When I first moved into the CBD I had this idea that I wouldn’t need much of a kitchen anymore, because I would be eating out all the time. Melbourne is full of great places to eat of course, literally every conceivable culinary delight just a few blocks away.
But. It turns out I do like cooking. And. It turns out Melbourne is a great place to shop for produce and pantry goodies.
We live a short walk from the food hall at David Jones, where we can buy the best bacon in town for the same price as the tasteless prepackaged stuff at Woolworths. We’re a free-tram ride away from Queen Victoria Market and the seasonal deluge of fresh vegetables, seafood and sixteen kinds of sourdough. We can walk to a number of Asian supermarkets and collect quirky ingredients as listed in the latest Adam Liaw cookbook.
The kitchen became the most important factor when apartment hunting the second time around, having spent a couple of years in the downtown and getting to know what’s on offer. We didn’t just want a little kitchen bench, big enough for a sandwich press, we wanted something with room to prepare a meal for our friends. We like sharing our cooking. A good kitchen, even the CBD, is one that allows you space for prepping, space for pantry and enough technology to enjoy the adventure.
The question of what style of kitchen is appropriate for living in the CBD became an even bigger issue once I started hanging out with @ironchefshellie. Living with a girl who makes a living being in the kitchen suddenly raises the bar on what you want from a kitchen.
A good kitchen has good extraction. This is one of the biggest challenges we found living in the CBD, or shopping for a new apartment. My first apartment on Queen St had practically no extraction in the kitchen, instead the range-hood was a “scrubber” design that simply collects gunk from the air and sends it back into the kitchen, a few inches away from your head.
Most of the time the range hood is not a big deal, it just makes a tonne of noise and keeps the steam off the cupboards. But if you love your cooking, or love working with a seriously hot wok, then things can get very smokey very quickly. A good extraction fan will get that smoke out of the kitchen and avoid setting off the fire alarm. It’s not just woks of course, it was rendering the fat off duck breasts or searing slices of beef in a grill pan.
When I planned the renovation of my first CBD kitchen I actually hadn’t lived in the apartment, so I made a few misguided assumptions. It was a one bedroom apartment so I figured nobody would need a big fridge or any substantial pantry space. A year later I was living in that apartment with the love of my life, and we were forced to line the hallway with pantry shelving to make room for her baking goods and a small selection of cook books. The decision I had made during the renovation to limit the refrigeration space to a bar fridge beneath the bench had come back to haunt me.
Most people who move into a tiny one bedroom apartment are not going to be cooking Christmas dinner for the family however. But what about couples who move into a two bedroom apartment?
You get a skewed picture of the city when looking at the real estate market, because the really lovely apartments don’t come up for sale very often. When we started looking for our Apartment 2.0 we quickly found that a large number of apartments in the CBD cater to students rather than owner/occupiers. Typically these offered a very poor environment in terms of fresh air, noise quality, internal storage and kitchen design.
Eventually we found our dream home. It had the bones of a great kitchen but was drowning in some 1990s design ideas that badly needed a style update. And the double-door fridge that had made its way from @ironchefshellie into the CBD was never going to fit into the space provided.
The only solution is to begin a renovation. You can read about that journey on Shellie’s website, beginning with this post below:
The short version of our kitchen journey is “more space”. The existing kitchen is good, but we want great. We have the luxury of some very very generous space on the edges of the kitchen, such as a huge entrance hall and a second bathroom that is twice the size it needs to be. There’s potential to get the fridge away from the back wall, freeing up both bench top space and giving it a very luxurious design approach.
Aside from expanding the pantry storage by reclaiming some space from the second bathroom, the biggest commitment to making this kitchen amazing will be making the island bench into the size of a continent.
This island bench wont just be for preparing food, it could actually replace the dining table if needed be. We think of this as the connection between the living space and the kitchen, rather than a divider. A generous island bench is easy to justify because it can serve a wide range of purposes. Not the least of which is creating additional storage beneath the bench, and hiding away from public view those ugly essentials such as the dishwasher and microwave.
Not everyone who moves to the CBD is going to need a really lovely kitchen, not the way we do. This kitchen will be the focus of our photography for years to come, appearing in a very wide range of shoots and lots of food styling. It will be our favourite feature on Instagram for a long time to come.
But asking around to those friends of mine who share an apartment with their partner in the CBD and what comes up all the time is, “I wish I had a better kitchen”. Except for those who did buy an apartment with a better kitchen, who say, “We’re so glad we have a great kitchen, we use it every week.”
The only other thing that makes a kitchen wonderful that hasn’t been listed here is a balcony. Being able to crank up the BBQ and throw a few lamb cutlets over the grill, without smoking up the kitchen or setting off the fire alarm, is a genuine luxury. But that’s a whole other story.