How to Design a Kitchen


Browse the article How to Design a Kitchen

Kitchen Designing Overview

A new kitchen is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and your family. The heart of your home, your kitchen is where late-night talks, homework sessions, and casual celebrations (the best kind!) happen naturally. It's where memories are made.

Whether a rehab or a complete reconstruction, your dream kitchen might not be as hard to attain as you imagine.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Whether a rehab or a complete reconstruction, your dream kitchen
might not be as hard to attain as you imagine.

Your kitchen is where you nurture your loved ones' souls as well as their bodies. So you want it to be as efficient, comfortable, and just plain beautiful as possible! But where do you start? The ideas and suggestions in this article will help you make that perfect new kitchen happen:
  • Assessing Your Kitchen Needs

    Before any kitchen project can begin, you have to access what you want, what you can actually have, and what would work best for you. On this page, we will help you determine exactly what kind of kitchen can fit inside your home and how feasible some of your wildest dreams might be. We will also tell you the "triangle" theory of kitchens and show you how to stay true to your initial vision for your dream kitchen.

  • New Versus Remodeled Kitchen

    Maybe your old kitchen is falling apart and is not inspiring you any longer. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to tear the whole room apart and start from scratch. On this page, we will show you the pros and cons of remodeling your kitchen as opposed to completely building a new one. You might be surprised how a few decorative changes can go a long way to revitalizing your kitchen.

  • Designing a Kitchen on a Budget

    It's easy for home projects to spiral out of control. Whenever you are rebuilding or renovating a room there are always hundreds of small expenses you never considered when your were in the planning stage. While these costs are unavoidable, there are ways to keep the price down. In this section, we will show how to design your kitchen on a strict budget. There's no reason why the price of your dream kitchen has to be a nightmare.

  • Hiring a Professional to Design a Kitchen

    While designing your kitchen will save you money the headache it cause might not be worth the extra dollars. A professional who designs kitchens for a living can really simplify the process. In this section, we will show you when it is time to admit defeat and bring in a pro. We will also show you how to maintain control of your kitchen once a designer is brought in and how to check your designer's credentials.

  • Basic Tips for Kitchen Remodeling

    Once you have assessed your kitchen needs and decided how you want to go about executing them, it's time to put pen to paper and start designing your new kitchen. On this page, we will give you some general concerns you should keep in mind when you are planning your new kitchen. For instance, you don't want to end up with a kitchen that has the sink positioned too far away from the fridge.

  • Kitchen Size Considerations

    Despite the picture of the dream kitchen you have in your head, the actual space you have in your house might not be compatible with your ideal. As with any home project, you have to balance practicality with your grandest wishes. In this section, we will show you how to plan around the size of your kitchen space and use every inch to its maximum potential.

  • Kitchen Shape Considerations

    Next to size, the shape of your kitchen space can your biggest design headache. In this section, we will show you how to plan around an oddly shaped kitchen. There are three main types of kitchen shapes the U shape, the L shape, and the G shape. We will also show you how to manage a small, or galley, kitchen.

  • Eat-In Kitchens

    Many people prefer the informal, casual style of an eat-in kitchen. There are three styles of kitchen dinning. First there is counter dining, which would naturally require a counter top. Next there is a breakfast nook, which requires a small space or alcove. Finally, there is the traditional eat-in kitchen. On this page, we will show you which option is right for you and your home.

  • Kitchen Islands

    A kitchen island can be a cheap and attractive way to expand your counter space. An island can also help you add a second sink, dishwasher, or oven to your kitchen. On this page, we will show you all the benefits of a kitchen island and whether or not it would be right for you. We will also discuss the growing trend of having a desk in your kitchen.

Assessing Your Kitchen Needs

Your dream kitchen may not suit your best friend, your sister, or the family down the street. So, enjoy your family's advice and your friends' interest in your project. But, for guidance, look to professionals who'll ask you a lot of questions prior to giving you a lot of advice. Before you hire those pros, do some careful thinking about your dream kitchen. What do you like about your current kitchen? What do you dislike?

Elegant yet casual, this French country kitchen utilizes angled walls and a kitchen island for a dramatic look.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Elegant yet casual, this French country kitchen utilizes
angled walls and a kitchen island for a dramatic look.

Buy a few pocket folders, and start saving photos, product catalogs, and clippings that can help your hired professionals understand your taste and needs. Check out Web sites that offer kitchen and design products, and if there's a kitchen design center near you, spend time window-shopping. You want to get an idea of what's available and what it costs. If you arm yourself with this information ahead of time, you'll have a better relationship with your professionals and a better chance of getting just what you want. How can you get the kitchen that really fits and pleases you? Try these suggestions for starters:
  • Be a savvy spender. Your first wish should be a kitchen that doesn't break the bank. Yesterday's conspicuous-consumption "status kitchen" is out, and today's deftly designed, personal-style kitchen is in. So start by asking for the most kitchen you can afford on your predetermined budget.

  • Nail the essentials down first. If you have to choose, you're better off spending your money on top-grade design services rather than on upgraded materials. If you invest up front in a design that gets the floor plan and essential elements right, you can always upgrade to luxury surfacing materials later. For example, make sure the kitchen island with outlets is in the right place now. You can change that laminate countertop to granite later, as you can afford it. It is a much costlier challenge to relocate the island and change the wiring later than it is to merely resurface. At the same time, you should buy the best products your budget can afford, especially if you have no plans for moving in the next five years.

  • Look at how you really live. The best kitchen is a functional kitchen. Make sure yours fits how you really live. If you and your partner love to cook and entertain, don't settle for one oven, one sink, and no place to sit. If "Martha Stewart doesn't live here" is your motto, don't bother with two ovens and a six-burner restaurant stove. If your kids are at the do-it-yourself age, go for a roomy, top-of-the-line microwave installed near the fridge. If you come home from work late but still like to cook seriously, you may want to have a microwave installed near the stove for quick defrosting before cooking.
You get the idea. Your architect, kitchen designer, or other professional should ask you tons of questions about how you live as well as what you like. They'll walk you through your everyday life as it affects your kitchen. Your job is to answer candidly; their job is to translate your lifestyle needs into product and design solutions.

