Tuesday 23 November 2010

The heart of my home

Ever since I started planning for my renovation, I realised that my kitchen is the Heart of my home.

Although the kitchen occupies a space that is less than ten percentage of the whole house, I spent the most time planning for it. Other than the two bathrooms which are giving me headaches because of the poor layout, the bedrooms and living areas don't really need my full attention. Thanks to the 'standard' layout of our flat, there is nothing much one can play around when it comes to designing the bedrooms and living room. The beds have got 'designated' areas...the wardrobes got to be at that corner, unless you want to hack away walls and combine two bedrooms into one. My living room is worst...mine is a square...there really isn't much choice after considering human traffic and our life style...the tv has to be against that particular wall, the sofa set will naturally be placed around it. I only have to agonise over the selection of floor tiles and the choice of colour for the walls.

In contrast, my small kitchen, with a size of around 100 sq ft needs careful planning and attention to details. There are so many decisions I have to make...from selecting the wall tiles, floor tiles...to deciding on the material for the kitchen counter top, the type of stove, sink, oven; down to dish racks and even the tap for the sink! The 'right' decisions has to be made as once the things are fixed up, it is not easy to make changes.

I was a little surprised when my renovation contractor handed me this 3D drawing so that I could visualise how my 'new' kitchen will look like. First of all, he is not an interior designer, I have engaged him because of his many years of experience as a contractor. With our simple layout, we don't really need an interior designer, and also, I am very much a DIY person, I like to do things the way I want it ;)

I am also surprised how well he has captured what I had in mind...I would say his 3D drawing (likely done up by his staff, as I really doubt he knows how to use any electronic devices except his mobile phone) is close to 80% of what I had envisioned. What amazes me is that, he doesn't carry a notebook (be it paper or electronic) to jot down whatever details that I have told him, yet he is able to remember every single item...he has to run several projects at a time and not forgetting he owns the firm. I wonder how he manages his schedule...he doesn't rely on a blackberry or an iphone (he told me he junk it after 3 days because the battery doesn't last long enough for his usage), neither does he carry a traditional diary or planner. He records everything in his brain. I really wonder what he puts inside his business suitcase which he carries along when he meets potential clients?!

I have been asking my contractor when I could get the detailed drawings of the kitchen cabinets, he told me they could only provide it after taking the exact measurement, ie when the floor and wall tiles are up. So, instead of waiting for his drawings, I did up my own.

I used to have a U-shape kitchen layout with the sink at the side. I didn't like the awkward position of the sink, so my kitchen will be a L-shape. There is space for a tiny island, but I didn't want anything 'fixed' or 'cast in stone'. I rather place a small dining table in the middle of the kitchen...which can double up as breakfast counter or a workplace for me to knead bread dough.

My ceiling height is higher than usual...it is almost 10ft or 3m high. As such I am doing away with the top cabinets this time so that it goes with my 'design principle'...easy maintenance and less things to clean. I am also spared the agony of deciding whether my kitchen will be an open concept design...the layout of my house just doesn't allow it.

After converting my existing store room to a walk-in-wardrobe, I need to look for alternative storage space. With the benefit of a high ceiling, I am able to build a tall cabinet tower at the side of the kitchen. I already told the contractor that I wanted to have more drawer units, and he has kindly agreed without charging me extra. I guess I should be happy with 4 drawer units compared to just 1 previously. The drawers will come in different heights to provide greater storage flexibility. I have also requested for more shelving as my previous kitchen cabinets only have got 1 layer of shelf.

If you have noticed, unlike most common practice, I will be installing stainless legs for my kitchen cabinets instead of letting them sit on concrete base. This is slightly against my design 'principle' as this means I have to take extra effort to clean and mop under the cabinets. Personally, I think this is a small price to pay in the longer term. The main reason that prompted me to renovate my whole house was that my old kitchen cabinets were growing mould! Especially those areas near the sink and floor trap. My old cabinets were sitting on concrete base, and due to humidity, condensation occurs underneath the sink area, creating a very conducive environment for mould to prosper over time. So, I rather spent some extra effort to clean the place than to worry over that I am storing my kitchen utensils inside 'incubators' for mould and fungus.

