Making Use of Two Dining Areas

I like home architecture, and reading about building and designing trends. One trend gaining in popularity is doing away with the dining room and creating one casual eating area in or attached to the kitchen. A lot of people with older homes that have formal dining rooms are turning them into offices, playrooms, and hobby rooms. I think this is a good idea in general.  People too often get stuck on the label on the floor plan instead of rearranging spaces to work in their home.

I’ve just taken a slightly different approach that I am going to share.

We use our dining room as a dining room, and our casual “breakfast room” as a craft and office space.  

Kind of weird, I guess, but it really works for us.

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Why we eat in the dining room:

There are a few benefits I’ve found to eating in a separate room.

-Everyone sits to eat. I don’t want to leave little kids eating in a room alone so I sit with them, even if they are just having a snack and I’m not. If they were in the breakfast room, I’d be in the kitchen doing my own thing. But since I can’t see them in the dining room, I bring a book and am forced to sit. At dinner time, there no TV asking to be watched in our line of sight.

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(Lest you think it is all formal snack time at the table, I present this picture.)

-No looking at a messy kitchen while eating. Nothing depresses me more than a messy kitchen. Making dinner makes a mess than can’t be cleaned up right away.  Having to see it while I eat would ruin my mood, as I am crazy.

-A small change of scenery. No one likes to feel like they are in one room all day.

-Meals feel like more of an event, and break up the day, instead of having it descend into an endless stream of free play and snacking

Why our dining room works for us:

It is directly off the kitchen. No hallway or butlers pantry in between, it is just a step away.

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It is a pleasant space with windows on two sides. It has a pretty view toward the pasture in front of our house, along the road. Off the side we can see the play area, garden, and our 150 year old oak

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It is not formal or fancy. It holds a farmhouse style table with two extra leaves (only one is in now.) All the other furniture is from Craigslist.  I like it, but from day one have never felt paranoid about kids using it, because it was already used and was not expensive.

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How we use the breakfast room:

This is where the kids color, do playdoh, and paint. They also do puzzles and board games they are trying to keep out of the reach of the baby, but those mostly happen on the floor. They use it for worksheets assigned by me, and homework for school.

I sit here for my weekly menu planning session, doing garden plans, dealing with paperwork, and writing thank you notes.  If I had a laptop I would probably blog and upload photos here too.

It is also our pantry.

Why it works:

-I like that all these activities can happen in the heart of the home, so the kids can be working on something while I am in the kitchen or living room.  If they need help or have a question, I am right there.  But they are occupied and have a place to easily store their things, both of which make me happy.

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-It works well as a pantry to hold things that need to be easily accessible but not right in the kitchen.  I don’t mind stepping in here for a can of something, a new bottle of ketchup, or a box of pasta.

-We have a round table that functions like a desk. It was left in an apartment Matt lived in when we was single, and he painted and stained it. So if it gets glue or paint on it, that’s okay.

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-The cabinets make great craft storage. There is a basket on the table for pencils, crayons, glue sticks, and scissors. It is always out on the table so the kids can sit and color or glue without asking or having to get something out.

-Inside the cabinet are their other craft supplies that I take out when I feel it is needed. Rain, a project I am working on, crankiness, or something like that will prompt me to go into this cabinet. There is glitter glue, s lot of acrylic paints, midge lodge for papier-mâché, markers (ugh), stickers, a Spirograph, things like that. There is also a stack of coloring books and the like.

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(I did not clean this before taking this picture.  Obviously.)

How I Use it the Room as an Office:

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The drawer above is a junk drawer with pens, stamps, batteries, and all that. (Isn’t this

The cookie jar, pencil sharpener, and strange collection of tools and wires rounds out this countertop.

On the right of the counter I keep a basket for papers and things I am currently dealing with. Grocery ads, coupons, catalogs, my weekly menu plan and to do list, pictures from the kids. Once a week I go through it and throw almost all of out, but some gets put away in the drawer below. I also put my phone and iPad in here when they are charging or not in use. (Ha.).

