How to design a kitchen

Kitchen design 
Practicality is essential to kitchen design, but doesn't need to come at the expense of beauty. Image by Caesarstone.

The kitchen is the single most expensive and complex area when you're designing, renovating or building a house. A broad range of kitchen appliances, cabinets and workspaces must be accommodated, each with its own need for space, stability, convenient electricity and function.

Balancing these needs appropriately is something of an art, but in the hands of a skilled kitchen designer just about any space can be turned into a fantastic kitchen.


What makes a 'good' kitchen?

A successful kitchen is one that fulfils both functional and aesthetic requirements. It will be laid out in a way that makes work as easy and effective as possible, will be designed in a way that will be safe, and will be finished with appropriate materials on floors, walls and ceilings, on cabinets and benchtops.

A well designed kitchen, in simpler terms, is one that's both a pleasure to look at and to work in.


Kitchens as a social hub


No matter what the occasion, people always tend to gravitate quite naturally towards the kitchen like moths to an exposed lightbulb. Any successful kitchen must have adequate space for several people to congregate and be social. Compact kitchens are most successful when they open to an adjoining family (or casual living) room where family and friends can socialise without leaving the cook feeling isolated. Even the large traditional country kitchen had a relatively compact work area with a table and chairs nearby.


What is the kitchen work triangle?

The golden rule when it comes to the practical side of kitchen design is to design with the kitchen work triangle in mind. The most common kitchen activities are repetitive, and involve a great deal of movement between two or three of the most commonly used parts of the kitchen:

  • the stove
  • the sink and
  • the refrigerator.

Drawing a line between these three elements in any kitchen creates what's known as the traditional kitchen work triangle. In an ideal kitchen, you should be allowed to move completely unrestricted between these three parts of the kitchen.


How big should the kitchen triangle be?

The rule of thumb when it comes to measuring out the kitchen work triangle is that the sum of the lines in the triangle should measure at least 3.6 metres, but no greater than 8 metres. Each side of the triangle should be a minimum of 1.2 metres, but no longer than 2.7 metres.

As with anything, these rules are flexible and some designers may even take a different approach altogether from that of the kitchen work triangle.


Safe kitchen design

To be safe to work in, a kitchen must conform to basic design principles, as well as some simple building regulations. It must house all the required utensils and have sufficient work areas (including elbow room) to allow safe use of those utensils. Also, in order to meet the needs of different-sized households, certain minimum sizes must be met.

Ensuring that there aren't any obstructions in the kitchen work triangle is one of the main safety concerns. Other important design aspects include:

  • no opening windows near the stove
  • no curtains near the stove
  • install exhaust fans that discharge outside the building
  • have adequate natural light and ventilation
  • have safe knife storage
  • have bright task lighting wherever work is done
  • build in adequate bench space for your needs
  • build in adequate and accessible storage space
  • integrate appliances so that they're accessible in the work space
  • have sufficient power points (more is better)
  • position power points at a sufficient distance from water outlets and sinks


Borrowed landscapes and views, lines of sight

If possible, locate the kitchen so that children can be easily supervised in other areas - an open-plan kitchen will definitely help with this. Give some thought to the views you'll have through windows and doorways.

Consider putting a window in front of the sink area to make washing dishes a little more relaxing. If the view through the window is just a blank wall of the neighbour’s garage or a poorly maintained backyard, think about placing the preparation area so that it overlooks a casual living area instead.

If the kitchen opens directly to the outside, allow space for the storage of wet weather gear near the door.


Hire a design professional

The kitchen may only seem like a small corner of your house, but it's somewhere you're likely to spend quite a bit of time working, and in all likelihood it'll be filled to the brim with cutlery, crockery, ingredients, appliances and fittings. There's a lot to consider when designing a kitchen - and simple design flaws can easily turn an otherwise attractive kitchen into a source of frustration or worse - a safety hazard.

Hiring a professional kitchen designer may add to your costs, but it'll ensure you get a first rate kitchen and may save you the added expense of having to fix things further down the track.


Looking for great kitchen designs? Check out some of Australia's best in our kitchen ideas gallery.