Cooking gets top-notch with butcher block, pull-out drawers, and clever placement
When food writer Daniel Gritzer moved to a two-bedroom, pre-war apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, the former professional chef and his wife, Vice editor Kate Lowenstein, spent a few years letting thoughts marinate on how to renovate their modest galley kitchen. Worried about how disruptive and time-consuming the project would be for two first-timers, they squirreled savings away and steeled themselves for a “maiden voyage” in renovating. The couple wondered when they would enjoy the space if they didn’t overhaul it, and Daniel’s restaurant background and turns at Food & Wine, Time Out, and Serious Eats gave him a perspective on cooking techniques that were just out of reach at home.
When Daniel came to Sweeten to find a design and build team for the work, announcing in his project post that the “food writer needed a new kitchen,” we couldn’t wait to see how’d re-imagine things. This, however, is NOT the story of a tight galley kitchen opening up: Happily, Daniel and Kate embraced the space they had and created an inspired chef’s kitchen.
Daniel and Kate set out to solve some very visible problems. The kitchen’s floor tiles had developed corrosive stains over time that could not be scrubbed clean, the cabinets extended to a generic height that wasted space, and some unfortunate layout decisions positioned an old, hulking fridge at the entryway, threatening to shoulder-check (hockey player-style) anyone scooting by. Worse, the fridge and stove footprints forced the right side of the galley into three abridged sections that were not useful for real food prep. On the other side, plumbing risers in the wall pushed one section of cabinetry out by a few inches, creating an odd corner in the middle of the countertop and adding a few inches of cabinet bulk right at eye level above the sink.
Design flaws aside, the room felt claustrophobic, so most visitors assumed that the problem was with the galley itself. Common in pre-war apartments, the dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room could conceivably have come down, and everyone asked about it. But Daniel and Kate found themselves advocating for preservation as the galley began to play a central role in their big-picture decision-making:
– Wall demolition would eat away at budget.
– Re-routing plumbing risers in the wall could have become very expensive with extra permits and fees or would have required a thick column right at the most advantageous place to open the wall.
– The wall provided significant storage surface area in an already small kitchen—Daniel’s cooking tools would overwhelm a more open space.
– The apartment was built in a different era with more formal logic about separating kitchen and dining, and there was a lot they liked about that thinking.
Ultimately, Daniel felt really comfortable in a galley: it was like a residential approximation of a commercial restaurant line. Rather than lamenting its limits, he saw it as a pro’s set-up. Wherever you’re standing, everything is within reach!
Admittedly, Daniel had strong opinions about certain decisions, but wanted expert input on technical design, so we introduced the couple to a Sweeten contractor who was strong in both categories. The team committed to getting the fridge out of the entryway to consolidate counter space, but otherwise left key features largely in place. Custom cabinet designs expanded storage vertically and offset cabinets traded in for open shelving above the sink.
Daniel appreciated the experts’ focus on design decisions like cabinet door orientation and space between features, freeing him up to get a few chef’s details exactly right. The old kitchen had no designated spot for garbage, so the trash bin had been relegated to the entry, far from the main workspace. Daniel wanted a handy place for immediately dumping scraps and incorporated a built-in trash bin by the sink.
The new microwave is minimized—Daniel wanted to avoid putting the microwave in a prominent spot and was concerned about cleanliness in an above-stove location. It now lives on an open shelf underneath the counter, where it’s an accessible tool but not a visible feature. The crew created a dedicated cabinet for cutting boards, and most pots and pans are found in pull-out sliding cabinets rather than stacked in drawers, so they take up less space but are still easily grabbed.
A towel bar, mounted just below the counter by the sink, has become major real estate with S-hooks added for small pieces like a bottle opener and scissors.
Daniel and Kate decided on marble hex tile from Heritage Tile for the floors. It brings a natural element of warmth with a shape that is familiar in homes of a similar era, and it bounces light from the kitchen window with a little glow. Color for the custom cabinets became a tortured decision. Daniel and Kate paid extra for additional cabinet samples when they found that paint swatches didn’t really help them envision different tones, and agreed on a navy finish that paired well with brass accents already in the home.
Daniel aimed for a real chef’s prep space with sections of cherry butcher block. It needs mineral oil but is otherwise not that hard to maintain with cutting boards regularly in the rotation. Around the sink, the couple chose a section of white quartz for easy maintenance and to protect the butcher block from water stains. Standard white subway tile adds a simple gleam and contrast between the cabinet lines and Daniel relied on an early DIY project restoring original brass door knobs for inspiration, sourcing new brass hardware from Rejuvenation.
Daniel’s key considerations for a new stove were powerful burner output and controls on the front of the oven; having the control panel on the back stand was too out of the way. Recipe experiments and heavy use mean that a food writer’s oven can get pretty gunky, so extra points for minimal nooks and grooves went to the Frigidaire they chose. The sink, from Kraus, is an undermount with nice depth, and the faucet is a simple gooseneck model with no side accents that might get in the way of a scrub down. Daniel and Kate rounded out the appliance upgrades with a heavy-duty dishwasher from Thermador and a french door Fisher & Paykel fridge.
Such a treat to hear about the years of experience and planning that went into this sweetened kitchen! It’s now much easier to picture and appreciate the scene in Daniel’s unofficial test kitchen, and we’ll surely be keeping an eye on his new recipes over at Serious Eats!
Kitchen selects >> floor tile: marble hex tile: Heritage Tile / cabinets: custom / countertop: cherry butcher block, white quartz / wall tile: white subway tile / range: Frigidaire / sink: Kraus / dishwasher: Thermador / refrigerator: Fisher & Paykel / hardware: Rejuvenation
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