If your kitchen feels inefficient or cluttered, here's good news from interior designers: Even the oldest kitchens can become streamlined, attractive work spaces without major remodeling.
The first step is assessing how you really use your kitchen. Do you do lots of cooking and baking, or is the microwave your best friend? What items do you use and which collect dust? (''There's only three things in my kitchen I know how to use,'' admits interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn, and the main one is the microwave.)
Once you know how you work, says designer Janine Carendi, ''trim down to the bare necessities.'' People often keep unwanted, worn or damaged kitchen items just in case they might come in handy. But unless you have ample kitchen storage, saving that set of chipped dishes or that space-hogging sandwich maker will only make it harder to conveniently store what you do use.
Donate to charity or share these items with friends or family members. Spices, too, should be jettisoned once they get old. And things used only on special occasions (like an oversized roasting pan for Thanksgiving turkey) can be stored in a transparent plastic bin in your garage or basement.
Once the culling is done, Flynn, Carendi and Mallory Mathison, all named to domino magazine's ''10 Designers on the Verge'' list this year, say it's time to think outside the cabinet:
n Display your favorite nonperishable foods on open shelving. For example, streamline your family's breakfast routine (while freeing up space in cabinets), by displaying several cereals in transparent canisters on a shelf next to a stack of pretty bowls and spoons, says Flynn.
''I like to keep the foods that I eat most often completely separate from other things stored in the cabinets or pantry,'' he says. ''It keeps me from rummaging through things, which will ultimately lead to more disorganization. I go all out with it and actually kind of style the open system like an old general store.''
n Another vertical idea: Mathison suggests attaching hooks or towel racks to a wall or pantry door for hanging your supply of dishtowels. She also recommends hanging pots, pans and glassware on racks to save space.
''If you don't have a traditional pot rack,'' she says, ''get 2-inch dowels. Hang the dowels straight across, put hooks on them and hang up the pots.'' Carendi says utensils can also be hung on small racks, so they're visible and accessible but not using up counter space.
n Know at a glance what you have by emptying half-full boxes of pasta and rice into clear plastic containers. If you can quickly see your supply, you'll be less likely to mistakenly buy things you don't need. If canned goods tend to get forgotten in the recesses of your pantry or cabinets, place them on small ''lazy susan'' turntables where you can see everything.
''The more you know where things are and the more you can see them, the more you'll end up using them,'' says Carendi.
n If your cabinet doors are solid, have a carpenter cut out the center of each door and replace it with plexiglas, says Flynn. No more opening the wrong cabinet in search of something. If you'd rather not have your cabinets' contents fully visible, have the plexiglas frosted so that you can see just outlines of what's inside.
n Small appliances take up vital counter space and attract clutter, so Carendi recommends storing them out of sight. If you worry that these appliances will get ignored, devote one cabinet to all of them. They'll be stashed away but easily accessed. Flynn recommends putting your microwave in a cabinet, too, assuming it's small enough and there is good ventilation. You may need to have an electrician add an outlet.
n Replace the chairs on one or both sides of your kitchen table with benches that have storage space inside, says Mathison. Clutter that gathers on the kitchen table or counters can be stored inside the benches at mealtime. Once a week, have family members go through the benches to claim their own items. Or the benches can be used to store toys or reading material kept in the kitchen.
n Don't forget the highest spaces, says Carendi. Have a stepstool nearby to easily access things stored on top shelves or above cabinets. If you're replacing or updating cabinets, she recommends installing them up to the ceiling. Empty space above cabinets ''just attracts dirt and clutter,'' she says.
Whether you are remodeling or just fine-tuning your kitchen, Carendi says, it's vital to put aside old habits governing where things should be stored. ''Look beyond what you're accustomed to'' she says, and feel free to create any arrangement that works for you.