Design Your Own Kitchen Like a Pro with this Real Life, Do-Able Guide

Want to design your own kitchen? You're not alone! Whether you're trying to save money by doing it yourself, or just want a more personalized kitchen, designing your own kitchen is a fulfilling experience.  But it can be a bit overwhelming.

Where to begin?  Start right here...

How to Design a Kitchen You'll Love to Cook In

When you design your own kitchen, you get the best one for you to cook in.  Why? 

Because you are more interested in how successful the design is- for you- than anyone else on the planet.  After installation, you are the person who'll be using it... and enjoying the ease of making meals, or the difficulty!

Question:  This is a beautiful kitchen, but is it functional? 
Answer:  It depends entirely on the user. 

Someone else can design a beautiful kitchen for you, but it may not be as functional as if you had designed it yourself.  Do not worry about how it looks at this stage (I promise, we'll get there!). 

In fact, if you spend too much time looking at photos of kitchens before deciding on a layout that's suitable for you, you may fall in love with one that's not possible in your space, or not practical for your everyday needs.  Don't do it! 

Design style must be addressed after the most basic decisions are made.  It's not that it's less important, it's simply the second stage of design.  Even if you want someone else to design how it looks, you will want to make sure your kitchen functions well for you!  So for now, remember: Form follows function. 

And don't worry, no matter what your design style, it will work with any kitchen layout.

Can you do it?  Yes, you really can do it. You don't need formal kitchen design training- just the knowledge necessary to have a professional result.

If you don't cook anything but microwave meals and have never even sliced a tomato, "function first" still applies to you.  Form (design style) should always come after function (layout and organization).   Even if you are designing your kitchen to sell, make sure it will function reasonably well for most people in your target market. 

All you need is a method to follow, and you can design your own kitchen- one small step at a time.

First, we'll look at what not to do. 

How Not to Design a Kitchen:
the Kitchen Work Triangle

The kitchen work triangle is the classic way of organizing the kitchen to ensure efficiency.  The rules of a work triangle are:

1. Place the refrigerator, range, and sink in a triangle. These are the "points" with imaginary lines connecting them.
2. Each point should be 4 to 9 feet away from the others.
3. When you add the sides of the triangle (the pathways), it should be between 13 and 26 feet.
4. Nothing should block the imaginary pathways of the triangle (no people, cabinets, islands, etc).

This kitchen violates the rules of the work triangle: the stove is too close to the refrigerator (right next to it! What were they thinking?).  Using the work triangle as a guide would have prevented this mistake.  Good thing it was time for an update anyway!

This rule is a little dated.  Why? Because kitchens are larger than they used to be.  They are not cut off from the rest of the living spaces anymore, so unlike years ago, people congregate there. 

And if you don't have an open kitchen plan right now, you're probably trying to figure out how to get one.

Today's kitchens include places for hanging out, eating, watching tv, household planning, multiple cooks, and are simply not a one-trick pony anymore.

Of course, if you have a small kitchen, the work triangle rules as written will be quite helpful to you.

However, if you have :

  • a large to medium sized kitchen
  • do any activities besides cooking
  • multiple cooks
  • people visiting in there (kids or neighbors!)

....when you design your own kitchen, you'll need to design more than just a triangle!

Q: If the work triangle is the same shape and size in two different kitchens, does that mean each kitchen functions as well as the other?

A: Not likely!

In Layout B, you'll be taking fresh foods to prep all the way across the kitchen to get to the sink.  It's the longest of the three sides.  I would prefer Layout A if everything else was equal.  But what if it's not the same? 

What if on Layout B, the sink overlooked an open concept living space, like a family room?  In that case, I would probably prefer layout B. (Probably, because there are surely other things that would influence where I want these major items to go.) 

Most people spend more time at the sink for prep and cleanup than staring into a pot at the stove.  I'd rather have a view to the family room for the majority of the time. 

These diagrams do not show if Layout A or B is better, but surely one is.  What does this tell us?  The work triangle has limits on how much it can help you design your own kitchen.

There is a growing dissatisfaction with the triangle among the best professionals- at least for it's use as the be all and end all. 

It's not that the work triangle is wrong, it's simply an incomplete system to design a kitchen for the ways we use them today.

The work triangle is still useful because it could keep you from creating a terrible kitchen layout... but it will not create a brilliant one.

So how do you design your own kitchen then? Simple!

Think about activities and storage.

How to Design Your Own Kitchen
Around Your Activities

The first step is general space planning.  This comes before thinking about your kitchen cabinets' design, or your interior design. Function first!

You cook in your kitchen, but you do so much more!  When you start to design your own kitchen, think about all the activities that happen there, or those you would like to. Space planning for a kitchen depends on activities...

Most of them involve cooking, prepping, roasting, etc.

But what about frying, rolling dough, filling cupcake pans, packing lunches, collecting trash, recycling, or composting?

Do you make smoothies or homemade ice cream?

If you entertain often, how many people usually end up in your kitchen?

How often do you do these activities?
Daily?
Weekly?
Monthly or even less?

Let's first talk about your high priority activities- things you do daily.   For info on designing a kitchen with non-cooking activities click here.

Cheat Sheet: Activities in the Kitchen

Non-cooking activities can actually be more important to the design than some cooking activities, depending on the household.  For example, a homework area may take precedence over a baking center that would be used only twice a year. 

For daily use items, whether food or cooking tools, plan them to be the most accessible. 
You naturally do this already- it's why the coffeepot stays on the counter.  But are you doing that for all of your daily use items?

Save Hours of Work by Moving
Two Items in Your Kitchen

Imagine this:
You buy straws. You put them in the pantry with the other dry goods.  The cups are in an upper kitchen cabinet. 
You get a cup, fill it with water, then walk to the pantry to get a straw.

Let's say it takes just 5 seconds to get the straw.  No biggie, right?  Let's say you have 3 people in the house that use straws.

Five seconds can add up over the long haul.  Follow my math:

(5 seconds per straw) x (3 straws per day) x (365 days per year) = 5,475 seconds per year fetching straws

That's 91 minutes each year- all because you put the straws in the pantry instead of next to the cups!  What if you move the cups 5 seconds closer to the water?
That's 3 hours per year.

How many items do you keep in places that are not the best for you?  Imagine the time you'll save if you plan for items that you use together, to be kept together. That's what space planning around activities is for.  When you design your own kitchen, you can eliminate these time-wasters.

Best Kitchen Designs

A lot of times when cooking a skillet meal, you start at the refrigerator, then go to the sink and then the cooktop.  There is your kitchen work triangle.

But, you've also stopped at the trash and disposal, stopped to prep the chicken and veggies, let's say, and stopped to plate the food. 

The places you stopped to actually work... are your work zones.

The best kitchen designs use work zones.


If you have:

  • more than one cook in the kitchen
  • special cooking needs
  • a lot of traffic from children or entertaining


You need to utilize work zones.  When you design your own kitchen, you'll need to take more into consideration than simply making sure you have a proper work triangle.

Unfortunately, the blender contents didn't spill in the cleanup zone!

In the last kitchen I designed, I created a
*Prep zone
*Cooking zone
*Cleanup zone
(every kitchen should have those!)

And also a
*Beverage area
*Breakfast prep area
*Baking zone
*Serving Zone.

It's just like a commercial kitchen, where everything about space planning is related to efficiency. But of course, at home you'll want it to be much prettier!

Organizing the kitchen around zones will make you much happier with the result than just relying on the ol' work triangle. 


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