By Glen Peloso

We recently worked with a client whose 800-square-foot condo had a stainless steel, full-sized fridge, suitable for a family of eight, as well as an industrial oven-stove to go with it. We kept looking for the adjoining restaurant.

We thought about trying to convince her to use the fridge for her Winter clothes because she certainly could use the storage – and she didn’t need it for food. The fridge never contained more than a carton of milk and some sparkling water.

During a recent trip to Europe, we were struck by just how differently, smarter, they are in their homes. They don’t feel the need to super-size their appliances.

Indeed, we found some innovative solutions to the small spaces they live in. Our favourite was in the home of a friend in Paris who has a kitchen the size of a phone booth and a desperate dislike of doing dishes. Her solution: A stove-dishwasher combination. As crazy as it sounds, the bottom drawer in the oven pulled out to become a dishwasher. Small, yes, but as she put it, how many dishes can a single person generate?
Another innovation we liked was a very small microwave with a rounded front that would hold only one plate. Let’s face it, most people use the microwave to reheat food or make popcorn. Why bother with one large enough to make a dinner for four?

Fridge and freezer drawers, that have started to make an appearance in North America, were also found in many apartments. They hold less food for sure but they worked in cultures where people shop for food more regularly.

Most Italian homes have a cupboard above the sink that functions as a dish-drying rack and storage for plates, cups and glasses used every day, a good low-tech solution.

Typically, European cook tops and ovens are more compact, with gas burners closer together. To North American eyes, the space doesn’t seem sufficient to juggle pots and pans. But having attended dinners for eight to ten relatives at a time, satisfied faces, and waistlines, can attest to the fact that wonderful food (in several courses) can successfully be created in this space.

Both of us grew up in large families where the back wall of the fridge was rarely seen and loading and unloading the dishwasher could be traded off with cutting the lawn when swapping chores with siblings. Clearly, good size appliances make sense in those situations. But the reality is very much different now.

Condos are popping up faster than Tim Horton’s. Builders, in general, are concerned about getting as many saleable units in as few square feet as possible. But they are aware that swanky looking kitchens and baths are going to help the sale. So they pile on the wooden cupboards, stone countertops and ridiculously out-of-scale appliances.

It’s not until you actually try living in a new condo that you realize the fridge, stove and microwave/vent are way more than you would ever need. And the kitchen drawers are so thin (to accommodate the dishwasher) that once four forks are in, they’re full.

Condo dwellers need to start asking for things that work for them. And so we began a search for a few samplings of the kinds of appliances now available in North America that make more sense for small-scale living.

Kitchenaide/Whirlpool has come out with a double sink where one side is the dishwasher. The dishwasher side looks just like the inside of any dishwasher with the bottom blade that spins and shoots water up on the dishes to clean them. There is a lid that can double as a cutting board when the dishwasher is not in use.

Danby makes a compact dishwasher 17 inches wide and 22 inches deep – a very good condo size. They also make a nifty stove-fridge-sink combination, but perhaps that is getting a little ridiculous because it is a bit too squishy.

A company in the United Kingdom, called “the Corner Fridge Company” does just what its name suggests. In the same way that a corner cabinet fits into the corner of a room so does this fridge. It is shaped like a wedge where the back of the fridge is the apex of the triangle. What a great way to use up those useless corners in the kitchens.

Bosch also makes a range of fridges that fit under the counter – sort of a fridge drawer and a freezer drawer. LG also offers space saving appliances.

We cannot vouch for the quality of any of the appliances we mentioned, but we can certainly vouch for the rationale of space-saving design. We suggest them only as a way to get people thinking about ways to save space.

When you are looking to buy appliances, try to contain your excitement about the big and the shiny. Not only do they take up space you don’t have, they are a curse on the environment. Running a big fridge 24/7 to cool a carton of milk?

When they come out with full size kitchen appliances that fold out into spare beds, maybe we’ll jump back on the big appliance bandwagon.

Glen Peloso is a Senior Design Partner at Warren Williams Interiors.