Understanding Kitchen Design
Much more than a magazine photograph or pretty face in relation to your home’s entire layout
Kitchen design requires extensive design time and deserves greater budget allocation
Kitchen design is driven by space, function and budget. You are working with a certified architectural design professional toiling over detailed and code-specific home plans, focusing on beam intersections, truss bearings, elevation from roads, location of entry and exit points for the power and plumbing, etc. However, time-consuming that may be, the percentage of time spent on the design of one essential living space – the home kitchen – is greater than the homeowner can imagine.
The kitchen serves as the home’s focal point, used for creative meal prep and service or a quick bite or as a welcoming gathering space for family (how many times do guests congregate at the kitchen island), and much more. Used within a residential structure at the minimum once daily to the spot for entertaining, your kitchen is one of the most heavily utilized areas within a home, condo, or residence, and so valued that its design merits considerable thought and time. And even more so, adequate budget needs to be allocated to execute the desired design elements, accoutrements and finishes to your specifications; it truly the largest budget line item of the structure. It bears repetition – your allocated budget will drive the final details of your kitchen design – either fulfilling your wants or eliminating some options.
The Goal of the Design Process
Given that all designers are not the same and homeowners are unique in regard to their specific needs, I am reminded that the overall goal of our design process always remains the function of the kitchen before its design. Not to say that the kitchen layout isn’t sometimes derived from the available space, but as a designer, I must focus on providing the “best use” of this area within the overall design. While we could talk about backsplashes versus cabinet profiles, keeping the term “best use” in mind is important as one thinks about the creation of this space and the requirements needed to get to the end goal.
Kitchen Design – First Steps
My first consideration is the overall occupied space and its relationships to the surrounding spaces for passage and still space. While cabinet and general designers usually focus on common daily use needs and spend most of their time focused on the cabinet’s door profile, they lose sight of the overall design’s primary focus. It doesn’t matter how much is spent on the cabinet finishes or cooking appliances. The fact is that the user will never enjoy the space if the focus is not on the connection of spaces and how the user can use and move through the space.
For example, if I walk into a kitchen with a tight working space between cabinets without an adequate area in which to work, I will not be comfortable using the area. But, if that same space had a commonly found 36” high sink area, but a lower 30” seating area that doubled as a food prep area, I might then find that the height change and user-friendly design will enable me to enjoy the freedom of the space.
To reiterate, it’s not the detail of the cabinet door, while it is an important factor to the overall goal, but it is the ability to achieve the most efficient functionality of the space and to connect to the “triangle” thought of design use.
While not the only way to design the kitchen’s working environment, many designers follow this triangle design when feasible. In my opinion, this layout style works best in a galley or larger hybrid island layout, where you can connect the three important items of use from which the user can quickly twist to or pivot and effectively move and operate.
Typically, the design elements such as a sink/wash, a cooking/grill item and a refrigeration/freezer are those that need to be in close proximity. As viewed on popular web sites such as Pinterest or Houzz, you will see that kitchens are similarly designed for optimum function. No one wants to walk all the way across their kitchen to get vegetables from the refrigerator, then walk back to the sink for washing then midway back to the counter for cutting and preparation – it just doesn’t make sense.
Summing it up
A good rule of thumb when I do a layout for my clients is to first find out how they intend to use the space. Do they actually cook? If they are indeed home chefs or something between general use to preparing nightly dinners, they will focus more on the appliances and preparation spaces, verses clients who want the featured kitchen in the latest design magazine. I can and have achieved both ends.
It is vital that as designers, we fully understand the client’s needs. Critical to us is that our creative design – more than a pretty photograph for an award banquet – is visually accepted and valued by our clients, and appreciated as unique by their guests. For the end-user, function always trumps in a design, and this factor should be foremost for both user and designer.