Google+ House Revivals: What You Should Know Before You Start Your Kitchen Remodel

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What You Should Know Before You Start Your Kitchen Remodel

This is a re-visit of a popular House Revivals post, with a few updates. Enjoy! 

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 lend itself to the installation of 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.

Designers understand and use anthropometrics when designing a space (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 cans in her kitchen!  The money she spent on unnecessary cans and installation would have more than covered my design cost.  

I feel  bad for the client.  She has a beautiful, expensive kitchen.  It took several months for her contractor to complete the project, but she has SEVENTEEN cans! Can lights should only be one layer of a lighting solution. Over use of cans creates glare and heat issues.  The glare from recessed cans may trigger migraines for some individuals. 

A great lighting design layers the lighting in a space. Image via LampsPlus

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, in the above picture.  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?  Having boiling liquid sloshed in your face can ruin your day. 

  Thank God Susan didn'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. 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.

To see another article about kitchen renovations click here.


  1. I'm in the middle of my kitchen renovation so I was interested to see if I committed any mortal sins. It's also funny because when I went to a kitchen designer for input, I gave her my blueprints and she told me you should never use an architect to design a kitchen. Ha! I guess it depends who you talk to!

  2. Haha! I've heard that, too! I think it may depend on where they went to school? Loved reading about the progress on your urban cottage!

  3. I also think about the kitchen remodeling Just how much would it cost to get a kitchen remodel-Please exclude appliances.Reface units, re-do ground, color, possible counter-tops.

  4. I'm also looking for some kitchen decor ideas. Thanks for putting this post, this will help me out in future.


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