Although I do not know much about interior design, I have read about the kitchen work triangle ever since I got the keys to my house many years ago. I am glad that my new kitchen design is able to adhere to the work triangle even with the new location of the fridge. I have made the right decision to reposition the entrance of the guest bathroom and the store room. With the corner all sealed up, I am able to place the fridge in that location and free up the ex-fridge space to make way for the build-in oven and more kitchen cabinets. And it just happens that the new position for the fridge is between the stove/sink and the kitchen entrance. This allows other family members to access the fridge without 'interfering' the work triangle when someone is cooking.  I will probably have to look for a small side table to be placed at the side of the fridge to help ease in unloading groceries.

The main fault of my kitchen layout is that it doesn't adhere to good feng shui principle :( The stove is opposite the kitchen entrance...a no no for someone to cook with his/her back facing the entrance. Besides feng shui, it is for obvious safety reasons too. One way to overcome this is to place a mirror above the stove to allow the cook to know whenever someone enters the kitchen. Even though by placing a mirror above the stove will also serve to magnify wealth, I doubt I will ever install one! Not everyone looks like a domestic goddess in the kitchen and I certainly can do without a mirror when I am going about preparing dinners! I guess I should be fine with this layout since I am already used to getting startled whenever my kids stealth into the kitchen while I was cooking (^^')

See, I am not kidding, there is so many things to consider when planning a kitchen. Now that the kitchen wall and floor tiles are almost done up, the next daunting task for me is to select the laminates for the cabinets and the colour of the kitchen counter top.

Thanks to all readers for sharing your experience with your ovens and taking time to participate in the poll. Here's the result of the poll:

Bosch HBN331E2J 81 votes (46%)
Brandt FE811XS1 47 votes (27%)
Ariston FZ61.1IX 45 votes (26%)

I have finally decided that I will be getting Bosch HBN331E2J after hearing good reviews about it. Besides, it has emerged as a clear winner in the poll, with 81 votes out of 173. It is a close fight between Brandt and Ariston though, with Brandt leading by two votes. I am sure they are all good basic ovens to begin with.

I promise I will do a review of the Bosch oven when I get back to my baking routine. In the mean time, I will love to hear your comments on my kitchen layout/design, I welcome any suggestions to make my kitchen a functional one so that it can really serve its purpose as the heart of my home :)

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Is it B, B or A?

When I started planning for my home renovation, looking for a suitable built-in oven was one of the very first item I researched on. It has been 3 months since, but, I have yet to make the final decision (^^')

It was only after reading through comments and reviews from various online forums, I learned that there are many features and functions available in built-in ovens. Terms such as pyrolysis cleaning, catalytic self cleaning, tangential ventilation got me really confused. Pardon my ignorance...for the past few years, I have been using this simple, small (20 litres) table-top oven with only a set of heating elements at the top; whereas even the most basic built-in ovens have got top, bottom heating elements with a fan. To make things more puzzling...different brands use different terminology when it comes to naming the numerous cooking functions available..eg. Traditional Pulsed, 3D hot air, Multi-cooking sounds different but they actually refers to the same function. I had to study and compare the various catalogs in order to fully understand the differences.

After going through all the information I have gathered, I decided that I will only need a very basic oven. I do not need one that comes with self-cleaning functions, since I do not do that much of roasting. Furthermore, most ovens that come with pyrolysis self cleaning (heating the oven to 500degC for 1 ~ 2 hrs to 'burn' the stains on the walls to ashes, so no cleaning is needed, you just need to wipe away the ashes) would require a loading of 15 or 16 Amp (our current flat can only take up to 13Amp). Even if a separate socket is installed, the air condition and oven is not to be operating at the same time, to prevent tripping of the electric power. I do not need an oven from a higher end...eg one that comes with 10 cooking functions as I doubt I will use all the functions. So the very good ovens from brands such as Miele and De Dietrich will never get into my list. Since I am not a professional cook or baker, I would probably not be able to do justice to using such good ovens. Even if I have the budget, I would rather spend the money on a holiday trip ;)

Besides the price, the main selection criteria when it comes to choosing an oven for my 'new' kitchen will be the oven door! The oven door has to be sturdy and will close tightly. The oven should come with tangential ventilation, ie, when the oven reaches a certain temperature it will blow out hot air to cool down the oven. I am also looking at ovens that have got triple or at least double layers of glass doors.

After visiting showrooms to look at the physical products, I have finally narrowed down to 3 choices...they are the basic range from Bosch, Brandt and Ariston. They are all within the same price range, offering similar functions. In fact, they are so similar that I am not able to make up my mind which one I should get?!

So, will it be this B...

