Storage, counter space, flow, traffic, lighting
The kitchen is the heart of the home in more ways than one – it’s where we nurture, feed and connect with family and friends. It’s also the most renovated room in the house, the most expensive per square foot and the most complex because of plumbing, electrical, venting, storage, and appliances.
So when you’re buying a new home, condo or townhouse, spend a lot of time checking out the kitchen and don’t be swayed by the Wow! factor until you’ve assessed whether the storage, counter space and flow is going to work for you.
Good space planning in the kitchen is critical and will make all the difference between functionality and frustration.
Think about what bothers you in your current kitchen: is it hard to move around, is there not enough storage or workspace, does it not serve all the needs of your family for food prep, dining, homework area, entertaining? Whatever you notice in your existing kitchen you’ll want to make sure your next kitchen has.
Here are a few things to consider:
As hackneyed as it sounds, the work triangle really does work. It’s when the fridge, sink and stove are located in a triangle with each workstation between four and nine feet from another. Any shorter and people will be tripping over each other and any longer means too much walking.
The triangle is extremely efficient and works well in U-shaped, L-shaped or galley-style kitchens, with or without an island. With a linear design – cabinets along one wall — it’s not really feasible, so you’ll have to make sure the layout does work and that you can move around from station to station comfortably.
If the kitchen area is very large, you might want to consider creating more than one work triangle — one for food prep that includes cooktop, fridge and prep sink and another for cleanup that incorporates the large sink and garbage/recycling/compost.
Microwaves can sometimes be a challenge to place. They’re deeper than upper cabinets and shallower than lowers, so if you don’t use it all the time, place it outside the work triangle. They’re often used only for warming up or reheating food, so if you have a snack station, best to have it there.
Planning out storage needs ahead of time means thinking about your cooking style and your tool and gadget requirements. Are a blender and a food processor and a fancy mixer necessary? Could one of them handle the functions of all three? Likewise, pots and pans. Eliminate the ones you never use. As for small appliances, there’s a reason almost every garage sale has a bread maker, a pasta machine or a crockpot for sale.
Now that you’ve dared to pare, look critically at the cabinet situation. While I personally love the crisp clean look of no upper cabinets, these are pretty essential for storing glassware and small pantry items. Cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling can really increase storage capacity, just store the things you use less at the very top.
Plan to store things where they’re used, so glasses and dishes near the sink; pots, pans, cooking implements, and essential pantry items like spices near the stove; and mixing and salad bowls near the fridge.
You can almost never have enough counter space. An island is a great way to max out on countertops and they’re especially efficient if the sink is there.
You’ll need to have counter space on at least one side of the fridge for setting items down. If you only have one side to do this, it should preferably be the side the door opens on.
You need counter space on either side of the stove and the sink for prepping and cooking, and a place to keep utensils, pots and spices, or for drying dishes.
If you’re thinking resale – and who doesn’t – go for solid surface counters if you can budget them. Granite, marble, Corian and Cesarstone are all very good surfaces because they clean easily and don’t mark with hot pots, although marble is a little more temperamental than the others. There are also some fabulous laminates on the market these days, so don’t nix those. They can withstand high temperatures, clean easily and can complement your kitchen regardless of the style.
In order to prepare food, you need good lighting and three levels of light are best: down or recessed lighting, undercabinets and pendant lights. General and task lighting lets you see, but accent and ambient lighting helps create mood, especially important in those open-plan family areas which incorporate living, dining and kitchen. Make sure each source is controlled individually and try to incorporate LED lights, which save money and create less heat.
If you’re using track lights, position them so they light the areas you’re working in. Glass-fronted cabinets look beautiful with internal lighting.
When it comes to range hoods, you really do get what you pay for. The kitchen is where even the best chefs make mistakes, ruin food and fill the room with smoke. A cheap range hood only circulates dirty air back into the house, while a good quality ventilation system really sucks it outside.
Islands are great for adding counter space, increasing storage and giving you a spot for eating on the go. But if they obstruct traffic in and around the work triangle, they’re a pain. Ideally, an island should be at least four foot wide by two foot deep.
In tiny condos, where the kitchen is a main part of the principal area, adding an island is a great idea because it will not only create a separation from the living space, but also create some place to eat.
Islands that hold either the sink, or the stove (some even have double fridge units underneath) are great space savers.