Many of my clients have, unfortunately, initiated the design of their kitchen without an understanding of the extent of what is actually involved in the process, in terms of design, budget, timeline and other issues. In these cases, our design process together, was frustrating for the client and for me. As a result, this article will clarify the process so that you will have the opportunity to become better informed before you begin your kitchen project, thereby avoiding uninformed decisions or possibly spending time and/or money needlessly.
This article is not about the specific design features of your kitchen and how to design it. There are many good resources available for that. Instead, it is about the process of designing your kitchen. It is meant to help in getting a head start and to expose anyone who is, or might be, embarking upon the design of a new or remodeled kitchen, to the first and most important step – Planning.
Designing a kitchen for a new or existing home is a big investment in time, money and energy and it is sometimes stressful and challenging. Unfortunately, some vendors and TV programs don’t like to dwell on this aspect and therefore mislead the consumer regarding the actual amount of time and effort that is required. Even though creating a new kitchen is challenging, most clients say that the results are more than worth the effort. I hope that the information provided herein will be a helpful contribution toward having you well on your way to a successful project.
Before you begin the process of designing your new kitchen, you will need to set the criteria for the design. I recommend that you engage a professional kitchen designer that not only designs the cabinet layout, but designs every element of the kitchen and is involved throughout the entire project, so that the final result will be a cohesive design that reflects optimum function and style. The designer will not only help you create a beautiful, efficient, kitchen but will save you significant time and money and you will both have fun developing your joint creation. I trust that what follows will get your energy flowing and thoughts racing, in preparation for actually embarking upon your journey. And, it “is” a journey!
THE KITCHEN OF TODAY
The kitchen has traditionally been the most important room in the house because cooking and sharing food has long been central to family life. Meals will always be important, but cooking has, in some cases, significantly changed. The grocery industry has focused on replacements for home meals and hundreds of restaurants have incorporated “to-go” in their business model. Whether we cook frequently or not, kitchens remain the foundation of family life because it is where we live and gather. It is where most of us start and end our days and share the information of our day.
Today’s kitchens serve more roles than ever before: entertainment center, home office, cooking and dining space. The electronics for an entertainment center may include TV, music and internet connection and the office area may have a desk, files, computer and bookshelves.
THE FIRST STEPS
Determine with your family, who uses your current kitchen and how, and discuss the conveniences you would like to have in the new version. Make a scrapbook of articles and notes on kitchens and kitchen features that interest you and photographs of kitchens you like. Evaluate how and when you cook, where you serve meals to whom and how often you entertain and how you entertain. Inventory your dishes, silverware, serving pieces, cookware, linens, and your typical grocery storage requirements so that you can be sure that the new design accommodates everything.
It seems that no matter how much time you budget for a remodeling project, it usually takes longer than you expected. For a complete remodel, the down time during construction can be at least two or three months and much longer, depending upon the size and extent of the project. Your family needs to eat in the meantime. So, before construction starts make arrangements to store, heat and clean up, enough to keep you going until the kitchen is back on-line. Many of my clients who have had the good fortune to have a bar sink in the family room, have moved in the old refrigerator and microwave near the bar sink and this combination becomes the interim kitchen during construction of the new one. The upside to this is that it provides a great rationale for eating out more often!
THE KITCHEN FOOTPRINT
Let’s start with the space you have available for the kitchen. Whether you are designing for a new home, or remodeling in an existing one, you are limited by how much space you have available in which to create your dream. If the space is fairly small, you will want to consider whether or not you have the option of expanding. You may be able to accomplish this in your existing home and, in a new home, very often you still have time to alter the architectural plan, if needed. In either case, if you can eliminate or relocate a wall or walls or add to the house to create more space for the kitchen, it will improve the function and value of the room significantly.
Of course, if you don’t create an addition to the house, and just remove or relocate a wall(s), you then have infringed upon a contiguous space and decreased its size, so you have to weigh which option is the best for you. Is it worth giving up the other space to increase the size of the kitchen? In my experience, if you can do without the adjoining space, it is much better to devote that extra space to the kitchen.
When you plan to remove or relocate a wall(s), the key factor to determine is, by so doing, will you encounter a load-bearing situation? This occurs when the wall(s) is part of the support system for the structure of the house. Usually a contractor can determine this. If the contractor is uncertain, you will need to have a structural engineer examine the structure to make that determination. If it is non load-bearing, when you are ready to start construction, the contractor can proceed to build out the space per the new plan. If it is a load-bearing issue, your local building authority will require that you retain a structural engineer or an architect to design a structural solution for removing or relocating the wall(s).
He or she will submit design drawings and calculations of the solution, to the building authority for approval and permit. Upon receiving the permit, when you are ready to begin construction, the contractor can then proceed to build-out the structure per the engineer’s or architect’s specifications. This is the process in California, based upon the state building standards, Title 24. The process in the other states is very similar.
In any case, once you have made the decision of whether or not to expand or re-configure, you will know the size and shape (footprint) of the space that you have available from a horizontal standpoint – Plan View.
You should also consider what size and shape the room will be from a vertical standpoint as well. If it is possible to increase the height of the room by raising, eliminating or altering an existing low ceiling or soffit, you should seriously consider taking advantage of this option. The additional height will provide more cabinet storage from the increased height of wall cabinets and the room will become more voluminous which is always more visually impressive and comfortable. From a construction standpoint, the load-bearing issues will apply to increasing the room height just as it applies to moving or eliminating walls.