With some clever planning, your kitchen can be as individualistic as you are.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
With some clever planning, your kitchen can be as individualistic as you are.

Just a few of the questions you'll be asked should include:
  • How many people live in your household? What are their ages, and do any of them have special physical needs, including allergies?

  • Do you have any special interests that need to be accommodated in the kitchen area, such as serious wine storage, laundry, window gardening, etc.? Do you need to watch small children while cooking, or do you want to make room for two cooks at a time?

  • What is your budget? What's on your must-have list, and what's on your nice-to-have list?
Have fun thinking things through as best you can, and be sure to involve the rest of your family. It may be your five-year-old who remembers you've always wanted a pet port in the back door for the family cat, or your teen who lobbies for an adjacent mudroom/laundry room.

Learn to Love the Triangle

Fifty years ago, efficiency experts tracked the average housewife's steps in the kitchen and discovered that a natural pathway exists between the refrigerator, stove, and sink. The path between these three appliances is called "the work triangle," and the distance between them, along with how easy it is -- or isn't -- to reach them, is still the measure of kitchen efficiency.

Related Topics
The sides of your kitchen triangle don't have to be equal, but the number of feet between range and sink, sink and fridge, and fridge and range should add up to something between 12 and 23 feet. (For example, range and fridge could be 3 feet apart, sink and fridge could be 8 feet apart, and range and sink could be 10 feet apart for a total of 21 feet.) For maximum efficiency and safety, make sure your design includes counterspace next to the open side of the fridge (either side, if your model is a side-by-side) for landing bags of groceries, as well as plenty of heat- and wet-resistant counterspace on both sides of the stove and sink for emergency landing of heavy, hot, or slippery cookware.

Today's additional appliances -- a second dishwasher, a separate cooktop, etc. -- may create extra work stations, which means additional triangles in your kitchen. In these cases, use extra care to make sure triangles don't create collision courses. For energy-saving reasons, it's best to separate the fridge and the range or oven if space permits. And if you've got an island, you'll need at least 4 feet between it and the nearest counter or appliance. Obviously, this all requires good planning and orchestration!

Shape Up

Big or small, basic or elaborate, most efficient kitchen designs fall into one of a few basic arrangements. Your existing kitchen probably fits one of these; a newly built house is likely to utilize one of them. Think about which appeals most to you.
  • L-shape kitchens have one long "leg" housing two of the three basic appliances (range, fridge, sink) and one short "leg" housing the other. This layout often places the fridge at one end, the range at the other, and the sink in between. In a two-cook version, you might find two triangles: a sink and cooking surface at one end, and another sink and cooking surface at the other, with shared access to the fridge.

  • U-shape kitchens have two "legs" of equal length, so the range and fridge are opposite each other and the three appliances are equal distance apart. A two-cook version might have a cooktop at each end with shared access to an island sink and the fridge on the wall opposite the sink.

    This G-shape kitchen uses knotty pine cabinetry and granite countertops to transition gracefully into a finished dining area.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    This G-shape kitchen uses knotty pine
    cabinetry and granite countertops to
    transition gracefully into a
     finished dining area.

  • G-shape kitchens are L- or U-shaped with an added peninsula partly separating the work area from an adjoining breakfast area or family room. A two-cook version might have an extended peninsula and two cooking areas--one for an oven and one for a cooktop, both with access to a shared fridge and sink.

  • Corridor or galley-shape kitchens, sometimes called step-saver kitchens, have range and sink on one wall, a fridge directly opposite, and a narrow (but not less than 36- to 40-inch) walkway in between. A two-cook version might feature an extra sink on the wall with the fridge, for two distinct triangles. Useful for very small spaces, this shape is most at risk for disruption if a main traffic lane is through the work area.
Plan for the Future

Do you have young children or grandchildren? want to stay in your home as long as possible as you age? have any kind of physical limitation?

"Universal design" is something you definitely want to consider. It goes way beyond designing walkways to accommodate wheelchairs. Universal design creates a versatile space that works well for every family member at every stage of life. Solutions as simple as bordering a countertop in contrasting-color tiles to mark the edge, increasing aisle width from 36 to 40 inches, or specifying no-scald faucets and wing-style faucet handles that don't require wrist-twisting can make a difference in your kitchen's long-term usefulness.

If a family member has allergies or if you want to be particularly rigorous about ecological issues, you can even specify products made with special glues, colorants, and materials to meet those needs. And today's universal-design products are as attractive as their conventional counterparts, too. Ask your kitchen professional about them before you get started.

Style It Your Way

Do you love your home's architecture? Do you dote on the decorating style you've already established for the rest of your house? Now's the time to bring your kitchen's style in sync with it. A knowledgeable designer or architect can steer you toward products that meet today's needs while evoking the inspiration of the past. If your home is circa-1865 Victorian or 1930s art deco, you can have the fixtures, fittings, and furniture-style cabinets that create a great vintage look.

If you're building a new home from scratch, it may be time for a real break from your past. Take this opportunity to freely choose the style that warms your heart; one that makes you happy to get up in the morning and stagger out to make that first pot of coffee.

Kitchen appliances can't help but be contemporary, so they'll introduce a modern element to the most traditional setting. On the other hand, natural (or faux) stone and wood cabinets, countertops, and floors impart a timeless warmth to even the most up-to-date space. So it shouldn't be hard to go with the flow and introduce at least some elements of your other rooms' style into your kitchen. Flow is most easily achieved by mirroring a color or two, echoing architectural details, and repeating decorating motifs. After all the initial "oohs" and "aahhs" you expect to hear from first-time visitors, you'll want your new kitchen to fit in smoothly, as if it has always been a part of the house. This book includes a wealth of wonderful kitchen designs that will show you how to put it all together.

