Whether it's a spotless sanctuary that churns out a home-cooked meal three times a day or it's as big as a postage stamp and sees a lot more macaroni than filet mignon, the kitchen is always the most beloved room in the home.
It's also the place Sandra Lee knows best.
“The kitchen is the one room in the house where you will find every family member together,” says Sandra Lee, star of the Food Network's wildly popular “Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee.”
If you don't know who Sandra Lee is, you've either been living under a rock or too busy making croissants from scratch to notice that entertaining has gotten a lot simpler since this fiery blonde came on the scene. Known for her “70 percent pre-made and 30 percent fresh” mantra, Lee promises that life can be “fun, fast and fabulous,” when it comes to cooking in your happy home.
And a happy home, according to Lee, starts with the kitchen. Consumers couldn't agree more.
The National Association of the Remodeling Industry in Des Plaines, Ill., reported that 3.8 million Americans remodeled their kitchens in 2003, second only to bathrooms. When it came time for Lee to craft a kitchen, her chic yet accessible cooking style served as design inspiration.
“I designed [my kitchen] myself and based it off a Target ad!” says Lee, who spent significant time considering how to make her kitchen work for her.
Sandra Lee got her start in 1992 with an innovative curtain design, which eventually led to design work for both Target and Wal-Mart, for whom she designed numerous gardening products. Since graduating from Paris' Cordon Bleu, this enterprising thirty-something has published three books, launched her own show and is developing her own magazine.
Sunny and Well-Stocked
Sandra's life, like yours, is a hectic affair that makes cooking a homemade meal tricky.
Since all time in the kitchen is precious, Ms. Semi-Homemade says any design one considers should pacify the soul and make food preparation easier.
“It feels good to be in a kitchen that is sunny and soothing,” says Lee, who admits to pulling out all the stops in order to make her kitchen functional, stylish and comfy.
While Lee says she “insisted on every gadget or gizmo, big or small” when it came time to outfit her kitchen, it's often the simple things that make a good kitchen truly great, whether you're a famous TV personality or an overworked career woman.
Lee's well-thought-out design included plenty of space to move between cooking areas and the right equipment to make any recipe possible. An island stove provides open granite counter space where she can chop, puree or assemble her infamous “BananAlaska” while monitoring what's cooking in the skillet.
Not surprisingly, the convenience-focused Lee made it a priority to keep her cooking needs within reach.
“I like open shelves, not cupboards. I especially like shelving units that have decorated edges so you can display what is on the inside. This creates a more personalized looking kitchen. You shouldn't have to spend a lot of money on cupboards or countertops.”
Open cupboards allow the cook to take stock of their tools and to grab what they need without getting knobs dirty: something that make's Lee's fast-paced cooking all the more simple.
Any fan of “Semi-Homemade Cooking” will tell you that Lee's kitchen is an ever-changing project, and the open, scalloped cabinets allow her to display items that reflect her cuisine of the day. Little changes, such as altering the color of plates in her cabinet and her curtains to match the rainbow array of KitchenAid mixers in her possession, allow her to decorate around moods and food colors.
That's not to say Lee believes you should take out a mortgage to redo your kitchen.
When it comes to finding bargains, Lee makes no bones about it, saying that to be smart, one should, “Do investigative shopping. Find a friend that can give you a discount or look online.” Doing your research will allow you to find the best deals in your local market.
No Messing with Messes
One major problem Lee sees with most kitchens is when they become less “family-centric” and more “family-chaotic.” She says when the homework, papers, Post-It notes, dishes and current projects threaten to take over the space, it's time to change the way you utilize your space.
“There are all sorts of organizers, dividers and plastic containers. You need a kitchen caddy, the type with one unit in itself. That will clear up the clutter in minutes,” says Lee.
Finding a place for everything, even if it takes a lot of elbow grease and creative problem solving is imperative for the CEO of Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade, Inc. Organizing and de-cluttering is the first step to streamlining your kitchen. Doing that, says Lee, “will give you much more space to enjoy cooking.”
Tricks of the Trade
So what does a homemaking doyenne have in her kitchen that you must have for yours? Lee says to make sure you can navigate the room without bumping into anything; plan for plenty of surface areas to work on multiple dishes; and make sure it's well-lit with multiple light sources; all kitchen tasks are made easier when you can see.
A continuously well-stocked pantry is also essential for Lee's kitchen, but that's not to say her small-bathroom-sized pantry is without faults. “I want an automatic pantry that replenishes itself,” she says.
When asked what she could not possibly do without in her kitchen, Lee doesn't go for a Cuisinart or a garbage disposal. Her must-have? “Plastic baggies!”
But the favorite room in the house is a lot more than Ziploc bags and shelving units. If home is where the heart is, Lee believes the heart beats in the kitchen. Kitchens are where family history is passed down and different generations create something wonderful together.
Bake Until Memorable
Lee has warm memories of her grandmother's kitchen.
”My grandmother's kitchen was a very fun place to be. She was always baking and icing cakes,” says Lee.
That warm, fuzzy feeling is something that consciously carried over to Lee's own kitchen now that she's all grown up.
“I have created an environment that my nieces and nephews are comfortable with. I do a lot of baking, just like my grandmother did.”
We certainly hope she'll give us the recipe.