kitchen

New Kitchen Plans

We regularly demolish and create new kitchens as part of our design-build practice, and the majority of them have outlived their usefulness by several years or even several decades. Typical complaints include expired appliances, limited storage, outdated styles, damaged cabinetry, and difficult layouts.

Even kitchens built in the last 15-20 years suffer from a variety of drawbacks, and a fair number of common problems can be traced to the kitchen plans. In the example below, we’ll point out some of the limitations we found in a 20 year old kitchen and our planning process as we worked to improve it.

The completed kitchen with custom cabinetry, new appliances, and an extended footprint. One benefit of good quality cabinetry is that it is easier to repair or refinish than cabinetry made with cheaper materials.

The twenty year old kitchen we replaced. Illuminating the ceiling with lights mounted on top of the wall cabinets was one of several curiosities in this kitchen. A 3” tall backsplash is not as useful as a full height backsplash and creates an artificial break under the wall cabinets. Mediocre quality cabinets do not allow for easy repairs or refinishing. Also, mixing yellow wall paint and multiple brown tones in the same space is likely to create a muddy visual best avoided in the kitchen.

A side-by-side view of the new and old kitchens helps illustrate some of the thinking that goes into a new kitchen plan. We started with the main drawbacks of the existing kitchen to set priorities:

  1. The footprint of the old kitchen was limited by two redundant entryways to the right of the peninsula. This meant that the main workspace area near the ovens, sink, dishwasher, microwave, and cooktop was only large enough for one person to work comfortably. By eliminating one of the two entryways, we gained an extra 28” of valuable wall and floor space to enlarge the work area and peninsula without sacrificing the flow to the adjacent dining room.

  2. The location of the appliances led to obstructions, little prep space, and “appliance overload.” The refrigerator and freezer doors would open frequently to block the main passage to the kitchen, and the area next to the refrigerator was a dumping ground for miscellaneous items because it was too far from the major appliances to be useful prep space. Clustering the ovens, cooktop, microwave, dishwasher and sink to led an imbalanced kitchen that was overweighted on one side. By moving the refrigerator and relocating the cooktop and oven to the opposite wall, we created a more balanced kitchen, removed an obstacle to the main passage, and created more useful prep space.

  3. The peninsula was not deep enough to provide practical seating for casual meals. Adding depth was easy once we extended the length of the kitchen by eliminating one of the two passageways to the dining room.

  4. The number of upper cabinets is worth reviewing in any kitchen re-design. We frequently see efforts to install as many as possible, and this leads to an unnecessary massing of wall cabinetry that adds visual bulk as well as cost to the kitchen budget. Importantly, we believe a kitchen should have well-designed storage which tends to alleviate cabinetry bloat. Think good storage vs. more storage. Wall cabinets are naturally too high for easy access beyond the first or second shelf. We eliminated some wall cabinets and emphasized the storage capacity of the base cabinets, including a pantry with rollout shelves for easy access.

A view of the Berlin honed quartzite countertops and cooktop placement. One key is a hood vent that provides sufficient air movement and exhaust to the exterior of the house. A microwave over the cooking surface is not adequate ventilation for much more than making mac-n-cheese. Quartzite is a durable material for kitchen counters, and Berlin features a charcoal grey color with subtle white veining.

Introducing one bank of open shelving helps limit the visual mass while also providing the owner easy access to everyday dishes.

A view of the cooktop wall. Drawers are preferable to doors in this location for convenient access to pots, pans, and cooking utensils. Although there was enough space for one more wall cabinet on either side of the hood vent, it would have added visual clutter without adding much usable storage.

A good kitchen plan is a highly important part of a kitchen renovation because it accommodates different budgets, multiple styles and family sizes, and it gives the owners the best chance of success in accomplishing their goals. Time spent planning is incredibly valuable. We thank these busy professionals for dedicating the time to work on the plan during evenings and weekends with us, and we hope they enjoy their new kitchen every day!

Kitchen Series, 3 of 3

We demolished and rebuilt a small rectangular kitchen in our last installment of the Kitchen Series. Today we have a 1956 galley kitchen that stretches the rectangle—but it is even more narrow than the 1943 version in Kitchen Series, 2 of 3. The evolution of kitchens across the decades shows many developments. Much of the functionality remains the same, but the materials and the idea of the kitchen has undergone major changes.

