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Basics & Designs > Considerations
|Whether you are designing a kitchen for a new home or renovating an existing space, it is not enough to simply understand the different available styles, layouts, and elements. A number of practical considerations must also be taken into account. Otherwise, your perfect kitchen can turn into the perfect nightmare. Even if the outcome is the same, how you get there will have important ramifications with respect to unnecessary expenses incurred, extra time expended, and avoidable obstacles needlessly overcome.|
real challenge of kitchen design is not figuring out what is meant by
traditional versus contemporary, or understanding the difference
between an L-shaped kitchen and a galley, or learning about various
cabinet and countertop materials. Rather, the real challenge is
bringing these disparate elements together into a single, cohesive
whole that both looks and functions the way you had hoped and imagined.
This is no easy task. If it was, thousands upon thousands
of interior designers and kitchen renovation experts would all
out of a job.
We begin with constraints, which are all those aspects that represent practical limits to what can actually be accomplished with respect to a particular kitchen design or remodel. Think of a constraint as the difference between what you want to do, and what you actually can do. For millennia, man wanted to fly, but was unable to do so as a result of a constraint called gravity. Eventually, man invented the airplane to work around that constraint. The lesson learned here is that just because a constraint exists does not mean all your hopes for a dream kitchen have to be dashed. Understanding your constraints is simply the first step in the process of working around them.
However, ignoring constraints can be dangerous and lead to any of a number of negative outcomes, whether it be a cramped and uncomfortable kitchen because a space constraint was ignored, or whether it be a difficult and precarious financial situation because a budgetary constraint was ignored, or whether it be a stylish but completely non-functioning cooking environment because a work needs constraint was ignored, or whether it be an incomplete and half-finished room because an infrastructure constraint was ignored. Thus, we recommend that you first understand the constraints under which you will be designing your kitchen and then work backwards to find a way to realize your goals subject to those constraints.
The first major constraint is one of space. If you are building a new house, this constraint is somewhat relaxed during the architecting stage, as floor plans can be modified to make the kitchen either larger or smaller. However, if you are remodeling an existing kitchen, the constraint is very real and as solid as the kitchen walls themselves. Walls can be taken down and the space extended, but this requires a significant amount of work. It also has the effect of shrinking the space in the room on the opposite side of that wall.
Whether or not the kitchen area is expanded from its original design, the final floor space is no smaller and no larger than its size and those dimensions must be taken into account. Turning an L-shaped kitchen into a U-shaped kitchen, or turning a U-shaped kitchen into a G-shaped kitchen, or adding an island can certainly provide more work and storage space, but if the floor is simply not large enough, the end result will be cramped, inconvenient, unattractive, and hardly worth the remodeling expense.
The second major constraint is one of cost. Whether you are designing a brand new kitchen or remodeling an existing space, you will generally be working from a budget. Overspending on one aspect of the kitchen will have the effect of taking away from the amount available to be spent on all the other aspects. Choices have to be made based not only on what you might like, but also based on what you can afford. That woven patina copper backsplash you have in mind may look incredible, but at a cost of $2,500 to $3,000 plus installation, it can be as much as a brand new high quality refrigerator, range, oven, microwave, and dishwasher all together. Those custom cherry cabinets may indeed look beautiful, but at a cost of more than $20,000, not including installation, they might decimate your entire budget, leaving nothing in the piggy bank for the countertops, floors, appliances, furniture, cookware, and lighting fixtures.
A lack of financial planning can lead to overspending and a unfinished, haphazard look to the kitchen as upscale elements are out of necessity paired with cheap elements, and new elements are paired with old ones. The best way to avoid this problem is not to push your budget to expand to your choices, but rather to push your choices to fit within your budget. A metal laminate backsplash can look as good as the woven patina copper at a fraction of the cost. Semi-custom cherry cabinets can look nearly as beautiful as their fully custom-made counterparts, but cost 50% less. A good rule of thumb is to set your budget, then reduce it by 20% to allow for cost overruns, and then use that number as your ultimate guideline. In addition, it is not advisable to make decisions about one element of the kitchen without considering the others. Decide how the budget will be divided among cabinets, countertops, appliances, floors, walls, furniture, and lighting fixtures before making the first purchase or signing the first contractor agreement. This will limit unrealistic expectations and save considerable grief down the line.
