Kitchen Design Basics: A Comprehensive Guide

Steps to a Successful Kitchen Remodel

New Custom kitchen with granite counters
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When remodeling a kitchen--as opposed to building a new one--you've got a unique set of challenges, none of which are insurmountable.

You're dealing with a set amount of space. You've already got some kind of flooring, so the question is whether to keep it or discard it or cover it. You've got kitchen cabinets and you need to decide if they are good enough for refacing or bad enough for demolition.

Kitchen Space: What's Your Size?

How big is your available space? Average kitchen size ranges from 100 to 200 square feet. The 10'x10' (100 square foot) kitchen is considered a benchmark size by many a kitchen implement manufacturers because it is large enough to accommodate a minimum amount of cabinets and counter space for a fully-functioning kitchen.

Small Kitchen? No Problem.

But don't feel bad if you have a small kitchen. Some kitchens--called efficiency or compact kitchens--are indeed tiny, but you can still find complete kitchen-in-a-box units with counters, cabinets, fridge, stove, sinks, etc.

Most small kitchens, though, are not that small. A typical "small" kitchen found in many homes is called a galley or one-wall-style kitchen. These are often found in condos and apartments.

Basic Kitchen Design Layouts

When laying out your kitchen design, keep in mind one important tenet: the kitchen triangle. The kitchen triangle is the well-worn path you make between the refrigerator, stove/oven, and sink. The tighter this triangle, the more efficient you can be as a cook.

We have already discussed the galley-style kitchen layout. Other designs more suited for larger spaces include:

  • Corridor Style: Like the galley, but with counters and cabinets on two sides rather than one.
  • The L-Shaped Kitchen: Counters form an "L" shape, making it easy to create that kitchen triangle discussed above.
  • 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 work room.

Kitchen Design Inspiration Galleries

What better way to come up with a design for your kitchen than to copy a proven design?

Kitchen Floor

What will you stand on? Kitchen floor does have certain requirements. It has to hold up to moisture, be easy to stand on for long periods of time, be durable (kitchens get a lot of foot traffic), and on top of all of that, it has to look great.

Tile is the classic answer to this question; simply put, tile works great for kitchen floors. Additionally, tile can be an inexpensive material if you shop right.

Kitchen Counters: From Laminate to Zinc

It's okay to obsess over kitchen counters. In a kitchen, you use the counters so much that it's important to find the perfect one.

First, get kitchen counter ideas. Typically the cheapest kitchen countertop options are laminate counters. Don't know what these are? Think Formica or WilsonArt.

But if you think that laminate counters entail low-quality, you're wrong. Manufacturers have been developing better-quality laminate counters recently: crisper imaging and less pattern repetition.

Of course, granite slab countertops are always a safe route, as they provide good resale value. But if you find slab granite to be too pricey and too difficult for DIY installation, consider modular granite. Going under brand names such as Pedra, modular granite is essentially slab granite but in smaller sizes. And modular granite installation can be a do-it-yourself job if you so choose.

Must Kitchen Cabinets Be So Expensive?

Yes. I have found it difficult to find truly cheap kitchen cabinets. One route, though, is to consider kitchen cabinet refacing. With refacing, you keep the cabinet "box" but switch out the door for better doors and reface the exterior of the boxes with a nice veneer.

One other route is to paint your cabinets. This isn't the "slam-dunk" 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.

Failing those two routes, it's time to start by 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.