A brand new kitchen may not be the only solution. In the next section, we will look at a new kitchen versus a remolded kitchen.

New Versus Remodeled Kitchen

Kitchen design and construction fall under four major categories. In your pursuit of the ultimate kitchen, be sure to find the one that works for you.

New Construction

"New construction" refers to work done on a house that's being entirely built from the ground up. Normally, the decision to build a new home rests on more than just the need for a new kitchen. But the decision to build from scratch often provides the most leeway for creating the kitchen configuration you want. If, for example, you'd love the formal dining room, kitchen/breakfast room, and family room to all flow into one another, with the kitchen as the hub, new construction can make that happen for you with the stroke of a pen. If you want the washer and dryer right off the kitchen, you can have it -- and a mudroom, too! If you want to watch the sunrise from your breakfast room and the sunset from your dining room, your wish is the architect's command.

Of course, the overall house and lot size will affect your kitchen's size, and your kitchen budget is just one part of your entire home-building budget. But in new construction, you can trade off square feet and dollars between the kitchen and other rooms for maximum flexibility.


Small details and flourishes can enliven a kitchen space that has become stale.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Small details and flourishes can
 enliven a kitchen space that
has become stale.

Remodeling involves major changes that may take your kitchen in a whole new direction. A remodeled kitchen is what you're up to if you need to change the whole "footprint" of your kitchen to add space or reshape the room for better views or better access. While your existing home's size and site will affect how radically you can change your kitchen, you can make surprisingly big changes.

Remodeling doesn't depend on what your old kitchen looked like, only on what your needs and wishes are and what your budget dictates. New built-in appliances and cabinetry, new windows and skylights, a new eat-in area or home office niche, a family room/ kitchen combination, and more -- anything's possible with remodeling.


Renovation involves significant changes but is faithful to the spirit and overall look of your existing house. Renovating means making improvements with very few, if any, structural changes. If your home is historically significant, you may need -- or even be required -- to handle any upgrades with great respect for the existing style and structure.

Since kitchens have changed much more radically over the past century than, say, dining rooms, the challenge of renovation is to preserve the best of the past while giving you a workable kitchen for today's lifestyle. Luckily, pre-WWII-vintage kitchens tended to be large, with an eat-in area and adjacent pantries. So creating a good-size kitchen in the existing space may prove easier than you think.

Decorative Changes

Decorative changes, or a kitchen face-lift, involve sprucing up without tearing down. This is cheaper and easier than remodeling or renovation but won't address major problems, such as lack of light, space, and connection to other rooms. If your kitchen basically suits you as it is, but you'd like a bit more efficiency or a fresher, more stylish appearance, decorative changes may be what you need. At its most ambitious, a facelift may include replacing some appliances, countertops, and flooring with high-performance, stylish upgrades. Or it may include simply changing the wallcoverings and window treatments and adding fresh accessories. A new look can make a well-planned kitchen more enjoyable to work and live in.

Whatever you choose, be sure your expectations are in line with what's possible, given the scope of the work and your budget. Veteran homeowners who've been through any of these productions agree: Even the ultimate kitchen is only a small part of your life, so keep things in perspective.

However you decide to update your kitchen, you will want to keep a firm grasp on the costs. Home projects always end up costing more than you would think, and careful budgeting is the only way to keep the price in check. In the next section, we will learn how to design a kitchen on a budget.

Designing a Kitchen on a Budget

Of course you're eager to get started. But heed some advice from the experts and from people who've done the job already: Take your time at the beginning to make sure each decision reflects your taste and meets your needs. You'll want to live with and love this kitchen for a long time!

Your budget will have a lot to say about materials used in your new kitchen, but so will common sense. You don't want your kitchen to be a financial burden, so make sure you really need the high-end solution in each case.

Another way to stay in the black without closing off options too soon: Make a list of everything you'd love to have in your new kitchen. Now, divide this list into A) things you need and B) things you want but could live without for now. This will save time later and ensure you don't lop off something essential when you fall in love with a "could-live-without" item in the showrooms.

Using easy to install materials, like these pillows, can help you save on both materials and labor.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Using easy to install materials, like these pillows,
can help you save on both materials and labor.

Most costs fall under the broad heading of Time (actual person-hours, or labor) or Materials. You can save money on both.

Save Money on Labor

In construction, time is expressed as hourly rates paid to various workers on your project. One way to save big is to invest your time instead of theirs. Put in sweat equity wherever you're competent to do so. If you can steam off wallpaper, remove old moldings, and carry away debris yourself, you won't have to pay someone else to do it.

What kinds of labor can you perform yourself? Use common sense. Be careful about tearing out walls on your own (make sure you know where wiring, pipes, and such are located). And steer clear of removing old insulation that may contain asbestos or old paint that almost certainly contains lead. If your home has historical significance, get guidance from an expert before tackling anything.

When it's time to put on the finishing touches, you can paint the walls, screw on switchplates, and yes, pick up the debris rather than paying someone else to do it. The money you save on labor can pay for some of those luxurious material upgrades you crave!

Save Money on Materials

Marble and granite countertops; state-of-the-art imported fixtures and appliances; hand-crafted, hand-painted wall and floor tiles; custom cabinetry in high-end, furniture-grade woods...the list of luxury materials is endless. If you can't afford them all, choose the ones that matter most to you -- and find artful substitutes for the rest. A few examples:
  • Marble and granite countertops. If you make pastry, you'll want a marble inset in your countertop, but you don't need to be rolling in dough to have it. Compare the cost of real marble and granite to look-alike laminates, and you may decide on the synthetic for the rest of your countertops. Specify a rolled edge to eliminate the back wall seam. If you must have the real thing, specify marble or granite tiles: Nine-inch or 12-inch squares are easier to fabricate and install than running-foot slabs and, therefore, are much less costly.

