Layout and Design Tips to get the Kitchen of Your Dreams
A kitchen is the sum of many parts which combine to create a space that has to fulfill a utilitarian function, but also symbolizes warmth and home to many people. The vast number of choices available means that homeowners can personalize their kitchen to reflect their tastes (both gastronomical and aesthetic) while accommodating the various functions of food preparation and clean up, dining area, and gathering space for the family and/or guests.
There’s no room in your new house that will require as many decisions as the kitchen. You’ll need to pick cabinets, countertops, appliances, flooring, a backsplash, a sink, a faucet, and don’t forget all those little details like the hinges and cabinet knobs…it’s easy feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of decisions that must be made.
While eventually you’ll need to decide on all the little details, be careful not to get bogged down by minutia too early in the design process. Often the design evolves most naturally when you begin with the big picture—how you use your kitchen—and let smaller details emerge as the bigger pieces fall into place. In the first stages of planning, make a wish list of everything you’ve ever wanted in a kitchen. It can also be helpful to list the things you don’t want. Make a list of things that bother you about your current kitchen or other kitchens you’ve used. Knowing what you don’t like will help clarify the design details as much as knowing what you do like. Even though budget restraints may eventually require you to make compromises, knowing what is most important to you can help you decide what and where to cut.
Your likes and dislikes can help narrow down the placement of your key items – the stove, refrigerator, and sink – often referred to as the “work triangle.” For example, if you enjoy having a view while you wash dishes you’ll want to locate the sink under a window or near an opening that looks into another room. Don’t feel constrained by the way the kitchen is laid out on a floor plan, either; as long as you don’t move any structural walls, the appliances, cabinets and so on can be arranged whatever way suits your needs best. If you don’t feel comfortable planning the layout yourself, consider consulting your cabinet manufacturer or hiring a Certified Kitchen Designer to assist you.
Next, narrow choices further by focusing on function. Think in terms of the activities you will want to accommodate in your new kitchen. Some people envision Saturday afternoon baking extravaganzas with the kids helping; others picture a large, informal dinner party with many guests in the kitchen. These very different scenarios can help dictate your needs; the first situation could benefit from a low, marble counter used for rolling out pie crusts, and the second might be better addressed with a tall bar area complete with stools and an entertainment sink. By devoting time and thought to how you will use the kitchen you can massage the details of the design to fulfill your needs.
Also remember, there are necessary items and dream items, but you must decide what is necessary for you. By the same token, don’t get sucked in to including an item just because it’s trendy if it doesn’t suit the way you live. Warming drawers are great for people who entertain frequently, but for those who don’t it might end up being used as an expensive storage drawer. The key to getting the kitchen of your dreams is to identify what works for you and make sure you include those items, not just loading up with the latest gadgets and gizmos if they are not something you will use or enjoy.
Organization: A Place for Everything
If you ever have the opportunity to visit a professional restaurant kitchen you will see the effects of good organization in practice. Though many people will be working in close quarters, you rarely see the chefs bump into each other, and their movements are efficient and coordinated because the space has been designed to maximize the function of each station. Chefs also utilize a system called Mise en place, a French phrase that literally means “putting in place.” In professional kitchens it refers to organizing and arranging the ingredients that a cook will require for the menu items that he or she expects to prepare.
At the beginning of a shift, recipes are reviewed and the necessary ingredients and equipment are gathered, prepped, and organized at the station. Preparing the Mise en place ahead of time allows the chef to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which allows the cooking process to flow easily with less chance of error and less stress on the chef.
While it may seem like a complicated process, Mise en place exemplifies the most basic rule of organization: place items as near as possible to the point of use. This idea should be your guiding principle if you want to maximize organization in your own kitchen.
A lot of stuff tends to collect in the kitchen. You’ll find necessary items such as food, pots and pans, and utensils – but nearly every kitchen ends up with a junk drawer, too. And then there are the gadgets – common ones like mixers, toasters, and coffee pots – and less common items such as bread makers, juicers, and vacuum food sealers. All of these things need to find a home, ideally one where they will be easily at hand when needed without forcing you to be on your hands and knees stretching into the dark recesses of the lower cabinets. Speaking of lower cabinets – often large, deep drawers can make items such as pots and pans more accessible than cabinets. Or, if décor and space allows, a hanging pot rack is a great solution as well – near the stove, of course.