The third major constraint is one of safety. There are several dimensions to this important consideration. If there are young children, elderly folks, disabled persons, or mentally challenged individuals who reside in the household, modifications may need to be made to the kitchen design in order to make the space safer for such residents. The placement of appliances, the location of appliance controls, the accessibility of knives and other potentially dangerous utensils, and the availability of storage spaces may all need to be curtailed. Another dimension of safety has to do with the placement of appliances, independent of who resides in the household. Poor placement can lead to a host of issues, from appliance malfunction to food poisoning to electrocution to fire hazard. Yet another dimension of safety has to do with the choice of materials, particularly those used for the counters, floors, and walls.
If there are young children in the household, it is important to ensure that appliance controls are placed well out of reach. This may mean buying a range and oven combination with the control panel at the back instead of at the front. If there are adults diagnosed with mental impairment in the household, such as individuals who suffer from Alzheimer's, this may mean placing appliances behind lockable panels or installing safety knobs. Alternatively, if there are elderly or physically weakened individuals in the household, it may be necessary to select drawer and cabinet doors which are easy to open and cookware that is light. If there are disabled or shorter statured individuals in the household, the wall cabinets may need to be installed at a lower height, or a different design may need to be utilized with higher base and pantry cabinets.
Aside from allowances for specific members of the household, appliances should be placed in a way that minimizes the risk of accident. An oven or a range should not be placed right next to the refrigerator. Unless the cooktop is incredibly well vented, the heat from the cooktop will warm the refrigerator, causing its motor to work much harder and increasing the risk of burnout. Similarly, a cooktop should not be placed too close to the sink. Certain cooking byproducts, such as hot fat, have a tendency to explode when they come in contact with water. Generally, if there is a single entrance into the kitchen, the refrigerator should be placed closer to the entrance and the cooktop further away. The reason for this is to allow easy access to the refrigerator by other members of the household without risk of running into the cook as he or she is in the process of transferring sizzling pots or pans from the stove or pulling hot baking dishes out of the oven. By the same argument, portable cooking appliances such as toasters, grills, sandwich makers, and the like should not be placed in high traffic areas such as near the kitchen entrance or atop a serving counter. Last, but not least, a working fire extinguisher should be placed within easy reach in case of emergency.
The final issue that should be mentioned when it comes to safety relates to the types of materials that chosen for kitchen cabinets, countertops, walls, and floors. Synthetically created materials such as particleboard, MDF, and laminate often contain formaldehyde, which is a carcinogenic volatile organic compound (VOC) that seeps into the air and creates a health hazard for residents. Resins used for solid-surface counters and glazes used on tiles can often contain dangerous levels of other VOCs. Certain sealants which may be used for floors, walls, counters, and cabinets may also contain high levels of VOCs. The same goes for finishes and paints. A number of manufacturers today provide formaldehyde-free and VOC-free cabinets, countertops, backsplashes, and floors. Environmentally safe sealants, finishes, and paints which do not offgas VOCs are available for purchase from a number of sources. By doing a bit of homework and asking a few questions, discerning consumers can select healthier materials and protect their entire households.
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The next important consideration with respect to kitchen design is access. This refers both to the ease of accessing the kitchen from other areas in the home and the ease of accessing individual storage spaces and work stations from inside the kitchen. In addition, access encompasses the idea of traffic flow which refers to the way in which both residents and guests circulate adjacent to and through the kitchen area. Poorly designed traffic flow can disrupt work and make it inconvenient for the cooks. Last, but not least access refers to special adjustments which may need to be made for any individuals in the household who may have a physical impairment that makes it either difficult or impossible to reach certain areas.
