Steph Yiu

Making It Work: My Cambridge Kitchen

For the last 4 years, I’ve lived in a creaky apartment, in a poorly-managed building that was built in 1890. Like most old Cambridge apartments, are some weird problems with it. The floors are original, but the landlord has never really taken care of them, so the apartment is akin to a beat-up skateboard park – nothing is flat, and there are tons of holes. There is also zero storage – no hallway closet, no kitchen pantry, no bathroom closet, nothing.

But here’s the thing, I love it. I love everything about my apartment, from the crazy squirrel roommates to the drafty floors that just don’t make sense. And in particular, I love the kitchen. As a third culture kid, I really struggle with a sense of home, but if any place feels like ‘home’ to me, it’s this kitchen.

This is what the place looked like 4 years ago (this is from the original apartment listing on Craigslist):

1748156

And this is what it looks like now (I took this last week):

With all the apartment weirdness, I’m pretty proud of the solutions that were put in place. For all the people who are setting up small, awkward, or old kitchens in the future, I hope the lessons learned will help you.

Problem #1: No counter space

The original kitchen had almost zero counter space. The IKEA kitchen island was a perfect solution: it’s cheap ($400), small enough for a Cambridge kitchen, and creates a pantry space that’s easy to access. As I’m making dinner on the counter, the flour and sugar are within reach (and so are the Cape Cod chips…). It also adds seating, so my friends can chill out there while I cook.

Also, to make the most of limited counter space, anything that normally sits on the counter is instead hung on the wall.

Problem #2: No storage

If there’s no storage space, you need to create it. The kitchen island added one shelf for pantry space and another shelf for cookbooks. Adding the matching IKEA kitchen cart next to the fridge helped hold appliances like the toaster oven, microwave, and food processor.

Next, maximize wall storage. The key to this was putting up the Julia Child-inspired peg board. One side benefit is that you can put stuff away to hang dry immediately after you wash it, which de-clutters your dishrack.

Then, de-clutter. How many plates and dishes do you actually use on a day-to-day basis? Anything else can be stored in the basement. Similarly, before I purchase any new kitchen gizmo (likely something pasta-related), I’ll ask myself: do I really have the space for this?

And finally, you’ll need a spot for clutter, because it’s inevitable. For me, that’s on top of the fridge, on top of the cabinets, and the basement. I’ll get to de-cluttering that stuff someday…

Problem #3: No flat surface

The apartment was built in 1890, so there is no such thing as a “flat surface” in the apartment. If you look carefully at all the photos, you’ll notice that every piece of furniture has a bunch of plastic “lifts” under one or two legs to level it. It mostly works, but eggs will still roll off the counter every once in a while. The biggest problem is the window nook, where one side of it is half a foot taller than the other. There is no funiture that can be put in there.

The first solution was a kitchen hammock. No leveling to worry about.

And then one day, while prepping for a house party, my roommate and I moved the Lovesac pillow (normally in the living room) into the nook. Boom. Instant friend favorite, and an amazing reading/working nook. It hasn’t left since.

One More Thing: Kitchen Chalkboards

Probably one of the most unique things about the kitchen are the chalkboards, which really aren’t chalkboards at all – they’re wall stickers from Amazon paired with chalkboard markers (real chalk is messy and less colorful). My roommate and I use it for all sorts of bucket lists, but it’s also really fun for trivia at parties.

I’m renting, so I know I can’t live in this place forever, but all the happy memories I’ve shared with friends in this kitchen make this place feel like home. I hope you find the tips and tricks shared here helpful!

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