A kitchen is truly the heart of the home, both in terms of its importance and its position. We spend more active time in our kitchens than almost any other room in the house, and these days so many kitchens are connected to open-plan living spaces. A well-designed kitchen should be beautiful, but it also has to be functional. Achieving both isn’t as difficult as you might think.
Here are 6 points to think about when designing, or re-designing your kitchen...
"My kitchen before and after its recent renovation"
1. Island Space
"Coffee cups, drying dishes and cloths are a reality in a kitchen. Do you really need them at the centre of your home?"
I know a lot of people like to have sinks and even cooktops on their kitchen islands but I’m adamant that they should be completely clear. A cooktop on an island means you can’t have a decent splashback, which can be a bit dangerous when it comes to frying or even boiling. It also means you can’t use the island for a lot of things. Do you really want your kids doing their homework next to spitting oil? And the cleaning… THE CLEANING!
Sinks, too, are a real nightmare. All the photos you see in magazines are of perfectly clean kitchens without a dish in sight, but when was the last time your own kitchen was completely dish free. In even the most fastidiously cleaned kitchen there will always be coffee cups waiting to be washed, or non-dishwasher safe items drying, or even cloths drying next to the sink. These are the realities of a kitchen, and none of those things need to be proudly displayed at the centre of your home.
A good island should be where the bulk of your food prep gets done, and all you need on it is a good, hard-wearing benchtop.
2. The Kitchen Triangle
The Kitchen Triangle is the shape made by imaginary lines that connect your sink (A), cooktop (B) and fridge (C). At the centre of that triangle is roughly where you’ll naturally stand for doing most of your food prep. Think about your own kitchen for a second and you’ll see what I mean. A kitchen with a smaller triangle will be more efficient but will run the risk of feeling cramped, where a larger triangle will mean a little more walking to get between A, B and C, but will feel more spacious and give you more space to prep. It’s up to you which you prefer, but the important thing is making sure your main prep area is within the triangle.
Think about “benchspace” as prep-space, and more is not always better. Before I renovated my kitchen I had a big 3 metre-long island bench, but the ends that extended out of the kitchen triangle were never used for prep and were essentially wasted space. When I renovated my kitchen I reduced the length of the bench to 1.8 metres (all within the triangle) and added a dining table instead, which made the space much more useful.
3. Key Distances
"The distance between your dishwasher and your dish storage is one of many key distances in a kitchen that you may want to minimise."
Beyond the kitchen triangle there are a few other key distances that can really make a difference in the efficiency of your kitchen. Just think of the movements you do most often: putting rinsed dishes into the dishwasher, packing those dishes away, bringing things to your prep-space from the pantry etc. Minimising those distances can reduce a lot of stress in the kitchen. Locating my main dish storage area right across from the dishwasher has made emptying the dishwasher a very fast and pain-free process.
4. Overhead Cupboards
Storage space is necessary, but having too much can just mean it gets filled with useless clutter. I’m not a fan of overhead cupboards on every wall of a kitchen, as I feel it can make even a roomy kitchen feel very small and dark. My kitchen has floor-to-ceiling cupboards on only one of three walls and it really opens the space. The extra windows also allow a lot of natural light.
"Power points in a kitchen aren’t just for kitchen appliances. Don’t underestimate how many you’ll need."
One thing I think you should never underestimate is the need for power. We tend to plan enough for small appliances but forget that with the amount of time we spend in the kitchen these days we also need chargers and all the other accoutrements of modern life. I have 10 power points in my kitchen and all but three are in constant use with coffee machines, coffee grinders, rice cookers, phone chargers, baby bottle steamers and the like. If you don’t like the look of power points, there are plenty of ways to hide them these days.
6. Integrated Appliances
"Consider integrating your appliances with your cupboards or benchtops for a cleaner look, and greater flexibility in choosing appliances."
If you’re doing a full kitchen refit, rather than just leaving a space to plonk a free-standing cooktop and oven unit, it’s definitely worth looking at integrating appliances. That means setting them into your cupboards or surfaces, or in the case of fridges and dishwashers giving them the same finish as your cupboards. Your appliance manufacturer will even sell additional handles if you want everything to match (in my case, I have the same handles that are on my ovens on my fridges and pantry too).
It can be a bit of a pain juggling the installation process, but integrating appliances gives you a lot more flexibility in the appliances you choose and where you put them. Rather than a single 90cm wide oven (which can be inefficient) that sits under your cooktop you can choose a number of smaller ovens and place them at eye-level so you don’t have to bend down all the time. The versatility of multiple ovens should not be underestimated. Integrated appliances can also give a more unified look, with clean lines giving the illusion of more space in even the most compact kitchens.
Adam Liaw is a cook, writer and television presenter based in Sydney, Australia.