Given the kitchen's primary function, it should be positioned in the home in such a way as to be convenient for both bringing in food ingredients and bringing out finished dishes. For most homes, this means proximity to either the garage or the front door on the one hand and proximity to the dining room on the other. If you are thinking of having the kitchen floor at a different level than the adjacent floors, requiring steps either up or down, you may want to reconsider. Given the amount of foot traffic constantly going into and out of the kitchen and the frequency with which bags of produce, dishes of food, and other items are brought into and out of the kitchen, having to constantly navigate one or more interior steps can quickly become both an annoyance and a safety hazard.
In situations where the cook may also need to be keeping an eye on the children, it may be advisable to position the kitchen with an island or a peninsula facing an adjacent living area and at least one large window providing a view of the yard. This allows the cook to watch the children whether they are playing indoors or outdoors.
Inside the kitchen, it is important that all of the storage and work spaces are easily and conveniently accessible. No cabinet or appliance door should block any other cabinet or appliance door when opened. The aisle needs to be wide enough not only to support walking through and turning around, but also to support opening appliance doors, bending down, kneeling, and two people passing each other. Even though the National Kitchen & Bath Association recommends 42" as the minimum aisle width, a more comfortable width is 48", with anything under 44" beginning to feel cramped. In kitchens with one or more perpendicular cabinet runs, the corners have to be carefully planned to ensure that access to the corner cabinets are not limited. In general, access to lower rear areas of base and pantry cabinets can be made easier by utilizing pullout shelves. Additionally, it may be useful to have two workspace countertops that are situated at different heights, with one 28 to 36 inches above the floor and the other one 9 inches higher (35 inches to 45 inches). This supports cooks of different heights and provides a lower level for such activities as rolling dough.
Because the kitchen is a high traffic area in most homes, it is important to establish traffic lanes which do not interfere with the cooks' work areas. In galley kitchens, it may be worthwhile to actually close off one of the ends with a wall or a counter to eliminate pass-through traffic. In L-shaped kitchen, adding an island or a peninsula can create a useful barrier between the cook's work triangle and the flow of traffic. In kitchens with seating areas, there should be at least 45" allowed on the seating side from the table edge to the nearest obstruction for individuals to be able to comfortably move into and out of chairs, and at least 65" to support traffic behind the seats.
For situations where there are physically handicapped individuals in the household, additional modifications may need to be made in order to make the kitchen fully accessible. There are some 3 million wheelchair users in the United States alone, and when all mobility aids, such as crutches, canes, and walkers, are taken into account, the number quadruples. Consequently, this is an important issue for many households. The usual height for the top of a wheelchair armrest is 29", so at least one countertop surface located in the 28" to 36" range should be installed, with open space underneath measuring at least 24" in height, 30" in width, and 20" in depth to provide for knee and toe room. Similarly, at least one sink should be a shallow basin located at the same height, with a drain at the back to allow for under-the-sink knee room in the front. There should also be knee-room provided next to the cooktop and oven. Wall cabinets should be lowered to 15" or even 12" above the countertop, so that lower shelves can be accessed from a sitting position. The aisle should be at least 42" to allow comfortable access forward and backward. A turning radius for a wheelchair is usually 60", which can be accommodated by a combination of aisle space and under-the-counter knee space.
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Another important consideration are the specific work needs of the primary cooks in the household. The traditional kitchen layout will support most cooking functions, but may not be the most convenient setup for specialized needs. For specific cuisine types, for large meals, and for extensive baking, the requirements for the kitchen differ somewhat from the basic design.
Certain cuisines place emphasis on certain types of cooking and require a setup to accommodate those particular needs. For example, the Japanese cuisine is built primarily around broiling, grilling, steaming, boiling, and frying. In this case, a larger hybrid cooktop coupled with a rice cooker and a broiler may be far more important than oven space. Similarly, for Chinese cuisine, a multi-faceted cooktop with a built-in wok is far more important than an oven. However, for Italian cuisine, the oven gets far greater utilization. Consequently, if the kitchen will likely be used for a particular cuisine, allowances should be made for the most common cooking techniques associated with that cuisine.