Bosch HBN331E2J
* Capacity: 52 litres
* 5 Cooking functions:
  - Conventional top and bottom heat
  - 3D hot air (top, bottom and heating element
    around fan)
  - Bottom heat only
  - Hot air grilling (grill and fan operate alternately)
  - Full width variable grill
* EasyClean enamel coating
* Electronic clock with timer
* Double layer glass door (removable for cleaning)
* Oven accessories: 1 universal pan, 1 split grill tray
* Energy efficiency class: A
* Country: German Brand
* Retail price: $749

or this B?

Brandt FE811XS1
* Capacity: 52 litres
* 6 Cooking functions:
  - Traditional Pulsed (top, bottom heat and fan)
  - Traditional (top and bottom heat)
  - Fan Assisted Grill (top heat and fan operate
  - Grill (top heat)
  - Pulsed Oven Shelf (bottom with light grill and fan)
  - Special Poultry (top with some heat from bottom)
* Activemail interior (anti-stain, anti-corrosion,
temperature resistant enamel)
* Timer function
* Double layer glass door (not removable)
* Oven accessories: 2 safety grid racks, 1 large drip tray
* Energy efficiency class: A
* Country: Made in France
* Retail price: $899

and what about this A?

Ariston FZ 61.1 IX
* Capacity: 58 litres
* 6 Cooking functions:
  - Traditional (top and bottom heating)
  - Multi-Cooking (top, bottom, circular and fan)
  - Barbecue (top only)
  - Gratin (top and fan)
  - Pizza (bottom, circular and fan)
  - Baking (rear heating and fan)
* Inox clean stain resistant surface
* Timer function (w/o auto cut off)
* Triple layer glass door (removable for cleaning)
* Oven accessories: 1 dripping tray, 1 grid
* Energy efficiency class: A
* Country: Made in Italy
* Retail price: $709

Decision, decision, decision...

Which one will you choose?

Thursday 11 November 2010

The end is the beginning

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” ~ T.S. Eliot

It took me 4 days to clear away every single item from my house. I was really surprised by the amount of 'junks' I have been keeping for the past 14 years (^^')

Even though I must have thrown away half of our 'possessions', I still ended up with 30 boxes of barangs barangs (personal belongings). Here's some stats to illustrate...I sold away:
~ 100kg of old textbooks, activity books, worksheets, assessment books, magazines, etc,
~ 50kg of old clothing, bed sheets, towels, etc
to the karung guni (modern form of rag and bone men). I 'earned' a total of $15. I also sold away my fridge, washing machine, two fans and a radio for a total of $70. I got $10 by selling away my king size bed.

I managed to clear away 90% of our old furniture, and I do hope my 'new' house will not have more than 8 pieces of furniture. I am a minimalist...but this time I will work even harder to keep everything simple...my main aim is to minimise daily cleaning and maintenance :)

After 4 days of hacking, my whole flat was stripped down to its core. Here's my kitchen...it looks almost like a war zone!

There will only be bottom cabinets for my kitchen...and a tower unit by the side. This is my first step of reducing storage space. You may think I am crazy since most people ask for extra storage space. For me, the more space I have means I will fill it up with more junks! I used to have a row of top cabinets which I used it as a 'store'...keeping things I hardly use at all. One classic example: we have been keeping bottles and bottles of Coke which we bought during our holidays overseas. I spent close to 20mins opening 40 bottles (or more!) of Coke and pouring away the content before I could dispose off the empty glass bottles. Not forgetting the numerous cans of Coke I have throw away several years back. This is something I don't wish to happen again.

This is my guest/common bathroom...I have re-positioned the entrance so that the new entrance will be at the service yard instead of the kitchen.

New entrance to the guest/common bathroom. I won't have to see my younger child doing his business in full view any more ;)

This is yet another step to 'reduce' storage space. The entrance of the store will be shifted from the kitchen to the bedroom. I am going to convert the existing store room to a 'walk-in' wardrobe...literally. The space is only 1m by 2m...just enough for a person to walk into the closet to retrieve the item. Yes, it is going to be a tiny closet...but I am the sort who can survive with less than 10 sets of cloths, the space is more than sufficient. Without a store room, the only problem I am going to face is to find storage space to keep my kids' books...I hope the new build in wardrobe cum book shelves will be big enough to address this issue.

Although I have no intention to convert this into a renovation blog, I won't be able to post anything on baking for the next couple of months. I hope I don't bore you too much with this post (^_^).