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My Brother’s River House: How We Designed Their Kitchen Cabinets For Function, Ease And Storage – Emily Henderson


Welcome to the episode where I answer your most burning-nest question: Where is your brother going to put his Tupperware, XL oven mitts, and Vitamix?? Kitchens need to be first and foremost HIGHLY functional for the needs of the specific family, so as we were all designing the cabinetry I did the exercise that I like to do for all new construction cabinetry – place EVERY. SINGLE. THING. After doing this multiple times (first Portland Project, then the mountain house, then the farmhouse), I feel like I have a decent grasp on what should be within an arm’s reach and what is ok to walk a few steps for (more than you think). Is going drawer by drawer overkill? I don’t think so. And it’s honestly SO MUCH FUN because you get to fantasize about your life there. I usually take the cabinet maker’s drawings (what you’ll see below – NOT AN ACTUAL DESIGN PLAN) and I plug it into Keynote and overlay my text over each drawer and cupboard (aka nothing fancy). I think it just makes you feel really confident that you are designing the kitchen for YOUR cooking purposes.

Where Is The Kitchen In This House?

Emily Henderson Riverhouse Floorplan GROUND FLOOR With Border KitchenPantryOrg

We wrote a floor plan post that shows you how the whole house was laid out last week, but as you can see above, the kitchen is smack in the middle of the house with a ton of circulation around it, with a bar on the window side and the pantry tucked slightly out of site. It has a nice large island with the sink across from the range wall.

Now before you judge too hard and balk at the design THESE ARE THE CABINET MAKERS DRAWINGS. Meaning, none of the design is in here, including the hardware, wood tone, stone, tile, etc. These are JUST for the cabinet makers to approve the layout and the measurements and not a design plan.

Kitchen: Lower Cabinets Island And Bar

EmilyHenderson RiverHouse KitchenOrg Border 1 1

I have a few philosophies to consider (if doing new cabinetry and plumbing).

  1. Kids’ stuff should be low and in drawers and near the dishwasher if possible.
  2. Your dishwasher and garbage/compost should flank the sink (if it’s on the island or the same cabinetry run) but which side they land on doesn’t matter. I’m right-handed, I’ve had them on both sides and you just adapt, very very quickly. Sure, you might have a slight preference, but I think proximity to dishes from the dishwasher is more of a consideration (but barely). Of course, what you don’t want is to have a clearance problem or a traffic flow problem (too many people on top of each other because all the main functions are too close) but after years of stressing about which side these two elements should go, I’m happy to say they are both fine!

Kitchen: Range Wall And Back Of Island

EmilyHenderson RiverHouse KitchenOrg Border 2

Now their kitchen is certainly a lovely size, but once you forget the bar area (which is all beverage fridges and pebble ice) then they really only have the island cabinetry (which houses sink plumbing) and the range wall. Thus we needed to have upper cabinets (which we are executing more like hanging cupboards OVER the tile when it’s installed. OH AND DISREGARD the uppers in the first opener shot, we had to redo them as the wood around the inside came too thick). I took a stab at putting stacks of matching plates and bowls up there, maybe glassware, and then at the top pretty serving bowls (that will be harder to reach but doable). We have since added shelving above the bar for glassware because it didn’t make sense to me to not have your glassware near your indoor/outdoor bar.

The Pantry: Food And Extra Appliances

EmilyHenderson RiverHouse PantryOrg Border 1

I deeply encouraged them to have a medium-sized kitchen, with a separate pantry for all the food, mess, and random stuff. I have LOVED having the pantry be a place where I can shove stuff until I have time to clean (specifically when people are over). It’s definitely a luxury, but if you are designing a house with a decent amount of square footage now a more medium-sized kitchen with a separate pantry room (butler’s pantry?) is a great thing to think about. We all really love some of the same things that we have in ours, including the pull-out canned goods drawer and the deeper food drawers with half exposed (this allows you to put potatoes, onions, and garlic in there should you want to). Like so!

FYI since this shoot we have turned the upper shelves (above the drawers) into more oil and snack storage (less serveware).

EmilyHenderson RiverHouse PantryOrg Border 2

Now their fridge is not small (it’s 30″ wide, side by side) but they still figured having an additional fridge/freezer nearby is a good idea (think “garage fridge” but in your pantry). Certainly not necessary, but also remember that we were designing during 2021, lockdown food prep time, and the idea of having enough food in your fridge for 10 days felt like a necessity rather than a luxury.

EmilyHenderson RiverHouse PantryOrg Border 3

They have plenty of space in here, but knowing where they are putting their extra appliances and making sure they will fit was fun. And I’m not sure if that is a microwave or a steam oven, FYI (I’m not involved in the entire project and didn’t get the appliances sponsored so not sure). Our goal with these cabinet posts is to help those of you designing your own (aka not with an interiors or a kitchen designer) to get more ideas and feel more confident in your decisions. If only we could do this with all the stuff our kids bring into our house every day

*Thanks to Annie Usher, the architect on this project, and Max Humphrey co-designing! We’ll link up the cabinet maker when we are done with the project! Shout out to JP Macy of Sierra Custom Construction

*Opening Image Credit: Photo by Kaitlin Green





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