“I Can See Clearly Now”
The other week my blogging partner Joe Dusel and I made the trip to Palm Springs with the expressed intention of meeting a guy I’ve “known” online for some time, Pete Walker. The other part of the journey, the larger part of it, really, was to get a chance to talk to him a bit and see his Proximity Kitchensystem® in operation. I cannot tell you how glad I am that I made the trip, not only for the opportunity to meet Pete, but also for an introduction to an entirely different way of looking at kitchen design. Pete was quick to point out that the Proximity Kitchensystem® encompasses quite a bit more than just a slick sink design, but space considerations—and the logistics of life—prevented his bringing an entire kitchen to Palm Springs. Even so, I mean to confine my comments to his sink in this blog because it capsulizes a lot of his thinking on kitchen design—and quite frankly, because I could see at once what a difference it would make to kitchens in general and ours in particular.
Pete is not the only guy to come up with food preparation in a sink. Constant readers of this blog will surely note that whenever I review one of these sinks I am pretty much guaranteed to wax ecstatic, because I really do like the idea of it. It has always struck me as a wonderful way to get more from our very cramped kitchen. It’s been a while since I first saw a picture of Pete’s sink, and I have to say I was immediately attracted to it, but that’s the woodworker in me talking. He uses teak and walnut for his cutting board, and the metal inserts are housed in teak frames that slide back and forth. The result is truly gorgeous. Seeing this sink in person blew my mind.
I’m the kind of guy who cannot walk by a piece of furniture without examining it, opening drawers and such, and this is especially so in furniture stores. I remember once going through my usual routine of closely examining a piece that especially interested me, and the sales lady said, “You’re a woodworker, aren’t you?” Guilty as charged! But I bring that up because I examine pretty much anything I come across that way, and not just wood items. How well is it made? How does it fit and so forth? I said earlier that I have never seen a food-preparation-in-the-sink concept that I didn’t like, but whenever I have an opportunity to see one of these in person, the fit of the components nags at me.
Long before I became a woodworker I was a cook. I’ve been in kitchens most of my life, actually doing it for a living for four years. I know how to use a French knife, so when I look at a cutting board that is designed to slide back and forth over a sink, the first thing I examine is the fit of it. They don’t. They always slop around to some extent. It’s because they’re made in a factory and intended to be shipped hither and yon. Wood has a way of moving, things can happen in transport, a close fit can become problematic, but hey, it’s close enough, so off it goes. This last brings me back to a sign that hung on the wall at Palomar College where I took five years of woodworking classes: “Close enough NEVER IS!”
From the moment I saw pictures of Pete’s sink online, I knew those cutting boards had been made in a shop. I could see the router work in them, and also the flair for design. Factory made is factory designed is factory-cut-a-lot-of-corners. I confirmed the shop origin of these cutting boards with Pete when I talked to him in Palm Springs, but any doubt I might have had on that subject was vanquished the moment I laid hands on those cutting boards. The first thing I noticed when I started moving the elements in Pete’s sink is that he fitted them. They don’t slop out of the groove when you’re moving them back and forth. More than that, when you have the cutting board where you want it, it does NOT move north and south in the sink.
Christine and I have talked about our kitchen plans for entirely too many years now, but one of the concepts I always wanted to introduce to this space was the food-preparation-in-the-sink concept. For a long time whenever I encountered a new one, I would come to her all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, extolling the virtues of my latest love. She kept coming back to the same concept. She likes standing at the counter that butts to the family room when she’s chopping things and making salads and the like because she can watch the big-screen TV if she’s so minded. And because she often does that when she’s making steak sandwiches for us during football season, there has always been this little voice inside me saying, “Don’t mess up a good thing, man.”
But the flip side of using that part of the countertop for a food preparation area is that we tend to do just about all of our food preparation there, whether the TV is on or not, whether it’s convenient or not, and really, it’s not all that convenient. I have often thought about that, and especially so since I first saw other permutations of this food-preparation-in-the-sink concept. If I’m making a stew, I will cut up stew meat on the cutting board on that counter. Then I will throw the meat into a frying pan to brown, go to the sink and wash the cutting board. Now I need onions, so I do the same thing. If there are other things that need to be chopped up before I put them into my stew, those steps may be repeated any number of times. And what happens when you go back and forth across this kitchen in this manner? Things occasionally fall on the floor. Worse yet, unless you’re an old Army cook who is very cognizant of the dangers of it, a fair amount of water drips onto the floor from a less than perfectly dried cutting board. This sink eliminates all of that, and does it while looking absolutely fabulous!
This is a sink that adds a lot of pizazz to a kitchen, but it is considerably more than that—and especially so with the wood inserts that slide back and forth. It’s a design element that would not only double the work space we have in our kitchen, but make it considerably more efficient than it has ever been or would have been with any other that we might choose. These other food-preparation-in-a-sink concepts confine themselves, for the most part, to the sink area. Pete is far-visioned enough to include—for those who want such a thing—the entire sink cabinet. I do have to point out that his sinks come in a number of sizes and configurations. Some will want a much smaller sink profile. Others, for reasons that were immediately apparent to me when I saw it in operation, will prefer the larger version, one that encompasses the entire sink cabinet.
That sink cabinet of ours has always been just that: a cabinet with a sink in it. The space to the right of the sink, which separates it from the stove, is all of ten inches wide. The only thing we use it for—and that by necessity—is for setting down things like eggs in a steel mixing bowl when I’m making omelets and the like. The space to the left of the sink is just a space for canisters and dirty dishes when we clear the table. It does not figure into food preparation at all. We use the end of that counter that Christine favors, and we do that regardless of what—if anything—happens to be on the big-screen TV in the family room.
Christine and I have discussed the food-preparation-in-the-sink concept for a long time because I have long been enamored of it. She’s always held back because she likes working on that counter. But the other part of it is that she really could not see a great deal of benefits from the sink, and that brings us to the other aspect of these sinks, the main one, really. Pete would be the first to tell you that he’s not in this to manufacture sinks. He’s a kitchen designer. Oh, man, is he a kitchen designer! Which is to say that the subject of today’s blog is considerably more than just a slick sink. It’s an integral part of a revolutionary concept for kitchen design, one that completely rethinks the entire process from start to finish. Pete calls it Life Within Reach®, and he’s right. Next week we’ll get into that a bit, but for now I just want to say that Johnny Nash has got nothing on Pete Walker!
[Note: all pictures by Joe Dusel.]
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