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How to design a kitchen remodel

A kitchen remodel can be incredibly challenging to design. Not only do you have to consider layout and functionality, but you also have electrical, plumbing, and appliances to consider. Tackling a job like this is an awful lot like wrestling a greased pig. 

At Lamont Bros., our team of seasoned designers work with homeowners every day to design beautiful, functional kitchen remodels. These projects range from simple cosmetic refresh remodels, to fully custom kitchens. If you’re looking to learn how professionals design a kitchen remodel, you’ve come to the right place. 

After reading this article, you should have a firm understanding of how to design a kitchen remodel. We’ll begin with the general layout and work all the way through to the finishing touches.

Kitchen layout models

If you’re designing a kitchen remodel, that means you currently have a kitchen already in your house. Many people choose not to rearrange the layout of their kitchen. However, it is possible to change the layout of your kitchen if you really want to, and sometimes even a minor change can make a huge difference.

Keep in mind that when you move things around, you will have to break old habits

Depending on who you ask, there are several different approaches to designing a kitchen’s layout. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks. In the last 100 years, two main theories on kitchen design have emerged: The Work Triangle and Kitchen Zones

The Work Triangle

The Work Triangle model was the most influential kitchen design principle of the 20th century.

A surprisingly simple approach to kitchen layouts, the work triangle has declined in popularity in the last 20 years. Be that as it may, this method served as the primary kitchen design theory throughout most of the 20th century. 

The most commonly used areas in a kitchen are the sink, refrigerator, and the stovetop/range. In the work triangle model, the lines between each of these three sites should make a relatively even, unobstructed triangle. 

You’ll want the three corners of your triangle to be close to one another, but not too close. The general rule is that the sum of all 3 sides of the triangle should be no greater than 26 feet. 

Made popular in the 1920s by Dr. Lillian Moller Gilbreth, the work triangle has become somewhat outdated as the modern American kitchen has developed and grown. However, it remains a useful tool in considering the efficiency and ergonomics of a home kitchen.

Kitchen Zones

Current design methods for kitchens often incorporate “kitchen zones,” or separate stations for each step in the culinary process. You can read more about the five zones below.

Consumables

The zone for consumables is primarily food storage. This would include the refrigerator and any pantry cabinets. 

Non-consumables

Storage for dishes and eating utensils constitutes the non-consumable zone. Not all kitchenware goes in this area – only the items you will use to eat or serve food. Utensils used for cooking or food preparation will go in other zones. 

Preparation

This is where raw food gets prepared for cooking. Peeling, chopping, and assembling takes place here, which means you’ll need ample room to lay out ingredients. Cutting boards, knives, and any other prep-related utensils will go somewhere in this area. 

Cooking

The cooking zone should include your oven, stovetop, and possibly microwave. Basically, any appliance that cooks food with heat should be in this zone. Pots, pans, and baking dishes should also be stored in the near vicinity. 

Cleaning

Used both to clean food and used dishes, the cleaning zone includes the sink and dishwasher. Often placed in between the non-consumable zone and the prep zone, you’ll probably visit this area several times throughout the process of cooking a meal.

Other Methods

In addition to the two most widely-used design methods, we also have a few design principles that we employ when helping homeowners design their own kitchen remodel. 

Focal point

A kitchen with an example of a feature wall. Note the accent tile behind the range.

At Lamont Bros., some of our designers use a “focal point” approach to designing a kitchen’s layout. This means that they begin with the most important point in the kitchen and design the kitchen remodel around it. 

For most kitchens, the focal point is the range. For others, it’s the sink or the island. The advantage of using a method like this is that it pairs visual and functional aspects of the kitchen together.

When designing a kitchen this way, there is usually a feature wall, or a point to which the design directs your attention first. Ask yourself, “Where do my eyes naturally go when I walk into this space?”

Customization

As the saying goes, “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” 

Of course, the purpose of a kitchen remodel is to design a space that works well for your own needs. So, while a general layout philosophy is often a good place to start, sometimes you have to break the rules in order to design a kitchen remodel that will do what you need. 

In cases like these, your design doesn’t need to use any set layout method so long as you’re confident it will serve you well. For example, if you only have one wall to put a kitchen on, you’re not going to have enough spatial depth to design a “work triangle.” That’s okay. A one-wall kitchen can still meet your needs if you design it well. 

Appliance Locations

The location of your kitchen appliances can make a huge difference in your remodel design. Here are a few factors you should consider when choosing the location of a few appliances.

