What hacks does a pro chef use to organize a kitchen? 7 tricks we learned to always follow

Kitchen in need of a spruce? Ellen Marie Bennett, founder of Hedley & Bennett and host of 'Kitchen Glow Up,' says these tricks will get you on the right track

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tastemade)

A disorganized, unruly kitchen can cause quite a bit of stress – clutter complicates cooking, and isn't exactly lovely to look at. And nobody knows it better than a professional chef: the functionality of your kitchen is just as important as (if not more important than) its interior design.

The task of organizing the kitchen, and making it work better for you and your family, can feel incredibly overwhelming. Simply knowing where to begin is already half the battle. But on the heels of Kitchen Glow Up, her brand-new show that transforms everyday kitchens through stylish design and clever organization, Ellen Marie Bennett has some helpful tips on standby.

Ellen, the founder of high-end kitchenware brand Hedley & Bennett and a former pro chef, sat down with Homes & Gardens to share her top tips for organizing a kitchen, and making it more efficient. These are seven of her most helpful insights, honed over the course of her impressive career.

1. Start with a clear-out

A kitchen with light pink walls, light pink tile backsplash, wooden cabinets and a small window

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tastemade)

‘A lot of people also didn't realize that with not a lot of money, you can make a big change,' Ellen tells H&G of the show's featured families. In each episode of Kitchen Glow Up, Ellen started with something quite simple: a thorough kitchen clear-out.

'If you physically take everything out of your cabinets, lay it out and group it – like with like – you'll see that you actually have nine [pieces of] Tupperware that don't have lids, that don't have tops, that are not matched. You can throw away all of them and reset. But if you don't look at it and stare the beast in the eye, you can just ignore it in the drawer,' says Ellen.

Over the years, we all accumulate items we don't really need – and often, items we never use. By emptying all your kitchen cabinets and drawers, deciding what needs to stay, and discarding the rest – either donating or recycling it depending on its condition – you'll be left with a clean, clutter-free kitchen slate.

From there, each and every meal you cook in the kitchen will be just a little simpler. With less clutter in the way, you'll be able to see the items you'll actually reach for on a daily basis.

'They all realized that they had way more shit than they needed, and way more doubles, triples, or quadruples. So the purge and sort is something that anybody can do for zero money, just your time,' says Ellen.

2. Store pots and pans creatively

A pegboard kitchen storage setup on a light pink wall in a hallway

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tastemade)

Often, pots and pans are the most difficult kitchen tools to store. They're large and clunky, and don't always fit neatly into standard kitchen cabinets. To solve this storage problem, Ellen has a few clever tricks. In keeping with her kitchen layout advice, she recommends keeping all pots and pans right next to your stove to start.

'I love hanging pots and pans, and that's as inexpensive as buying a metal dowel that goes above your stove,' says Ellen. 'Or, if you can't do that because of the setup in your kitchen, then you can do it in a drawer, and then nest the pots and pans. I like to do one drawer of pans and then one drawer of pots.'

Hanging pots and pans, as pictured above in a space that was transformed on Kitchen Glow Up, is an aesthetically pleasing and functional way to hack your kitchen's storage. Not only can you see everything you own at the same time, but you won't have to rifle through drawers to access a frying pan or skillet. But if your culinary collection can get a bit out of hand, Ellen says storing items out in the open can also prove quite handy.

'I personally have so many cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens that I will have a bookshelf of them in my kitchen, where I can see all my Dutch ovens,' says Ellen. 'You put things that are big out so that they save you drawer space. And then you have one Dutch oven on your stove at all times, and you keep it there because it's for beans, and stews, and things of that nature. I even boil my pasta water in a Dutch oven because it's just convenient and big and sitting there.'

3. Create a designated pantry space

antique pantry cupboard in a blue devol kitchen

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

Not every kitchen is equipped with a pantry, but that shouldn't hold you back from creating a designated zone for food storage, says Ellen. On the show, she helped families without stunning, walk-in pantries carve out a specific spot for all their dry goods.

This simple fix makes cooking much simpler, eliminating stressful mid-cook searches for ingredients. Whether you have a drawer that could be converted into a makeshift pantry, or a standalone cabinet that still needs a task, find a spot in your kitchen and ensure all the pantry essentials live together in that single space.

'A lot of people don't actually have a pantry. What they end up doing is like peanut butter, spreading it in multiple cabinets all over the kitchen. And they're like, “I'm gonna make pasta.” And it's like, “Let me check the nine places I think I put the pasta noodles.” And so by consolidating all food, like dry goods, into one zone and creating a cabinet for people was kind of a big thing,' says Ellen.