    If famous-name solid-surfacing material is way out of your price range, look for similar solid-surfacing brands that are less expensive. Or choose a plain, matte-finish ivory laminate, and use a rolled edge.

  • Handmade, custom-colored, imported ceramic wall tiles. Beautiful, artistic, and costly, hand-colored tiles may be too expensive to use throughout but just right as borders and accents. Choose a compatible plain tile for most of the installation, and save the custom pieces for eye-level areas such as the backsplash or a border around a breakfast nook window.

  • Luxury flooring. Ceramic tile, oak planking with contrasting wood insets and butterfly ties, and marble or granite flooring may be out of reach, but today's handsome vinyl flooring isn't. All these looks and more are available at several price points. You probably know how easy no-wax vinyl is to keep looking new, but you may be surprised by how close to the natural materials these floors look. Choose sheet vinyl for seamless easy care, or, if your pattern includes smaller faux-tile designs, you may opt for tile squares you can install yourself.

    If you want the look of wood flooring, parquet is less costly than planking. The most practical alternative at a price? Wood-look laminates that get their realistic appearance from a photographic process that captures the graining and variations of genuine wood. For a cutting-edge look, consider concrete with color added during installation. It's an easy way to bring commercial kitchen chic home.

  • Custom cabinetry. Many cabinets come in such a wide array of stock sizes and shapes, they assure a virtually custom fit. Use stock cabinets wherever you can, and have matching, custom pieces fabricated to fill in odd spaces. If your budget says pine or oak but your heart says cherry or maple, you may prefer painted rather than stained cabinets to disguise the more prominent grains of the lower-cost woods.

    The look of freestanding furniture in the kitchen is hot right now, so you may want to use mostly painted cabinets and splurge on a breakfront or other freestanding unit in the wood of your choice. To finish off the custom look, replace ho-hum hardware with novelty pulls and handles on cabinets and drawers. From pewter forks to verdigris brass leaves, a wealth of style-setting hardware options are available.
While saving money on labor is important, there are some jobs that you will need a professional for. In the next section, we will examine how to hire a professional to design a kitchen.

Hiring a Professional to Design a Kitchen

The most important step in a successful kitchen project is selecting the right people to work on the job. Because much kitchen work is structural, it's essential -- for legal and insurance reasons -- that the work be performed according to the building codes of your area. And to be sure all work is done appropriately, you'll want to hire professionals for every aspect of the job in which you are not personally an expert.

A professional designer can help you plan and realize a fully unified design scheme.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A professional designer can help you plan and
realize a fully unified design scheme.

For any structural work, you'll need a licensed architect or design/construction firm. You'll also want to use licensed contractors and skilled tradespeople, and you may want the specific expertise and creativity of a certified kitchen designer (CKD) or an interior designer with a lot of kitchen design experience. Whomever you hire, you'll rely on their expertise to guide you through technical issues, and you'll count on their integrity in working within your budget. What's more, your experts and their crews will be in your home and around your family for the life of the project. So make sure they really deserve your trust!

Check the Basics

Check with the attorney general's office in your state and with your local Better Business Bureau to be sure there are no unresolved complaints against the professional you're considering. For contractors, ask to see property damage, liability, and workers' comp insurance. (Don't take their word for it; tell them your lawyer insists you see each individual policy. Note the policy number, dates the policy is in effect, and the name, address, and phone number of each company providing coverage. Before work starts, call to be sure policies are still in force.)

If building permits are needed, make sure they're made out in the contractor's name, not yours. This way, the contractor, not you, is responsible for rectifying any building code violations.

For every professional, ask to see samples/photos of similar work performed for others, and request contact information so you can call those customers. Ask for a dozen references, not just two or three; you want to know the firm has a good track record. Then, call three or four of those references. Ask if their projects were completed on schedule, if the pro was responsive to their calls, and if he/she kept them informed about the progress of the project.

If you'll be living in your home while the work is being done, ask if the workers left the place "broom clean" at night or in a mess; if they woke the baby with loud music or were easy to live with. Ask if they would hire him/her again or recommend him/her to family and friends.

When you meet with your prospective professionals, be sure you have an elementary rapport with them. Do you believe they're knowledgeable? Honest? Pleasant and responsive? Reliable and unflappable? Do they seem interested in your needs, your lifestyle, and your dreams? If anything "just doesn't feel right," keep looking. Chemistry counts!

Finally, make sure the pro gives you a quote fully describing the work, the specific products to be used (by brand name, type, model number, color, size, etc.), the costs, the starting and completion dates (plus conditions of, and penalties for, nonperformance), and the terms of payment. You won't need the same full-blown contract for a $1,500 job that you would for a job worth $30,000 or $150,000, but be sure the basics are covered in writing.

Get detailed drawings of the project to ensure that you, the designer, and the contractor are envisioning the same kitchen. Every aspect of the project should be included -- from the location and number of outlets to the size of doorways and windows. Changes down the road can be costly and frustrating. Keep in mind: It's your home and your money.

Hopefully by now you've made some decisions about how extensively you will overhaul your kitchen and who you will have helping you do it. Now you're ready to begin, right? Not so fast. Before you start, you should read the basic remodeling tips in our section.

Basic Tips for Kitchen Remodeling

Kitchens come in all shapes and sizes, which accounts for a lot of their challenge -- and a lot of their appeal. The same cabinets, appliances, and surfacing materials can look entirely different in someone else's home than in yours. Stock cabinets can be given a unique look with virtually unlimited specialty finishes and a change of hardware. If your budget can accommodate custom cabinets, your choices are even greater. Countertop materials already come in a great array of choices, but they can be customized even further with special routing or inset bands of another color or material. The same goes for flooring, walls, and in-kitchen dining furniture. So even if your kitchen is small and ordinary, it's not hopeless!

