Over the past 50 years the kitchen has moved from being a small hidden corner of the home where utilitarian tasks were performed, to being the glamorous star of the show. What was once, for most homes, a closed hub of steam and smells has slowly transformed into a centre for family-time or guest entertaining with sleek appliances and gadgets. Nowadays, the modern kitchen is truly the heart of a home. A well-designed kitchen adds significant value to any property, and it’s possible to spend a huge amount of money creating a perfect, stylish space.
Undoubtedly the hardest room to design, there are many things that must be right from the outset because it’s going to be really expensive to try and fix any mistakes later – here are my tips on how to design and create that beautiful, inspiring kitchen!
1. Beginning to plan your kitchen design
Before you start looking in catalogs and showrooms for inspiration, go and examine the space. Try to visualise the area empty and look for ways to expand – this could be actual expansion by rebuilding a wall, or visual expansion by removing a wall to create an open plan space with the adjoining room. Whether it will be a small kitchen or a big kitchen, once you have decided on the space, measure it to the millimetre in all three dimensions and plot the sources of natural light. If there’s a chance to add a skylight or extra window, now is the time to get it in the plans. Try not to be distracted by existing plumbing and electricals, these can be moved. The new kitchen installation will, almost certainly, need changes to the plumbing and electrical fittings so you might as well get everything where you want.
2. Planning your kitchen layout
Having measured and drawn your floor plan of the space it’s time to think about what is needed and what is wanted. Write up a checklist of essentials, and desirables. Be as specific as you can; for example, kitchen storage, drawers for crockery, large refrigerator, two ovens, 3m of work surface, etc. Don’t forget to include moveable appliances, such as kettles and toasters, you might not have them in use all the time but, when you do, you’ll need surfaces to stand them on and sockets to plug them in. The more detailed you can be here, the less chance you’ll have of making a mistake later. The next step is to plot all your essential appliances and equipment into the space. Don’t expect to get it right the first time. People often talk about the “work triangle” of kitchen design plotting easy movement between the sink, oven, and refrigerator, which is a good starting point to make you think about where everything is placed. If you can, try to do your planning in the space. Stand there and think about what will be used the most and how you reach it. Don’t forget, in a family home others will want to access appliances, like the fridge, while you are busy. You don’t want them squeezing past a kitchen island each time, so think about the general flow connecting this room and how people will move about. All kitchens at some point double-up as a social space – if you’re preparing food, where will friends be seated so you can comfortably interact? And how easy is it to transport food to a dining area? Spend as much time as possible planning the location of your essentials then, when you’re done, it’s time to plot in as many of the desirables as the space allows. Finally, don’t forget to use the height of the space without blocking valuable daylight. Using the full height of the walls can make great use of the space but – there’s always a “but” – it will make the kitchen feel smaller and, can you reach up there?
3. Getting the lighting right
I know you’re itching to get to the best bit – choosing units and appliances – but don’t skip on the lighting scheme. Kitchens, more than any other room in the home, need a mixture of lighting to cope with different needs. You’ll want clear, clean lighting for the preparation of food directed to where you need it. A gentler light for a calm evening drink with friends. Maybe a subtle background lighting for midnight trips to get water, or a splendid centrepiece to act as an artistic focal point. Remember to maximise any natural light, think about how you’ll dress and windows, and consider the effect of lighting from adjacent rooms or open plan areas. You’re nearly finished with the planning. My final piece of advice before you start looking at styles and designs is to sleep on it. Kitchens are difficult because, unlike most rooms in the house, you can’t tweak it around later. Get the planning right the first time. Be prepared to scrap everything and start again with the plans if it doesn’t feel right – that’s far cheaper than trying to make changes once it’s constructed!
4. Choosing your kitchen style
When you’re sure the plans work perfectly, it’s time to start getting excited with designs and styles. Obviously, your budget is going to play a big part, but there are 1000s of choices available. Firstly, think about your own personal tastes and what would suit the building. Nobody expects a 19th century home to have a full period kitchen, but it will feel better to show some respect to the building in the design or accessories you pick to show it off. It’s important to choose what makes you happy, and to create something that will add value to your home in the long term. It’s easy to get fixated with the kitchen cabinets and appliances, but don’t forget the kitchen flooring, tiling, walls, ceiling and lamps, as these play an equal role in the overall design.
If you decide to go all-out retro, for a price you might be lucky to find an original 1920s Frankfurt kitchen by Grete Schütte-Lihotzky, or a classic 1950s Constant Speed Airscrew English Rose design, both of which have the most beautiful pastel colours and oodles of style. If your time or budget doesn’t stretch to hunting down antiques, there are plenty of reproductions on the market to suit every era.
If you want chic contemporary designs the choice is overwhelmingly vast. There’s plenty of pure, plain minimalism, creative textures, colours, wood, stone and metal finishes available for unit styles. It’s easy to opt for single black, gray or white units with everything concealed, but this can feel very unfriendly, and the kitchen should be comfortable and welcoming every day – and don’t ask about the fingerprints on every dark surface! If you want to go minimalist, try breaking the lines with a focal point of stone, maybe at the sink or an island unit. Once you’ve decided what makes you happy a good way to narrow down the choices is by checking sustainability of the materials. There are plenty of top-quality ecologically sourced kitchen designs materials available, many of which are beautifully original. Consider curves to make a space feel bigger or angles to extend perspectives.
Don’t be afraid of color; kitchens deserve a little joy too. If you’re worried that colorful units might dominate, stick to simple styles and add your colors later with window dressings and accessories. In a larger space or open-plan style you’ll need to select exactly the right dining table and chairs and might even have space for a sofa.
Finally, whatever the shape or size of your room it’s worth remembering that there are plenty of good carpenters and joiners out there who are experts at cabinetry and can make anything to fit your space perfectly. Bespoke doesn’t have to mean expensive and can solve a lot of design problems to get what you really want.
Good luck designing your dream kitchen and, if it all feels like too much, employ an interior designer – because this is what we do!