Of course, in dealing with all of these design and construction issues and decisions that need to be made, you will not be alone. Your designer will be the pivotal person who will help you evaluate the choices you have available. He or she will produce drawings in order to visually demonstrate these options and will offer advice on which options are best and why.
I understand that this all sounds very tedious and problematic. In some sense these two words are a good description of the design/construction process. However, what I have outlined above is done thousands of times every day and most of those homeowners have survived and, as a result, now have the new, beautiful, functional, kitchen of their dreams. You notice I said “most”! Seriously, the project will be challenging and there will be some problems. This is just the nature of design and construction and that is why you should not proceed without experienced professional help throughout the process from the very beginning to the end.
UTILIZING YOUR KITCHEN
Are you an expert chef, who does it all: cooking, baking, barbecuing, or are you a minimal cook whose main goal is to just get a meal on the table for the family as expeditiously as possible, or are you somewhere in between? Do you always cook by yourself or do you often have family and friends help with the cooking? Do you often entertain and all flow into the kitchen while munching on your Brie between sips of chardonnay? Do you bake often and want a marble surface for that purpose? The questions can go on and on.
Some clients have large, prestigious, homes and entertain frequently and/or have large families. They may have someone do the cooking for them. Some of these types of projects may need the full treatment, such as a butler’s pantry or walk-in pantry, two islands, two refrigerators, two dishwashers, two microwave ovens, a wine cooler, a separate beverage cooler, a built-in espresso machine, sink, prep-sink and bar sink and glass-door cabinets to display the family heirloom china, etc.
Most clients require something substantially less than all of this, but I bring it up just to emphasize that how you utilize your kitchen has a strong influence on the design and therefore, as I mentioned, you should think about how you want to operate and what you want to accommodate in your kitchen. You can start to think about what type of appliances and features you would like. Think of the three major work areas of a kitchen: Food Prep (refrigerator and sink), Cooking (cook top, oven and microwave) and Cleanup (sink, dishwasher and recycling). You will find a myriad of styles and options available which you and your designer will need to carefully consider. More planning, of course!
HOW & WHERE YOU WILL EAT
You may prefer to be able to eat in the kitchen by having an island with seating. The size of the island that the room will accommodate will determine how many persons you can seat. Seating at an island reduces the storage space available in the island, so the balance of the kitchen storage will need to absorb this loss. You can basically sit at three counter heights: chair height (29-30″), counter height (36″) and bar height (42″).
If you have an adjacent breakfast room, you may want to eat there in the interest of having more storage space in the island. If the room will accommodate it, you may like the idea of a built-in booth in the breakfast room or kitchen, in lieu of a typical table and chairs. Many clients like to have the option of eating in both the breakfast room and at the island in the kitchen. In some cases there is no breakfast room and the dining room serves as both breakfast room and dining room. In any case, you should give these and other possibilities careful consideration.
THE DESIGN STYLE
There are many design motifs available to you: Traditional, Modern, Contemporary, Country, Craftsman, Cape Cod, etc. The design motif that you select will obviously heavily influence the selection of all of the other elements in the kitchen. The cabinet style and finish have the strongest influence on the design style of the kitchen. As I mentioned, you can start by collecting magazine photos of kitchens to get a feel for what you do and don’t like. They will give you great ideas for all things kitchen. Stock, semi-custom or custom cabinets have many different styles and finishes to offer and of course, custom cabinets can provide any design and finish.
The planning process will continue until every aspect of the total kitchen design is selected and specified. However, once you have established your footprint and vertical space, how you want to utilize your kitchen, how and where you want to eat, and your design motif, you are more than half way there. The planning process continues, on a smaller scale, as you are making more decisions about all of the items and issues that make up a total kitchen design.
Examples: Do you often make spaghetti and pasta, which requires filling a large pot with about four to six quarts of water? If so, you should have a pot-filler over the cook top or range top. Since there are only two of you and it takes a long time to fill up the dishwasher before you can wash the dishes, you should consider a two drawer dishwasher which enables you to wash one drawer at a time, thereby saving energy and providing you with clean dishes more often. Do you prefer an air switch in the countertop for the disposal or do you want the switch to be on the backsplash? Do you want a garbage disposal in the prep sink as well as the main sink? Do you want soft close on your cabinet drawers? Do you like the idea of pendant lighting above the island? Do you want a filtered water system? The questions go on and on!
The various categories you will be encountering in designing your new kitchen are as follows. This listing of categories will give you an idea of what is to come. I didn’t say it was easy!
APPLIANCES, CABINETS, HARDWARE, FLOORING, PLUMBING, COUNTERTOP, BACKSPLASH, LIGHTING/ELECTRICAL, WALL FINISH, FURNITURE, WINDOW TREATMENTS, ART WORK, ACCESSORIES AND CONSTRUCTION.
I trust that by reading this article, you now have an appreciation of how important careful planning is to the successful design of your kitchen. The more thought and quality time you devote to it, the better prepared you will be when you begin with your designer and the process will become easier and more efficient, which everyone involved will greatly appreciate.
Once you have made most of these macro-decisions that I have mentioned, you will be ready to tackle the micro-decisions that are coming next. As you can see by the examples I have mentioned and the listing of categories above, you have a lot more planning to do, but remember you are now over half way there. Be strong and resolute and I am sure that you will get through the entire process virtually unscathed. And, if you are thoughtful, organized and work in the spirit of mutual cooperation, you will probably have some fun too! Remember that not all of this is on your shoulders. Your professional designer will be by your side for the whole trip.