For large households and for households which entertain guests on a regular basis, the kitchen has to be sufficiently equipped to support the necessary storage and throughput. An oversized refrigerator or refrigeration drawers can provide the room required to freeze and refrigerate all of the ingredients prior to preparation. Three separate worktops can allow multiple cooks to collaborate. An additional range and a wall oven unit can provide the heating capacity to multi-task on several dishes at once. An oversized dishwasher and a second sink can expedite post-meal clean-up. Without these additions and modifications, cooking for large groups of people will be slow, difficult, and impractical.
Households which rely heavily on baking have yet another set of requirements. A dedicated countertop set at an easy height for rolling and working with dough, a set of warming drawers, and a baker's block, typically made of marble, while not absolutely necessary, are definitely very helpful to have. In the same area, cabinet and shelf space must be set aside for baking dishes, pie forms, mixing bowls, rolling pins, hand mixers, cookie cutters, flour sifters, measuring cups, pastry brushes, whisks, dough scrapers, spatulas, measuring spoons, and other utensils. A larger oven, or an additional wall oven are another typical requirement. A round and a rectangular cooling racks should be positioned within easy reach of the primary oven.
Most cooks can immediately pinpoint what is missing or inconvenient with respect to their existing kitchens. The key lesson here is to use that knowledge when designing or renovating the kitchen in order to incorporate elements which accommodate the specific cooking needs that are unique to the household. Attractive cabinetry and sleek countertops may look appealing, but they provide small consolation if the space does not support the cook's work needs.
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Another critical consideration is the infrastructure which supports the kitchen's operation. The term infrastructure refers to basic requirements without which the kitchen would not be able to fulfill its basic operational goals. This includes water piping, electrical wiring, outlet accessibility, gas lines, air venting, lighting, and minimal work and storage space. These are the guts behind the facade of the kitchen which make everything work.
The water pipes coming into the kitchen impact the number and placement of both kitchen sinks and dishwasher units. A residential water plumbing system has two major components: supply pipes which bring in cold and hot potable water and drainage pipes which take away the waste products into the sewage system. Installing a dishwasher or multiple sinks, as well as sinks with multiple compartments, requires the addition of piping to support these installations. Similarly, incorporating garbage disposal and filtration systems involves modification of the piping connecting the individual sink to the main plumbing system. It is much easier to incorporate plumbing changes during the design stage. Once the plumbing has been set in place, any renovation that involves modifications to the existing sink and dishwasher configuration will require plumbing work which must be accounted for and priced into the overall budget. Generally, placing new sinks or dishwashers close to the existing water pipes will reduce the plumbing expenditure.
Gas lines are generally easier to move than water pipes, although it depends on the location of the existing line and the configuration of the ceiling and crawl space in the home. It is vitally important that gas lines are properly installed and sealed to prevent any leaks. For both water pipes and gas lines there is an added consideration which is that they have to be compliant with local municipal codes. Otherwise, if the home needs to be sold, it may not pass inspection.
Given the number of different electrical appliances in a typical kitchen, the electrical circuitry and available outlets are another critical component of kitchen infrastructure. Generally, a separate, dedicated circuit needs to be put in place for the refrigerator, a separate circuit for the stove and oven, a separate circuit for the microwave, a separate circuit for the dishwasher, a separate circuit for the lights, and at least two separate circuits for the small appliances. The addition of major appliances such as another range or a wall oven may require new electrical circuits. With respect to small appliances, outlets need to be made available in convenient and easily accessible locations distributed throughout the space, typically on the walls between the counters and the cabinets, or built into the underside of the countertops.
Yet another component of kitchen infrastructure is the ventilation system. The cooking process results in various damaging substances being released into the air, including smoke, grease, odors, and other gaseous byproducts. It is important that these chemicals are rapidly and effectively removed from the air. The two primary kitchen ventilation systems are updraft hoods and downdraft vents. Range hoods are installed above the cooktop and pull the air up into an opening from which it is either passed through a filter and recirculated or vented to the outside. Downdraft vents are installed at cooktop level and suck the air into a set of openings from which it is then also filtered and recirculated or vented to the outside. Downdraft vents provide a sleek appearance and take up less space, but range hoods are typically more effective at ventilating and can incorporate task lighting above the cooktop. In either case, if a second cooktop is being installed, it is important to consider and plan for the corresponding ventilation needs.
