Beginning a Renovation: Kitchen Design Basics

Start a Remodel by Considering Layout, Flooring, and Counters

New Custom kitchen with granite counters
Ann Marie Kurtz/E+/Getty Images

A cramped, poorly designed, and outdated kitchen makes even the most enthusiastic of cooks avoid the room. On the other hand, a thoughtful remodel can make a kitchen not only functional but also enjoyable to be in, whether it's while cooking dinner on a weeknight or hosting a party for the holidays.

Before you take the plunge of a kitchen remodel, think about what your dream kitchen looks like. While the budget might not extend to a total gut job, you can incorporate simple design tweaks that rearrange the space based on how you use it.

Whether your kitchen measures 100 square feet, the benchmark size noted by most cabinet manufacturers, or 440 square feet, the higher end of a kitchen size in a new build, certain kitchen design basics hold true.

Basic Kitchen Layouts

Small kitchen remodels might not touch the layout of a kitchen, but larger renovations could potentially see cabinets, appliances, and accessories being moved drastically. If your ideal design is a completely different set-up than the current configuration, be prepared for a hefty price tag to go along with it. Changing basic kitchen layouts often requires rewiring electricity and re-plumbing, both costly jobs. Think about what basic layout you'd like for the kitchen:

  • Galley style: Also called a walk-through kitchen, a galley kitchen is characterized by two parallel walls or lines of cabinets and countertop with a walkway in between them. If there's only one wall, it's a one-wall or Pullman kitchen.
  • Corridor style: Like the galley, but with counters and cabinets on two sides rather than one.
  • L-Shaped kitchen: As the name implies, the kitchen counters form an "L" shape.
  • Double "L" Layout: It's the L-shaped kitchen with an island also in the shape of an "L."
  • U-Shaped Layout: Counters and cabinets form a horseshoe shape, giving you plenty of storage and room to work.

No matter which layout you choose, keep the ever-important "kitchen triangle" in mind. This is the well-worn path you make between the refrigerator, the stove and oven, and the sink, none of which should be more than 6 feet away from another. The tighter this triangle, the more efficient you can be as a cook.

Of course, the path shouldn't be too tight. Keep your walkways at least 36 inches wide, with the space in the cooking areas at least 42 inches wide if there's regularly one cook in the kitchen and 48 inches wide for two cooks.

Kitchen Floor Considerations

Choosing the kitchen floor requires more than considering the aesthetics. The flooring not only needs to hold up under a significant amount of foot traffic for years to come, but it also needs to be easy on your joints when you're standing over that risotto for a significant amount of time. Options include:

  • Tile: One of the most common kitchen floorings, tile doesn't absorb odors or bacteria, and it can hold up under heavy foot traffic. However, tile can also be uncomfortable to stand on because of how hard it is.
  • Hardwood: Hardwood floors, most commonly oak, can be beautiful if maintained, but can be dinged by pet claws and high heels and ruined by standing water.
  • Laminate: Laminate is incredibly durable and easy to install. However, boards can separate over the years, while dirt and sand can scratch the surface.
  • Bamboo: While bamboo is durable, it can dent easily from pets' claws or dropping heavy items. It's also susceptible to moisture, so it requires a waterproof underlayment. Bamboo is a renewable resource, making it appealing to eco-conscious homeowners.
  • Cork: Cork flooring is easy on your body because of its softness and resistant to water, heat, and mold. However, it needs to be refinished every so often.
  • Linoleum: Linoleum is durable, antibacterial and available in a variety of colors, as well as comfortable on the body when standing for a long time.
  • Vinyl: Vinyl is an inexpensive type of flooring that's come a long way since the 1950s. It can now emulate the look of ceramic tiles and hardwood planks.

Choosing Kitchen Countertops

The kitchen countertops are arguably the first thing a person will notice after the remodel. Like flooring, countertop selection should be about more than how it looks — maintenance, durability, and budget should play a role, too.

  • Natural stone: Granite is undoubtedly the top choice for countertops, and it comes in hues ranging from white to gray to beige. It's a hard surface that's extremely durable but needs to be resealed from time to time. Other natural stone countertop options include marble, soapstone, and limestone, but they are a softer material that requires more care.
  • Engineered stone: Around the same price as granite, engineered stone countertops such as quartz have a wider range of colors. However, they're just as durable and low-maintenance as granite.
  • Solid surface: Still often referred to as the original brand name Corian, solid surface countertops resist scratches and stains. They are, however, easily damaged by hot pots and pans.
  • Wood: Butcher's block countertops are easy to clean and can be maintained with wood oil, but can also be damaged by water.
  • Concrete: Concrete offers an industrial look to a kitchen, but it needs to be sealed up to four times a year. Concrete is also scratch- and heat-resistant.
  • Laminate: The most cost-effective option, laminate comes in a number of colors and designs, but it also scratches easily and can be damaged by hot pots and pans.

Kitchen Cabinets

Brand-new kitchen cabinets can be expensive. If you're on a tight budget, consider kitchen cabinet refacing. With refacing, you keep the cabinet "box" but switch out the door and reface the exterior with a nice veneer.

Another option is to paint your cabinets, though this isn't as simple as it first appears. Significant prep time goes into painting cabinets, and should you have melamine cabinets — rather than wood — you need to find paint that will stick to this surface. If you go this route, use spray paint after cleaning and lightly sanding the surface.

If neither of those seems appealing, start researching kitchen cabinet companies. While kitchen cabinets may seem confusing at first, keep in mind that they are mainly divided into two groups: base cabinets, on which the countertop sits, and wall cabinets, which are screwed directly into the wall and hold foodstuffs as well as plates, pans, and glassware.

When replacing kitchen cabinets, don't skimp on space to save money. Choose cabinets with deep drawers and those that go up to the ceiling. Storage space is of the utmost value in a kitchen.

Other Kitchen Design Considerations

Kitchen design basics mean more than flooring, cabinets, and countertops. Lighting can make a big difference in the kitchen, whether it's bright lighting for a long day of cooking or soft, dim mood lighting for a romantic night at home. For the best effect, install lighting on multiple levels, such as under-cabinet lights, pendants, and recessed lights in the ceiling. Additionally, a kitchen needs plenty of power sources, including along the backsplash and on the island.