You can transform it into a remarkable space unlike anybody else's. Manufacturers and designers have seen it all, and the end result is that you can have all the amenities you want and need, even in a tiny kitchen. Savvy, space-saving products are available for the owner of the apartment-size condo, co-op, or townhouse kitchen. You'll find that convenience doesn't have to come only in the large economy size.

This winding countertop can run along the length of this long wall and contain the sink and a range.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
These large windows are the focal point of this kitchen.

To create a distinctive space, your first move is to look at your kitchen with an eye to what might serve as a focal point. A large window, alcove, or long wall can be the start. Take advantage of a bank of beautiful windows with an eye-catching counter that runs the length of the window wall. If you love to entertain and are lucky enough to have ample space, consider setting your room up to include two back-to-back kitchens; one with a full-size range, a fridge, ovens, and a sink, and the other with an ice-maker, a wine chiller, a second sink, a mini-fridge, and a microwave, plus an abundance of storage. Pretty much anything you dream up can be executed with the help of a talented design team. It's up to you!

Whether your space is large or small, and whether the end result you want is pretty or pretty wild, you'll do best if you stick close to the following basic recommendations.
  • Try to keep the straight-line distance between the sink, fridge, and cooktop between 12 and 23 feet.

  • Position the sink between the other two appliances, since it's used most often. (The sink's location may depend on pre-existing plumbing lines.)

  • Allow for 36 inches of counterspace to the right and 30 inches to the left of the range and sink if at all possible; if not, allow a minimum of 24 inches and 18 inches.

  • It's tempting to place a tall fridge and built-in wall oven next to each other, but try not to; each needs its own landing space on both sides of the appliance for safety.

  • Try to include a minimum of 10 linear feet of both base cabinets and upper cabinets.

  • Utilize lazy Susans to make potentially wasted corners fully functional.

  • Use pull-out drawers rather than reach-in, conventional cabinets for greatest convenience. If you're retro-fitting existing cabinets, have pull-out trays installed.

  • Consider barrier-free design and products. They make life easier for children, pregnant women, and seniors as well as individuals with disabilities. They'll also add to the longevity of your kitchen.
The biggest factor influencing what type of kitchen you come up with will be the shape of the room itself. In the next section, we will explore some kitchen-shape considerations.

Kitchen Size Considerations

Picking out ingenious new appliances and beautiful new cabinets is great fun, but first you and your kitchen professional will need to figure out where those new treasures will be located. Unless your new kitchen is part of a brand-new house, you'll need to decide how much change to make in the "footprint" of your existing kitchen. For big savings, experts advise working within existing load-bearing walls and plumbing lines. And remember that whatever the shape of the kitchen itself, there's bound to be a configuration that gives you an efficient work triangle. You won't have to choose between great looks and great performance!

Whether it's mini, midsize, or massive, your kitchen can be designed to meet your needs and look beautiful, too.

Small, Medium, or Large
  • Small: Cozy and Carefully Engineered. If your kitchen is tiny, try to steal some space from an adjoining pantry or closet, or even a few feet from the next room. If there's just no way to borrow extra square footage, see if you can visually open up the space: Add or enlarge a window, install a skylight, break through an interior wall into an adjacent dining or family room, or even break through the ceiling to create a cathedral that will dramatically create visual expansion.

    To maximize work space, consider an island on casters or a peninsula with hinged, drop-down sections. To make the most of storage space, run cabinets all the way up to the ceiling, and use pot racks and other overhead hooks that make use of ceiling space. Outfit drawers and cupboards with clever interior fittings -- dividers, lazy Susans, and so on -- to keep physical clutter at bay, and avoid visual clutter by using solid, pale colors that blend into one another. For an eat-in option, include a slender snack bar with overhanging counters that allow the stools to be tucked out of the way. And enjoy the advantages of small kitchens: They're naturally step-saving and cozily friendly.

  • Midsize: Convenient and Comfortable. Most homes have midsize kitchens, which, with a modest amount of intelligent improvement, can function like big ones. In both new and older homes, opening the kitchen to an adjoining family room creates a "great room" effect that gives the spacious feeling of an expanded kitchen. Other design tactics can make your midsize kitchen seem even bigger and better. Strive for maximum-length unbroken runs of work space; for example, locate the range at the end of a counter, not in the middle.

    By taking advantage of every clever, in-drawer storage solution recommended for small kitchens, you may be able to save enough space for a big-kitchen option like a second sink or a desk nook. If an island takes up too much space, consider a practical, tiered peninsula with work space on the kitchen side and a snack bar/serving counter on the family room side. Other dining options include a built-in dining nook with bench seating and a peninsula table, or a table with chairs on one side and a built-in banquette on the other. When decorating, keep colors light and patterns simple to maximize visual spaciousness, but if the kitchen opens into an adjoining room, repeat some elements in both rooms for continuity.

  • Large: Impressive and Entertaining. More than ever, today's kitchens are rooms for living. Space for couple or communal cooking, doing homework, enjoying hobbies, watching TV, and more are all part of many people's wish lists, and that translates into bigger-than-ever rooms. Following that trend, today's new homes typically sport generously sized kitchens. In an older home, space for a big kitchen often comes from building an addition. More space allows homeowners to indulge in more work surfaces and more kinds of them (butcher block for cutting, marble for pastry-making, granite for everyday good looks, and so on).

    Large kitchens have ample space for amenities such as strategically placed islands; more than one wall oven and sink; a second dishwasher; and/or a full-size, side-by-side fridge plus state-of-the-art refrigeration drawers located within cabinets anywhere in the room. A comfortable snack bar or breakfast bar, an informal dining area, and a built-in desk or computer workstation are other options. A big kitchen also allows more latitude in decoration and design, including dark cabinets and wall colors, dramatic decorative effects, and sharply contrasting colors and patterns, so you can have it your way.

