For you, an efficient setup is all about access and speed―quick in, quick out.
Keep necessities within easy reach to save time. Make a place in the zone around the stove and the sink for essentials: oil, vinegar, knives, cutting board. Put ingredients and tools near where you will be using them: Keep the basket of garlic near the cutting board, sugar and flour near the stand mixer, and your best-loved pan on the front burner.
Use under-cabinet space and exposed shelving. A battery-operated under-cabinet lighting strip won't dangle a cord or steal an outlet from the microwave, while an under-shelf cookbook holder pulls down when you need it and folds back up when you don't. Things get lost on deep shelves. Put them in baskets that you can pull out and inspect at eye level.
Put the walls to work. Hang racks or pegs to keep utensils, pot holders, and dish towels in sight. Oversize Post-it notes or hanging rolls of paper (found at stationery and art-supply stores) are useful for reminders.
Make recycling efficient, too. Streamline end-of-meal cleanup by putting a bin for bottles and cans next to the one for regular trash (pull-out recycler, instead of out in the garage or in the mudroom.
2 of 4Bob Hiemstra
For the Sunday Cook
When you're too busy to cook, one weekend session―making dinners to freeze―reduces daily stress. Your kitchen setup should facilitate that.
Keep essentials front and center. Stackable storage containers, large plastic mixing bowls, and other tools left on the counter won't be in the way during the week and will be ready to go on Sunday.
Invest in equipment. A food sealer is just the thing for turning blanched green beans, fish fillets, and muffins into future instant meals. A scale is useful for weighing ingredients, which some cooks consider a faster and more reliable way to measure for bulk recipes. A calculator speeds the doubling and tripling of recipes.
Organize the freezer. When food items get crammed in willy-nilly, you won't know what you have on hand. Instead, make designated sections (prepared meals, vegetables, desserts). Use dividers, baskets, or multilayer ice caddies to keep containers neat and accessible. And be sure to label everything with both what's in the container, and when you cooked it up.
3 of 4Bob Hiemstra
For the Come-on-in Cook
You like to share conversation―and kitchen prep―with a friend, a mate, your kids. Your goal: to arrange things so that two (or five) can work as efficiently as one.
Make things easy for helpers to find. Bring things into the open with a wall-mounted utensil rack. Rachel Siegel, owner of Spruce, an organizing company in Berkeley, California, suggests storing tools by function.
Create parallel work stations. Set up separate work areas with equal access to commonly used tools and ingredients. A trash bin with a wide foot pedal can be moved about easily to serve cooks on both sides of an island or a counter.
Make the room kid-friendly. Create a zone where kids will feel welcome to help or just visit. For safety, move cleaning products and knives to adult heights. Stock up on kitchen tools made for kids and plastic bowls. Twin cutting boards let you chop the onions on your side of the island while your friend preps the apples on hers.
4 of 4Bob Hiemstra
For the Entertainer
If you're a cook who enjoys an audience, all the kitchen's a stage. Create an illusion of effortlessness that belies a tightly organized support system.
Set a mood. Clear vases of fresh herbs or beautiful bowls of picture-perfect produce will whet guests' appetites. Install a dimmer to bring down the lighting, and if you entertain regularly, consider built-in speakers to keep the music flowing through the kitchen.
Use glass cupboard doors for display. Use glass-front cabinets to showcase what you love most, whether it's your best china, an antique-pitcher collection, or even canisters filled with pastas in different shapes and colors.
Keep party gear handy. Create a place for platters and trays―with tray dividers to maintain order―so you don't have to hunt for them. Give candles, place mats, and other table toppers a dedicated drawer. Use an index-card box to store recipes, past menus, friends' food preferences, or wine labels. (Soak a bottle to remove the label, let it dry, paste it onto an index card, and jot down tasting notes.)