The secret to managing all this stuff is to sort it out by use and then store items in the most logical area – or don’t store them at all. Your kitchen will look cleaner and more organized if you can minimize the amount of clutter on your countertop, but for appliances you literally use every day – such as a coffee pot – it makes more sense to dedicate a space on the counter and leave it out all the time. No one is going to get their morning off to a good start by having to hunt down the coffee pot. On the other hand, that bread maker may be great, but if you only use it once a month it makes more sense to put it away in a space where you can easily access it when you want to use it. Pantry shelves are ideal for larger, heavy appliances because it is easier to move them from a shelf that is about counter height rather than lifting them up and out of a lower cabinet or over your head in a high cabinet.
When you’ve got the big items situated, apply the same principle to smaller items. It makes sense to store pot holders and cooking utensils near the oven and stove. Silverware, dishes and glasses make sense near the eating area or near the dishwasher so they are easy to put away when clean. By systematically sorting
and arranging your items using this principle your kitchen can be a model
Little Luxuries: A Few Indulgences Can Maximize Enjoyment
Every kitchen is essentially alike – save for the details. Every kitchen has a stove, but think of the different feeling one gets from a vintage, enameled range versus a sleek, stainless steel one. Both will cook your food, but they convey very different personalities of their owners. Every little detail offers the homeowner a chance for self-expression and to create a space that makes them feel pampered and at home. And while budget constraints can prevent someone from including everything on their wish list, if you have the opportunity to build your own kitchen from scratch it’s important to include a few items that will really make it yours.
Luxuries don’t always have to be fancy or expensive – indeed, some luxuries may end up saving you money in the long run. For example, if you love lattes and purchase a 16 oz. beverage every day on your way to work, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, you will spend approximately $1200 over the course of a year. For about $500 you can purchase a good quality countertop cappuccino machine, which will save you $700 in the first year. Even if you were to go all-out and purchase a high-end built in machine, in less than 2 years you’ll have broken even and will be able to enjoy your fancy beverages for “free” for years to come.
Another way to spend now to save later is by investing in the most energy-efficient appliances you can afford. Though some may cost a bit more up front, the savings in energy costs will soon compensate. With the cost of gas and electricity rising all the time and no end in sight, upgrading to the energy efficient model is a good insurance policy for the future, plus you receive the added benefit of doing something beneficial for the environment. Usually the most energy efficient appliances are the most technologically advanced and therefore have more bells and whistles than the base models, so you’ll also gain the benefit of the extra performance features and the peace of mind knowing you have quality items that will give you years of trouble-free service. The same theory applies to the construction details on the cabinets you choose. Often the upgraded, heavy-duty drawer slides and hinges only add a few hundred dollars to the cost of the cabinets for the entire kitchen, but years from now you’ll be glad that the drawers don’t stick and doors still close easily.
Another low cost way to add luxury is to utilize items that you may already own but don’t use very often because they are too “fancy.” It’s sad that many of us have beautiful china, crystal, or silver that we only see once or twice a year on special occasions. Who says you can’t serve an ordinary, Tuesday night spaghetti dinner on the fine china? Consider finding space in the kitchen to store these items within easy reach so you can use them more often. You can also design built-in display cabinets so that you can at least enjoy looking at these fine items even if you can’t bring yourself to use them every day.
Finally, think about including small details that will add a touch of elegance or whimsy to suit your personality. Cabinet hardware and accent lighting such as decorative pendants over a counter offer low-cost ways to accessorize your kitchen. Think of your kitchen as a little black dress, and all these details as the jewelry you would add to personalize it. Whether sparkly and glitzy or funky and colorful, these items offer a lot of impact for very little investment. Unlike the countertop, cabinets or backsplash, they can be easily changed should your tastes change in a few years.