    A large kitchen like this one can be a space to live in as well as simply prepare meals.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    A large kitchen like this one can be a space
    to live in as well as simply prepare meals.

Cooking for Two

More and more couples are cooking together just for the fun of it or to feed a horde of friends. In some cases, it's a matter of cooking with, not just for, a crowd, as guests help chop, wash, and prep as well as chat. For many families, cooking is also a favorite group activity, whether they enjoy a weekly homemade-pizza night every Sunday or an annual Christmas cookie bake-a-thon. A successful multicook kitchen includes multiples of at least one basic appliance (usually the sink or cooktop) that creates several separate workstations. These stations may share one or more of the other basics elements, or, if space allows, they may be entirely independent triangles.

The classic triangles have been updated for today's two-cook needs. In an L-shape kitchen-for-two, twin triangles may be created by adding an extra sink and an extra cooktop that share access to the refrigerator. A new U-for-two might feature two cooktops with shared access to an island sink and the fridge opposite, on the enclosed leg of the "U." The new G-shape kitchen might offer dual baking and surface cooking with one work area including a sink and cooktop and the other a sink and the oven, with both sharing access to the fridge.

In a shared kitchen, several people are working with hot, wet, and sharp items in one space. Safety basics include wide-enough traffic paths (at least 36 inches) to minimize collisions; nonslip flooring; and ample, heat-resistant landing spaces on both sides of every cooking appliance. Smart upgrades, especially when youngsters will be underfoot, are rounded corners on cabinets and other kitchen furniture and well-designed knife racks or blocks to discourage chefs from leaving cutting tools on counters.

Possibly even more challenging that size considerations are shape concerns. An awkward corner or irregularity can have you tearing your hair out. In the next section, we will offer you some solutions to this problem.

Kitchen Shape Considerations

In kitchen geometry, the work triangle is the shape that connects the sink, cooktop, and refrigerator. The work triangle is the functional center of every kitchen.

Studies have shown that in the most efficient kitchens, the three legs of the work triangle add up to at least 12 feet but no more than 23 feet. Of course, your kitchen's basic shape and size will influence the type of work triangle that fits best. Regardless of the perimeter shape of the room, most kitchens are organized around one of several basic kitchen layouts, each with its own type of triangle. One's right for you!

Peninsula dining on an angle leaves the kitchen triangle clear.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Peninsula dining on an angle leaves the kitchen triangle clear.

  • U-Shape: This shape puts the stove, fridge, and sink each on a different wall and offers a very compact triangle that lets you prepare a meal while walking the shortest distance. It works best with the sink (the most-used element) in the center of the "U" and the fridge at one end of a run of counters to avoid breaking up a work surface. This shape works well in a kitchen that's nearly square or in a kitchen where you want to tightly define one end of a larger space as the basic work area, with an island set in the open end of the "U," perhaps fronting onto the family room or breakfast room.

  • L-Shape: This shape uses two walls of the kitchen for the three points of the work triangle. Often, the fridge is at one end of the long leg of the "L," the sink is toward the center of the same wall, and the stove is perpendicular, on the short leg of the "L." In contrast to the U-shape kitchen, the "L" has a long, rather than a short, wall facing into the rest of the room. Room traffic does not cross into the triangle, and, since this design uses only two walls, the triangle is long and relatively narrow, allowing for a more open layout. This setup is well-suited to a large room where the kitchen shares space with a family room. Additional counterspace may further lengthen one leg of the "L."

  • G-Shape: This shape features one appliance on each of two walls and the third appliance on a peninsula that separates the work area from an adjoining breakfast area or family room. If housing the cooktop in the accessible peninsula worries you (for safety reasons), you can always put the sink there instead and locate the cooktop on a full wall within the kitchen itself. Alternatively, put the cooktop on the peninsula, but create a safety margin by making the peninsula a tiered affair, with the cooktop at least six inches lower than the serving ledge.
Whatever your plan, the sink should take central position if at all possible, as it's used more often than either the refrigerator or the stove. If you locate the sink on the same wall as the stove, with the main work area in the middle, you won't drip water on the floor when you go from the sink to the cooktop. When placing the refrigerator, make sure the single-door model, when open, faces into the work triangle, not out of it.

Be sure you've allotted ample counterspace right next to any appliance: You'll want to set down heavy grocery bags near the fridge and slippery wet crystal next to the sink. It's especially important to have enough space (an absolute minimum width of 18 inches, and preferably 24 to 36 inches) right next to the cooktop, range, and oven, and on at least the opening side of the microwave and fridge. If you're using laminate countertops elsewhere in the kitchen, use heat-resistant mate-rial, such as ceramic tile, to create "landing space" near cooking appliances.

Great Little Galleys

Kitchens that work in small or narrow spaces deserve mention because they're able to fit the same essentials -- stove, sink, fridge, work surfaces, and cabinets--into what are often pretty snug situations. Named for the food preparation areas of ships, galley kitchens come in a couple of styles.

  • Corridor. This shape puts two points of the triangle on one wall and the third point on the opposite wall (most often the sink and the stove are placed on the same wall, with the fridge opposite). The length of the room will determine how much space there will be for cabinets and work surfaces.

    Corridor kitchens are often used where there is no other pathway to the next room and the traffic flows right through the work triangle. While this configuration is a step-saving solution, for safety as well as efficiency this setup should be avoided if at all possible, as should any design that allows household traffic to break into the triangle.

  • One-Wall. This shape lines up the fridge, sink, and stove on one wall. It foregoes the step-saving convenience the triangle affords, as the user needs to walk farther from one end of the kitchen to the other, especially if there is to be adequate countertop space. A popular solution is to station one or more islands opposite the wall of appliances. If wiring can be added in the floor, the island can be stationed near the refrigerator and can hold the microwave and other small appliances.