Because the kitchen is a work area, sufficient lighting to both surface and storage spaces is critically important. Few cooks would be happy chopping in semi-darkness, baking in twilight, or stir-frying in shadow. Task lighting should be added for areas which are not adequately lit by the central lighting fixtures. In addition, if there is a serving area, such as a peninsula or an island, that should also feature sufficient light for the non-cooks, whether it be for eating, doing homework, or any other possible function. If another cooktop is being added or a new worktop put in, it may be necessary to add another task light. For daytime cooking activities, the window space should be sufficiently large and placement sufficiently centralized so as to provide adequate daylight. A good rule of thumb is that the area of windows and skylights should be equal to at least 10% of the total square footage of the kitchen.
The final element of infrastructure is sufficient storage and work space to support basic kitchen activities. For smaller kitchens, at least 1,400 inches of cabinet frontage is recommended, with 1,700 recommended for medium kitchens, and 2,000 recommended for large kitchens. The cabinet frontage calculation is kind of funky as is performed as: cabinet width in inches * number of shelves/drawers * cabinet depth in feet. The result is expressed in inches even though it is actually an amalgamation of different measurement units. Thus, a typical base cabinet, which is 2 feet deep, 15" wide, and has 3 shelves, will have a frontage of 15" * 3 shelves * 2 feet, which comes to 90 inches. A typical wall cabinet, which is 1 foot deep, 24" wide, and has 3 shelves, will have a frontage of 24" * 3 shelves * 1 foot, which comes to 72 inches. By computing the frontage for each cabinet and then adding them all together, you will arrive at the total frontage value for your kitchen. If the value is well below 1,400 inches, there may be some cause for concern.
With respect to counter space, there should be at least 15" of counter on at least one side of the cooktop, at least 15" of counter on at least one side of the refrigerator, at least 15" of counter separating the cooktop from the refrigerator, at least 18" of counter on either side of the primary sink, and at minimum one area of countertop that is at least 36" long and 16" deep to serve as a central food preparation location. These are of course the recommended minimums. For optimal convenience, significantly more countertop space is strongly suggested.
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The final major consideration we shall discuss is consistency. This is a reminder that kitchen elements should not be planned for in isolation, but as they relate to other kitchen elements. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating a hodgepodge of different styles and constructing the interior design equivalent of a plaid shirt with striped pants, two tone shoes, and a polka dot hat.
You may love marble countertops, beadboard backsplashes, copper sinks, crystal chandeliers, vintage look appliances, stainless steel cabinets, and slate floors. However, if you incorporate all of these elements into your kitchen, the end result will look like it belongs in a funhouse rather than on the pages of Architectural Digest. Consequently, it is important to choose a theme and stick with it. Materials have to be selected on a consistent basis. There is no place for stainless steel in an Old World kitchen and there is no place for wrought iron in a contemporary kitchen. Beadboard does not belong in a Victorian kitchen and ornate chandeliers have no place in a rustic kitchen. Concrete countertops are not appropriate for a country kitchen and vintage style appliances are not appropriate for a modern kitchen.
Similarly, the color scheme should be kept consistent. Appliances should match, cabinets should match, countertops should match, backsplashes should match, and all of these elements should either complement or offset one another to create an overall look that is pleasing to the eye. When new elements are introduced, their colors and finishes should be chosen to fit within the existing pattern. Conversely, when the existing pattern is altered, all of the elements need to be updated to fit the new pattern.
In situations where modern elements, such as appliances, are incorporated into a traditional design, steps should be taken to disguise the modern aspects. Appliances can be placed behind sliding panel doors and hidden from view. Major appliance fronts can have panels glued on that fit the more traditional look of the cabinetry.
Similarly, the cookware and dishware should be selected to fit the overall theme. For an Old World kitchen, clay pots and wrought iron racks will look much better than stainless steel pots and magnetized knife strips. The idea is not to eliminate the conveniences of modern technology, but rather to disguise them in order to create a consistent look and feel.
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