Google+ House Revivals: K is for Kitchen Design

Thursday, April 1, 2010

K is for Kitchen Design

A popular topic in on-line forums and on blogs is kitchen design.  All the amazing new cooking shows have contributed to the interest, as have many of the real estate and decorating programs on cable TV.  And, I have to tell you, there is a lot of great stuff out there!

photo courtesy BHG website

As I surf around, I am continually impressed by the creative and beautiful solutions people find for their homes.  Sometimes, however, I see something that worries me because it is unsafe.  Sometimes I see something that is not as functional as it could have been, and sometimes I see something that could easily have been more beautiful.   

Often these are kitchens that have been designed by builders, but sometimes they are designed by the homeowner.  In either case, a lot of issues might have been avoided if a design professional, such as a qualified interior designer or an architect, or an experienced kitchen designer had been involved early on in the process.

As a designer, it is heartbreaking to see someone spend huge amounts of time, energy, or money on something, and end up with a product that isn't fabulous.

Good kitchen design is hard.  It involves a million little details, like making sure you have appropriate landing areas. And being familiar with local building codes...

image from 

... and being aware of safety issues that local codes may not have addressed. For instance, although a few jurisdictions still allow a window to be placed over a range, it's almost always a bad idea.  First, ask yourself if the framing is combustible. Then, if the window was at one time operable, would it be a simple matter of removing a screw to get the window open?  Drafts from an open window can create a huge fire hazard over a range. Would you, or a future tenant, be tempted to hang a window treatment?  There are safe ways to install a window over a range, but it needs to be a permanently inoperable window, with non-combustible framing, and it must not cry out for curtains.

Good kitchen design involves understanding how the human body works, and how much space it needs to perform certain tasks.    And knowing how much room you need for your feet -- or your knees.

Anthropometric (body) measurements of most use to designers of interior spaces (Panero, J. and Zelnik, M., 1979, p. 30). 

Good design involves understanding lighting design concepts.  I once had a client whose contractor convinced her she did not need to pay for a lighting design -- he would design the lighting for "free".  Rather than spend a couple hundred dollars for good lighting design, this client ended up with SEVENTEEN recessed six-inch cans in her kitchen!  The money she spent on unnecessary cans and installation would have more than covered my design cost.  I feel so bad for the client.  She has a beautiful, expensive kitchen.  It took several months for her contractor to complete the project.  And she has SEVENTEEN cans!  And they are HOT.  And she's at an age where she gets hot flashes!

A good kitchen designer addresses efficiency. And flow. And storage.  And knows how house systems work. And figures out which direction the joists run -- and how far you can run your exhaust duct (or where you can put your plumbing or HVAC).

 photo courtesy

They will have an understanding of special needs, such as Kosher meal preparation, designing for aging in place, or multiple cooks, or large families, or families with lots of pets, or for the mobility or seeing impaired. Kitchen design involves reading so many appliance specs and installation instructions, you see them in your sleep!
And we cannot forget cabinet layout -- have you ever tried to open a drawer, and discovered the adjacent range was in the way?  Or been trapped in front of your corner sink when the dishwasher is open? 
source unknown.  Note the placement of the prep sink in relation to the stove and
dishwasher.  If either of these were opened, the person at the prep sink would be
trapped.  That could be especially bad if the combustible window frame over the
range ignited!  Also, anyone standing at the prep sink, would be in the way of 
people working at the range.  And forget about having the dishwasher and the
oven door open at the same time.  This kitchen makes me sad, because the
owners obviously spent a lot of time and money here.  By spending a just a few
hundred dollars more, they could have gotten a great design to go with their
beautiful appliances and finishes.

Have you ever tried to take something hot out of a microwave that was mounted too high?  I have to say, having boiling liquid sloshed in your face can ruin your day.
  Thank God Susan doesn't cook!  This set kitchen for Desperate
Housewives has a ridiculously high microwave!  Sadly, so do
many real life kitchens.  Photo via Hooked on Houses.

