Designing a kitchen is not only hugely exciting, but, done well, can result in the creation of the heart of the home — in fact, with the right kitchen ideas, this can become the most important room in the house.
For modern-day homeowners, the kitchen has very much moved away from being viewed as a purely functional space. This is the spot in which we gather together to spend time with family and friends, to work in, gossip in — as well, of course, as the spot in which cooking, preparing and enjoying meals takes place.
While it is lovely to have one room in which all of this can take place, the shift from a practical space to a multifunctional one has meant that careful planning and consideration needs to go into the design stage of kitchens in order for them to be capable of fulfilling everything we now expect of them — this has become a truly multi-tasking space.
Although kitchen design can be one of the most fun and creative home projects, it can also feel rather daunting. Not only will you want to make the most of the space you have but you will also want to make sure you budget effectively — and it is surprising just how many decisions need to be made to get your dream kitchen out of your head and into your home.
This is where our 14 step guide is going to help — we have broken down the various steps involved with kitchen design and have covered everything from layouts and units to flooring and costs.
Designing a kitchen: Where to begin
There are several approaches you can take when designing your new kitchen. Some people choose to hire an interior designer or specialist kitchen designer to run the whole project from start to finish, others take a wholly DIY approach.
Your kitchen design will also be partially depended on whether you are creating an entirely new space – either because you are self building or are constructing a kitchen extension – or ripping out an old kitchen and replacing it.
Whatever route you decide to take and whichever situation you happen to be in, there are still some certainties when it comes kitchen design. Regardless of everything else, the very first thing you need to do when embarking on this project is to work out exactly what you want from the new space and what your budget is.
Ready to get started?
What does a new kitchen cost?
Not to put a dampener on things, but before getting into the nitty gritty of designing a new kitchen you need to be asking 'how much does a new kitchen cost?'
As with so many home improvement jobs, there is, unfortunately, no exact way to predict what your individual kitchen costs will be. However, it is possible to offer an approximate idea.
Typically, a new kitchen will set you back between around £8,000 to £11,000, including appliances (but not installation) – although it is frighteningly easy to spend up to £50,000 or more — particularly if you opt for a bespoke design.
The reason it is so difficult to give out any precise costs is that specification, location, kitchen size and your choice of appliances will all massively affect your end costs. Whilst a basic flat-pack kitchen can be picked up for less than £1,000 and then fitted by the homeowner, many people prefer to spend a little more to ensure quality and a professional installation.
Bear in mind that the above costs do not include:
- Design fees
- The removal and disposal of the old kitchen
- Plumbing and electrical work
- Flooring, tiles and tiling
1. Come up with a kitchen design brief
In order to plan your destination you must know where you are going — and this is where your design brief comes in.
Begin by having a really good think about exactly what you want to use your kitchen for. List everything that will be going on in the space, including not only obvious things such as cooking and dining, but also activities such as homework, entertaining and working from home. If you don't have space for a separate utility, will you need to use your kitchen for this role too?
We asked the experts for their top tips when it comes to getting started.
“We spend a significant amount of time in our kitchens from cooking to socialising, so when it comes to designing a new kitchen, it is important to have a unique and entirely personal space that works for you," confirms Alex Main, Director of The Main Company. "There are a few things to think about before you start designing the layout and cabinets. Create a mood board for saving your ideas in one place. This exercise will help you visualise colour choices, materials and other key elements which will help inform your designer."
"When discussing specific requirements with my clients I always like to ask them what doesn’t work for them in their existing kitchen," says Stacey Cobley, Sales Designer at Harvey Jones. "In doing so, I find that the process of elimination can really narrow down the design options and will hone in on what is important to them. It is also worth noting any architectural features within the space you are designing to ensure the scheme compliments these."
"I am always conscious of the style of the property and try to recommend designs that reflect this style," says deVOL's Creative Director, Helen Parker. "I am always looking for ways to better the existing space, whether it be more storage, making the most of windows or trying to keep bulky appliances in an unobtrusive spot. I always recommend keeping or renovating original features and incorporating them into the design. I try to avoid too much gadgetry in any kitchen — calmness and serenity are really important in designing a comfortable and productive space that is easy to spend time in."
Carefully consider how you use your current kitchen and what you love and hate about the space. It can be helpful to base your brief around your answers to the following questions:
- How do you cook and eat? Are you a family who loves to cook on a frequent basis or do you live alone or with one other person and prefer convenience foods or to eat out?
- Do you love to entertain? Will you be using your kitchen to host dinner parties or entertain large groups of people, or will it simply be used it as an informal area to perch for breakfast?
- What are your storage needs? Do you do big weekly or monthly shops and need a separate larder for most of your food storage? What else will you be stowing away in your kitchen? Tupperware, appliances, pet supplies?
- How many appliances will you need space for? Will you need space for a washing machine in the kitchen or will a utility room take care of this? Will a slimline dishwasher suffice or is a full-size one a must?
- Do you love kitchen gadgets? If you own lots of smaller appliances are you happy for them to be on show all the time or will you need cupboard space for them?
