RE: dining and kitchen facilities
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 17 Mar 94 17:16 CST
Monika Stumpf at Monterey CoHousing, Minneapolis, Minnesota wrote:

>We are looking for words of wisdom or experience to help us decide how to
>set up dining and kitchen facilities.  We will be remodeling an old mansion
>(1924 vintage) and are a bit limited in what we can do, but we still would
>like to hear what others have learned in the meantime.  When we are all
>moved in we expect to be about 25 households.

There are a whole bunch of considerations in creating a well designed, 
social kitchen.  There was a good article in a recent issue of 
Cohousing magazine regarding cohousing kitchen design.  If you don't 
get that magazine or have that issue, send me a mailing address and I 
will xerox it and send it to you.

We are currently doing the design for our commonhouse, and essentially 
redoing the layout that an architect did for us.  One of the biggest 
problem areas we found in the plan was the food service. So we are 
doing a architect search process for an architect who has designed 
several church/school/community center kitchens.  A good commonhouse 
kitchen lies somewhere between a restraunt kitchen and a family kitchen.

Churches, community centers, YMCA camps, State park learning centers 
all offer good and bad examples of community kitchens.  Visit several 
and bring a tape measure to measure counter spaces, etc. Ask people who 
use those spaces, what they like and dislike about the set up.

Typically food is prepared by a team of 3-4 so you need to design a 
food prep area which allows for that number of people to work in a good 
social environment, where people can see each other and chat as they 
work.  A well placed center island, with a chopping block surface and a 
small sink can make a good food prep area.

Study the flow of the dishes.  People come in, get a plate, food gets 
on the plate, the plate moves to a table, the plate moves to a holding 
area, the plate goes into the dishwasher, the plate goes from the 
dishwasher to a storage area. Design so that this flow moves 
efficiently. One of the best designs I've ever seen had the comercial 
dishwasher loop set up so when the dishes came out of the commercial 
washer in trays, the trays were just pushed along a counter, adjacent 
to the washer for drying.  As people came in, their path of travel went 
right by the dish racks and they could pick up a dish right out of the 
rack.  The empty racks were then moved to the counter which was in 
front of the dishwasher and when people were done with their plate they 
put it into the rack, when the rack was full it got pushed along the 
counter into the commercial dishwasher and cycle started again.  (Sigh, 
if only internet could deal with graphics, a picture is worth a lot of 

Also do the same for the cooking dishes. Food gets prepared, a pan is 
taken from storage, food put into a pan, placed in the oven, taken out 
of the oven, placed for service, moved to the sink, washed, dried, 
placed into storage.  Make this flow efficient and pay especial 
attention to the flow of hot things out of the oven. You don't want to 
carry hot things very far, nor through a crowd.

Watch for service bottlenecks.  If all 25 people come in at once, do 
they all have to wait in a single line or does your food service allow 
for a double line.

Beware of kitchen equiptment manufactors "design centers". These people 
will design your kitchen if you buy their brand of equipment.  They are 
usually salespeople with a small amount of kitchen experience.

There is a thriving business in used restraunt equipment.  A used 
stove, dishwasher, etc. can be 1/3 the price of new and work fine.

If one counter is lower than the rest, a child, an elder who can not 
stand, or a wheelchair bound person can easily help.

If tools such as knives, spatulas, etc. are stored on counters or hung, 
it saves the energy of trying to find it in a drawer or cupboard.

Large freezers fill up very quickly with wierd assortments of 
leftovers, which at least in our community, don't get eaten very often, 
end up with freezer burn, and thrown out.  We have friday night be 
"left over" night and eat up all the leftovers from the week.  The 
fridge is cleaned out on friday night and anything not eaten is composted.

I have heard that walk in freezers often require a great deal of 
maintaince and can be expensive to repair.  Be stingy with the amount 
of refrideration you put in the common kitchen. It is energy expensive 
and from our experience, perishables are better bought fresh and used 
up, rather than stored.  We serve 22 using a large, household refer, 
and we only use 1/2 or less of the space, mostly for milk and juice and 
the weeks leftovers.

Food presentation doesn't have to be fancy. A folding table can work 
just fine.  Commercial food warmers like they have in buffet restraunts 
are very labor intensive to clean.

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