ma cuisine

stovetop

Nowhere is remodeling for the faint of heart and although I did, indeed, learn plenty of new words to expand my French vocabulary, along with a few other things that I won’t recount here, let’s just say that if I ever this take on this kind of project again, I’ll do things a little lot differently. The best advice I could pass on was given to me by a French friend – “Be more French, less American” – which you are welcome to interpret any way you want.

cocoa and powdered sugar work area (with peanut butter)

At the beginning of the project, an American friend said, “Please don’t write a book about remodeling in France.” So I promised her I wouldn’t. Which is probably a good thing as no one would believe most of it – and then there’s that pesky issue of the happy ending that we’re still working on : 0

Because Paris is an old city with a lot of history, it’s a challenge to do something that doesn’t work against the city. Modernism hasn’t always been good to Paris (ie: Les Halles), so I went for a very basic kitchen, not in any particular style, but something that was utilitarian first and foremost: I spent most of my life in restaurant kitchens and those are places where I seem to be the most at “home”, not in places with custom wood paneling and fancy design elements. Since light is at a premium in Paris, I went with white cabinets, stainless-steel handles and appliances (although I kept the black, well-used gas stovetop that was there), and wood, for warmth.

I didn’t follow any of the rules. I didn’t read up on where to put the refrigerator in relation to the sink. I didn’t think about work areas, work flow, triangles, circles, squares, rectangles, or tetrahedrons.

my work area

There are no wok burners, designer faucets, wine refrigerators, or any of that kind of stuff. I pretty much kept it to the essentials. (And as you can see, I didn’t clean my kitchen, or the sink, before I took some snaps because I’m always at work in the kitchen.) I did allow myself to get a clothes dryer, which are not common in Paris, mostly due to space and ventilation issues. But a few (American) friends insisted that I get one, and I don’t miss hanging my clothes on a folding drying rack in my apartment and waiting a couple of days for them to dry.

With all the extra time on my hands for cooking, I wanted a big counter to spread everything out on, a lot of light, and open shelves to store frequently used ingredients and cookware on so everything would be within easy reach. I don’t like rifling through drawers for things I use a lot – namely different kinds of flour and sugars, and I dislike going through cabinets of pots and pans searching for the one I want. So I made sure to have things as accessible as possible.

stainless steel shelving

I got my sturdy stainless-steel shelves from Nisbets, a Swiss restaurant supply company. The prices were reasonable and they actually called me to tell me when they shipped them, which was the day after I placed the order. Ah, the Swiss.

flour and salt

I wanted a big, white sink. One without ornamentation that could hold the enormous amounts of pots and pans that I seem to generate hourly. I recounted my sink search in a previous post, and when I was recently in the south of France, a British friend also remarked at how difficult it was to find big, white sinks in France. Yes, Ikea has them. But they are too small for me because I wanted something that could soak a baking sheet or roasting pan in, not one with a half-sized basin that I would have to wrestle with. And because I spend hours over the sink each day, it was important that it “worked” with me, and that I wasn’t working against it. I was looking for what they refer to as “Butler” sinks in England. Or curiously, as “French farmhouse” sinks, in America.

Did I really need to go rip one out of an old French farmhouse?

work area

I searched and searched and searched. And searched and searched and searched and searched. None of the plumbing supply stores had anything that was big, open, and plain. (So if you saw me tweeting at 3:30am, it was because I needed a diversion from my 24/7 online sink-hunting.) I finally managed to find one made by Porcher, which was over €800, plus 19,6% tax. (And I tried to find it again online, and every link that turned up was dead.) So I was thrilled when one day, while I was plugging away, I typed the serial number (P3363) into a search engine and a brand-new one showed up on Le Bon Coin, the great French website where sellers and buyers swap stuff. So we headed up to Lille, I paid €200, and voilà, I had my sink.

It’s hard here to find anything discounted, even online. So I was shocked when I saw how much I’d have to spend for seemingly commonplace items like plastic outlet covers and light switches. I bought standard, normal, plain white ones and the bill was roughly the equivalent to the cost of a brand-new MacBook pro. (But then I wouldn’t have had anything to plug it into, so I guess I made the right choice.) I also had a hard time finding fixtures that were plain and unadorned, without decoration or ornamentation. I wanted a professional faucet with a hose and sprayer. Cheap faucets usually don’t last long, and since the sticker shock of the plastic outlet covers, I was buckling down the budget. A relative was coming to visit and she brought along this Kraus faucet, which had to be modified a bit for Europe, but works well.

I began searching in catalogs for fixtures used in schools and institutions. I thought the words industrielle and even usine (factory) might be helpful (in the US, I once found great stainless-steel fixtures in a prison catalog), until I learned the word collectivité, which became the most frequently used search word on my computer.

