Friday, June 19, 2015

Designing a kitchen

We're in the midst of overhauling our kitchen at the moment (there will be many more posts relating to this, I'm sure!), and to me designing a new kitchen is one of the most fun parts of a renovation. Partly this is because of how transformational it is – a dowdy kitchen somehow seems to pull a whole house down – but also because there are so many parts to fit together, and activities to sequence. It’s proper project management and I love it!

This is the second time we’ve designed a kitchen, and I thought I’d share how I go about the planning – though two kitchens obviously doesn’t make me a pro, I’ve done a ton of research so hopefully have something helpful to share.

1.       Think about the goals
Everyone has different priorities, and while it’s usually sensible to keep your house reasonably normal for resale value (even if you’re planning to be there for a long time circumstances can change!) it’s most important to make it work for your family. For us, the main goals were:
  • The kitchen being central to family life. This means it’s moving to an entirely different location within the house – a consent-requiring change – but that expense will pay off massively for us in liveability.
  • Having plenty of working space – enough room for at least 2-3 people to be chopping side by side.
  • Keeping it social. This kind of fits in with the first part but has also given us a wee breakfast bar area so that friends can chill out in the kitchen if we’re hosting.
Your priorities will probably be different to ours, so have a think and write them down at the start to make sure your planning continues to line up with them. 

2.       Look at the space you have available
Depending on your house there might be major work required, like removing a wall or shifting location within your house – or you might be able to make improvements within the existing space. Note that moving your kitchen to a different location within your house requires a building consent in New Zealand, whereas upgrading an existing kitchen (assuming you're not moving any structural or bracing walls) does not. 

3.       Work out what components are required
List out the appliances and services (oven and cooktop, sink, dishwasher, fridge, microwave), and how much storage you think you need. If you have an existing kitchen which provides enough storage make a list of the storage units and sizes – you can then use this to compare with your new plan to ensure you’ll still have enough room for everything.

4.       Draw a plan
You can use software (I use Microsoft Visio which isn’t perfect but works – and there are lots of free programs online) or go old school with pencil and paper. If you go the paper route I recommend making scale cut outs of your cabinets and appliances (or getting one of the Bunnings / Mitre 10 planning brochures you can cut out) so you can move them around the page without having to draw new versions constantly. 

My very unprofessional but serves-the-purpose kitchen plan.
The weird gaps represent dead space under the benchtop but won't be visible. 

I like to spend a few weeks on this – I come up with some ideas, then mull them over for a few days, tweak (or completely reconfigure) and then rinse and repeat until I can’t think of any improvements. It's also worth spending a bit of time reading up on kitchen design tenets (plenty of info readily available online) as there might be important factors you've overlooked, like making sure there's enough room to open the dishwasher. 

A few tips and pointers: 

  • Some cabinets need extra buffer panels - for example corner cabinets usually need this. If space is constrained (e.g. if your cabinets run wall to wall) you'll want to confirm this before you finalise the plan to ensure you don't run out of room. 
  • End units will need end panels or some other type of finishing except where they butt up to walls. You don't have to buy the purpose-made panels (we like to build our cabinets in with gib and framing where required) but you'll want something and will need to allow space for these too. 
  • It's often easiest to do this with a list of the available cabinets and dimensions on hand - if you know where you'll get your cabinetry from get their price list, which will usually provide this info, or seek it out online. 
  • Cabinets can be custom-made into just about every size and shape but usually this comes at a premium. If you can, design for the standard sizes as much as possible - you may still end up needing one or two custom cabinets but that'll be much less costly than a whole custom kitchen. 
  • Google for ideas and design help - there's lots of info out there to help you along. 

5.       Confirm design factors 
There are lots of decisions to make – cabinet door shape and colour, handle type, wall colour, backsplash/tile colour, flooring materials, window treatments, benchtop material, lighting...

Google image search comes into play a lot in this stage too, and to avoid decision fatigue I take the easy route for things I don't feel strongly about. This can also help save the dollars - e.g. I scored some (barely) secondhand custom made curtains for the big kitchen window on TradeMe, much cheaper than getting new ones and they will be one of the biggest visual features. Obviously I couldn't choose the exact fabric - I had to accept one of the available options in the size needed (which can be a waiting game too). But now we have this bold feature it helps default some of the other decisions, like paint colour.  

6.       Source cabinetry and components
Cabinets can take a month or more to arrive so don't leave ordering them until the last minute. Also try to get orders in place for the other key components (like any major appliances) as early as you can. 

7.       Schedule the work
Plan out what needs to happen when - but leave some buffer time in your schedule, as there will always be something that crops up when you're not expecting it. 

It's smart to line up your key tradies (electrician, plumber, builder, plasterer, flooring specialist, is there a name for a benchtop person?) as if they're good at what they do it often takes a while to get into their calendar. 

Usually the sequence is something like this but sometimes things go in different orders depending on your design and specifics of your build: 

  • Any building work / electrical pre-wiring / plumbing pre-runs
  • Plastering & prep for painting
  • Painting
  • Installing cabinetry
  • Benchtop
  • Completing electrical work / plumbing
  • Flooring
8. Be prepared for disruption! 

This isn't critical for the success of the project, but is for your mental health. Get some strategies in place - maybe you can set up a semi-kitchen in another room to tide you over, maybe you can just eat instant noodles for a couple of months (no, don't do that!). 

As I write this we have a sink, very small bench and our hack dishwasher in one room, with our dishes, cutlery and food in boxes and trays on the floor, and oven, fridge and microwave in another room. The whole floor seems to have a permanent layer of dust and it's not very fun for cooking, nor is it child-friendly... But it's a means to a very worthy end! 

Have you lived through a kitchen renovation? Do you have any tips to help us along? 


  1. Mum says - We managed with a microwave and electric frying pan for a few weeks - only mistake I made was trying to remain in the house while the floor was being polyurethaned, those fumes made me really sick.

    1. Yes - we have just made alternative accommodation arrangements for a couple of nights to avoid being gassed by flooring products! Glad we had the warning...