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Betty Gold
Updated April 25, 2019

Whether you’re considering a kitchen renovation or just want to do a quick organizing overhaul, these tricks from design expert Ted Allen will leave you content with your kitchen’s layout once and for all (and make your cooking life a lot easier).

As an OG Queer Eye star, longtime Chopped host, and a two-time cookbook author, one can’t help but wonder what Ted Allen has to say about tasteful, effectual kitchen design. While it’s no surprise that he’s filled with expert ideas on the matter, we were amazed at how simple his recommendations are.

When it comes to designing your own dream kitchen, Allen says that the three most important elements to keep in mind are functionality and efficiency, proper ventilation, and optimizing your counter space as much as possible. Read on for all the ways you can finally say goodbye to your kitchen layout headache:

Ventilation is key.

If it’s possible in your kitchen, having a strong exhaust hood system that vents to the outdoors is (quite literally) life-changing. Yes, it means you can cook fish without stinking up the house or sear a steak without setting off the smoke alarm. But more importantly, maintaining your kitchen’s air quality is key to keeping your family safe from harmful fumes. Cooking is, in essence, a form of air pollution—your stove can release carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other harmful pollutants into the air, which can be toxic to people and pets. Pro tip: for a much quieter kitchen, you can put the fan and motor on the outside of the house rather than in the hood itself. And if you’re in search of new range hood, you can find a great number of options to choose from here.

Belly up.

Whether or not you have a dedicated dining room, it’s likely that a significant number of quick meals end up happening on the overhang of your kitchen island. Play to it! Keep it free of clutter, have four barstools for sufficient seating, and adding a votive candle never hurt.

Open up your shelving.

This way, everything will be at your fingertips. There’s nothing better than plates that are easily reachable from your washing area: they can be taken out of the dishwasher and stacked without taking a single step. Having knives readily apparent on a magnetic bar behind the prep sink (and out of the reach of children) is extremely efficient. You can keep your cutting boards on display and hang pots and pans hang from a pot rack, too. It’s now a room where anyone can find anything, which comes in handy especially when hosting guest cooks or friends from out of town. (They aren’t forced to go through each cabinet to find what they’re looking for, or worse, wake you up to ask you).

Light it up.

Be sure all countertops are brightly and consistently lit. Use dimmer switches so you have options—bright light for is best for working, but you can’t beat soft mood lighting when entertaining.

Maximize your countertop.

Nothing is more valuable to a cook than counter space. Create as much of it as you can. Allen says that, contrary to popular belief, it does not all have to be made from the same material. “We have an island topped with a blue-green schist called Pietra Cardoza, while the perimeter counters are made of stainless steel—a great material that is virtually indestructible.”

Keep color neutral.

When it comes to color in the kitchen, you can’t go wrong with a clean, white, less-is-more vibe. Generally, what you install in the kitchen is fairly permanent, so it’s not something you want to go overboard with. "Personally, I’m a fan of stainless steel, and I find that the appliance catalog on Build.com is my best bet for finding great examples of timeless, beautiful products. You can easily accent them with a splash of color elsewhere, like your cookware or stand mixer," Allen recommends.

Embrace the freezer.

“It’s one of my favorite tools as a cook. I make large batches of everything, so that I can freeze home-cooked stews, soups and chili to eat when we’re in production for Chopped and I don’t have time to cook,” says Allen. To maximize the space inside, do a deep clean and toss anything that’s been freezer-burnt, won’t get eaten, or is over a year old.

Use every inch.

To optimize your kitchen’s existing layout, try to make use of spaces that may be getting overlooked. “In one spot in my kitchen, ductwork ate up most of the space where we wanted a cabinet, but we realized the remaining six-inch depth would be perfect for a bar—so we stocked it with shelves for wine and spirits bottles. A similar empty area alongside our refrigerator became a shallow cabinet with shelves that we stocked with matching glass jars for storing dried beans and grains. It’s as attractive as it is functional,” says Allen.

Wire for sound.

“It’s never quiet in my kitchen! We put speakers in the ceiling so that we can have music, listen to podcasts, or play public radio while cooking,” Allen says. It's also great for when guests are over.

Last words.

Don’t take kitchen-design inspiration from Chopped! Allen says the set is designed inefficiently, on purpose. This is part of the challenge of the competition—the plates are 50 feet away from the refrigerators, because they want their chefs to run around! In real life, that’s exactly what you don’t want. What you want is a layout that’s functional and efficient.

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