No More Kitchen Nightmares

By / Magazine / December 28th, 2011 / 2

Do you feel sad every time you walk into your kitchen? You’ve probably been thinking about it for a while. Whether you inherited a gourmet kitchen from the owners before you or had the whole thing reworked five short years ago, it doesn’t mean you are happy. In fact, if you ask most people, they’ll probably say they were thinking about renovating, but — and this is a big but — it seems like too much work.

Now, there is some truth to the idea that renovating your kitchen (like any other part of your house) is a daunting task best left to an expert. Not many people will argue with me there.

You can easily Google “kitchen design” and find a myriad of companies ready to drop everything to gut your home. Then there are the DIY havens, like Home Depot, Lowes and Reno Depot — not to mention kitchen mecca, Ikea — who have staff on hand to help you map out your dream kitchen. But you need to know what you want (appliances, colour schemes, and so on) before going in. Arriving with a few important design concepts in mind will help drum up some good ideas while drowning the bad (useless and expensive) ones.

step one
If you walk into a design centre with no ideas, you may be overtly influenced by what the store or consultant needs to get rid of. You wouldn’t do that when you buy a $30 bottle of wine; why would you do it when you are going to spend thousands? So, where do you start?

First, figure out who cooks the most. I’d like to assume we all share the household tasks, but there is always one person who has planted their flag in the kitchen. If that’s you, take out a pen and paper. Write down all your wants and desires (don’t worry about cost yet, just jot down all your ideas). What is it you hate the most about your kitchen — appliance placement, cabinet colour, tiles? What have you seen at other people’s homes that you’ve liked?

Now take out your camera and snap a picture of each wall of the kitchen. Try to take as wide of a shot as you can, so you can really scope out the current layout. Print the images and tape them to the wall. Now step back, examine the pictures and rework your list of wants.

Then, take the room’s measurements and start to draw out a floor plan. Make sure to include design items that will take a lot of time and money — like your tile backsplash or range hood. You need to know your limitations in order to devise any changes to the layout.

Next, map out the space directly underneath your kitchen, as well as the walls the space is using. Are they interior walls that may be empty (allowing for pipes and wiring to be redirected)? Do you have access in the basement in order to install a drain and water inlet for that island sink you’ve always dreamed of?

step two

Now that you know what you’ve got, and have a clear map of where everything is, you need to think about what you would like to change. But change is subjective. Some may see change as a splash of new paint, while others may look for an update in their appliances. And then there are the “gutters” — those who would like nothing better than to rip down every wall and start over again. Luckily you can do that on paper, first.

But before you start mapping out your new placements, you need to think about your design elements. You don’t need a degree in interior design for this part. It’s a simple proposition. Look around your kitchen, buy some design magazines, watch HGTV and plan visits to your culinary buddy’s house.

Scout for one or two distinct elements that will help you devise a clear plan of attack. It can be a glass tile backsplash you’ve coveted for years, or something as simple as a selection of stainless steel appliances — companies like Kitchenaid and Miele make appliance series with similar design stylings. If you can’t change your cabinets, there may be a paint that highlights the room’s assets while creating an ambiance of country chic.

There are a lot of things you can do. But deciding on one or two elements will help you narrow down the decision noise that comes with a lot of design projects. Those pre-made choices will help facilitate the process once you get to the stores or design centres, saving you time and getting the project started on the right foot.

step three
Time to take out a pencil and paper: we’re about to map out your new kitchen. There are no set-in-stone rules on how to place your appliances and how much space to devote to counters. Well, there are and there aren’t. The key to good kitchen design is rooted in common sense. If you rarely chop up vegetables and serve up large culinary meals, then maximizing counter space is not a high priority. If all you do is prep, then adding some space, say through the addition of an island, may be just what you had in mind.

There is, though, one thing to keep in mind: how your kitchen will flow. This isn’t some feng shui notion. There are three main areas of activity to every kitchen: food storage (refrigerator, pantry), prep and cleaning (this is where the sink will be) and then cooking. The key to good flow is to create a triangle of activity between these three areas — food storage to prep to sink to prep to cooking, and then back to the prep. This creates three lines of traffic that will allow you to work more efficiently.

With this in mind you can start drawing the lines in your existing kitchen. You may find your counter space too small beside the sink (it should be a minimum of 24 inches on one side and 18 inches on the other). Are the dishwasher, sink and dinnerware storage all within three feet of each other? Do you have at least three feet of free counter space for your prep? These are some of the questions you’ll need to figure out before going to your choice of kitchen design centre.
Lest I leave you with a planning headache, keep in mind that very little needs to be done in order to refresh your kitchen. Going to the big box hardware stores will provide you with a myriad of colours to brighten up your walls and cabinets. Changing the counters can sometimes give the room the lift it needs. But if you decide to go for the full monty on your kitchen renovation, don’t be afraid to rethink the room completely. It’s relatively easy to move your stove or sink 12 inches from its current location. And sometimes that small move can amount to an incredible change in flow.


No space for an island? Create an impediment to foot traffic by placing a rolling cart in the middle of your kitchen. It will give you more area for prep while creating a tighter work triangle with your cooking space.

The total of all the sides of your work triangle should be no more than 24 feet and no less than 12.

Ideal distances: 4 to 7 feet between your fridge and sink; 4 to 6 between the sink and cooking area; 4 to 9 between the cooking area and your fridge.

Set your small appliances on shelves — or in a cabinet if they aren’t used that often — to help free up counter space.

Place your built-in ovens side by side, rather than one on top of another. This will keep both of them at the perfect height.


Looking at the small things that make life great and the people who create them.

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