    A tiered island allows for some simple types of food prep on the lower, kitchen side and a snack counter on the higher side, facing into the adjoining room. A one-wall kitchen is a practical choice for tiny spaces. It also can be tucked conveniently behind closed doors in a wall alcove, so it's great for second kitchens in recreation rooms, studios, or even master suites.
Next, we will look at a popular kitchen design choice -- the eat-in kitchen. We'll explore the pros and cons in the next section.

Eat-In Kitchens

The formal, separate dining room has passed in and out of vogue over the decades, but the option of eating in the kitchen has always held appeal. The informal, efficient design of an eat-in kitchen is ideal for today's casual, fast-paced lifestyle. At the same time, today's tastes are distinctly more luxurious than they were a couple of decades ago.

Fortunately, unless you yearn for an authentic period home, there's no reason why you can't have a kitchen dining setup that's both easygoing and opulent. Depending on the size of your kitchen, you have a number of choices for creating an eat-in kitchen. Today's savvy design solutions and coordinated products ensure that any option you choose will fit right in and look great.

  • Counter Dining. Where space is slim or where the users have no special needs, a breakfast bar looks great. A breakfast bar's informality and slim silhouette lends itself naturally to a casual, contemporary scheme, but if your kitchen is opulently traditional, using the same materials for the counter and bar will tie it in perfectly. Imaginative counter stools can be great decorating assets. Make sure the counter overhang is deep enough to accommodate knees comfortably, and, if your stools don't have footrests, make sure your bar has a footrest ledge or rail.

    A two-tiered peninsula or island can house a sink or cooktop on the lower, kitchen side with room for two to four diners opposite. If the peninsula or island houses only a small sink, there's usually plenty of room to seat a number of diners on the same level as the work surface. (A cooktop requires more space and, if possible, the barrier of a different level for safety's sake.) Ideally, allow at least 42 inches from the open end to the opposite wall, and don't locate the fridge or wall oven opposite, where an open door would block traffic. Allow at least 18 inches and preferably 24 inches of elbow room for each diner. And if breakfast never will be your thing, rest assured your cozy nook or chic bar will work just fine for after-school and midnight snacks.

  • Breakfast Nooks. If you have a bit more available space or want a more traditional, cozy look, you might consider adding a breakfast area with built-in banquette seating. A bay window alcove, with a banquette serving as a window seat and with pull-up chairs on the other side of the table, is charming if you can manage it. You can create a welcoming air with plump bench or stool cushions that carry your color scheme.

    No matter how small your kitchen or how rushed your schedule, there is almost always a way to work a little breakfast into the equation. The breakfast nook with fitted bench or banquette seating is a cozy solution that works well in ethnic or country/cottage kitchen design schemes. It's also a cute solution in retro settings inspired by a '50s malt shop booth. The table may be freestanding or may be a peninsula, with one end anchored to the wall or to a run of cabinets. The coziest breakfast nook setup features benches that are parallel, with the table between.

    For a more relaxed, open layout, the benches may be placed perpendicular to one another, with the table spanning the open side. A breakfast nook can be a comfortable solution where space is scant, because benches require much less floor space than chairs. If your family includes a mix of young and not-so-young, a breakfast nook may be a perfect -- and practical -- alternative. Benches are safer than counter stools for young children, and, because the table is a conventional height, it is accessible to wheelchair users.

    Eat in kitchens can be the height of comfort and convenience.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Eat in kitchens can be the height of comfort and convenience.

  • Eat-in Kitchens. For large kitchens, or those that feature a natural alcove, dining tables that seat anywhere from four to 12 people are a good option. You can have fun picking out chairs that complement your own personal taste, from heirloom traditional to classic modern glass-and-metal. Another option you may consider is having an island or table made of the same material as your cabinets or countertops. In keeping with the informal nature of kitchen dining, consider small armchairs all around, not just at the head and foot of the table.

    A round table is a friendly choice and is safer for an active family or in a smaller space. In the dining area of your kitchen, away from the stove, you can define a welcoming space with more elaborate curtains or draperies than you would use at a window in the work area. For continuity's sake, match or coordinate your eating-area window treatments with those in the work area. Coordinate window treatments and tabletop textile colors with seating cushions for an inviting, total look.
In our final section, we look at the very useful and convenient kitchen island.

Kitchen Islands

A kitchen island and its cousin, the peninsula, can vastly expand the design potential and convenience of just about any kitchen. Among the earliest islands were farm tables that gave cooks extra work surfaces and doubled as informal dining stations. Today, a homeowner has the option of islands made of the same materials as the base cabinets and countertop for an integral look. On the other hand, the latest trend is leaning back toward a freestanding look, with upper cabinets, base cabinets, and countertop materials in a mix of materials and colors.

In this scenario, any freestanding piece of furniture with at least one part standing at about counter height can function as an island. Most homeowners prefer a piece that offers hidden cabinets, open shelves, or a combination of the two in addition to another work surface. In a more high-tech kitchen, lower storage may also include a host of refinements such as wine racks and refrigerated drawers.

Kitchen islands can come in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate any kitchen.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Kitchen islands can come in a variety of shapes
and sizes to accommodate any kitchen.

In many kitchens, the island is used as an extra workstation, adding to the usefulness of the work triangle or corridor kitchen. In others, it's used as a low, casual divider defining the perimeter of the kitchen where it meets the family room or breakfast room. In either case, if you add in-floor wiring, plumbing, and gas lines, the possibilities for an island's usefulness are endless. Just about any appliance can be located in an island if the plumbing and electrical wiring are planned in. A wine rack, a gourmet wine chiller, an under-cabinet refrigerator, and an ice-maker on the family room side are very nice options.

On the kitchen side, add a second dishwasher, a microwave, or even an under-cabinet wall oven. In a small or medium-size kitchen, one of the most popular uses of an island is as a place to house the sink. The option of facing toward the family room is so attractive that a kitchen island sink has replaced the classic under-the-window sink in many homes. In a larger kitchen, the island may house a second sink. When combined with easy access to the microwave and the fridge, this setup creates a secondary work triangle.

