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  • Shelby Whitfield

How to Design Your Kitchen Like a Pro


I finished up my college experience and started my career in kitchen design, and the combination of education and experience taught me quite a bit about planning a kitchen. There's a lot to keep in mind when redesigning yours, and hopefully this admittedly wordy post will keep you from making some of the mistakes I've seen over time.

(Just a quick disclaimer- while I want to provide as much information as I possibly can to help you out, nothing can beat the experience of a professional! They will know all I am about to tell you and more, and will be able to guide you more specifically. Kitchen and bath renovation is time consuming, and can be costly, and a professional can help with technical design, project management, and so much more. And look at the gorgeous results above- all credit to Dana Wolter. But if you're a true DIYer ready to tackle it yourself, read on!)

While most of what we typically hear referred to as "kitchen design" is mostly the materials and decorative finishes, true kitchen design encompasses so much more. Function is key in such a highly practical area, so I'll give a quick overview of what to consider when planning your new kitchen!

(Though if you're just looking for barstools similar to what Victoria Hagan used above, I've linked some options in this post.)

Much of the technical information I learned in school, but much of it is also covered in the NKBA's Kitchen & Bath Guidelines and Access Standards; if you're interested in a total DIY without professional help, or just would like to learn about design basics, I'd recommend it highly.

The Triangle

If you're researching a DIY kitchen layout, you may have heard of the infamous triangle; basically it's an easy template for placing your three major "work centers"- the sink, refrigerator, and range (or cooktop & ovens). The entire purpose of the triangle is to keep two of these from being situated too close together and interfering with each other, or from being so far apart that it's a hike to get back to the sink to wash the vegetables you just grabbed from the fridge.

Each of these "centers" are a point of the triangle, and each of the legs, or space between one appliance and another, should be somewhere between 4 - 9 feet. (One caveat- the sum of these distances should be no more than 26 feet, so ideally we would avoid three 9 foot legs).

Pretty simple so far! It's always easiest to start laying out your kitchen with these three areas; everything else should be built around them. Make sure you have your actual appliances chosen at this point- you don't want to have to rework your plan when you decide you'd like to have a 36" cooktop rather than the standard 30".

Walkways & Clear Space

Once you have your "triangle" created, it's pretty easy to start building a cabinet layout around it! Keep in mind as you do how your family uses the space; while there are guidelines, they are somewhat dependent on how many cooks you have in the kitchen (literally!).

If your whole family cooks dinner together (or if your kitchen also functions as a hallway), you will want wider walkways (48") so someone trying to get bread out of the oven won't be bumping into whoever's rinsing spaghetti at the sink.

If you're a chef that kicks everyone out of the kitchen while you cook, then you could probably get away with the minimum recommended space of 36" from counter to counter.

And finally, if you have a teeny apartment kitchen like Alexa Hampton does (above), these rules may have to fly out the window. Just keep the principles in mind, and you'll do fine!

Mark Sikes

A quick note on islands- they can be fantastic and they can be terrible. They're not for every kitchen; remember, they do affect your clear space and traffic patterns! Sometimes, they can be more in the way than helpful in the counter space they add.

Avoid having them intersect the legs of your work triangle, or you'll be bumping your hip constantly.

And if your kitchen is small, it's probably worth looking into storage solutions (cabinet components!) that maximize your existing space, rather than adding a clunky island. (Or steal a page from Susanna Salk (below) and create a "furniture" island.)

Susanna Salk

Additional Considerations

After creating the footprint of your kitchen, you're pretty much left with the details!

(And you're almost to the pretty parts of those details, I promise).

But first, we have to think about clearances.

I'm not going to go into all the finer points of planning these parts out (it's probably boring), but make sure you think about where your doors are going to swing, if your fridge can open past 90 degrees (some have to be able to so you can get veggie drawers in and out!), where your trims -cabinet crown, crown moulding, window/door casings- will be.

If cabinets run too close to a door, you could have a cabinet crown colliding with the door casing, and it's pretty noticeable, especially if your trim and cabinet colours aren't exactly the same! If you stagger any cabinets, the height of the crown is important to consider for the same reason.

Mark D Sikes' Hollywood Hills kitchen (below) is a fantastic example of some of these considerations- he has a thicker countertop than is standard, so the island cabinet height was probably adjusted for this allowance.

Don't miss his library sconces! The stiles (vertical portions between shelves) on his bookcase had to be wide enough to accept the backplate of the sconce.

And now that we made it through the technicals, I may consider a post on the aesthetics! Let me know in the comments what your must-knows are!

(Final disclaimer- I'm only discussing the very basics of designing a kitchen in this post. Plumbing and electrical and other construction elements must all be considered in a kitchen renovation. Since code requirements vary across locations, I won't ever get that technical. Make sure any renovation is done with proper permits and completed to code. This is where hiring a professional can be even more crucial!)

#inspiration #traditional #interiors #classic #design #construction #kitchens