Pulling Power: Clever Drawer Tactics for a Kitchen

It’s not how many drawers you have in your kitchen; it’s how they work for you

By Janet Dunn / Courtesy of Houzz.com

Have your kitchen-drawer contents turned into alarming tangles of plastic and metal, cunningly hiding whatever you are hunting for? Are your knives nicked and blunt from being thrown into the fray? Coffee cups chipped? Can’t find the cinnamon or the lid of your favorite pan? All hardworking kitchens descend into disarray occasionally, but if chaos is your daily kitchen companion, it may be time to reassess your storage. Putting everything back where it belongs (and where it can be found again), and saving precious countertop and fridge space are a piece of cake with some basic drawer strategies. See how to maximize pullout convenience to keep your kitchen shipshape.

Keep cups at the ready. You’ll never regret a cup drawer — it’s so much easier than digging in an overhead cupboard. Make sure it is deep enough for your tallest mugs, about 7 or 8 inches, storing them upside down to protect their rims. Cups have a habit of multiplying, so estimate how many you really need and donate or store the rest for emergencies. 

A side compartment for tea, coffee, spoons and sugar completes a tidy and convenient coffee station.

Store glassware upside down on nonslip rubber drawer liners, sold in kitchen and cookware shops, to cushion rims and prevent sliding. Silky smooth soft-touch drawers are best for storing glassware, especially stemmed wineglasses, which may tip.

Reunite saucepans with their lids. There are many ingenious cabinetry ideas for keeping pots and pans in close proximity to their lids, like a rear or side divider or a shallow internal drawer above the pots.

Tip: Pots and pans are usually standard sizes, and often a saucepan comes with a lid that will fit several other pans. Save space by not storing every lid — just a few that multitask.

A dedicated lid drawer with vertical storage slots is a space-savvy way to keep lids neat.

Oh, for storage like this with plenty of room for pots and lids to cohabit. Two-tiered shallow drawers in a countertop-to-floor cupboard mean no stacking of pots.

Plastic containers often mysteriously become separated from their lids too. A couple of internal shelves make for a tidy solution. Instead of throwing containers of every shape and size into this drawer, save similar containers that fit into one another and stack them neatly in separate piles.

Stay sharp. Treat your knives like the fine instruments they are. Never put them loose in drawers with other equipment — that way lie cut fingers and scratched, blunt blades. Store them off the countertop in a shallow drawer fitted with knife cavities or a slotted wood block that fits horizontally into the drawer, to keep their sharp and undamaged edges for many years.

Tip: Out-of-sight knives can’t tempt little fingers.

By sacrificing 6 to 8 inches of cupboard space, you could put a wood knife block fitted into a narrow pullout drawer near your prep area.

Get onboard. Another use for a narrow space is a pullout chopping board and tray drawer. It can be integrated behind a door like the rest of the cabinetry but is a good spot to display decorative boards and trays.

An extra board, like this pullout one, is always handy to separate chopping jobs — nobody likes onion-flavored apples! Make sure it is at a comfortable working height and is firm enough to work on without its wobbling or tipping.

Don’t waste an inch of space — fit a removable chopping board over a shallow drawer.

Get a kick out of your drawers. Who thought of toe kick drawers? Give that person a medal. Depending on your cabinetry construction, drawers can be retrofitted in this forgotten space. Keep drawer pulls simple and flat to avoid accidentally kicking them.

Toe kick drawers are handy for horizontal wine storage; infrequently used platters, trays and boards; table linens and tea towels; instruction books and paperwork; oversized cooking pans; a hidden supply of chocolate; pet bowls; and valuables.

Tip: Avoid storing good wine in the kitchen if you can help it. It’s probably the hottest room in the house. Toe kick spaces are a better, cooler option than something in the open kitchen area.

Give drawers air for food storage. Store some vegetables — for example, onions, garlic, uncut pumpkins and potatoes — in ventilated drawers to maintain their flavor and save fridge and bench space. Potatoes particularly hate the cold, as the starch converts to sugar, and the texture and taste suffer. Don’t refrigerate tomatoes, either — they taste better at room temperature. Lemons and oranges also give up more juice when not chilled. A low-level drawer with a mesh screen front is ideal for fruit and veg storage.

Cane baskets in wooden frames on runners or brackets maintain air circulation around vegetables and are a rustic touch for a country-style kitchen.

“Egg of an hour, bread of a day, a wife of twenty years” … or something like that. Crusty artisan bread should be eaten as soon after baking as possible. Commercial sliced bread is best stored somewhere cool, but not cold, and sealed against any wandering pests. Bulky countertop bread bins take up prep space, and fridge storage can actually accelerate staleness, so consider a bread drawer with a cover and an insulating pad in the base.

Tip: Freeze sliced bread after two to three days for toasting, and crusty bread after one. There are many uses for less-than-fresh bread, like garlicky, olive oil–y panzanella salad; bread crumbs for gratin dishes; yummy eggy French toast; and berry-soaked summer puddings.

What a mouthwatering display — no more delving into the pantry. Do you love to make curries and spicy Asian and Moroccan food? This spice “library” does need space but saves plenty in the pantry. I like how it is at a convenient height and how the lids can be popped off when a pinch of this or that is needed.

Make a go-to multipurpose drawer close to your prep surface. Keep frequently used herbs and spices and, if you bake, items like a flour sifter alongside everyday implements like vegetable peelers, can openers and tongs in side compartments.

A drawer insert with holes cut to fit metal or plastic buckets (very cheap) will help you get a handle on cooking clutter.

Tip: Separate utensils by material — wood, plastic and metal — so you can grab something quickly.

Soak up spills fast. Kitchen paper rolls need to be at the ready for quick action in case of spills and splashes. A clever little alcove in a drawer front puts a roll at your fingertips.

Simplify undersink space. Undersink drawers that fit around plumbing fixtures are often an awkward shape. They can quickly turn chaotic, chock-full of bits and pieces. Creepy-crawlies love the warmth and sometimes moisture of this area, so don’t cram stuff in. Which items do you actually use in the kitchen? Do you wear more than one pair of rubber gloves at a time? Could some items go in, say, the laundry area? Pare down items like gloves, brushes, cloths and detergent for day-to-day use and top up from a supply in another area as needed.

This is a practical arrangement for undersink storage. Narrow drawers on either side store cleaning products while rods multitask to hang paper rolls and tea towels.

Put rubbish in its place. We all recycle now, right? Double-bin drawers neatly separate recyclables and general waste. 

Tip: This cabinet design allows the bins to be easily removed from the side; they don’t need to be lifted over a side rail.

In a small household, full-height bins might be overkill and will waste space. If side-by-side bins or just one shorter bin can deal with your rubbish load, use the extra drawer depth for a bag holder. This will create space underneath for infrequently used items and room for a handy drawer above the kick space.

Wire your drawers. Do you need your technology while you cook, perhaps to look up recipes or cooking hints, make cooking notes, play music or make diary entries? A powered drawer can keep your electronics off the counter and away from cooking mess and moisture and can charge them at the same time.

Tell us: Have you got a clever drawer tip? Share it in the Comments.