Philip and I just returned from a “fabuleux” two-week vacation in Paris. In order to have a richer and more varied experience, we rented an apartment near the Eiffel Tower for the first week and then moved to an apartment in Le Marais for the second week. This strategy was a great way to experience two distinct neighborhoods in Paris and it also gave me the opportunity to try out two European-style kitchens in person.
First off, let me clarify what is unique about European kitchens. Anyone that has traveled abroad knows that European hotel rooms tend to be smaller than those in the U.S. The same is true for residential spaces and kitchens, especially in urban centers like Paris. Most of the existing residential buildings in Paris were built in the late 19th century as part of the Haussmann renovation plan commissioned by Napoleon III. Fortunately, the city planners of Paris were not influenced by the urban renewal craze that swept most American cities in the 50’s and 60’s. As a result, kitchens in Europe are designed for smaller, more compact 19th century spaces versus the larger spaces that have become the norm in the U.S.
There are several specific qualities that European designed kitchens share:
Ease of accessibility-The main premise of European design is to bring the kitchen to the user as opposed to the user having to visit multiple work stations to prepare a meal. A floor plan that positions the most often used items within easy reach is the primary aim.
Effective use of space-Since space is at a premium, European kitchens are designed to be highly efficient. Parisians shop more often and buy locally from the plethora of markets that are scattered about the city. Kitchens are not designed for the bulk shopping that is prevalent in the U.S.
Compact appliances-One of the most noticeable differences in European kitchens is the use 24” wide appliances versus the 30-36” appliances used in America. I did most of the cooking in Paris and was pleasantly surprised by the comfort of using a 24” cooktop, refrigerator and oven. Another key difference is the lack of a garbage disposal which opens up a host of possibilities for optimizing the space under the sink. Europeans have also embraced the use of a combination washer/dryer which eliminates one appliance from the mix.
Energy efficiency-The cost of electricity in Europe is between 50% and 300% higher than the cost of electricity in the United States. Europeans are accustomed to using highly efficient appliances that take longer to complete their tasks. This is especially true for dishwashers, washers and dryers that are used frequently.
Cost efficiency-Because the physical space is smaller, the cost of a kitchen renovation is less in Europe than in the U.S. Europeans tend to invest in better quality fixtures and finishes to create a visually striking space that is also designed for optimal convenience, accessibility and efficiency, a strategy that would benefit many American homes as well.