Sharon Villines, Takoma Village, Washington DC
Off my usual topic of governance but this was a response to a question from a new community that I thought might be helpful to all new communities, and some settled ones. What should we buy of the kitchen?
On small appliances: At 14 years we still have donations and have just started buying more things. People donate when they upgrade at home or contribute things that they can use in the CH instead of at home. Things they rarely use but want to have available. A new community will have lots of donations, particularly if they put out the call for things as people anticipate downsizing. People who haven't moved in many years will have lots of extra stuff that they would normally take to a thrift shop.
I would focus on the largest sizes of rice cookers, food processors, etc. Or have two sizes. We often have the need for a small food processor for onions or part of the ingredients for a larger dish. Part of a sauce or something. The blenders we have are donated and regular size, but a Vitamix would be nice and would last a long time. I just donated my blender in favor of a tiny one for home.
Beyond that I look at Consumer Reports when I'm doing research for the CH, though they have a bias against high end products. They never valued the advantages of Apple products, for example, since Windows products were cheaper and did basic things they believed people wanted to do. In the late 1980's, for example, they reviewed the Mac as obviously superior in terms of ease of use, software included, and reliability, but it was too expensive so they wouldn't include it in their ratings. So listen but beware in a heavy-duty kitchen.
Look for "Professional Quality" or "Professional Grade" to find the best products for large group cooking. They will have stainless steel knobs on cooktops instead of plastic. This is an indication of higher capacity. Find a store that chiefly sells to designers, contractors, building managers, and architects because they will have a full line of products and will be more honest and knowledgable. Their business is volume and return customers—selling a 40 bad refrigerators will put them out of business. The one I shop in for myself has a crowded display room with a wide variety of brands because they are not appealing to the general population. No frills. One I used years ago was a man who did business out of his garage. He could tell you to the smallest screw which product would last how long or rarely need repair.
Find a restaurant supply. They often have used products from restaurants that have failed with almost new equipment. A wide variety of kitchen implements like large stainless cooking spoons and trays. Large trays, heavy weight, are important and have lot of uses. In the kitchen and out.
There may not be a large kitchen supply near you but they are worth looking for. In NYC, for example, there are great places. Call first to see if they stock the kinds of things you are looking for. When my children were small — 40 years ago — I bought a dozen restaurant quality glasses and they still have them in their own kitchens.
Don't expect the tableware to match. We bought a few dozen inexpensive place settings when we moved in but the quality was low. You can get much better quality at a high end thrift shop. The person who was in charge of the kitchen at first insisted that it match and put "extras" on the take-it-or-leave-it table. Gradually we have given up. Now you can tell by quality which were donated or found and which were purchased — a dozen purchased soup spoons, for example, are very tinny. But tableware disappear so good quality, unless it is purchased used, isn't economical.
When we finally replaced all the donated furniture I wanted to furnish the CH like the independent coffee places and restaurants with eclectic mixes of interesting pieces. Instead we did Crate & Barrel so it looks like Crate & Barrel. Very nice, but not the same. Consider taking in all the second hand furniture your residents have. And look at Craig's List.
Purchase serving and mixing bowls in graded sizes so they nest or stack well. We need half the storage space under our kitchen island than we needed when everything was donated or purchased piece meal, and it is easier to find the size you need. It was worth money.
Design a place where appliances can be both stored and used. Tall women seem to take an active interest in our kitchen. Hand shopping vegetables is easer for me at 5'4" than getting the food processor down from the top shelf. Even with a stepping stool—an off balance task with heavy appliance. A high place is a logical storage space since these aren't used as often as other things, but it also ensures they won't be.
A good rice cooker. Ours is used almost weekly and we often don't have more than one meal a week. We don't have slow cookers, but a large one, I think, would be used often. Particularly by people who don't work at home.
This is a good question to ask other communities. It isn't often raised on Cohousing-L. Another would be: What do you do with linens for the guest rooms? (Don't ask me because I don't think we have found an optimal system yet.)