Your needs and tastes will help determine what kind of island you should have. In a smaller space, you'll get maximum storage, convenience, and a neat appearance if you specify cabinets on both sides of the kitchen island so that dishes can be stashed or removed from either side. For a stylish, freestanding-furniture look that's especially at home in traditional settings, specify an island with table legs and a low shelf for open display and storage. The common kitchen principle of extending every countertop at least an inch beyond the cabinets to prevent dribbling spills down cabinet fronts especially applies to islands. Obviously, you'll need significantly more overhang for knee room (at least 15 inches) if your island is used as a snack table or as a higher snack counter with stools (18 inches).

One of the most dramatic, popular island designs is two-tiered, with food prep on the kitchen side and counter seating on the other. A sink can be stationed either on the same level as the eating counter or on a waist-high work counter with the dining surface on a higher plane. When the appliance you want to house in the island is a cooktop, however, safety dictates that the cooktop be on a lower plane, with the snack counter at least four to six inches higher. Specify heat-resistant material for the countertops adjoining the cooktop and at least 24 inches of counter for landing space on both sides, and provide for at least four inches of heat-resistant backsplash.

An island opposite the fridge is a logical place for the microwave. It's still within the work triangle, which makes sense because most of what goes in the microwave comes from the fridge. Alternatively, if your microwave gets more use by the kids as a snack-fixer, you may prefer to locate it outside the triangle but still near the fridge, in a combination work island/snack bar. Wall ovens are often located outside the work triangle since they're not used as much as a cooktop, and anything you bake or roast will stay in the oven for at least 15 minutes. An island may prove the most convenient landing spot for hot foods out of the oven.

In generously sized kitchens, it might be best to think along the lines of "if one island is good, two are better." A primary island may be stationed within the work triangle, housing extra storage, a mini-fridge or refrigerator drawers, a prep sink, a drop-in cooktop, and so on. Another island might serve solely as a snack bar, perhaps with a small TV perched at one end on a swivel base. If this island defines the perimeter of the kitchen, choose your island base, top, and counter stools to coordinate with the decorative scheme of the adjoining room. Whether this means elegant leather bar chairs, pretty wicker with plump cushions, or metal bistro stools with amusing cut-out motifs is up to you. Even in the kitchen, an island is for fun and adventure!

Kitchen Desks

There's been a real revolution in the definition of "homework" in the past decade, and today's kitchens have risen to the occasion beautifully. Millions of Americans telecommute from conventional jobs or work independently from home on a part-time or full-time basis. Although a dedicated home office is very popular, another option is to locate the office, or a least a workstation, within the kitchen, so that work can be performed in a common area.

Even if the home office is used simply for planning meals and ordering groceries online today, you never know what it might be used for in the future! It would probably be smart to install as sophisticated an electrical system as you can, since your family's needs will likely increase. After all, the kitchen has always been "command central" for the typical family. And, for the many children who have always preferred to do their homework at the kitchen table no matter how well outfitted their rooms, a computer in the kitchen makes it even easier.

A computer desk in the kitchen can take many forms, but don't just set the electronics onto a base cabinet counter and be done with it. If you spend any time at all at this workstation, you'll need an ergonomically sound chair, plenty of knee space, a keyboard tray that drops down to the correct height, and so on. You may want the workstation to face into the kitchen or into the family room so you can keep an eye on your crew; or you may prefer it tucked into a corner, facing the wall, for a greater sense of privacy. As long as you avoid the busy work triangle area, wherever you can fit in your computer station may work.

Power is what the computerized home is about, so make sure you have enough. You'll probably be adding electrical outlets every 36 inches or so along your backsplashes (or on power strips beneath the upper cabinets if switchplates will disturb your backsplash design), so while the electricity is being planned, plan for the desktop computer area. In addition to a computer and a phone, you may need electrical and phone outlets plus counterspace and lower-storage space for a printer, answering machine, fax machine, and any other "must-have" equipment. To conserve space, look for units that provide more than one of these functions. If this is where you'll stash the small TV, make plans for that, too. All this may mean extra new wiring, but most older homes need it to make the leap into the new electronic era.

What if you prefer the scenic byway to the electronic highway? Chances are, you'll still be more comfortable with some kind of a workstation, however informal, in the kitchen. Whether you choose a small writing table, a conventional desk to coordinate with the style of your kitchen, or a desk made of the same material as your kitchen is up to you. In a traditional, formal kitchen, you might enjoy an l8th-century "secretaire" that includes upper glassed cabinets and open shelves as well as lower drawers and a drop-down writing surface. In other cases, you'll want to plan upper storage cabinets with either glass or solid doors.

You'll need enough counterspace to hold a few desk necessities (pens, notepads, scissors, and so on); a few shallow, wide drawers to stash bills and clutter; and space for your recipe box and the cookbooks you use most. If the desk or counter is tucked into a corner near an adjacent wall or run of tall wood cabinets, you can hang a bulletin board and a good-size calendar.

The kitchen is not only a room that you use every single day, it also takes much more abuse that most of the other rooms in your house. As a result, every kitchen needs a little work eventually -- whether it's a simple face-lift or a complete overhaul. Hopefully now you know how to make the kitchen that is right for you.

©Publications International, Ltd.

About the contributor:

Mary Wynn Ryan is the author of numerous interior design books including The Ultimate Kitchen, The Ultimate Bath, Cottage Style, Fresh Country Style and Garden Style.  She has written about home furnishings and interior design for various magazines and served as Midwest editor of Design Times magazine. She was also the director of consumer and trade marketing for the Chicago Merchandise Mart's residential design center. She is president of Winning Ways Marketing, an editorial and marketing consulting firm that specializes in home design and decorating.