Mark S. Graham describes how to open up the busiest room in the house with flexible thinking.
Today’s busy lifestyles mean the kitchen has evolved into the hub of a home. It’s become the meeting place where family and household members come together to share news and make plans. No other room in your home is likely to host as much traffic, utilisation and conversation.
Where design meets functionality
As well as being a meeting point, your kitchen is primarily a space where aesthetics integrate with functionality. Within the kitchen, you must have easy access to all the necessary amenities, ingredients and appliances required for the preparation of food. With the increasing popularity of open plan designs, it’s equally important that your kitchen design complements the themes and styles that echo throughout the rest of your home. Design palettes should flow from living and transition spaces such as passageways into the kitchen area. Then to elevate the space still further, consider what other design features, amenities or items of furniture could create a point of difference.
As you plan your kitchen design, here are some of the key features to take into account:
1. Wall space, windows and your sink — Wall space is a premium with every kitchen design. Your design needs to make the most efficient use of what wall area is available. Think where cabinets could hang. If you have a dresser or other furniture item, where will this sit?
A key question is where to locate the sink. Do you want it to face a window so you can keep an eye on children playing in the garden or look out over the ocean? You will also need to ensure there is room for a dishwasher nearby as well ample bench space.
2. Storage and access — Storage is a priority when designing a kitchen. The ideal solution combines visual appeal with ease of use.
Your storage spaces should match individual needs. If you love preparing food, think about what you need and how often it will need to be accessed. If your attitude to cooking is highly functional and economic, think accordingly.
All the space in your kitchen should be allocated according to how you will use the space. Your choice of drawers and shelves is important. How much capacity and what height best suits? What configuration of drawers and cupboards will be most convenient? Would everything be easier stored in deeper drawers? Do you want to hang some implements farmhouse style?
How you lay out your kitchen design will allow greater control over aspects such as the height of worktops and placement of devices and appliances. Think about things you do not access as frequently. Perhaps they can be stored away from the principal work area? Large pots and oven trays could be stored in a pantry-type cabinet. A similar cupboard space could be used for groceries and vegetables not kept in the fridge. This way, everything is within a few steps of your work triangle.
Careful thought should also go into the clean-up area. Where do dishes go after they are removed from the dishwasher? Would wall cabinets be an effective place to store glass- ware? If so, just how far do they need to be from the dishwasher to allow easy transfer?
Likewise, consider the storage requirements for the items you need nearby the hob or range. Pots and pan drawers, drawers for utensils, spices, oils and other essential items all should be placed within easy reach.
3. Cabinets — For maximum flexibility, choose a kitchen design that is compatible with a wide range of cabinet designs. From high gloss glass with oak, laminate finishes or elegant lacquer finishes in any colour you want, your choice of cabinetry is critical to achieving the look you want for your kitchen.
If you have an open-plan kitchen, the design theme including cabinets must compliment your living space. Alternatively if your goal is a minimalist kitchen, look for plainer cabinets that can be finished with recessed handles and other unobtrusive extras.
As you piece together your kitchen design, you will need to decide where your cabinets sit. You’ll also need to choose the internal and external hardware. What shelf styles, glass or solid doors? Do you need lights inside some cabinets? Would electrical plugs be useful inside?
Creating a usable space
Designing a kitchen is normally a very personal journey. Your kitchen should be shaped around the way you intend to use the space and what best matches your family needs.
If you entertain regularly, an open plan format may be most suitable. This will enable you to socialise whilst cooking and preparing food. If your lifestyle is oriented to family gatherings, a communal seating area will be more important. Here you can share family meals and connect with each other, without needing to carry food around the house.
Each element in the kitchen has its own space requirements
Refrigerator — the refrigerator needs some counter space nearby for setting down objects removed from it. This can be located to the right or left of the refrigerator as most refrigerator doors can be set to swing either way. For side-by- side fridge-freezers, having the “set down space” bench top behind you when you open the doors is often the most convenient. Instead of reaching around the open door to get to the bench top, you can simply turn around and place things on the bench behind you. Islands are perfect for this.
The direction of the door swing should be compatible with the rest of the kitchen. For example, if your fridge door is set to open away from you, you won’t need to walk around the door each time it’s opened.
Oven, hob and range — the hob or range also needs “set down space” on either side. You’ll need somewhere to put down pots while they are still hot from cooking, as well as ingredients that are being added as you cook.
Sink and clean-up space — this is one of the most frequently used areas in any kitchen. Your clean-up space and sink need sufficient usable area on two sides. One side is for stacking dirty dishes and utensils whilst the other is for storing them once they have been washed.
Microwaves — most kitchen designs incorporate a specific site for a microwave, at the correct height and close to the stove or range. However, most microwaves are an awkward depth. They can be deeper than many upper cabinets yet shallower than lower base units. The height of their placement is important. Too low and you will be forever bending down to read the display panel and insert dishes. Too high and their ability to be used effectively by all members of your household is severely compromised.
If your microwave is not an integral part of your cooking routine, you could think about putting it outside the work area. It could even sit across the kitchen close to the pantry cupboard and storage cabinets.
Coffee machines, blenders and mixers — most high-end appliances are made with both functionality and visual appeal in mind. But particularly in a smaller space, you might want the option of storing them out of sight — or at least away from the busy work area. The most natural place could be in a larger cupboard or pantry space. But if you wish to keep using them, you will need to ensure a power supply is available within the cupboard.
The finishing touches
Your kitchen design is not only about choosing the right colours and materials. The finer details can make a huge difference.You must take care to choose the right colours and textures on the walls and floor. These in turn should complement the fixtures and appliances.
Lighting is another important aspect. Spots can be used to illuminate a specific area, while the main lighting affects the overall ambience. If you have a more modern kitchen design, recessed ceiling lights work well and can really set off any stainless steel elements.
Overall, your kitchen should have a strong sense of cohesion where functionality and style are both achieved. Unless you already have experience in successfully designing a kitchen, retaining the services of a specialist kitchen designer is strongly recommended.
Your own island
A kitchen island can become an effective centrepiece, providing you have sufficient space. An L-shaped kitchen incorporating an island needs at least three metres of width to fit in a minimum depth island with minimal aisle space. Three and a half metres creates an even more usable space.
For a U-shaped kitchen with an island, you’ll need a room that is at least three and a half metres wide for a minimum depth island with four metres being preferred. If you want the island to run in the long dimension in the U-shape, you’ll need at least five metres of width. Islands that incorporate a sink need more width still.
If you have decided that you want to have an island, you’ll also need to consider if you want it to contain any appliances. Will a sink unit fit? Will there be bar-style seating at one side? Will it have two levels? Will it incorporate the hob? There are so many ways to design an island; you can let your imagination run free. Your kitchen should have a strong sense of cohesion where functionality and style are both achieved.
Written by Mark S. Graham of Composit Kitchens.
Images supplied by Composit Kitchens.