Refrigerator

When you get home from the grocery store with your arms loaded with bags to avoid a 2nd trip out to the car, you’re probably going to want your refrigerator pretty close by. It is best to avoid having to walk through your kitchen in order to get to the refrigerator.

At the same time, it’s also wise to place your refrigerator an equal distance from your sink and your range, since you’ll be cycling between the three locations as you cook. 

Sink

Workstation sink by The Galley

Most people spend more time at their sink than any other area in the kitchen. Since this is where you wash both your food and dishes, the placement of the sink is a key factor to consider.

Some people prefer to have their sink under a window so they can look outside while doing the dishes. This approach is the most common in modern kitchens.

Another trend we’ve seen more recently is to put the sink on an island. For people who like to entertain guests, this works especially well, as you can face and talk with your guests while you work. 

When choosing between these two options, you should consider whether or not you regularly do the dishes. If the answer is no, keep in mind that your dirty dishes will be more visible at an island than they would be at a window sink. 

In larger kitchens, some designers will add a second sink to keep foot traffic and work areas from interfering with one another. These sinks will usually be assigned separate roles – one for cleaning and one for prep. 

Another option to consider is a workstation sink. A configurable sink unit, these up-and-coming appliances consolidate different work areas into one cohesive, space-saving station. 

Range

Note how the range and vent hood draw your attention in this kitchen.

The range is the place where the magic happens. Most of your actual cooking will take place on your range, so it’s important to design this area well. 

As previously mentioned, the range is typically the visual focal point of your kitchen. This means that where you place your range will have a tremendous impact on the overall appearance of the space. 

When you walk into your kitchen, what wall is directly front and center? You’ll probably want your range against that wall if possible. 

Also, consider the fact that your range will need an overhead vent to remove hot air and smoke from the kitchen. Some people will install a range hood, while others will go with a microwave/hood (or microhood) combo. 

A range hood usually has more visual appeal and is considered to be a more upscale option.  On the other hand, a microhood is great for saving space, since it combines two appliances into one. 

Dishwasher

Because the two are constantly used in tandem, the dishwasher should always be right next to the sink. This arrangement keeps the cleaning area contained and is the most efficient for water supply lines and drainage.

You should also be careful to make sure that the dishwasher door is on the same plane as the sink. Otherwise, the door could open into the sink’s work zone. This make’s it difficult or impossible to stand at the sink while the dishwasher door is open.

Cabinetry Layout

An example of a cabinetry layout that allows for different work zones. Note the variety of drawers and doors.

Storage can be a tricky element to any kitchen remodel design, especially if space is limited. At the very least, you want to have enough cabinets to store all of your kitchen supplies.

Think back to the work zones model.  With this approach, you should have enough cabinetry in each zone to fit the items that would belong in that zone.

For example, we typically design a kitchen to have at least 18 inches of cabinets on either side of the range. However large, these cabinets close to your range should be able to store all of the pots, pans, bakeware, and cooking utensils that you would use while cooking. 

You should also make sure to include a variety of cabinet types and sizes. Wide cabinets are good for plates, serving dishes, and large items. Narrow cabinets are great for trays and cutting boards, and drawer banks work well for flatware, measuring cups, and cooking utensils. 

Islands

Kitchen islands have several advantages over open kitchen layouts. The first and most obvious is that it adds additional storage and workspace to your kitchen. If you have limited wall space for cabinetry but lots of floor space, an island is a great option.

Having an island also helps separate the flow of kitchen traffic from other walkways in the house. That way, people can go around the kitchen on their way to another part of the house without interfering with the cook’s movements or space. 

Islands also help add visual dimension and complexity to your design, as well. 

Cabinet inserts

Another factor you should consider is what actually goes into your cabinets. While most cabinets simply come with built-in shelves, there are dozens of more specialized options that can increase the efficiency of your storage.

These can be as simple as pull-out shelves that make it easy to see what is inside the cabinet. There are also more complex options, such as a mixer lift cabinet, which has a retractable mixer stand so you never have to lift such a heavy appliance.

Using special cabinet inserts maximize the organization of your cabinets, and by extension increase the storage capacity. 

Countertops

Countertops play a key role in the design of a kitchen remodel; they make up the majority of your work surface while cooking. Fortunately, there are plenty of options when it comes to finding a good countertop for your kitchen.

