From floorplans to fridges, our designers are sharing the ultimate how-to for wrapping your head around the kitchen renovation process.
If renovating a kitchen was a recipe, it’d be coq au vin. Difficult, but totally worth it.
Thankfully, our designers have crafted a guide on how to make a space worthy of a top chef. And like dishes made by someone who fluently reads from the Modernist Cuisine cookbook, it tends to be a job best left to the professionals (not that you couldn’t use liquid nitrogen on your own, but should you?). But here are the basics so you can wrap your head around executing a chef’s kitchen (even if you’re just using the space to pour water).
Before you start tearing out cabinetry or rearranging plumbing, take a moment to plan. Consider how you and your family will use the kitchen and what function it plays in your daily lives. For many, the kitchen is the central room in the house, where everyone gathers to cook, eat, and catch up. Have you noticed how people always cluster in the kitchen during parties? If that’s the case you’ll want to explore layouts conducive to hosting a crowd.
Using your oven to store sweaters? Explore floorplans that take a minimalistic bent if you only need functional for mixing cocktails.
As Homepolish designer says, “Once you identify the changes in the kitchen that will help you better function on a day-to-day basis, then you are ready to identify who you are stylistically.”
Think about kitchens you love—what functionalities can you steal from spaces from friend’s homes, restaurants, and the like?
Lay It All Out
If you’re changing the floor plan, use the “working triangle rule.” This rule divides by primary tasks and the appliances they require: refrigerator (food storage), sink (food prep), and cooktop (recipe execution). Each should be accessible through an equilateral (and close proximity) triangle.
The concept dates back to the 1940s, but the utilitarian nature still holds. Just like a restaurant kitchen, the goal is efficiency. Of course, sometimes a galley kitchen is your only choice—but a good designer can make that work too. See our own Tina Rich’s abode for an excellent example.
Start from the Ground Up
Flooring should be the first consideration after layout. Unless you have a bar area or a dining nook, chances are that you’ll be on your feet most of the time you’re in the kitchen. Comfort is key…just ask Mario Batali about those orange Crocs he’s constantly wearing.
While stone, tile, and cement flooring offer great durability (look at any restaurant-grade space), wood tends to be more comfortable for a budding “barefoot contessa.” Want to split the difference: layer rugs in to add plushness in areas where you’ll be standing often (think a runner in front of the sink).
If you do go with tile, opt for larger tiles with very thin grout lines to avoid creating a trap for scraps. While you’re at it, why not choose an unexpected pattern such as hexagon or herringbone tiles.
When choosing flooring, comfort is key. Chances are that you’ll be on your feet most of the time you’re in the kitchen.
There are three main types of lighting—ambient, task, and accent—and the kitchen necessitates a unique blend of all three. Starting with the most basic, ambient lighting comes into play with overhead or recessed lighting, and when it’s evenly spaced, it’ll ensure that you can see each nook and cranny of the kitchen.
These task lights aren’t just great for ambient glow—they also can keep you from accidentally nicking yourself when cutting the carrots. LA-based designerrecommends adding under-cabinet lighting to amp up the wattage
“Upper cabinetry will often block most of the overhead lighting from reaching your countertops,” Wallenstein recommends. “This is easiest to do when you are installing new cabinets, so you can hardwire them or install an outlet hidden in the cabinetry. That said, you can also find battery-operated LED versions that can be installed after the cabinets.”
Accent light, like single pendants or chandeliers, are especially useful if you have areas in the kitchen that you would like to designate, say a peninsula bar, an island, or a dinette space. And don’t forget lamps! A well placed table lamp can add a rustic, and unexpectedly cozy vibe to your space.
Fill Your Cabinet
The biggest conundrum you’ll face when it comes to cabinets: open shelving or traditional closed. The key, according to Jennifer is being honest with yourself. “I love open shelving, but you have to weigh how organized you are. Stacks of beautiful dinnerware, vases, and accent pieces are attractive.Half-empty boxes of Cheerios and mismatched coffee mugs…not so much. If you love open shelving but know it isn’t realistic for your lifestyle, try identifying one wall for it while the rest of the cabinetry can hide less display-worthy items.”
Open shelving also allows for easy access to your most used pieces—meaning that those pieces will now inform your color scheme. When it comes to closed cabinet style, your choice, will dictate the color scheme of your kitchen now, and most likely for years to come (you can always paint, but you might not change your cabinets all that often). A neutral tone will be easier to blend, but painted door fronts can always be repainted.
Aesthetics matter, but since this is also where most food prep happens, consider how the material will age over time. Jennifer advises, “If you know that you’re the type of person who tends to be a sloppy cooker (I literally can’t see the countertops when I’m done making a meal), you probably want to consider options that are non-porous and durable.”
That might mean marble is out. Though luxurious it also stains very easily (wine, citrus, and tomato are its worst offenders). Some people find beauty in quite literally seeing the reflection of meals passed, and if you dig the French bistro vibe, go forth.
To achieve that stone look without using marble, slate, granite, or a quartz composite such as Caesarstone balance durability and resilience. Butcher block is an equally rustic option that’s growing in popularity. Keep in mind that wood requires careful maintenance, either regular varnish or a monthly application of mineral oil.
There are other options—plastic laminate is super resilient but not very attractive. Tile can add a worldly vibe, but consider that it stains easily, and leaves you open to grout lines and uneven surfaces.
Pro tip: counters should be at minimum 24-inches deep for plenty of workspace and provide at least an inch of overhang. This will ensure that spills go on the floor and not into your drawers or on your cabinets.
Now for the fun stuff: the major appliances. When people refer to major appliances, they mean your refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, and range (potentially, matching hood).
Our designers agree that these are your most splurge-worthy items. Swoon-inducing appliances listed by our team include La Cornue ranges, Hammacher espresso machines, Meneghini Arredamenti ranges, Traulsen fridges, Viking ranges and on the lower end, Smeg appliances.
If you really splurge on an item, let it stand out.
As Shannon says, “A pop of color in an unexpected place, brings a bit of fun into the kitchen.” Plus, it’ll highlight the artistry and beauty of its function.
But that look isn’t for everyone, On the flipside, appliances that seamlessly blend into the cabinetry and countertops lend a custom look to the kitchen. (We all know how cool is it when what you thought was a wall is actually a refrigerator.)
Once everything is in place and ready for a spontaneous rendition of Be Our Guest, check out our designer ’s tips on how to put the finishing touches on your kitchen. And if you are afraid that you simply can’t do a whole renovation, we still got you covered! See our 9 tips for a simple kitchen revamp.
Then, it’s time to get cooking!
Can’t stand the heat? Book a designer to help you create your perfect kitchen.
Need more inspo?
—Browse kitchens fit for every taste.
—Or flip through our most popular kitchens from Instagram.
—Read our secrets to crafting a timeless design.
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—Need a paint color? Our experts have you covered.