Wednesday, 25 February 2015

How to Beautifully Kit Out Your Kitchen, Without Spending an Absolute Fortune

I love our kitchen. I love spending time in it, and I love our things. It's pretty well kitted out, for us, and we've done it slowly over time, without dedicating a huge budget. Here are my thoughts on creating a kitchen you'll love, that works well for your needs, affordably.

1. Thrift, early and often. Some of my best, most beautiful kitchenalia came from thrift stores - my brown betty teapot, my perfectly functioning antique Salter scales, as well as pretty much ALL our dishes. You don't need to buy all the bric-a-brac you see, just take a swing through regularly and the good pieces will stand out. Sometimes I don't find anything for months, then stumble upon a real gem. Just the other day, amid piles of proper junk, I found a silver jubilee mug from 1935 (that's right - King George V, not Betty) that I'm planning on giving as a gift at some point. That said, it needn't be valuable to anyone else as long as YOU like it - my favourite yellow jug for flowers was also a thrift store find, and it certainly isn't a collectors item, but I like it, and that's what matters. The key is to look regularly, and don't be disappointed to leave empty handed. And I know this sounds mercenary, but the best thrift stores are in communities with a large elderly population. Just sayin'.
2. Collect what's readily available near you. I collect vintage English transferware, as you may have noticed. I didn't decide to collect it, exactly - I found some old willow, and then got a little repro so we had enough to host at Christmas one year. It's easy to find, and inexpensive because, duh, I live in England. My favourite green dishes were £8 for the set - that's less than £1 a plate. If I lived elsewhere, maybe I'd collect Fiestaware, or Jadeite, or 70's Pyrex, or Welsh stoneware, or Polish Boleslawiec, or whatever - my point is, there is a wealth of vintage beauty wherever you are. If it's inexpensive, you're also more likely to use your beautiful vintage things on a daily basis.

Our two kitchen scales, which I use daily - one was from TK Maxx, and the other thrifted.

3. Cast a wide net. Discount stores like TK Maxx, or TJ Maxx in the US, can be great. Most of our baking things are from there, as well as our pestle and mortar, and some of our wine glasses. I'm also obsessed with wholesalers and industrial cookshops - there's one in central London near my old office. I got a properly huge cast-iron dutch oven from them for £20. I'm going to repeat that - huge cast-iron dutch oven, £20. They mainly sell to restaurants, so it isn't one of the big names, but the price was right for a piece I really only use to make chili for parties. Look around in your area - they can be great for all kinds of random kit, from vegetable peelers to chopping boards to aprons. If you can, subscribe to their email mailing lists as these types of stores have sales too, which is when you get the really crazy prices. Factory outlets can be good too - our smaller, more everyday-sized Le Creuset dutch oven has some very minor imperfections that don't bother me in the slightest. Ebay isn't my favourite, but it's certainly worth a look if you're on the hunt for something specific. I personally find it quite time-consuming and the shipping costs can be high. That said, I do like it for table linens. Lastly, don't totally discount your favourite (expensive) stores - I get the odd piece from Anthropologie in their sale, and I love them. I'd say browse full price, so you know what you truly want, then pounce on the sale. Again, sign up to the email mailing lists so that you don't miss an item you had your eye on when it finally goes on sale.

4. Don't buy anything you don't need, don't love, or can see yourself needing to replace in a few years. Don't buy anything that will just work 'for the time being', or just because it's on sale. Don't be tempted by cheap, seasonal, plastic junk (Target, I'm looking at you.) As much as I like discount stores, etc, I have to be strict with myself. Find a Le Creuset piece in the wrong colour? Leave it. Plastic margarita glasses? Leave it. Flimsy non-stick frying pan? Leave it. If you can make do until you can afford what you really want or need, you'll save big time.
5. Kit out your kitchen for YOU. So, maybe I don't need margarita glasses, but you do. We don't have a toaster. Don't feel you have to have something just because it's considered standard kit. Maybe you'd use a breadmaker more than a microwave, or a rice cooker more than a food processor. Indeed, maybe storage would be more useful than a dishwasher. Take your time, really think about how you use your kitchen, and don't buy things you don't need or love.

6. Get rid. Did someone very kindly send you flowers, and it came with a vase that you don't like, need, or have anywhere to store? Donate it to Oxfam! Still have chipped, awful, freebie mugs from your old work? Get rid. Have 5 broken potato peelers? For the love of god, get rid. Our kitchens (homes, lives) can so easily get cluttered with junk we didn't intend to live with. Clear. The. Junk. You'll make space for the life you mean to live. I'm not exaggerating.

Half reused, half Ikea.

7. Reuse. Out of the three, reduce, reuse, recycle, I feel like 'reuse' gets the least love. Reuse jars for storage! Reuse a pretty, cupless saucer as a soap dish! Like, as per the above, don't be afraid to get rid of things, but don't go buying something that came for free either. I especially like small jars to use as toddler snack jars.

My precious.

8. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. I can't remember if it was my mom's idea or mine to get us a waffle iron, but we use the hell out of that thing. Ask for the things you need, or ask for gift certificates. My new Japanese knife was paid for with gift vouchers from my mother-in-law (thanks again!), and the juicer was half-bought that way. Basically, if anyone asks what you want for Christmas, don't say 'I dunno', say 'a spiralizer!', or 'barbeque tools!', or whatever - especially good for fun, quirky things. I know I'd rather give a cocktail shaker than, like, a whisk.
9. Invest in quality where you can. I know this isn't always possible, but sometimes a good appliance will replace many others. When we bought our house, it had a lovely big range cooker in the old Victorian chimney breast - we were stoked about it. It turned out to be totally buggered, I burned myself on the OUTSIDE of it, and it caught fire twice. So we hemmed and hawed about getting a new one, but it's easily been one of the best purchases for the house - it's the heart of our kitchen, which is the heart of our home. Of course, the best thing isn't always the most expensive. In true manly style, my husband exhaustively researched the BEST range cooker, and it was actually mid-range as far as price. We're at a point in our lives now where we can occasionally invest in something nice, and I honestly believe it saves in the long run. OK, so I have to bake a LOT of bread to pay for that Kitchenaid, but the point is I'm baking it (right now, in fact). For you, it might mean a high-powered blender, or a kick-ass coffee machine - again, a worthy investment for me might not be the same for you.
That's what I think, anyway - the most important thing is to create a kitchen you enjoy spending time in, and the rest will fall into place.
Thrifted canisters, reused jar.

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