The Kitchen

We’re all familiar with the saying “Home is where the heart is,” but after living in so many homes with so many different features, I’d suggest that home is where the fridge is! In our family, the kitchen is the spot where we do all things food, but it’s also the place where we meet in the morning and merge in the evening, where we plan spur-of-the-moment celebrations and last-minute dinners, and hold middle-of-the-night planning sessions when inspiration wakes us from our dreams.

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My ideal kitchen can handle all that and more. Its countertops are perfect for teaching the art of making chocolate chip cookies, and the cabinets contain all those magic ingredients that, when mixed together, warm any downcast day—just bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Glassware, dishes, linens, and towels are always within reach for every table-setter, table-clearer, dishwasher, and dryer extraordinaire. Oh, and there’s a spot for music, and many stools for the guests and helpers keeping the cook company.

If that sounds like a lot of duties for one room to perform, it is! Which should make the kitchen the biggest room in any home, right? Not so for a lot of families (mine included), but rest assured, even the smallest spaces can feed your souls. At least three times daily (multiplied by thirty if you’ve got toddlers).

Start with the table

For our family, the table has always been key in making our kitchen work. In the smallest homes we’ve lived in, the kitchen table is where eating, crafting, and heart-to-heart talks happened. Even in homes where we’ve had the luxury of more space for a project area, the kitchen table is still the most active surface in the house. So choosing a table that we love and that works for our family is at the very top of our list of kitchen needs.

My preference is a surface that looks better with age. Ideally, the table comes to your home with scrapes, dings, gouges, and stains already in place, so that when you add your own, you can feel like you’re intentionally deepening the patina instead of sighing over the latest scratch. Consider a decades-old farm table, or perhaps a new table constructed out of barn wood.

Wood isn’t the only surface option. Several years ago, we built an oversize table from four-by-eights and fence posts, then topped it with a sturdy sheet of metal that could outlast any mess we might throw at it. (Yes, we throw messes, and yes, the table looks better than ever.) Alternatively, the kitchen table of my childhood was a painted Parsons-style table big enough for my family of ten to crowd around. When the surface became too worn, we just added another coat of paint. All that is to say you’re in luck—there are all sorts of excellent options available. I would simply recommend steering clear of anything high-gloss or so high-priced that you’ll be tempted to treat it like it’s precious. Instead, scour antique shops and flea markets and online garage sales for diamonds in the rough, and give them new life with a weekend spent sanding and staining, or painting.

The farm-style table pictured here will handle scratches and art projects and just get better with age. The tufted bench on wheels can be rolled to any room in the house as needed.

[Story: 5 tips for a family-friendly kitchen]