When my husband and I bought our house, we fell in love with the mid-century modern look and feel of it, but didn’t love what the last owners did to the kitchen. The cabinets were cheap and bland, manufactured of particle board. With the cabinets came matching bland laminate countertops, and all of it sat on top of light-colored laminate wood flooring. The center island, that housed the cook-top, was big enough only for the cooktop, and it wasn’t secured to the floor, pivoting around the big electrical line that fueled the cooktop. The only things we loved about it were the size and the double-oven.
Originally, we were going to wait a year to redo the kitchen, to save up some money and to figure out how we really wanted the kitchen to look. Well, after living in the house for only 3 weeks, I'd had enough of the kitchen. It was completely inefficient; I was constantly bumping into the island, trying to get something from the fridge to the sink, or going from the cooktop to the sink, and to the fridge. Since the cooktop wasn’t secured to the floor, it was a very unsafe kitchen to be in. So we decided it had to go.
But before we started ripping out the cabinets, demolishing the island, etc., we had some homework to do. The first thing we did was decide what the new layout of the kitchen would be. Knowing that the layout was causing issues, I did some research and found out about the kitchen work triangle. If you’ve never heard of the kitchen work triangle, take a look here for some info.
The importance of the work triangle is to make the most important parts of your kitchen work the most efficiently. The three points of the triangle represent the three main parts of your kitchen – sink, cooking area, and refrigerator. Having these connected into a triangle, no matter what shape kitchen you have, will make your kitchen work most effectively for the most important tasks you do there. While kitchen shape doesn’t matter when it comes to the work triangle, it is important to know the style, to help you determine the most logical place for your work triangle. Another thing to think about is countertop appliances – you want them to be where you won’t be cutting, cleaning or storing items, so make sure you have enough counter space outside the work triangle for the countertop appliances you want to use daily.
My kitchen is pretty large and it was pretty much a U-shape, with an island. From the photos above and the drawings below, you can see what we had to work with. As you can see, there is no kitchen triangle! So the first thing we did was put it in.
As you can see, there is tons of counter space surrounding the main points of the triangle, which is helpful. The counter space that isn’t in the area of the work triangle holds our countertop appliance, like coffeemaker and toaster oven. We were also able to add a pantry!
To get to this point, we had to determine a few other things:
You should have all the appliances, or know what the size of your appliance will be when designing your space – cabinets come in all sorts of widths to accommodate all kitchens. You should also have an idea of where they should be located within the space.
- Stovetop: There are a few options here. First, know what kind of energy will be fueling your stovetop – electric, natural gas, or propane gas? Second, do you want an attached oven, or do you want a countertop stove and an oven separate? Make sure you take stock of the size of your stovetop – the freestanding electric ones that come with an oven in the bottom are standard size unless you get a fancy one that has a grill in the middle, or a spot specifically for a griddle, or one with a built-in vent, or more than 4-5 burners. Cooktops with no oven vary based on the number of burners and layout, but there are certain standard sizes those follow as well.
- Refrigerator: This is pretty much preference – freezer-top, freezer-bottom, French door, single door. When picking one out, be sure that it is big enough for your needs, in terms of cubic feet, but also note the actual fridge measurements.There are so many fridges that share the same internal cubic feet, but have different height/width/depth measurements, so be sure to know those measurements.
- Sink – There are all kinds available; undermount, overmount, apron, one-bowl, two-bowl, two-bowl offset, just to name a few. And then there are all kinds of materials; stainless, porcelain/enamel, copper. And colors, too! Standard sinks are 30” wide, but can be as big as 48”, so make sure you have space enough for the sink you have.
- Dishwasher: If you’ve never had one, decide if you want one. Some people think they’re inefficient. Some think they will never fill them and would rather handwash. And some people can’t live without them (that’s us). Dishwashers are pretty standard, unless you get a commercial one.
If you have to redo the flooring in your kitchen, the options are limitless. However, when picking the type of flooring you want, think about these things:
- Traffic: The kitchen usually gets the most traffic out of any other room in the house. Make sure you are able to keep your flooring looking nice most of the time.
- Use; Do you have kids or pets? Do you like to entertain or are you more reclusive when it comes to your personal space? You need to consider the durability of the flooring you pick to match the lifestyle you live.
- Maintenance: Everything requires some kind of maintenance, but it can be the difference between daily, weekly, or monthly maintenance. The type of flooring, as well as the color, is important to consider.
When installing flooring, there are 2 ways to do it, and it really depends on whether you have the height available. The first option is to floor the whole kitchen, regardless of where the cabinets are going. This is nice because if you ever decide to change the layout, you never have to worry about redoing the floor. However, this can add additional expenses, and will make it hard to replace if needed. The second option, and more popular, is to floor only where you don’t have cabinets. This is more cost-effective, easier to maintain if a fix is needed, and gives your cabinets that extra bit of height that could make or break your cabinet design. However, if you change the layout, you then have to fill-in or remove flooring. The other negative is that it adds time to your flooring install as you will need to make more exact measurements for cutting your flooring.
When buying flooring, they always say to add 10% of materials to your estimate. This is to cover any mistakes and cut pieces. You also want the overage in the event you need to perform a fix in the future – all flooring is not made equal and everything goes out of style and out of stock as time goes on, so be sure to have a few square feet’s worth of flooring remaining after your install.
