How To Design a Kitchen

Drawing house plan

The basic principles of good design aren't too difficult to learn, and they're easily applied to kitchen design. Designing a kitchen can be one of the most frustrating tasks when building a home.  After all, it has to be uncluttered, but inviting; efficient, but with enough space for many people; and a workspace, as well as a place to relax.  Quite a lot to ask of one room!  No matter how impossible it seems, it is possible to design your dream kitchen in just a few steps.

  1. What kitchen layout will work best in the space you have to use?  There are five basic kitchen layouts - the L, the U, galley-style, single wall, and double L.  The L is a good layout for a kitchen which is open to a dining room or great room.  It uses space along two walls of your kitchen.  This design works well for a kitchen which will have more than one cook, because there are no paths to be blocked.

    The second layout is the U.  This is a design which can make very efficient use of a narrow space.  Because it uses three walls, there is plenty of space for your "work triangle" - but more about that later.  It does not work well for a kitchen with multiple cooks, unless your aisle is very wide.

    Layout number three is the galley-style kitchen.  It is similar to the U, but it eliminates the wall on the end, leaving two parallel walls.  Although this design gives you less workspace than a U-shaped kitchen, it allows access to the kitchen from both ends, which can be very useful.

    The next layout is the wall-style kitchen.  In this layout, all of your appliances are lined up along a single wall.  It is not a very efficient design for the cook, because you are constantly moving from one end of the kitchen to the other.  However, if you are very limited on kitchen space, this is very much a space-saving design.

    The final layout is the double-L.  This is a good layout for larger kitchens.  It consists of a large L, running along two connecting walls, then a smaller L which has one leg against the third wall of the kitchen, with a peninsula extending into the kitchen.  The double-L is the design preferred by many gourmet cooks because it gives you lots of space for various appliances, as well as extensive countertop space.

  2. How can you make your work triangle as efficient as possible?  Most kitchen designers use the "work triangle" concept as the basis for their designs.  This consists of an imaginary line drawn from the center of the sink, to the center of the refrigerator, to the center of the stove, and back to the sink.  Each leg of your triangle should be at least four feet long, but no longer than nine feet.  In addition, the entire perimeter of your triangle should be no more than twenty-six feet.  This helps ensure that you will have ample room in which to work, without having to waste steps between frequently-used appliances.

    An alternative to the work triangle approach is the zone approach.  With this method, each part of the kitchen has a designated function.  For instance, you may have a prep area, which would include the sink for washing vegetables and an integrated cutting board for chopping them.  You could also have a cooking zone, which would include the stove, oven, microwave, and cupboards within easy reach to store baking dishes; or a baking zone, which would be near the stove and include space for your cookbooks, baking sheets, and ample counter space for rolling out dough.  The zone approach works especially well if you will have multiple cooks working in your kitchen at the same time.

    No matter whether you choose the work triangle method or the zone method, you'll need to first decide which items absolutely must go in a certain spot, then plan your design around these elements.  For example, if you have a gas stove which must be located near the gas source, start with that.  Or, if you would really like to be able to watch your kids in the backyard while you're washing dishes or preparing dinner, that's a good starting point, too.

  3. How will you use your kitchen?  If you love to cook and do it often, you'll want a kitchen which has plenty of storage space, but is efficiently designed, so that cooking continues to be an enjoyable experience.  You may want to consider custom-designed cabinets so that you'll have a place for all of those extras that make cooking fun. 

    If you are a baker, you may want to consider an area with a marble countertop, which remains cool at all times.  This prevents your cookie dough from becoming warm and spreading too much when it's baked, and it ensures that your pastry dough will turn out flaky and light, not tough.

    If you use your kitchen mainly for entertaining, you will want your space to have plenty of comfortable seating, with open views to the public areas of your home, so that you're not stuck in the kitchen cooking, while everyone else is socializing.

    If you consider your kitchen to be mostly the place where you go to call for take-out, you probably won't need as much space, but you'll want to be sure to include a comfortable, spacious dining area.

  4. Where can you find more detailed information?  If you want to be very thorough in designing your kitchen, you can consult the National Kitchen and  Bath Association's (NKBA) guidelines.  Be prepared to really dig in - there are forty guidelines!  However, if you can design your kitchen to meet each of these guidelines, you can nearly guarantee that your kitchen will be as well-suited for you as possible.  If this all seems a bit overwhelming, there are many kitchen design software programs which will help you to simplify the process; you can also take some online design classes if you're interested in getting really detailed.

Designing your kitchen is just the first step in the process.  Next, you'll need to decide on a host of other questions, such as cupboards, countertops, flooring, window coverings and paint or wallpaper colors!  This can be a long process, but when you're finished, you'll have the kitchen of which you've always dreamed, and you can say that you designed it yourself!


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I enjoyed reading your article...just what I want to know...I like the zone idea.

By Mary Norton