This is a glimpse of an efficient work area in an open kitchen that I toured this past summer thanks to the Cape Cod Modern House Trust. It's in a small house in Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard that likely dates back to the '60's. What's cropped out of this photo to the left is a wall oven, pot-and-pan cabinet below, and open cubbie above the oven. I don't recall where the refrigerator was, perhaps on the opposite wall. I don't think there was a dishwasher.
The open air beneath the work counter/row of drawers/tray cubbies helps lend this compact work area spaciousness as does the shallow, stepped, open semi-cubbies above the counter. You may have noticed in photos I've posted of recently completed KHS projects, that I'm not a big fan of overhead cabinets. I often suggest windows or open shelves for the back-splash area and a separate pantry elsewhere instead. In this scenario, the overhead shallow shelves with built-in bookends and, in one case, plate rack dividers concisely organize easy-to-reach cooking and serving items. The taller open space above the cooktop allows the cook enough room for spoon or tong clearance when serving from a pasta or lobster pot, and provides nice visual breathing room. The succinct palette of clear-finished wood drawer faces, shelves, and counter tie in well with the wood ceiling joists and floor, and the contrasting white wall backdrop (possibly melamine) further helps the space to feel light and expansive.
If I were to incorporate a similar design in a new or renovated contemporary kitchen, I might modify it to include a dishwasher to the right of the sink with the wall oven above, and the refrigerator to the right of the dishwasher/oven stack. A tall, deep cabinet with pull-out drawers to the left of the work counter (in the location of the wall oven in the cropped photo above) could balance the dishwasher/oven stack and provide necessary storage. I might also suggest a more functional downdraft cooktop (as opposed to the unvented cooktop in the photo), venting in the wall behind the work area. Lastly, I would propose an island, mostly open below, that would provide additional prep surface, while housing a row of drawer storage and a drawer-style microwave.
by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast