Top 10 Mistakes in Kitchen Design

busy kitchen
They say the kitchen is the heart of the home, but it easily can become useless if it's not functional. See more pictures of home design.
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How many times have you noticed that people tend to congregate in the kitchen? No matter how comfortable you make the rest of the house, guests and family head for the bright lights and tasty aromas of the hardest working spot in your home. If you have children, they probably work on their school projects in the kitchen and tell you about their day while sitting at the kitchen counter or inspecting the contents of the fridge. It's a truth of family life that seems to transcend cultural boundaries. The kitchen is the best part of a home, and preserving its warmth while updating its look, feel and function is one of the challenges of kitchen design.

A kitchen makeover can add to the value of your home and make your time cooking more efficient and enjoyable. There are lots of reasons to update your kitchen, but beyond the siren call of the glossy design magazines and those shiny appliances you've been eyeing at the local home improvement store, there are some lurking pitfalls and design gotchas that you should be aware of. In the next few pages, we'll take a look at 10 common kitchen design mistakes and offer some suggestions on how to avoid them. Your kitchen is a hub of activity, and with so much going on, it can be a challenge to create a space that will be all things to all people. The good news is that most of these problems are easy to avoid if you do a little planning.


10. Making Room to Work - Planning Your Counter Space

One of the biggest complaints about kitchen design is the lack of countertops. You want your countertops to be decorative, but they have to be functional, too. When updating your kitchen, make sure that you have enough countertop workspace by evaluating how you use your countertops now and planning for your future needs. The amount of space you need will be specific to your circumstances and will vary with the size limitations of your room and budget.

Understanding how traffic will flow through the kitchen is a useful tool in organizing countertop space so that it will be efficient and comfortable. Make a list of the types of activities you need specific countertop areas for, and evaluate how they may overlap when more than one person uses the kitchen.


Materials matter, too. Where laminates are rugged and heavy-duty, some of the high priced stone, concrete, metallic and natural wood countertops need regular maintenance and special handling.

Lastly, you'll probably need to have some appliances permanently located on the countertops. This may be a can opener, toaster oven, food processor, coffeemaker or a host of other gadgets. Having outlets where you need them and choosing what appliances you want to place in specific locations will help you plan your space better and control appliance creep, the tendency for appliances to start accumulating on countertops, taking up precious workspace.

9. The Golden Triangle - Good Layouts

If the refrigerator, stove and sink are close together, cooking and cleaning will be much easier.
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In interior design, the kitchen triangle links the three areas of greatest activity: the sink, stove and refrigerator. There should be unobstructed access to and from all three of these locations. Of the three, the sink will see the most action and should have easy access to the stove and refrigerator, as well as your countertop workstations. Narrow aisles, inconvenient door swings and islands that cut off direct access to these key areas make kitchens less efficient and less convenient. When you're in the design stages, a few extra steps may not seem like much, but after a few hundred trips around a jutting island corner, you'll start to feel differently.

Once you've established a good flow, give some thought and attention to other areas in the room. There are secondary areas that need to be easily accessible to perform specific tasks, too. You'll want the trash close to the exterior door for easy disposal, or at least have a clear path to the door from the trash bay. You'll also want convenient access to a countertop where you can place groceries when coming in from out of doors. Another consideration is the communications area. If you have a desk, table or counter where you have a phone, writing material and possibly a computer or cookbooks, you'll want to position it so that it has, if not completely unobstructed access, at least relatively easy access to the other workstations in the room.


Evaluate how food will be served and eaten using your new kitchen design. Will you have in-kitchen seating? If so, how many people will you need to accommodate? If you will be serving food from the kitchen to a dining room, you'll also want an unobstructed path there from your prep station in order to move dishes in and out easily.

