Long ago and far away, I was once a novice cook learning the ins and outs of working in a kitchen. Over the years, after watching endless hours of TV cooking shows on PBS and the Food Network and working as a chef, I have gotten very selective in which tools I actually use in the kitchen.
Until recently, the kitchens I've worked in (at home or in a job) were small and compact. I never had much storage space, let alone much counter space to work on. So, I had to be selective in the kitchen equipment I kept around. I found that I could make a great meal in any size kitchen and the bigger the kitchen I cooked in, meant more places for me to make a mess (and clean up later).
My home kitchen now is laid out well, but I still only use maybe a third of it when I'm cooking. Over the past couple of years, I have gotten rid of many pieces of equipment that I do not find necessary and am now down to pieces that I actually use.
If you are just starting out and learning how this whole cooking thing works, I compiled a list of equipment that you actually need to set up a basic kitchen. Of course, you can always add to it as you gain confidence in your cooking skills and expand your culinary repertoire, but this list will get you started.
And ... I encourage you to look for some of these items in thrift stores, on eBay, or local garage sales because you might find what you need for a lot less money.
Pots and Pans:
As a general rule, I do not use non-stick cookware. Instead, I use cast iron in place of non-stick. When it comes to the pots and pans, I will not promote any one brand over another. Look for pans that are stainless steel or anodized aluminum (or a combination of both).
Later on, you can add more equipment as you see fit. The next step would be to add a stand mixer, a hand blender (very handy tool), and a few more pots and pans as you see fit. Stocking a kitchen can be pricy, but if you have the right equipment and tools, many of these things should last a long time (or a lifetime in some cases).
My most trusted piece of equipment is a food processor that I've had for nearly 20 years. I also have an odd attachment to my chef's knife, but that's common with many professional cooks. Or at least I hope it is.
Anyway... I hope this list is helpful for those just starting out. Cooking can be fun and does not need to be a chore. Having the right equipment in place will help you succeed in making any recipe.