- Do you want a separate dining space? Open plan layouts need careful thought to work — you want the dining space to feel like a separate zone ideally.
- How much natural light does the room get? If the space is naturally quite dark, you need to give extra thought to providing functional task lighting.
- Will pets and young children be in the space while you are cooking and eating? If so, consider your flooring and wall finishes and keep them low maintenance and easy-to-clean.
- What is your preferred interior style? Maybe crisp, minimalist and modern is your thing, or perhaps you are more drawn to classic, country style kitchen designs. Your material choices and the finishes you opt for, as well as your unit design and worktops, should all reflect these preferences.
- What is your budget? Perhaps the most important question here. What is the total amount you are happy to spend on your new kitchen? You need a firm idea of your budget to be able to begin shopping around and, if you plan on using a builder or kitchen designer, to hand to them. They will help you get the most for your money, but can only do so if you are clear about what you have to spend.
2. Decide who will design and install your kitchen
For most people, the simplest route to getting a kitchen designed is to head to a specialist kitchen company. Not only can they come up with several designs for you (usually for free), based on your brief, but many also offer fitting services.
By approaching at least three kitchen companies for quotes and designs, you should get a clearer idea of what's possible within the space you have and who offers the most competitive price for design and installation.
Alternatively, some people turn to an interior designer to formulate a kitchen plan — they will be able to not only work out layouts for the space, but will also help you pinpoint styles that you love and explain how to turn them into a reality.
Some architects and house design professionals are able to take on the task of kitchen design too — and it is well worth looking up local independent kitchen fitters with experience of kitchen design as well.
Finally, many self builders and renovators choose to manage their own kitchen design and installation. When it comes to fitting a kitchen, this is a great way to save money. However, in terms of the kitchen design element, by tackling it yourself, bear in mind that you may miss out on the valuable experience that professionals in the field have when it comes to creating well-designed, functional kitchens, both in terms of how the space is ordered and flows, as well as making the most of storage.
“With any kitchen, a professional kitchen designer can be worth their weight in gold as they have all the expertise and knowledge on how to maximise the space you have, which is never more relevant than in smaller kitchens," says Richard Davonport, Managing Director at Davonport. "They have access to the latest space-saving innovations and can find ways to get more into your kitchen without overcrowding."
3. Work out kitchen installation timescales
How long does it take to install a new kitchen? When it comes to timescales, a simple rip-out-and-replace can take as little as a week when carried out by a set of professionals — which will probably include a kitchen fitter or builder, an electrician and a plumber. You might also need the services of a decorator and/or tiler.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for more than kitchen remodel ideas and are starting from scratch, carrying out a kitchen extension, kitchen relocation or a hefty overhaul of the space which will involve knocking down internal walls, adding new windows and doors, fitting a new underfloor heating system and so on then it will obviously take longer.
You should discuss your schedule of works and timescales at the start of the project with your builder in order to get a good idea of how long it will all take and the length of time you are likely to be without kitchen facilities.
4. Find a kitchen layout that works for your space
In order to work out the best kitchen layout ideas for your new room, you first need to assess the size and shape of your kitchen, as well as where your priorities lie in terms of appliances. Your supplier or designer should be able to suggest kitchen layouts that will make the most of the space you have available.
“Form and function should be the priority when coming up with a design first and foremost," says Harvey Jones' Stacey Cobley. "I recommend starting off with choosing all of the appliances and any other essential items that meet your specific requirements. You can then build upon this and move on to the more aesthetic elements."
As a starting point, your kitchen layout should keep the essential 'working' areas of the kitchen – the sink, oven and hob and fridge – within easy reach of one another.
Use graph paper to draw up a scale plan and play around with layouts that could potentially work for you, remembering to include any seating areas and bearing in mind clearance spaces around and in front of appliances. Don't forget to mark on windows, doors and heat sources either.
There are several common kitchen layouts to consider:
- One wall layout: This is a common kitchen design for smaller spaces, particularly open-plan kitchen/diners/living rooms.
- Galley kitchen: This layout comprises two runs of units facing one another and works well in narrow areas.
- L-shaped and U-Shaped kitchens: As the names suggest, the units are positioned in 'L' or 'U' shapes. In 'L' shaped kitchens, the shorter part of the 'L' is often a breakfast bar.
- Kitchen island: While all of the above could incorporate a kitchen island, islands perform the specific function of separating functional cooking spaces from living spaces and improving flow around a kitchen.
- Peninsula: Peninsula kitchens act similarly to island kitchens, though are joined to other cabinetry or a wall on one side, offering a more defined divide between spaces.
One particular element of kitchen design that has really come to the forefront in recent years is the kitchen island. Islands can act not only as a central focal point, but also as a room divide in the case of kitchen diners as well as an extra workspace, somewhere to house appliances and even an eating spot, the kitchen island is big news.
"A popular trend at the moment is to combine the kitchen island or peninsula with a dining table," says Stacey Cobley of Harvey Jones. "You can achieve this by creating a drop-down section for seating that is connected to the island/peninsula which merges the kitchen and dining zones in to one harmonious space.”
