Kitchen Interior Design 101: Rules of Thumb You Can't Live Without

You want a kitchen that people swoon over.  Especially... you. 

Kitchen interior design is not rocket science, and a little knowledge goes a long way.  To design a kitchen that really takes the cake (sorry, I couldn't help myself), it needs to be personalized to your tastes, lifestyle and budget.

Who better to do that than you?  So let's get started...

Interior design for kitchens isn't much different than interior design for any other room, except you have to pack a lot more function into the space!  If you want to learn to design a kitchen for function, click here.

But as far as designing for beauty, the same basic principles apply to designing your kitchen as any other art form...

Artwork, dance, music, architecture, or even fashion!

And I bet you know something about at least one of those. You'll be applying the same rules of thumb you're familiar with to your kitchen space. We'll talk about that in a minute.  First let's look at...

Best Kitchen Interior Designs

Question:   What is the best kitchen interior design?

Answer:      It depends!  On your lifestyle, budget and personal preferences.  There is no one design that is perfect for everyone, but there is a best design for you.

How to find it?

First, decide on your overall interior decorating style- one that suits your taste and your space.  Do you want a modern kitchen, or do you lean towards traditional? How about country or Shaker?

Whatever your taste, use a kitchen cabinet style that reflects your overall decorating style. 
After all, kitchen cabinetry takes up a large amount of visual space!  See how kitchen cabinet styles affect your design decisions.

Brainstorm several words that describe how you want the kitchen space to feel.  Words that you would use to describe a person. For example:

* Friendly
* Sophisticated
* Nurturing
* Serious
* Efficient
* Carefree
* Cheerful

Or any other words that convey a feeling that appeals to you.  After brainstorming, choose the three that are most important to you.

Now, write it down!

Put a sticky note, a note in your phone, or whatever you will remember to look at when you choose:


  • kitchen cabinets
  • countertops
  • flooring
  • appliances
  • paint colors
  • backsplashes

These items take up a lot of visual space, so if their colors and textures reflect the mood you want (or at least don't oppose it), your kitchen interior design will too. 

For example, if you want a cheerful, nurturing, and carefree country kitchen style, you could choose any material for flooring.  (Well...except carpet- it's not carefree in a kitchen!). 

But I'd avoid blacks and gray tones for large surfaces in a cheerful kitchen.  A few black small appliances, however, probably won't spoil the mood (unless you have a very, very small kitchen)!  They don't take up enough visual space to worry about. 

CHEAT SHEET Design rules of thumb are even more important for small kitchens.  

Here are some kitchens and moods they convey (at least to me... remember everyone is different). Color has a strong influence on feelings, but one color can mean different things to different people. 
As long as you are designing for you, however, don't worry about what other people think.  Unless they live there too, or you plan to put your home up for sale in the next few years. In those cases, get input from others.

After you've decided on a mood and your kitchen cabinet design style is settled, we can look at design basics.

Kitchen Design Rule of Thumb: Harmony
(or, Repeat Repeat Repeat)

This rule is all about repeating yourself (in a good way!).  For anything in your design (let's say cabinet finish), repeat it for impact and harmony.  This just means to use similar items for most of what you see.

You probably have noticed patterns in music, like the refrain being sung over and over.  This is the same idea here, but for kitchen design it can mean:


* Using the same cabinets for most of the design (instead of a different cabinet color and door design every time you turn around)
* Using the same color in more than one place
* Using similar shapes over again (rather than square shapes, ovals, and circles in equal amounts).

Easy, right? Now that you know the first rule, here are some examples of how you can plan for harmony in your kitchen design:

Kitchen Design Rule of Thumb: Balance the Room

Balance is also easy to understand...

If you took a picture of the room and plopped it on a see saw, does it seem like one side would come crashing to the ground?  If so, the room is unbalanced.
Pro designers strive for balance. 

Symmetrical balance looks basically identical on each half (like a person's face).
Asymmetrical balance is when the design is not identical on each side, but visually, each side is getting about the same amount of attention from your eye.

Just split what you're looking at down the middle and decide if one side feels "too heavy."
Here are some examples of symmetrical and asymmetrical balance.  Remember, both are ok.  The first is classic symmetrical balance, typical of traditional kitchens.

Asymmetrical balance is more difficult to achieve, but gives a more casual feel.  The large glass corner cabinet tries to balance the large full height pantry cabinet below.  It will work even better with some brightly colored dishes behind the glass to draw the eye to the corner a bit more.  Interior cabinet lighting would also help!

Kitchen Design Rule of Thumb: Proportion is Your Friend

Judging the right proportions for your kitchen interior design gets a little trickier.  In fact, it's often one of the most common design mistakes among DIYers.
What can you do?  Just stick to the rules of thumb.

Kitchen Design Rule of Thumb: Use the Golden Ratio

Unless you are repeating the same cabinet width for harmony, use the Golden Ratio of 1:1.6 to help decide on cabinet dimensions. It's found over and over in nature.

Kitchen Design Rule of Thumb: Let there be Contrast
(in Colors, Textures, or Materials)

One of the two biggest questions people face when designing a kitchen is:
"What colors do I use? What materials?"

The answer depends on the mood you want, kitchen design style, and how you want to achieve some contrast.

Every design needs contrast, or you will end up with (horrors of horrors!) a boring kitchen design.

Give big contrast by using completely opposite colors, or opposite textures.  Pick one.

Which one?

Well, if your kitchen interior design goal is a cheerful, nurturing, and carefree country kitchen style, you might still lean towards beiges and browns with just a pop of cheerful turquoise from some antique dishes.

If you are staying with mostly neutral colors on large surfaces like walls and floors (great for resale value), you can have more fun with textures.  Maybe try a rougher looking texture with hand-scraped wood flooring, and contrast it with glossy cream kitchen cabinets.  And if your countertops have a lot of texture, quiet down the backsplash for contrast.

If you punch up the wall colors with turquoise, for example, to make darned sure it's a cheerful space, and throw in some (opposite color) orange accents (a bowl of oranges?), you are going to want to quiet down the contrast of textures a bit.  Choose a not-too-shiny cream tile, and a matte finish on the cabinets as well.  Less pattern in the countertops and backsplash would be best.

For your own kitchen interior design, you'll want to find that big "must have" item first, so that everything else will be designed around it.

For example, if your must have item is granite countertops, it's better to have a less busy wood grain in your kitchen cabinets for a contrast in the visual textures.

Especially if your stain color isn't in the granite!

Your granite will draw more attention, and the kitchen cabinets will look better too, since they will be a calm relief for the busy texture of the stone.

Kitchen Interior Design Wrap Up

I sincerely hope these rule of thumb have helped you with your kitchen's interior design. 

I'll be adding more info... as soon as my kids let me!  ;) 

If you want to learn more about DIY design, see the page how to design your own kitchen.


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