8. Room for Storage

Kitchens typically contain lots of stuff. Not only that, but items often concealed behind built-in kitchen cabinet doors can be oddly shaped and space hogs, such as a food processor. Finding a home for your kitchen stuff that still keeps it easily accessible is a tricky proposition. Because built-ins are expensive and the overall size of the area you're working with may be limited, one big design mistake is not including enough storage.

Kitchen storage is prime real estate. It's tempting to place your design dollar where it will give you some real visual payback, like flooring, countertops or beautiful appliances. The work-a-day life of a kitchen includes lots of tools that contribute to preparing and serving meals. A big part of the enjoyment of your kitchen will be how accessible these labor-saving items are. If you have to go out to the garage every time you want to use your wok, fryer or waffle iron instead of having them available at your fingertips, you may start to feel cheated, especially after the newness of all those shiny, expensive surfaces has worn off.


While you're still planning your kitchen wish list, take an inventory of your small appliances and other kitchen items. Make an assessment of what you really need and rate how accessible each item will have to be for you to be happy with the overall layout. This is probably a good time for you to do a little decluttering, too.

7. Island Design

kitchen island
An island can add some much needed counter space, but if it's too big, it can ruin your kitchen.
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The prospect of installing a kitchen island offers a tantalizing promise of additional storage, prep and serving space in the kitchen, but choosing the wrong island or placing it in the wrong spot can be a disaster. Remember that the kitchen is a work area, and anything that gets in the way of working efficiently is going to be a problem. Islands that obstruct the flow of traffic to and from the sink, refrigerator, stove and primary workstations will create bottlenecks and big hassles. One solution is to add a sink or stove to the island and make it part of the functional kitchen triangle. Another is to position the island so that it has lots of space around it and doesn't impede foot traffic.

For efficient flow, leave between 42 and 48 inches (106.68 cm and 121.92 cm) of open area around islands. Typically, for an island to be a useful addition, your kitchen should be at least 13 feet wide (3.96 meters), and the island should be a minimum of three feet by five feet (91.4 cm by 152.4 cm). The layout of your kitchen is important when considering an island. Single wall and L-shaped kitchens usually work well with islands. Where you're planning a U-shaped setup, make sure that there is at least 10 feet of clearance between the legs of the U to house an island. For an island to be used as a breakfast bar, each seated diner should have 24 inches (60.96 cm) of space from side to side with a depth of 12 inches (30.48 cm); less than that, and people will be elbowing one another throughout the meal [source: MSU].


6. Light It Up

Rooms generally need three types of lighting: general lighting for overall illumination, task lighting, and accent lighting. As you evaluate the work areas in your kitchen, start to focus on how you'll provide each spot with the light it needs. Most kitchens have general lighting that's provided by an overhead fixture together with natural light from a window or ambient light contributed by a fixture in an adjoining room. Where many kitchen design strategies fail is in not providing enough task lighting. Prep areas, the sink and the stove should all have dedicated task lighting. The locations for these fixtures should be identified before you begin work because they'll require electrical service.

Good lighting can be accomplished with any combination of fluorescent ceiling or strip lighting, hanging lights, under the counter fixtures or track lighting. The goal is to put enough light in play so that all the activities that regularly take place in your kitchen will have adequate illumination on demand. After all, the more light you have in the room, the better you can show off all of those amazing design elements you've added to the space.


5. Air It Out

If you've ever walked into someone's home and smelled last night's fish tacos lingering on the stale air, you'll understand the importance of good ventilation. Inexpensive range hoods simply circulate dirty, stale air, trapping large particulates in simple onboard filters. A good ventilation system will help improve the quality of your indoor air and also help keep your kitchen cleaner by venting odors and airborne grease particles from the house that would otherwise land on your cabinets, countertops and appliances or travel to other rooms.

Good ventilation will also help to extend the life of your appliances. Kitchen appliances, like the stove, generate heat, and higher temperatures shorten the life of an appliance, particularly your refrigerator. Higher indoor temperatures also result in increased air conditioning costs during the summer months. Effective ventilation systems use fans to route air through ductwork and out of roof- or wall-mounted vents. The hot, dirty air is evacuated, leaving clean air behind. This can be an investment, but if you have a kitchen that opens to a living area or family room, it will make life easier, cleaner and more pleasant for everyone.