The new kitchen with sleek grey and white semi-custom cabinets, hardwood floors, and high-end appliances.

The new kitchen with sleek grey and white semi-custom cabinets, hardwood floors, and high-end appliances.

Advice from Mom: if you can’t think of something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. A tall ceiling and adjacent natural light were the best features of this kitchen before we started.

Advice from Mom: if you can’t think of something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. A tall ceiling and adjacent natural light were the best features of this kitchen before we started.

Typical galley kitchens are out of favor because they are often outdated and too cramped for entertaining. Open kitchen plans are more popular than ever. However, any kitchen footprint can work well if other requirements are met—including galley kitchens. One valuable guideline is to avoid overwhelming the space with materials. Focus on the essentials and apply the editor’s maxim: have “the guts to cut” anything unnecessary. Think Hemingway, not Faulkner, in small kitchen design.

A view of the Wolf dual-fuel range and backsplash to the ceiling with undulated tile. No upper cabinets clutter the space. Generous organized storage under the counter was sufficient for these clients.

A view of the Wolf dual-fuel range and backsplash to the ceiling with undulated tile. No upper cabinets clutter the space. Generous organized storage under the counter was sufficient for these clients.

These clients subscribe to the “less is more” approach to kitchen design, and we agree. Numerous kitchens suffer from too many ornamental details (intricate cabinet doors, for example, to create the illusion of something “historic” or fancy) or over-styled finishes (hand-painted Italianate tile was popular at one time). Excess competes for your attention and ages quickly, too. Simplicity is not the same as plain.

Wolf drawer microwave under white quartz countertops, Franke water filter, and Sub-Zero refrigerator shown above.

Wolf drawer microwave under white quartz countertops, Franke water filter, and Sub-Zero refrigerator shown above.

This kitchen reminds us of the contemporary master bathroom we completed with the emphasis on uncluttered design, high-quality materials, and our focus on the short list of essentials for our clients. Do you know that feeling when you (pardon the expression) hit the nail on the head at work? We did here. It was a pleasure working with these clients, and it means a lot to us that they are thrilled with their new kitchen.


Kitchen Series, 1 of 3

Residential real estate descriptions are a hoot. Imagine the comedy if you could type MLS sentences into software like Google Translator and see what comes out. For example, “Lovely vintage home with lots of charm” actually means “Holy #&%! there’s a freakish amount of work to do here.” This description should trigger your fight-or-flight response. Our clients in Wilmette chose the former when they purchased a home built in 1900 described with exactly these words.

After completing major structural work (the alt-meaning of “lovely and vintage home with lots of charm”), they contacted us for a two-story addition. Not only was this family of four undaunted by the scope of the project, they decided to ride out the construction by living in the front of the house while we ripped off the back and rebuilt it during the cold part of the year. Tough characters, we said.

As part of the addition, we installed a modern new kitchen with an oversized window overlooking the backyard.

A view of the finished kitchen with cypress-colored lower cabinetry paired with the gloss sheen white upper cabinets.

A view of the finished kitchen with cypress-colored lower cabinetry paired with the gloss sheen white upper cabinets.

A clean slate for a kitchen is one of those sweet moments on a construction site. For us, at least.

A clean slate for a kitchen is one of those sweet moments on a construction site. For us, at least.

Our first step was to remove the old kitchen, including donating the old cabinets to the Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse.

Our first step was to remove the old kitchen, including donating the old cabinets to the Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse.

Deconstructing the back of the house in preparation for the heavy equipment.

Deconstructing the back of the house in preparation for the heavy equipment.

Let me introduce you to my little friend.

Let me introduce you to my little friend.

We think our clients would approve of this message after living though a major renovation project.

We think our clients would approve of this message after living though a major renovation project.

We’ll return to this project in a future blog entry. In the meantime, we’ve been wrapping up a few kitchen projects that we’ll cover in the Kitchen Series. Our brave clients not only survived the construction while living through it, they appear to be thriving. We’re glad we had the opportunity to improve this old home, and we wish them many happy years in it.

Until next time . . . Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Remodeling and Home Design