Cabinets come in many variations – all Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), all wood, or a combination of both. MDF cabinets are surprisingly strong, and are cheaper than wood cabinets, but wood cabinets are more versatile and can be changed without actually changing the cabinetry. You can always paint wood cabinets, but you can’t really paint MDF cabinets. They do make cabinets where the doors and door frame are wood , but the rest is MDF – with this, you get the best of both worlds, a more cost-effective cabinet, but with the sophistication and versatility of wood.
You can go just about anywhere to buy your own cabinets for installation, but a lot of companies can provide deals on installation as well. Retailers such as Home Depot, IKEA, Lowes, and Kitchens Express are just a few places where you can find cabinets. Companies like IKEA have kitchen design software that will allow you, yourself, to build a template, so you can see a virtual finished product. This is good to do, so you have an idea of approximate cost and you know what you want your layout to look like.
Once you’ve decided on a layout, it’s time to get prices. Shop around, see if you can get a deal with a company if you get your countertops with them too. See how much it costs for the company to install them versus you doing that work yourself. Look for freebies! With our cabinet purchase, we got our sink and one of our base cabinets free! We also got a 10% discount by applying for their store card.
When ordering cabinets, it’s important to know that it can take time, especially if you have custom cabinets. Think 10-12 weeks minimum before your cabinets will be available for delivery. Wood cabinets need an additional 2 weeks to acclimate to the climate within your home before you can start the installation. No matter what, be sure to inspect every single cabinet that you order within the first 7 days of delivery – most companies will replace any damaged cabinetry free of charge within the first week. After that, it gets more difficult as they are sitting in your home where they cannot control the conditions.
There are so many things you can do with your countertops today. Depending on the style of your home, you can pick more traditional materials like marble, granite, laminate, or tile. If you want something more modern, you can go with concrete, wood, copper, stainless steel, or quartz. There are also lots of man-made materials that are cost-effective and durable. Typical countertops are about 1” thick and have a ½” overhang over your cabinets, so take note of that if you plan to measure yourself.
Traditional countertops have a backsplash that goes up about 3-4” against your walls, but those are not required, especially if you decide to do a backsplash that extends higher. I’d recommend having a professional come measure and install. Traditional countertops run $40-70 per square foot, a big cost to take on if your measurements don’t work out. More modern materials go from $60-120 per square foot! Before you can have someone come and measure, you will need your base cabinets installed, your plumbing in place, and your sink picked out. The typical turnover from measurement to install is 1-2 weeks, closer to 1 week if the material you pick is available in the warehouse.
If you go with a material like wood, concrete, or tile, you can do that yourself. Solid pieces of wood are very expensive, but there are lots of DIYs on using other kinds of wood – tongue-in-groove flooring, reclaimed wood like old doors from flea markets or tag sales, or wood planks. There are a lot of online tutorials to help. A few are listed below.
How to Make DIY Countertop
Do-It-Yourself Butcher-Block Kitchen Countertop
DYI Wood Plank Countertops
How to Make a Wood Countertop
Concrete is another cool material that you can DIY. You can pour it smooth, or stamp it with a cool design. You can also acid stain it to give it color or to make a marble effect and you can finish it to matte or satiny. Here are a few DIY links.
Basic Concrete Countertop
How to Build and Install a Concrete Countertop
Concrete Countertop DIY
Tile is another DIY option that you can make cooler than the traditional 6” square tile. Here are some photos of what you can do with tile for your counters:
Traditionally, kitchens used to have one, maybe two, lights and they were big fluorescent monsters, but did the job well. However, as time has progressed, lighting has also progressed. There are three different lighting concepts to understand.
Ambient - Also called general lighting, ambient lighting provides overall illumination, and is intended to create a uniform light level throughout the space. When you flick on the main kitchen switch, this is the lighting you want to have immediate access to. Recessed lights are the typical kitchen ambient lights, but could also include ceiling fans with lights or chandeliers, as they are all the kinds of lighting that generally will light up the space.
Task- Task lighting is intended to illuminate a specific function. Typical in kitchens, task lighting would be over the cooktop, or under-cabinet lighting to illuminate where you prepare food. Ranges with a hood typically have a light built-in. If you have a countertop cooktop, you have options – track lighting and pendants are good choices. If you have an overhead vent, they usually have lights built in. There are also lots of options for under cabinet lighting – if you’re putting in new cabinets, you can hook up under cabinet lights to be accessible by switch, but there are also plug-in options with individual switches, or batter-operated.
Accent- Also called highlighting, accent lighting draws attention to a particular object, such as artwork, sculpture, plants or bookcases. Recessed or track lighting is often used for accent lighting, with adjustable fittings that allow light to be focused precisely even on a small object. In kitchens, you can put accent lighting at the tops of your wall cabinets to provide a steady glow when the kitchen is not in use, or it can highlight some great knickknacks in your kitchen. You can also put accent lighting under the base cabinets, to illuminate the flooring.
When planning the layers of light in a kitchen, it makes sense to consider the ambient lighting first, and then task and accent lighting. You can get away with only doing ambient lighting if your kitchen is bright enough or if you’re looking to cut back on cost. Task lighting is pretty important, too, especially if you do a lot of prep work and your ambient lighting doesn’t give enough light to your countertops. Accent lighting is used sparingly as it doesn’t really provide any functional improvements to the space.
Hopefully this is a great starting list for anyone considering a kitchen makeover. If you’re a DIY-er like my husband and me, there are so many tutorials/videos online that can take you step-by-step through each of these installations – tiling, cabinet installation, recessed lights, backsplashes, kitchen and faucet installation, etc.
Here are some during and after photos of our kitchen.
Suzanne Hoyer is a committee member on HYPE's Personal and Professional Development Committee.