Renovating a kitchen is arguably more difficult than cooking the toughest of recipes, but our designers have crafted a guide on how to make a space worthy of a top chef.
We’ll be the first to admit. When it comes to renovating your kitchen, it can be just as complicated as recreating a recipe from the Modernist Cuisine cookbook. Bring out the liquid nitrogen and sous vide machine! This is a job for the professionals only. Before long, you’ll be sweating more than a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen about to be smacked by Gordon Ramsay. But you know what? We believe with the right recipe, er tips, you might be able to create the ideal kitchen for your needs.
Follow along below with our designers as they walk you through from prep to the final execution of your perfect chef’s kitchen. It’ll leave you feeling like Julia Child herself. Or at least ready to mix a mean cocktail.
Before you start tearing out cabinetry or rearranging plumbing, take a moment to plan. As with any room in the home that you’re looking to redesign, consider how you and your family use the kitchen and what function it plays in your daily lives. To many families, the kitchen is the central room in the house, where everyone gathers to cook together, eat together, and catch up. Even during parties and entertaining, guests will gather around food and drink in the kitchen. After all, people like to gather around activity. And what better activity than a live cooking demonstration?
However, this is not to say that the kitchen is this all-important gathering space for everyone. Perhaps you only have a small New York apartment for two, and seeing as you’re city-dwellers, you eat out almost every night. You use your oven to store sweaters for the winter months. If this sounds like your life, the kitchen will look wildly different from the family unit that frequents the area. Perhaps it’ll take a minimalistic vibe, functional purely for mixing cocktails for the occasional guest.
As Homepolish designer Shannon Tate 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.” In other words, function and practicality come first, then you can move on to the fun.
As with any room in the home that you’re looking to redesign, consider how you and your family use the kitchen and what function it plays in your daily lives.
Lay It All Out
If you’re planning to do extensive renovation to the kitchen (aka changing the floor plan), there is a general rule for kitchens known as the “working triangle rule.” No, we aren’t talking about some form of crazy geometry. This rule divides the kitchen up by primary tasks and the appliances that are used to carry them out: refrigerator (food storage), sink (food prep), and cooktop (recipe execution). These appliances should be arranged in the kitchen in an equilateral triangle and in somewhat close proximity to each other.
The concept dates back to the 1940s, but the utilitarian nature still holds. Just like a restaurant kitchen, the goal is efficiency. So though you may not be firing off orders for 120 hungry guests, you want your kitchen to operate like a well-oiled machine.
PSA: This is not to say that if you have a New York galley kitchen that your culinary dreams are dashed. Check out our work for a Facebook designer’s New York studio to see how you can make a small kitchenette work for you.
Start from the Ground Up
Flooring, if you have the ability to replace it, 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, or cement flooring is best for durability (look at any restaurant-grade space), wood will be far more comfortable for you to get in touch with your “barefoot contessa” side, emphasis on the barefoot. If you do have to go with tile or stone, opt for larger tiles with very thin grout lines. You don’t want any scraps of food getting stuck in your floor. Unless you would like to deal with any little Ratatouilles… And why not go with an unexpected pattern such as hexagon tiles while you’re at it?
When choosing flooring, comfort is key. Chances are that you’ll be on your feet most of the time you’re in the kitchen.
You might recall from our article on choosing lighting that there are three types: ambient, task, and accent. The kitchen is a unique blend of all three. 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. This is the most basic and necessary level of kitchen lighting.
To “take it up a notch” (in the famous words of Emeril), bring in the task lighting. LA-based designerwill heartily agree: “Add under-cabinet lighting! Upper cabinetry will often block most of the overhead lighting from reaching your countertops. 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.” These task lights will ensure that you can focus on the food and not on the fear of accidentally nicking yourself with your kitchen knife.
Lastly, accent light can come into play with pendants. Pendants are especially useful if you have special areas in the kitchen that you would like to designate, from a peninsula bar, an island, or a dinette space.
The Basics of Cabinetry and Counters
Just because something is utilitarian, doesn’t mean it can’t reflect your style. Cabinets are yet another opportunity to infuse your personality into the kitchen. Our biggest conundrum is… open shelving or traditional closed? The key is to be honest with yourself, according to Jennifer. “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.
Just because something is utilitarian, doesn’t mean it can’t reflect your style.
If you go with the more traditional closed cabinet style, remember that cabinets are going to play a major part in dictating the color scheme of your kitchen. A neutral tone will be easier to blend, but you don’t have to shy away from color.
And now to tackle the multitude of countertop material options. Like most design decisions, countertops can be a matter of personal aesthetics. However, since countertops are where almost all messy food prep happens, one must consider how materials 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 means marble is out. Yes, marble is luxurious, but it also stains very easily (with wine, citrus, and tomato being the worst offenders). On the flip side, if you find beauty in quite literally seeing the reflection of meals passed in your kitchen, then perhaps marble is for you. (It’ll look like the French bistro kitchen of your dreams.)
To achieve that stone look without using marble, look to slate, granite, or a quartz composite such as Caesarstone for a durable and resilient option. You’ll be able to have the beauty of natural-esque rippling, all without the fear that you’ll wreck your counters.
The butcher block counter option is also growing in popularity as a natural look. Keep in mind that wood takes a ton of maintenance, either requiring varnish or a monthly application of mineral oil. If you’re willing to put in that extra elbow grease, go for it.
Last word of advice: we do have materials we like to avoid in kitchens. Plastic laminate is super resilient but not very attractive (which is why it’s a go-to material in college dorm kitchens). If you’re splurging on a kitchen reno, it’s time to leave that beanbag-filled, coed bathroom period of your life behind. Tile is also an undesirable material when it comes to countertops since it easily stains and leads to uneven surfaces.
Pro tip! For dimensions, try to make counters a minimum of 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.
Time to Apply Yourself
Now for what is arguably the prettiest part of the kitchen: your major appliances. These include your refrigerator, your dishwasher, your microwave, and your range (potentially, a matching hood). And according to our designers, by consensus, 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 the piece. On the flipside, appliances that seamlessly blend into the cabinetry and countertops really lend a custom look to the kitchen. (After all, how cool is it when what you thought was a wall is actually a refrigerator door?)
Once everything is in place and ready for a spontaneous rendition of Be Our Guest, check out our designer Ariel Okin’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!
If you can’t stand the heat, don’t get out of the kitchen… Just book a designer to be your sous chef (so to speak)!