I have a drawer below that with folders for the kids. There is one for each kids artwork I am saving from that year (mostly it gets thrown out the day it’s created, only special ones make the folder), and a separate folder with their school stuff.  At the end of each year I put the folder on a shelf in my closet, to be found upon my death.

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And how it functions as a pantry:

The rest of the cabinetry is my pantry. Drinks and drink ware to the left….

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Snacks, extra things, canned goods, and pasta to the right. All my everyday ingredients are in the baking corner of my kitchen, not in this pantry.

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I leave you with photographic evidence of the insanity of open shelving all throughout the kitchen:

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This would be like living in crazy town.

So if you have duplicate dining spaces in your home, see if you can dedicate one for eating every sit down meal. Give the other space a purpose, and store things there to achieve that purpose! Crafts, office supplies, sewing, whatever you would really use. If it isn’t working, move things around. Live in your house.


Setting Up a Baking Corner

Aren’t these pictures beautiful?

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(both from Pinterest, can’t find the original source)

Please don’t put your baking supplies in a place like this!

It will look great in pictures, and that is about all it is good for.

Put them in your kitchen.

Wherever you stand in the kitchen the most. This tends to be somewhere between sink and stove.

(For me, it is in the corner to the right of the cooktop.)

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Put your flour, sugars, oils, vinegars, salt, and spices in your kitchen “hot zone” where you are standing.  Also your baking powder and baking soda, cocoa, cornmeal, cornstarch, bread crumbs, nonstick spray, and shortening.  All of that stuff.

Mine is the cabinet on the right of the picture above.

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Some baking stuff on the left, spices on the right.

Some can go on the counter. Some in a cabinet.  Deep drawers would be great.

I also have a few things on the counter (white sugar, Brown sugar, panko bread crumbs, and all-purpose flour in the big King Arthur tin.)

My lazy susan holds almost everything else:

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I have a lot of bulk sized items, a lot of unopened extra bags because I stock up when there is a sale, and everything fits easily.  It definitely look better with matching labeled canisters, but it is fine.

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Measuring cups and spoons should be here too, in a spot where you don’t even need to take a step to get them. I have seen pictures of people storing them on hooks inside a cabinet door. I have never tried this but it seems like it would get annoying gingerly placing them on hooks and having them clatter about when you open the door.

I prefer a drawer:

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I moved my spatulas to a canister to make room.

Just keep them nearby. You will soon know exactly where everything is as you use it more.

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Even if you are not a big baker, all of these ingredients are used in everyday cooking too. They belong next to you in the kitchen.

Below this little drawer is a little cabinet for small appliances I use in baking, like the food processor, blender, and bread machine.

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Now this area is all set up for my “everyday” type baking. Breads, cookies, muffins, anything like that can be easily made without trekking back and forth to some distant pantry. It is all right here. If I need to make a marinade, a salad dressing, meatballs, whatever, everything I need is here or in the fridge. The only things I keep in my pantry cabinet, a bit further away, are pasta, canned goods, and unopened extra things like sauces and other fridge stuff.  (Come to think of it, my extra flour, etc. should be probably go there too.)

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Whatever is living in the cabinets by your sink or your cooktop, see if you can give it the boot. If your sugars and flours are in a pantry, take them out and put lesser used small appliances in there instead, or bakeware, or whatever else you don’t use every day that is taking up prime real estate in your cabinets.

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And I think you will find that baking becomes less tedious, as the whole routine of taking things out and putting them back is drastically simplified.

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My mom says it is weird and that all food should be together, in a pantry!  What do you think?


Laundry/ Mudroom Spring Cleaning

This will be extremely boring.

I have shared my riveting laundry room saga before, and how my washer and dryer got banished to the mudroom while our house was being built. I like the idea in theory (dirty clothes being dropped right in), but my particular laundry room/ mudroom is just sort of awkward at the moment.

