Plan the Smartest Layout

Three Things to Bring to Your First Meeting With the Kitchen Planner
An experienced designer can save you time and money by heading off potential problems at the pass. Kitchen planners know all the tricks: how to maximize storage, smart substitutions for high-end materials, even the best local contractors for the job. But first, they need a few things from you.



1. An architectural rendering or to-scale drawing of your existing kitchen, showing the location of windows, doors, heating, plumbing lines, and electrical outlets. If you're not working with an architect, you can do it yourself with 3-D kitchen design software. (Take a free test-drive at nkba.org, the National Kitchen and Bath Association's website.)
2. A detailed wish list indicating your goals for remodeling. Do you want more space? More storage? More style? A built-in dog bed? Organize it by priority, from the "must-haves" to the "in our dreams."
3. An idea folder: pictures of rooms, products, materials, and architectural details that appeal to you; notes on what you like about friends' kitchens (and hate about your own); and general concepts translated from other areas of your life. Are you a neat freak? Glass-front cabinets are sleek, but you may be happier with painted doors that conceal clutter.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself: A Kitchen Personality Quiz
Repeat this mantra: Form follows function. Answer these questions about the way your household uses the kitchen, then see the analysis below for design ideas.

1. How many chefs usually work in the kitchen?
a. Two, maybe more (including guests and kids).
b. Only one person cooks at a time.
c. None.

2. What's your cooking style?
a. Serious: Cooking and entertaining at home is how we unwind.
b. Laid-back: Dinner most nights is a casual affair; holidays are when we cook for a crowd.
c. Nonexistent.

3. Who else hangs out in the kitchen, and what do they do there?
a. On weekends the place is party central.
b. The whole family seems to do everything but sleep and play soccer there. It's a game room, TV room, office, and kitchen all rolled into one.
c. If it weren't for the beer and microwave dinners, the kitchen would get no use at all.

4. How important is easy cleanup?
a. Not as important as the high-Btu burst I get from unsealed stove burners.
b. The room sees too much activity for surfaces to need coddling. It has to clean up fast.
c. What I really need is a recycling system for paper, plastic, and glass.

5. If you could splurge on one luxury, what would it be?
a. A six-burner Viking range with electric ovens.
b. A built-in computer desk where the kids can go on-line and I can pay bills.
c. Ever hear of a self-cleaning microwave?


The Answers
3 or more A's: Think like a pro. If it's in the budget, spend the money on a six- to eight-burner professional- style range, dedicated spice storage, and a fridge spacious enough to accommodate platters. You may also want to consider glass-front cabinets or open shelves to display dishes and glassware. Make sure you have good task lighting and stick to a flooring material like wood or old-fashioned linoleum, which are easy on the feet and easy to clean.

3 or more B's: Keep it functional, not fussy. Design in features that will simplify your daily routine—a self-cleaning oven, a microwave where the kids can reach it, lots of counter and storage space. Since you rarely cook labor-intensive meals, spend your appliance dollars on an energy-efficient side-by-side refrigerator, an easy-to-clean cooktop, and sturdy cabinetry with ample space for household staples. Think in advance about ways to control the inevitable clutter from all that family activity, such as an adjustable shelving system or cubbies fitted with bins.

3 or more C's: Remember resale. Spend your makeover dollars on practical, clean-lined cabinets; good-quality basic appliances; and conveniences like a built-in recycling center. Be careful not to spend too little on the kitchen: Quality counts with homebuyers, and a shoddy new kitchen is no better than a dingy old one. It will be money well spent. In the current real estate market, you should be able to recoup between 87 and 125 percent of your investment.

Two Triangles are Better Than One: The Best Layouts for Busy Kitchens

The kitchen triangle — that three-sided connection between the stove, sink, and refrigerator — is practically sacrosanct in kitchen design manuals. But in today's family kitchens, often one triangle isn't enough.

1. The island workstation: Depending on the shape of your kitchen, an island can make the work triangle more efficient — in a large space, it can tighten the legs of the triangle to the recommended distance of between 4 and 8 feet. In a two-cook kitchen, the island can be a pivot point in a series of triangles, especially if it includes a prep sink or a dedicated workstation, as for baking. In a compact kitchen, consider a rolling island that can be tucked against a wall when not in use.
2. The zone approach: Before you settle on a layout, map out the prevalent traffic patterns in the room: for instance, from fridge to sink to stove; toaster to coffeemaker to computer desk; homework station to fridge to back door. Then set up distinct areas, or "zones," for each set of activities. For convenience and safety, try to keep zones from overlapping — the refrigerator, for instance, should be at the outer corner of the cooking zone so that kids can access it without having to pass near the stove.
The good news is, you should be able to recoup most of your remodeling costs at resale. The bad news: You have to pay for it now. Limit spending to no more than 15 percent of your home's market value. Then, once you've come up with a budget number, lop 20 percent off the top and squirrel it away for unexpected necessities — like shoring up the floor so that new cast-iron Aga stove doesn't go crashing into the basement.

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