90 cm oven

I am probably the only person in Paris with two ovens. Which means that Thanksgiving is definitely going to be at my place for, well, eternity. I needed a larger-than-usual oven (90 cm/35″) to hold baking sheets, as many standard European ovens are smaller and can’t accommodate a 17- or 18-inch sheet pan. However the larger oven takes a (very) long time to preheat so I am happy that I decided to have a second oven that is a combination microwave and regular oven, which is much faster to heat up and I like to use – in spite of the control pad that I can’t quite master no matter how long I study the owner’s manual.

The oven repairman who came to recalibrate the big oven told me digital ovens are actually more responsive and accurate. He also bemoaned the disappearance of raw milk cheeses in France. Fixes ovens and loves raw milk cheese? I guess that explains why he is my new favorite person in France.

I like restaurant-quality gear, so I stocked up on Cambro plastic containers last time I was in New York City. But man, those square containers are like drugs, and now that I got my fix of a few, I need more, more – more!

whiskshigh sink
sink and faucetantifatigue mat

Because I stand a lot in the kitchen, I wanted an anti-fatigue mat, which restaurant workers stand on and they make us happy. I was only found one website that had them, but they didn’t list where you could buy them in France nor did they respond when I asked about availability. So I found these pretty good mats from England for around €30.

(I wanted one of these GelPro mats, which are rubberized for easier clean up, but I didn’t think I could convince anyone to bring one over for me. They’re not as light as Cambro containers.)

Kitchen cabinets were from that big Swedish company that I went back to a grand total of eight times because of various, um, errors. I used some Ikea pulls, and got nicer pulls for other cabinets at La Quincaillerie in Paris, which is one of those great stores that has every single cabinet pull you can imagine – for a price. But the staff is helpful and the selection is amazing, which counts for a lot. And I only had to go there once.

I had the kitchen counters set to a certain height. Many French counters are quite low as people didn’t seem to mind stooping way-back-when, I guess. But now that the cuisine américain (open kitchen) has become more popular, folks are movin’ on up. And since I spend a few hours a day washing dishes, I wanted my sink to be a little higher than normal, too, to preserve my back.

kitchen counter

I like stainless-steel bowls a lot because they nest easily, they’re lightweight, and are relatively inexpensive. In Paris, one can find them at Indian shops, which aren’t all that sturdy, so I just buy the small ones there sell which are only about €1 each. For larger ones, I am now trying to get ones with rubberized bottoms, which are a bit more spendy but don’t wobble around. I have a few great ones I got at Sur La Table way-back-when in the states, but the ones I ordered online were a little disappointing because they seemed rather flimsy. (And they weren’t all that cheap, either.) I am a firm believer in having a ton of whisks and spatulas.

My whisks are from Matfer and Oxo and my dream spatulas are the ones from Le Creuset. I used to teach classes at Sur La Table and before anyone else arrived, I would raid the sale racks for Le Creuset spatulas as many of the colors were “seasonal”, and at the end of the season, they’d be put out to pasture.

spatulas

I have a large refrigerator and when Parisian friends come over, they are shocked and it seems a little frivolous. But then I explain that it’s something I use for work and I need the space, and then they get it. And many are discovering ice, too!

Few people in Paris have the space for a regular-sized refrigerator and mine has an ice maker, which I use much, much more than I thought. It’s great for cooling down custards and so forth. And even better, it’s good to have on hand in case you need an emergency cocktail, like I’m going to fix myself after I finish up that sink-load of dishes.

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249 comments

  • It is gorgeous and functional and seems incredibly work-friendly. Congratulations. I am horribly envious.

  • Congrats! It’s a great looking kitchen. Thank you for sharing the pictures.

  • I love your kitchen. I spent a few years in restaurant kitchens & appreciate the simplicity of open shelves & everything at hand. I also love spatulas & have purchased several types. I have cannisters that look like yours but they’re made by OXO. You might check into those – love the push-buttons to seal them.

    There’s no place like home…

  • Stainless steel shelves! I want them!

  • I love your new kitchen! The French family I live with in Paris has a sink just like yours, I wonder how they got it. Also as an American I concur with the double-oven question; totally necessary.

  • If I were to re-remodel my kitchen, I would use yours as a model. Fantastic. Congrats.

  • Please, more pictures of your darling kitchen! It is heaven. I love what you have done and can appreciate the blood sweat and more than a few tearsit took to get there… Well done, Sir!

  • this is great! love the shelves- and If i find myself planning a trip to Paris- sure, I’ll bring you a gelpro mat!

  • Oh geez, blah, blah, blah about how great your kitchen looks, but the real question is… does it work for you, dammit? That’s what it boils down to for all of us… does it work? For you?

  • Hi David! We’re also in the process of renovating our house so I know how hard it can be! I’m also looking for a large sink fitting the needs of my extended family but I’m having a really hard time finding one here in the Philippines. It’s tempting to copy my friend’s concrete version, but it seems a bit too cold and severe-looking – I’m not that desperate yet! Yours look lovely, by the way.

