All white kitchen with island and shiny hood fan
Proper ventilation is an important part of designing a functional kitchen. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock.

Hands down, the most important room in the home is the kitchen. It’s called the heart of the home for a reason, namely that this hub is where homeowners spend most of their time. Also, its central location sets the style tone for the entire home. 

That’s why thoughtful planning around not only how a kitchen looks, but how it supports lifestyle, functionality and aesthetic is time well spent. And for new-build homeowners, the chance to direct upgrades towards their kitchen design to achieve these goals is enticing. But how should homeowners approach their kitchen design? 

“Every kitchen project starts with attention to ergonomics and efficiency. Yes, it must be beautiful, but it must function according to how homeowners live and work in the kitchen,” says master kitchen and bath designer Courtney Zanelli

Function first 

Homeowners should first consider how they will use their kitchen – in detail. That means taking time to do a step-by-step analysis on how they move and work in a kitchen. 

Visualize yourself in the kitchen preparing a meal. What tools are you using? How many steps do you have to take to access them?  

Do an inventory of what you are likely to use most often, from pots and pans, cutting boards and spices to small appliances. Everything needs to have a place and needs to be accessible according to priority of use. 

“It’s all about streamlining the process. When I’m standing at the range, I need to have access to my essential tools. We drill down from that to suggest, while standing at the range, there should be a drawer that has some utensils with dividers. There should be a good block of counterspace near where I am storing the cutting board, and so on,” says Zanelli. 

Homeowners should also think about features that would elevate their everyday life, based on lifestyle. Perhaps having a pot filler or hot water tap would make life easier. Bakers or homeowners who entertain large groups would benefit from a double wall oven, or a second dishwasher.  A large family might appreciate a walk-in pantry to keep snacks and staples handy, while coffee drinkers would get a lot of use out of a separate coffee bar with enough space to channel their inner barista.  

Gregory James, executive chef at the Inn at Perry Cabin and winner of the Restaurant Association of Maryland Best Chef of the Year (2022) advises homeowners to adopt a function-first approach, similar to how professional chefs set up their kitchens. 

“Ample counter and cabinet space are must-have features for a kitchen. Spaces that are multifunctional and are designed thoughtfully to utilize every inch allow for the best experience in a kitchen, especially when cooking,” says James. 

Create the kitchen triangle 

One of the fundamentals of kitchen design is the kitchen triangle, which is the area between the stove, sink and refrigerator— in other words, prep central. The idea is to have these stations in close proximity to each other, to minimize steps and to permit traffic flow in the kitchen, which is particularly useful if you’ve got more than one cook. 

modern kitchen with blue cabinetry and a white island
The kitchen triangle enhances functionality. Photo Credit: Lakeside at Trappe, Brookfield Residential

The kitchen triangle concept was developed in the 1940s, from builders who were trying to cut costs by making kitchens more compact, but the efficiencies that propagated from this tight and tidy triangle have made it a design principle that has endured generations and is the cornerstone of good kitchen design today. 

“When possible, a work triangle should be created from the center of the sink to the center of the cooktop/range, to the center of the refrigerator and back to the sink,” says Erin Smith, senior director of sales & marketing at Brookfield Residential. 

While the size of the triangle will obviously vary depending on the size of the kitchen, there are a few general guidelines:  

  • The perimeter of the triangle should be at a minimum of about 12 feet, but no more than 26 feet.  
  • Typically, the three corners of the triangle (i.e., the fridge, cooktop and sink should be from four to nine feet from each other.  
  • Structures (i.e., cabinetry, islands etc.) cannot enter the triangle, because they will impede movement. 

While the dishwasher isn’t officially part of the triangle, its placement in relation to the work zone should be carefully considered. “The dishwasher should always be placed next to the sink, and it is helpful to have a drawer for silverware nearby for easy unloading,” says Smith. 

Also important is the placement of the garbage and recycling receptacles. It’s common to have garbage under the sink, or if a homeowner is opting for in-drawer garbage cans, make sure the drawers are accessible. 

What kitchen upgrades should I choose? 

The upgrades that add the most value, for both lifestyle and for resale for future buyers, are the ones that hinge on function. 

For example, builder-grade cabinetry tends to stop several inches below the ceiling. Running the cabinetry to the ceiling is an excellent upgrade. It looks sleek and it also creates an opportunity to enhance the functionality of the kitchen with more storage. 

It’s even better when upgraded cabinetry offers organizational function inside, with features such as dividers, utensil caddies, roll-out drawers or pull-outs (good for spices). Housing appliances in base cabinetry is a value-add too, with a microwave or beverage fridge tucked into an island

overhead shot of an island cooktop with pull-out drawers
Add value with pull-out drawers with organizational options. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock.

Also coveted by homebuyers are higher-end, energy-efficient appliances. Choosing the best appliances comes back to function and how the homeowner intends to use the space.  

“Oversized, French- door style refrigerators with external ice/water dispensers create additional room for food storage and save space (and money) by offering cold, filtered water. Upgrading from a slide-in range to a cooktop with double wall ovens is ideal for the homeowner that loves to cook frequently,” says Smith. 

Electrical and lighting upgrades will help with kitchen workflow as James explains. “Plenty of electrical outlets that allow for the use of multiple appliances is also a bonus,” he says.  

What do homeowners often overlook in their kitchen design? 

With so many moving parts in the kitchen, it is hard to think of everything. And homeowners most commonly forget about ventilation. 

“Working in a kitchen with inadequate ventilation can be extremely inconvenient, especially when cooking with high heat— no one wants to set off the fire alarms when trying to sear a steak,” says James. 

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