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I have toyed with a few ideas to make things neater:

1. Moving the washer and dryer to the basement, where I would have more room. I don’t mean room for things like sorting and ironing clothes, because I don’t do any of that. But it would give me more mudroom space. I could line the wall with a row of shaker pegs, and a crate for soccer stuff. I think this is probably insane, and I would be making my like more difficult in order to make room for a bunch of junk.

2. Getting a stackable washer and dryer. I would still need some sort of narrow shelf for laundry supplies, but I would have room for more hooks. Unfortunately, my old units continue to live, making horrible noises and requiring two spin cycles for clothes to not come out soaking wet. So that is not in the cards right now. We will be together until the bitter end. Also I question my ability to reach the dryer controls in a stacked set up.

Which leaves me with small, very inexpensive tweaks. Thankfully spring weather is right around the corner so snow gear has been taken out of the coat closet. (Ex-pantry. With shelves and everything.).

However, I am also dealing with this:

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Why have I added these to the craziest room in the house? Good question. I guess because I need them relatively near a sink and I can clip the grow light on the wire shelf. But next year I will find a better way.

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(No the kitchen sink is not a better spot.)

So. My one possible move is to declutter and organize. I do wish I could do something about the wire shelf because I find it really hard to reach. I am definitely over wanting styled shelves, and think cabinets would be perfect. Much less busy, and much more storage.

But, there are some things to be done with a budget of zero dollars…

I can at least tidy this area. Love those polar bear baby shoes.

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And do something about this…. situation.

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I actually like the shelves for the coat closet.  The children are more likely to put the coat on a shelf than a hanger, and they don’t wrinkle easily.  The drinks on the floor need a new home.

A sticky hook on the door for the ballet bag is one less thing on the bench.

(It helps that the big girls are at school and so their jackets and backpacks are with them!)

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Ugly shelf organized. (Excessive stash of Mrs. Meyers cleaning products revealed.)  Seedlings moved to basement.  I’ll just keep a few gallons of water down there.  I thought about putting them in our bathtub but i don’t think Matt could mentally handle it.

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Now I am feeling very grateful for this little hardworking room, giant bottle of bug spray and all!  It just needed a good clean, and a little change of attitude.

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(I assume any house with little kids has rocks on every windowsill?)

I wonder if there will be enough room in here when swimsuits and beach towels re-enter our lives.  Would you ever move your laundry to the basement for more room on the main floor?


Housekeeping advice from Ricky the dishwasher

When I was in college, I worked at a locally famous barbecue restaurant. We had huge lunch rushes and then a lot time sitting around. They employed some real characters in the kitchen, including a dishwasher who quite literally lived in the broom closet. He was a hard worker despite his problems, and was promoted to assistant cook. Soon he was everyone’s favorite cook to work with because he got food out quickly and never seemed overwhelmed and angry.

Here was his advice to me when I asked him how he was so quick:

“You just do what you can, where you are.”

He didn’t mean this in a philosophical t-shirt slogan way. He meant to do what needs doing in your present physical location. If you were in the freezer getting fries, well then go ahead and get the onion rings. If you were outside sweeping, better wipe down the outside tables too. If you need to restock your napkins, straighten up the shelf that they are on so you find things easily next time you go in there. And then when tons of food orders started pouring in during the lunch rush, he was ready. There was no running out of onion rings and wasting time running to the freezer while he was supposed to be cooking. No frantically searching for a needed to go container in the messy supply room when an order came in. All of that was already done.

Here are some little ways that I have been doing what I can, where I am.

-organizing the kids bathroom cabinet while they take a bath

-doing one deep cleaning kitchen task while getting a snack or cup of tea

-collecting glasses out of whatever bedroom I go in

-cleaning one shower wall every time I take a shower (keep a dish wand filled with soap and vinegar in the shower)

-bringing in a piece of two of firewood every time I go outside

-bringing up something from the deep freezer when I come up from working out in the basement

-cleaning out the snack cabinet when restocking from the grocery store

-throwing trash out of the car while getting gas (I guess everyone already does this!)

