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SMART IDEAS / KITCHENS

How To Design A Kitchen

By Antoinette Richards | Saturday | 19/11/2005

A well designed kitchen can add significant value to a home however there are pitfalls and esigning a kitchen is best left to the professionals.

Nothing is more disruptive in a family's lifestyle than a major kitchen renovation. Most people spend a great deal of their time at home in the kitchen. This important room is used to prepare meals, for informal eating, and as a casual gathering place for family and friends. People soon realize how important the room is when its torn apart during renovations, even the simple task of making a cup of coffee becomes a major undertaking without a kitchen. It is therefore critically important that tear out and new installation are coordinated during the design phase to minimize down time. If you want a real life definition of angry, tell your family that the kitchen will be down another week because you forgot to order something or your dimensions were wrong and you have to re-build a cabinet.


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Most experts agree that a kitchen renovation project will return almost 100% on investment when the property is sold. Surveys by the real estate industry show that a kitchen is one, if not the most, important feature with potential purchasers. Real estate agents have told me that the quality of the kitchen often makes or breaks the sale.

Kitchen design is very subjective, there are few hard and fast rules. A feature or layout that is perfect for one person is far from perfect for another. The issue of lifestyle and how it revolves around the kitchen is very unique to each family. In most cases, the family, usually the prime user of the kitchen space, will have very definite ideas on what is needed and what the end result has to be to meet their needs. Often they have been looking through magazines, drawing rough floor plans, measuring, and dreaming about their ideal kitchen for quite some time.

During the initial look at your existing kitchen, research all of the information about new products and features on the market. Ask yourself questions about your requirements and put ideas on paper. Combine your notes and rough drawings along with accurate measurements and attempt to come up with two or three floor plans. I don't normally try to radically alter anything that will change a major feature that is important to me or my family, however, I will look at alternatives if I see something that is unsafe or very poorly designed. Try to incorporate the most important desires in alternative plans.

There are a few issues you should address during your initial look at the kitchen. Ask questions so that you understand all the needs. Consultants call it a needs analysis study, and although I don't go in for fancy titles, I think the term applies in this case.

Discuss the existing kitchen space and layout with all the primary users of the kitchen in your household, listing the good and bad points of the design. Investigate the traffic patterns in and through the kitchen. Analyze the day to day meal preparation tasks. Try to formulate a "normal" daily meal preparation routine. Questions should be asked about your family's desire to do more in the kitchen. Is there a hobby or area of interest, such as baking, that you would like to do more of if the added space or facilities were available.

Do you feel that a lot of walking or movement is necessary during meal preparation? Ask whether or not cleaning up after meals seems to be a monumental task. You may not solve that problem, but it may be reduced by simple layout changes. You or your family might want to entertain more in the kitchen, and formally in the dining room, if the kitchen space and functionality of the room could be improved upon.


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Determine how long you plan to own the house. A $20,000 kitchen renovation project may not be fully recoverable if the intention is to upgrade for a quick sale in the near future. If you convince yourself to over improve and the return is not realized during resale, you may possibly be wasting a good deal of money.

Discuss your family's wish list. If space or money was no object, what would you like to have in your dream kitchen? Discuss topics such as lighting, both area and task illumination, kitchen seating needs, as well as appliance upgrade needs. There are other areas that can be discussed which may surface during your investigation. I've found being a good listener and asking many questions to be the best approach.

Kitchen design is a difficult process because everyone's needs and desires are different. I've designed and built cabinets and workspaces for kitchen renovation projects that I wouldn't have in my own personal kitchen and I'm sure the reverse is true. Kitchen design is based on very personal and individual tastes.

Two design "rules" that seem to true in every case deal with colour and illumination. Light colour or natural wood cabinets tend to brighten and visually enlarge a space. Improved general and task lighting always enhances the project. Older kitchens seemed to have dark cabinets and poor illumination which gave you the impression you were in a cave. Yesterday's kitchen was simply a place to prepare the meal, clean up and leave the room. Today's lifestyle is very much focused on the kitchen as a gathering place for a wide and varied number of activities, the room has to be bright, seem large, be functional, and adapt to many of those activities. Take your time and investigate all the alternatives as the planning stage is a very important process of any kitchen renovation project.

There are many styles of kitchen layouts including the L Kitchen, galley, U shaped and Island style, which can present many human traffic problems. However most kitchen designers agree that the sum of all the legs in a work triangle in any style of kitchen, being the triangle formed by distances between the fridge to the stove to the sink and back to the fridge, not be less than ten feet and not greater than twenty-five feet. If the sum of the legs in the work triangle are too small, people will be tripping over each other and if too large, food preparation could be a very tiring task. I analyze this work pattern each time I design a kitchen layout and it's proven to be a valuable exercise.

If you feel intimidated by the kitchen design process you may want to investigate the possibility enrolling in design courses that are offered by some community colleges in your area. Investigate the possibility of seminars offered by local, provincial, state, and federal trade associations. There is a national Kitchen and Bath Association, listed in the phone book of most large cities that may have information .

Kitchen design is a very important function, so much so that there is a Certified Kitchen Designer certification program. These individuals that are certified usually specialize in this area exclusively which illustrates how vast the kitchen renovation field has become. There is a good living to be made with a great deal of satisfaction in the kitchen renovation field. However, like all specialized trades, knowledge comes from learning and the greatest teacher is experience. Read books (I buy and read every book I see on kitchen cabinetmaking and design), attend seminar and training programs, and analyze every kitchen you come across for ideas and techniques.

There are certain accepted standards associated with kitchen cabinetmaking. Counter height, space allowance between base and upper cabinets, cabinet depth, as well as the space required for refrigerators and stoves.

These dimensions are not cast in stone but are generally accepted in the industry particularly by accessory and appliance manufacturers. The width of the majority of stoves is thirty inches and most refrigerators require thirty-three inches for proper installation. Normally, a thirty-one inch space is designed into the plan for stove installation. This gives us one half inch on each side of the stove so that it can be easily removed and replaced during cleaning or repair.

Refrigerators are not quite as standard as stoves but a good rule of thumb is to allow 83.8 centimeters for this appliance. The norm on most fridges is approximately 81 centimeters, however, check the existing appliance, or the one you plan to buy, before building. I was a little embarrassed on one occasion when an off standard fridge would not fit in the 83.8 centermeter that I allowed between base cabinets. This situation is rare but it's a reminder that you cannot take sizes for granted.

Kitchen design is one of the most critical components in a renovation project. Take your time, investigate all the options, and the end result will most probably meet all your expectations.

Antoinette Richards is a Sydney based designer for NEXT DESIGN she can be contacted on 0412 303 074 or email at: arichardsnd@yahoo.com.au

 

 

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