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.