  • Your kitchen looks amazing! Perhaps you’ve already answered this question–I’m reading through the comments though and not seeing it–but is that Ikea countertop? Looks like it might possibly be the 1.5-inch Numerar (as it’s known here in the US, and maybe elsewhere too)? It looks great. I’ve been researching butcher block counters for my own kitchen renovation; trying to figure out if the Ikea ones will eventually buckle or get funky from everyday wear (even if I treat them every 3-4 months). Yours looks lovely. Any tips/advice would be most welcome.

    They are the Ikea countertops. I was, um, incorrectly advised that they could be glued together to make a larger countertop. However they do not match quite up and these is a gap between some of them. They are fine for single countertops, but I would not recommend letting someone talk you into putting several of them together. -dl

  • Your new kitchen is beautiful! Congrats on surviving a kitchen remodel – and in Paris, to boot! I hope you get many, many years of enjoyment from it!

    • Hi David,
      Like your large oven, my Viking 36″ gas one takes a very long time to heat up.
      It cycles & so does not keep consistant temp. for baking. What kind of convection /Microwave do you have & does it do the job?
      Cynthia

  • Dear David,
    so nice to see your kitchen at last! Hauling out my kitchen in Paris as well and i know what a pain it can be. two questions, you could help save me from making a potential hand-wringing error:

    1. did you ever consider granite for the counter top? I’ve always, always loved wood but thought i should go for granite for its smoothness and hygiene. I work with dough a lot but never used a a wooden countertop before. Does flour get stuck in the crevices in the wood?? Does it pick up the pattern of the wood? Is it easy to sanitise? I guess you should know as a pastry chef.

    2. first time i’ve heard of these anti-fatigue mats. Do they make a difference, i.e., will my calves feel less sore after a day’s standing :))? What are they made of and how to clean?

    Sadly i kinda already regret my kitchen – layout and flooring – but it’s too late. The only thing i havent committed to yet is the countertop…

  • I have been waiting for this post. Your kitchen is beautiful and so large! What a shock that must be to your Parisian friends! Thanks for a peek inside!

  • I have been waiting with such anticipation to see how your kitchen turned out! Thanks for the whole story and all the pictures. I even put that faucet in my amazon Wish List. I just got back from my little week’s vacation in Paris, and learned that I couldn’t get the microwave to do *anything* except 30-second cycles. Their control pad IS very different than ours.

    Congratulations on your wonderful new kitchen! In a few weeks you won’t even remember all the headaches. And your French friends might just start copying and talking about the “American kitchen”!

  • Great and funny post.

    Congratulations on the new kitchen. :)

  • David – I’ve been waiting for a picture post of your new kitchen. Looks great! I hope you enjoy cooking in it as much as we all enjoy hearing about it. Best of luck from the East Bay!

  • I have been waiting to see your new kitchen. Thanks for sharing it with us. The sink is perfect and all of the counter space is , I’m sure, well used. We rented an apartment in Paris last June and the kitchen left a lot to be desired, but I was able to cook good stuff because it was Paris and I loved being there. I have a feeling the glow would have passed after a few weeks.

  • Having followed your testing times previously, its good to see it all came together so well.
    I use the Nisbets here in UK and find them very helpful, didn’t realise they were Swiss, which would explain a lot.
    You can get Belfast/butlers sinks here along with industrial spray taps, although I think the double bowl version is called a hospital sink. Still you don’t want to be redoing it, do you?
    Looks really nice, the place to enjoy making lots of great food – and of course entertaining.

  • I totally, utterly love your new kitchen! Well done on all the hard work! It’s huge by Parisian standards, what a luxury! I can’t wait to see all the delicious things you create in the new space :)

    xox Sarah

  • Beautiful kitchen! Love the airy quality and how well organized it is.

  • I would love a kitchen like that here! I’m missing counter space. Also, my kitchen only has one outlet, and its behind/for the fridge. I have to use the living room outlets for the toaster oven and kettle. Lol!

  • Ooooh those gel pro mats look wonderful! I think I just found my Christmas list. :D

  • Oh David, I can relate to your travel making plans, I do the same. Your kitchen is the best I have ever seen. I love getting your monthly newsletters, any chance of you visiting Australia? My little kitchen would give you the horrors!

  • J’aime lire vos articles ,ils sont amusants et pleins d’humour…. I can imagine the difficult time you had to get all the things you needed for your kitchen, but we have just about everything in France if you have the money,

  • Hello David,
    I am just starting to remodel my kitchen and seeing and reading about yours gave me some great ideas.
    By the way United airlines is putting back their non stop Paris to San Francisco next spring.
    So please do come home,
    Georgette

  • What a wonderful kitchen, David!

  • emergency cocktail
    love that phrase!

  • I am so thrilled to finally see it finished, it was a lot of work, but your kitchen turned out beautiful, enjoy!

  • Beautiful! Thanks for explaining everything in such detail. Very interesting and helpful. I hope to one day have such a beautiful kitchen.