4. Toss the Garbage

Dealing with trash in kitchen design has often been a matter of sticking a bin near an outside door or under the sink. These days, with the advent of recycling, there's more to refuse than meets the eye. Planning for your trash management needs involves a four-pronged approach. You'll almost certainly have a standard garbage disposal, possibly a trash compactor and also an area in which to place kitchen scraps and packaging destined for the weekly trash pick-up. You'll need space for recyclables, too. Newer segmented recycle bins designed for glass, plastic and aluminum recyclables take up more room than the old style kitchen trash cans of the 1970s. Recycling isn't going away, so whether it's mandatory in your area or not, be prepared to manage your trash efficiently and incorporate it into your kitchen design plans.


3. Watch the Budget

When you undertake a major kitchen redesign, a good rule of thumb is that the cost of the design shouldn't exceed 20 percent of the value of your home. You can typically recover up to 8 percent of that when you sell. In a challenging real estate market, a new, shiny kitchen may mean the difference between selling and not selling your home quickly. Other factors, like your local economy, can impact the potential resale value of your home, too, so use some caution when considering a kitchen renovation for the purpose of a quick sale [source: Williams].

There are some other budgetary considerations you should keep in mind. It's more likely that you will go over budget than come in under budget. In anticipation of this unfortunate fact of home design and renovation, hold some of your money in reserve for the unexpected.


Avoid paying in advance for services. If you hold something back, you'll have a bargaining chip if you need to negotiate with the contractor for changes later.

2. Too Trendy

red kitchen
Going too trendy with the design of your kitchen could turn off future buyers.

So, you've decided on a style, evaluated your space and settled on a budget. Now you're ready to get started, right? Well, not quite. One other thing you should consider is the fickle nature of fate. Pomegranate may be the most stylish color around this season, but chances are that in five years, those luscious red hues are going to look garish and dated. Most trendy designs have a short half-life, and when they're out, they're really out. Where kitchen design is concerned, wood finishes and trims, countertop colors and materials, flooring styles and just about everything else can be an expression of the current fashion. Even if you're sure that red will be your favorite color forever, your circumstances may change and when you move, the new owners may not share your passion.

Another thing you should think about is where you want to spring for those big dollar items. Some kitchen investments will certainly add to the overall value of your home, but there are a few exceptions. If you install that ritzy commercial stove you've been lusting after, you may not get your money back from the investment. Worse, when you sell your home, it could be considered a disadvantage. Not everyone is into cooking, and investing in high-end equipment might be important to you, but don't count on recuperating the expense. If home improvement with an eye toward selling is your goal, stick to updates with a price tag that's appropriate to the neighborhood in which your home is located, has a style that's in keeping with the rest of your home and will suit the tastes of people in your area.


1. Stick to the Plan

Moving from the planning stages to the actual work may involve some inconvenience and expense, but if you've done your homework, the rewards of a good kitchen redesign should be worth the effort. To ensure your success, be sure to decide on a plan and stick with it. Changing your mind once the work has begun can be expensive and usually results in more than a few unexpected and frustrating glitches.

One of the best things you can do for yourself and your kitchen is to pick a contractor who has lots of experience with kitchen design. It also helps if you can communicate with him easily and feel comfortable with his professional style. Just to be sure you have the right company, check his previous work by asking for references and checking with the Better Business Bureau in your area. Do yourself a favor and take a hands-on approach to the project. Write down your ideas, and double-check everything before work begins. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and keep asking until you're satisfied with the answers.

Last, and maybe most important, remember that this is your kitchen, so don't be swayed by someone else's opinions or design sense. When the dust settles, literally, you're the one who's going to be living with the results.

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