Natural Stone

Granite, marble,countertops are all made of natural, ground-sourced rock. They are porous rock and thus usually require sealants. However, they are durable, heat-resistant, and look great. Natural stone countertops are considered to be a high-end luxury option.

Quartz

By contrast, both quartz and solid-surface countertops are manufactured products containing both natural stone and plastic binding resins. Because they are not porous, they do not need to be sealed. 

Quartz is noted for its extreme durability and is even stronger than granite. For this reason, it tends to be comparable in price to granite, despite being a man-made material.

However, most synthetic countertops are not as heat-resistant as natural stone. The exceptions to this rule are Dekton countertops, which are proven to handle the heat of a pot right off the stove. 

Solid surface countertops are a mid-range option and a great balance between cost, functionality, and style.

Laminate

Considered the lowest quality countertop option, laminate countertops are typically a vinyl-laminated particle board. Although inexpensive, this option tends to be cheaply constructed, prone to wear and tear, and visually lackluster.

Visual Design

Stylistically speaking, the visual design of a kitchen remodel is incredibly important. You should walk into your new kitchen and be delighted by the way it looks. Moreover, if you’re seeking to increase the value of your home, a kitchen that is both functional and visually appealing is a great way to accomplish that.

Home Style

The first thing you’ll want to consider when choosing visual concepts for your kitchen remodel design is your existing home’s style. 

This usually doesn’t present too much of a challenge unless your home has a very specific architectural style. For example, beadboard cabinets would be an excellent choice for an old Victorian home, but grossly out of place in a midcentury modern kitchen. 

Most homes in the Portland area are classified as “transitional,” which combines elements of traditional and contemporary style. For homes like these, the most common cabinetry is a simple white shaker, but most cabinet styles can work in a transitional home.

The nice thing about transitional homes is that they allow for flexibility with a kitchen remodel design. 

Backsplash

Kitchen backsplashes present an opportunity to add visual interest to space. Traditionally, backsplash extends up 4-6 inches from the countertop and is usually some sort of tile (subway tile is the most popular right now). 

However, some homeowners choose to extend the backsplash up the entire height of the wall. This trend has become increasingly popular in recent years, and definitely adds variety to the walls.

For kitchens with a set focal point, you might choose an accent tile to draw attention to the desired area. If your focal point is the range and you have a white subway tile backsplash, you might consider putting in a colored mosaic tile behind it to make the range pop.

Flooring

When choosing a flooring, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you end up with won’t clash with your cabinets. Since cabinets are usually made of wood and most flooring is either made of or made to look like wood, this can be challenging.

First, decide whether or not your cabinets will be painted or stained. If you choose to go with stained cabinets, it will be harder to find a flooring that works with them. Painted cabinets will go with most flooring so long as the colors are complementary. 

Your options for pairing a wood floor to a wood stained cabinet are to either pick a perfect match or a sharp contrast. So a dark stained cabinet would pair with a light-colored wood floor, or vice versa. Near-but-not-quite color matches are a serious kitchen design faux pas. 

If you’d like to learn more about flooring types and which might be best for you, check out this article. 

Lighting & Power

Under-cabinet lighting by Nobilia

How do you want to light your kitchen? Overhead lighting is a great place to start, but there are also a lot of additional options to consider.

A kitchen with an island may need additional lighting directly over the island’s surface. Pendant or chandelier lighting can add both brightness and visual flair. 

You may also want to consider adding lights to your cabinets. Since they cast shadows and thus create dark areas in a kitchen, under-cabinet lighting can make it easier to work at the counter. At the same time, over-cabinet lighting can be a great option if you have items displayed on top of your cabinets. 

Do you want mood lighting? Task lighting? A light over your sink? The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Along with lighting, the placement of power outlets is also an issue to work out. While most kitchen power outlets are usually placed between the counter and wall cabinets, some people dislike the way this disrupts the backsplash. 

As a result, some people choose to install angled outlets beneath their wall cabinets. This design feature allows for the outlets to remain out of sight, but still accessible for countertop appliances. 

Want to know more about the design process with Lamont Bros?

We get it – designing a kitchen can be confusing and time-consuming. That’s why we have a team of professional designers to help guide homeowners through the kitchen remodel design process. If you’d like to learn more about the process we use, check out this article on what to expect when working with a kitchen designer.

If you’d like to speak directly with one of our top-notch design consultants about how to design a beautiful kitchen for your home, click the link below to schedule a call, and we’ll get back to you by the end of the day.