-weeding a small area while watching the kids play outside

-straightening a bookshelf after taking out a book

-dumping my water glass in a houseplant as I walk by

-always bringing a basket with me outside so I can collect eggs, gather kindling, or bring in things from the garden

It helps! The to do list is shorter because so much is happening naturally.

Happy Spring!


Rethinking the Linen Closet

I have been on a mission to redo the storage in my house. After realizing that traditional storage locations make no sense, I have been changing everything up around here. Things are now stored at their point of use, not where the label on the house plan dictates they should go.  I don’t have beautiful linen closet pictures, but I have functional storage.

Our pantry was in our mudroom and it got turned into a closet for coats, flashlights, and other things that live by the back door. The food that was in the pantry went in the kitchen. Pretty simple, but felt like a revelation.

Next up…. the linen closet. We have a large one upstairs full of junk. It held sheets, towels, extra toilet paper and toiletries, and the air mattress. I did not want to rearrange things in expensive crates. I did not want labels. I wanted to store things logically and for free.

My new organizing philosophy, store at point of use, made this one easy.

Storing towels- Towels are used in the bathroom. Obviously. And yet they are almost universally stored in a hallway. Can someone explain this to me. I divided them up and four went under each bathroom cabinet. I rolled them and they didn’t take up much room. I like to keep ratty towels for drying off muddy people or mopping up disasters. So I put them in the mudroom closet. Beach towels… this was a hard one. Our girls get changed into their swimsuits up in their rooms, so the beach towels went in a drawer in one of their dressers with their swimsuits and goggles. If that doesn’t work, I will move them to the mudroom closet in summer to grab on the way out. There will be more room since all the coats will be out of there.

Storing paper goods- a few rolls of paper towels under the kitchen sink, a roll in each bathroom for cleaning mirrors, and toilet paper divvied up among the bathrooms. We buy paper towels and toilet paper in bulk, so we still had extra. These went to the basement, which I like to think of as my mini grocery store. I only put things there if there are sufficient duplicates where they are needed, so that going to the basement is like going to the store to replenish that stock. I’m not explaining this well. Anyway.

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(Each bathroom has its own supplies.)

Sheets- they are used in the bedroom. I do not have a lot of extra sheets. In fact for our bed I have only one set. They are washed and put right back on. If someone happens to throw up (or other) in our bed, I strip it and put down throw blankets from the living room until everything is washed. Our kids have extra sheets because they have flannel ones for cold weather. I folded those up (very poorly) and they went in the top shelf of their closet.

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(Now it’s easy to clean the bathroom, restock the towels/ soap/ whatever is needed.)

What else- the aero bed went in the closet of the guest room where it is likely to be used. Spare toiletries were divided among the bathrooms. Extra sheets were thrown out, since they were completely useless and ugly. There was a collection of travel size toiletries that I moved to the guest room in a basket. Saved grocery bags for trash went into bathrooms as well. Extra blankets were folded at the bottom of beds or put in the guest room closet.

And now what is this empty closet for?

Well, we have a toy problem in this house, despite the fact that I buy them hardly any! The girls have a little play loft in the upstairs hallway off their bedrooms. So their toys are stored in the old linen closet. I take out a few at a time and rotate them out every week. It keeps them interested and able to clean up what is out (in theory). They are not allowed to open it, but they are welcome to request things. It works because they play right next to it, so the task of rotating their toys is easy. And therefore it actually happens!

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(This looks like a disaster, but because there are only a few sets of things out, they could clean it up quickly.)

So down with the linen closet! Unless you have one actually in the bathroom, because that would be perfect. And what is with all these extra sheets! Even if I had no need for a toy closet, I would still arrange my linen closet contents to be stored at point of use. The closet could be for gifts, out of season storage, or whatever else I don’t need easy access to at the moment.

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Cleaning day awaits!