4. Integrate an appliance garage

Appliance garage in a kitchen

(Image credit: deVOL)

Appliances are a necessary part of any kitchen, but they tend to take up valuable counter space. That's where the appliance garage comes in. Ellen says that she equipped many of the show's kitchens with appliance garages (complete with convenient cord storage) to streamline the appliance process.

Instead of having to take out the toaster, plug it in, and move it back when breakfast is served, her clients can now easily use the toaster, just closing the top when the dish is complete. Out of sight, out of mind.

5. Expand the bounds of your kitchen space

A dining nook with bright chairs and a built-in wooden shelving system with cookbooks and kitchen essentials

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tastemade)

Working with small kitchens is tricky – with all the food and tools you've got to store, finding a designated space for everything can be incredibly difficult. That's why Ellen suggests expanding the bounds of your kitchen into neighboring rooms or hallways.

Without embarking on a full renovation, she says you can make your kitchen larger with smart storage solutions. When designing one of the spaces on Kitchen Glow Up, Ellen took advantage of a conveniently located hallway. Instead of letting the hallway space go to waste, she integrated a built-in cabinet, and a 'Julia Childs-style pegboard' on the wall.

'I did it at an angle where, when she's standing at her stove in the kitchen, she can look out at her hallway that's right there and see all of her pans hanging and see which things she needs,' says Ellen. 'I added square footage, literally, to the kitchen by not expanding the kitchen, but by going into adjacent areas.'

Ellen also built a large banquette and home bar area in the same home's dining room to ensure all of the home's kitchen needs were met. 'If you have a small apartment and you're like, "Shit, this kitchen is just not big enough," think about what spaces you have in your house that are near the kitchen, almost next to it, that you can expand into in a way that's elegant and nice,' Ellen continues.

6. Organize inside cabinets and drawers

An organized shelf of spices

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tastemade)

Even after you empty and reorganize your kitchen cabinets and drawers, they tend to get quite messy. Ellen says there's a simple fix for that: drawer dividers.

'They almost look like little mini xylophones – it's a wooden insert in a drawer that is the same color as a custom drawer. So it's light plywood, it's pretty, and it’s lacquered. It looks like a customized drawer, but it's not. I used these in every single house. And what it does is create separation and barriers within your drawers in a way that is totally interchangeable, depending on what you need,' says Ellen.

Even if you think you've got your drawer organization down, chances are your kitchen workflow will be a bit different two years down the line. Many drawer dividers that are available to shop are easily adjustable and can be swapped out or moved in an instant. That means you won't be stuck with an inefficient storage solution for years to come – you'll be able to make your kitchen work for you, just as you see fit.

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7. Make the kitchen kid-friendly

white shaker kitchen with a blue range cooker and large kitchen island

(Image credit: Marie Flanigan Interiors / Photography Julie Soefler)

'If you have kids, and you have the space ideally, make – even if it's just one cabinet – it accessible to them so that they can go and self-serve. They can open it, they can reach it, they don't have to go and ask you for stuff. Make them independent users,' says Ellen.

With safety considerations in mind, make cooking and serving food a bit easier on the whole family by organizing the kitchen with children in mind. Maybe it's a small drawer with all-plastic cups and bowls at your child's eye level, or maybe it's a step stool that allows older children to reach kitchen essentials stowed in upper cabinets. Ellen said she's found great success implementing this trick in her own home.

'Just speaking on behalf of my own home and my child – I have converted everything that is for him into stainless steel. So I have stainless steel bowls, stainless steel cups, stainless steel utensils, and then stainless steel little platters that look almost like cafeteria platters with indented circles for the different types of food. And then he can just go and grab it, and when he's done eating, he throws them into the sink and nothing breaks. It's kind of bulletproof,' says Ellen.

Organization is everything in the kitchen, and these seven pro tips will send you on your way to culinary success. For more kitchen organization inspiration, check out Kitchen Glow Up, which is streaming on Tastemade – it can be found on Roku, Google TV, YouTube TV, and more.

Abby Wilson
Interior Design News Editor

I am an Interior Design News Editor at Homes & Gardens. Most recently, I worked with Better Homes & Gardens, where I wrote and edited content about home decor, gardening tips, food news, and more. Before that, I studied Journalism and English Literature at New York University. I’ve moved around quite a bit in the last several years, most recently making the trip to London, and love transforming each new space into a comfortable retreat that feels like home. When it comes to decor, I’m most drawn to unique vintage finds and calming colors.