Kitchen Design Basics

New Custom kitchen with granite counters

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A cramped, poorly designed, and outdated kitchen makes even the most enthusiastic of cooks avoid the room.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 you're cooking dinner on a weeknight or hosting a party for the holidays.

Before you take the plunge and embark on a kitchen remodel, think about what your dream kitchen looks like. Even if your budget does 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 Layouts

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

  • Galley: Also called a walk-through or corridor-style 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.
  • L-shaped: As the name implies, L-shaped kitchens form an "L" with two adjacent walls or with a counter peninsula extending from a wall.
  • Double "L": A double L is an L-shaped kitchen with an island that is also in the shape of an L. Typically, the two Ls are supposed to create an open center space.
  • U-shaped: U-shaped kitchens form a "U" or horseshoe shape and can be formed with three full-height walls or with two walls and a peninsula.

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 or oven, and the sink, none of which should be more than 6 feet away from one 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, or 48 inches wide for two cooks.

Flooring Considerations

Choosing kitchen flooring material involves more than just 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 carefully maintained, but they can be damaged by pet claws and high heels and ruined by standing water.
  • Bamboo: Bamboo has a distinctive look and good overall durability, similar to hardwood. It is also subject to the same types of damage as hardwood.
  • Laminate: Laminate is relatively inexpensive and very easy to install. It is also stain-resistant and cleans in no time. However, it is vulnerable to water damage in the kitchen because moisture can swell the edges of the flooring planks, which cannot be repaired.
  • Cork: Cork flooring is easy on your body because of its slight sponginess, which also makes it quiet. It is relatively easy to install and easy to clean. Like laminate, it can be damaged by standing water that gets between planks or tiles.
  • Linoleum: Linoleum is the traditional resilient flooring option that predates vinyl and, unlike vinyl, it is made with natural materials Linoleum is durable and antibacterial and available in a variety of colors and patterns. It also offers a small amount of cushion underfoot.
  • Vinyl: Vinyl is the go-anywhere flooring material that is easy to install and maintain. It comes in a huge range of styles and can even emulate the look of ceramic tiles or hardwood planks. Basic vinyl tile is one of the cheapest kitchen flooring materials, while high-quality "luxury" vinyl is priced in the middle range for kitchen flooring.

Choosing Kitchen Countertops

The kitchen countertops are arguably the first thing a person will notice after a remodel. Like flooring, countertop selection should include considerations beyond looks—maintenance, durability, and budget also play important roles in the decision.

  • Engineered stone: The most common engineered stone material is quartz, which has succeeded granite as the "it" countertop material. Priced similarly to granite, quartz countertops are made with rock fragments bound with resin and offer overall better consistency and lower maintenance than natural stone. Most importantly, quartz is more stain-resistant and does not have to be sealed, as stone does.
  • Natural stone: Granite remains a popular choice for countertops, mostly because of its natural beauty. Granite has a hard surface that's extremely durable, but it must be sealed periodically to help prevent staining. Other natural stone countertop options include marble, soapstone, and limestone, but they are softer materials that require more care.
  • 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 block countertops are easy to clean and can be maintained with wood oil, but can also be damaged by water. Wood usually makes more sense for specific work areas rather than the primary countertop material.
  • 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.
  • Plastic laminate: The most cost-effective option, laminate comes in a wide range of colors and designs, but it 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" and reface the exterior with a nice veneer. You also replace the doors for a new look.

Another option is to paint your cabinets, though this isn't always as simple as it may sound. Significant prep time goes into painting cabinets, and if 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 makeovers 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 base cabinets with deep drawers, and consider wall cabinets 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 electrical outlets, particularly along the backsplash. Building code includes specific requirements for outlets and lighting in remodeled kitchens.