Your designer can help you address all of these types of issues, AND make your kitchen beautiful.  Sometimes I think we get so caught up in making things "look pretty", that we forget to make things safe and functional first. I am here to tell you that you can have it all -- by investing a little more on the design end of your project (the front end), your finished product can add safety and function to your home, without sacrificing beauty.

This post is being linked to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday.


  1. As always, Amanda, you continue to amaze me with your experience and expertise. I wish you'd come do something about my mother-in-law's stress working there...range/dishwasher/sink are placed EXACTLY as in your bad example picture. Now I know why we're always in each other's way. The only thing right is that the window is over the sink, not the range...though the high microwave is up over it. All this in a five year old patio home. SIGH.

  2. What an interesting post! I would love to redo our kitchen one of these days but for this point in my life I'm just grateful to have one ... tho I would definitely add a dishwasher! (Besides me)

  3. I don't know if I will be able to redo the whole kitchen any time soon, but I do want want a new counter top and gas cooktop. It will probably have to wait until kids are out of college though. Having two in college at the same time.... Ouch!

  4. Thanks Amanda, i feel like i am getting a great deal of knowledge from these posts ... and kitchens always seem so daunting :)

  5. Anyone who is about to renovate should read this post - it's a public service!

  6. Very interesting post! I wish whoever designed my kitchen would have had some of this info. ;) !

  7. Fabulous `post - so much more informative than any other other "kitchen design guide" I've read!!

    Thanks for stopping by!


  8. Amanda, this is another interesting and informative post. Great job! Hope you have a delightful Easter weekend.

  9. This post is packed with great and helpful information, Amanda. Kitchen is the heart of the home, and I have to agree about the high installed of the microwave..

    Happy Easter!

  10. there is lot to consider for kitchen design, glad I'm not a kitchen designer

    thanks for your visit to my alphabe-thursday

  11. My dear friend is a kitchen designer and now I know that her job is much more involved than I thought. Thank you for the great info.

  12. Amanda. My goodness.

    What an informative, well-written and wonderful post.

    Do you sell these articles to Home Improvement magazines?

    You should?

    Or have a DIY TV show.

    Maybe try out for Design Star.

    You are just really incredibly impressive.

    Thanks for this amazing stop on my journey through the letter K this week.

    I hate to say A+ for an article written of this caliber but...

    I'm Mrs. Matlock.

    And that's what I do.



  13. Wow. I never realized there were so many factors that went in to design. I would love to see some of your kitchens.

  14. Amanda, YOU are very well versed in this I guess you've either worked closely with CKD's or are one yourself??!

    I loved the post! My brother is a certified kitchen and bathroom designer and designed one of each in my current home. It makes a world of difference when you factor function in to the form of it all.

  15. Wow! Interesting.

    We DID a remake on my 25 year old kitchen 3 years ago and I love it. We used a kitchen designer and a friend who is a space designer. And I love it. There are a couple errors, forgotten by all of us, but now they seem minor. It is equisite, even with formica countertops and laminate flooring. (I have no living room left but I have such an enviable kitchen that....

    My brother and wife wanted a kitchen just like mine. So, they redid their whole living area to get this kitchen, which has hute granite countertops and Wolf stove and double ovens, and 2 sinks and 2 dishwashers and is a looker. But it isn't functional. I'll take my version any day!

    By the way, did I tell you I love my kitchen! And...if you could enjoy the added bonus with me of a bigger window looking straight out at the majestic mountains that surround Yellowstone Park! I love that too and never tire of it.

  16. Everything is too high for me in a kitchen, well, almost everything...five feet tall makes it a challenge...Microwaves up high like that are really dangerous......

  17. I would say my kitchen was definitely designed by the builder. I have a corner and there are drawers on either side. With the knobs on the drawers I can not open either one all the way. As a result, the drawers are rarely used. And I used to have double ovens, but I was forever burning the side of my arm reaching up to get something out of the top one.


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