naturally beautiful, are also a dense, tough and enduring surface. A multicolored porcelain backsplash throughout the kitchen resists absorption of splattered food from cooking and food prep.
Two full-sized ovens turn out roasts, breads and racks of cookies. Two heavy-duty griddles on the rangetop keep up with demands for French toast, eggs and “whatever else needs frying up,” laughs Ali.
The kitchen is open to a four-stool peninsula for snacking, an extra-large breakfast area and a large dining room where the family eats all meals.
The wood top, plank style dining table has wrought iron legs and benches custom made to fit on either side. “It seats us comfortably,” says Ali. “We have two Spanish style chairs at either end where Tom and I sit. The baby sits in a high chair, and five children fit easily on each bench.”
When the Carters entertain company, there’s another table by the fireplace where the kids sit.
The Bystrom Kitchen: A Crowd Pleaser
When Jody and Sandy Bystrom remodeled their cabin in the north woods of McKinley State Park, Minn., they wanted a kitchen fit for entertaining a large number of family and friends. Kitchen designer Melissa Lill of the Floor to Ceiling Store in Duluth, Minn., met the challenge with two large, multipurpose islands in an L-shaped layout.
A large cooktop in the center island allows the Bystroms to interact with guests and enjoy sweeping views of Lake Vermilion while preparing meals. The island is also great for making bread, says Sandy, who loves to cook and bake with the grandkids.
A refrigerated beverage center in the second island provides easy access to snacks and a bevy of beverages – necessary for quenching the thirst of an active, outdoorsy crowd. “I didn’t want it taking up most of the fridge,” Sandy said. The second island also serves as an additional prep area. Both islands seat four to five people.
The kitchen required flooring that would stand up to heavy traffic, kids, pets and spills, so the Bystroms chose a floating laminate floor. Laminate – compressed layers of wood – looks like solid wood, but stands up better to abuse. To keep the floor toasty in winter (the Bystroms plan to retire there), they installed radiant heat beneath the floor.
A microwave center was designed for easy access by the main cook, but also can be used by a second cook without interruption. Double wall ovens are ideal for when the Bystroms host large parties or holiday get-togethers. Short on space? Instead of a second oven, suggests Lill, opt for a convection microwave that lets you microwave or bake.
“Even though everything’s in a triangle,” says Sandy, “there’s so much space you could fit six cooks in here doing something different – prepping, chopping, baking, cooking.”
Freelance writer Frances Sigurdsson dreams of one day owning an island archipelago.