Those after small kitchen ideas often have to think extra hard when it comes to finding the best layout for them.
"If your aim is to make your kitchen look bigger, then the best way to achieve this is by not filling the room full of cupboards and leaving plenty of light and space around windows, so avoid wall cupboards," advises Helen Parker.
Alex Main agrees, in part, instead suggesting the use of slimline wall units rather than eliminating them altogether. “To ensure you maximise on the space available to you, consider how to optimise wall space for storage," says Alex. "If you are limited on space, incorporate shallow upper cabinets as these are a great way to store glassware and mugs, for example, and result in a more streamlined space. Alternatively, open shelves are a good option for displaying crockery, vases and personal possessions, and help with the feeling of space.”
“Use the height of the room as a way to maximise storage space and opt for taller cabinetry," suggests Stacey Cobley. "Consider using a kitchen supplier that can make bespoke furniture for those awkward corners to ensure none of the space is wasted."
"The perfect scenario for me is to have the kitchen at one of end of the room, with all the busy goings on, the beautiful aromas and the comforting background clatter of someone close to you pottering about," says Helen Parker from deVOL. "Then the table, near the kitchen, near the window and near your current selection of books and reading material. It may be kids sitting up at the table doing homework or it may be friends popping in for a chat or, best of all a simple family dinner where you all chat about your day. This allows you to stay together while still doing your own thing. This formula for downstairs living is so important for keeping people connected, keeping life fun, stimulating and conversation flowing when required."
Alex Main is a fan of the open plan kitchen layout too.
"An open plan layout creates a lighter and airer kitchen, which is desirable in most homes, and offers greater versatility — providing a natural hub for homeowners," says Alex. "When designing an open plan kitchen, the key is to create zones to help break up the space. A kitchen island works as both a cooking and socialising space. If you make the ‘entertaining’ section of the island slightly higher than the cooking and preparation area, this will ensure two zones which can still interact with each other.”
5. Decide where you will buy a new kitchen
The most obvious way to buy a new kitchen is to head to your nearest kitchen showroom, however it is important to remember that there are other options —some of which can be better suited to those after cheap kitchens.
Buying a kitchen online is increasingly popular. If you take this route you will need to supply measurements and all your requirements. The whole kitchen is then delivered to be fitted on a DIY basis, by a builder or kitchen fitter, or by the suppliers themselves. While buying a kitchen online can be cheaper than buying from a showroom-based supplier, it can be difficult to get a clear idea of the quality of the products you are buying.
Some people choose to mix and match where they purchase the elements for their kitchen from. You might, for example, opt to buy cheaper, standard unit carcasses from an online retailer, DIY warehouse or builders' merchants, before heading to a kitchen specialist for the unit doors. You could also buy worktops separately, along with knobs and handles.
Flatpack kitchens from DIY stores can be perfect for those sticking to a tight budget and allow you to fit the units yourself. Suppliers can still assist with design ideas and plans for your room.
Those with a larger kitchen design budget might want to consider a completely bespoke kitchen. A truly bespoke kitchen will be entirely custom made, rather than limiting you to standard sizes. This will allow your design to take into account any intricacies of your kitchen to make the most of the space.
Bespoke kitchen companies tend to use high end products, using luxurious materials and finishes and therefore command a higher price.
Alternatively, you could commission a joiner to make cabinetry for you to a design of your own or one you have spotted elsewhere.
Some people choose to take the freestanding kitchen route as opposed to fitted and bring together a range of eclectic storage pieces suitable for kitchens.
Finally, have you considered ex-display or second hand kitchens? Many offer excellent value for money. Ask in kitchen showrooms or head directly to companies specialising in used kitchens.
6. Choose kitchen appliances early on
Deciding on which kitchen appliances you need (and want), and the sizes that will suit you, early in the kitchen design process is really important — you need to fit these in at all costs, after all.
While most people these days choose to shop around for their kitchen appliances, many kitchen suppliers also offer packages and deals that include them — particularly large white goods such as fridge freezers, ovens and hobs and cooker hoods.
That said, it is usually possible to find appliances a little cheaper by shopping around. Additionally, if you are after something with an eye-catching designer twist you will probably need to head to a specialist in the type of appliance you are after.
If you opt to buy a second hand or ex-display kitchen you will often find that appliances are included in the price.
Along with the more obvious kitchen appliances mentioned above, consider what other items could really make your kitchen work for you. Bakers could benefit from proving drawers, wine enthusiasts might like to consider a wine cooler, while those who need a caffeine boost first thing should take a look at the array of built-in coffee machines on offer now.
However, do choose your appliances wisely — you don't want a raft of unused gadgets taking up valuable space.
"Don’t get carried away and buy the most expensive appliances on the market," advises Alex Main. "Choose your essentials, such as a fridge, oven, hob, dishwasher and so on but if you’re working to a budget, avoid spending money on appliances such as a wine fridge or a coffee machine if you don’t need too!”
All these items should be planned in from the beginning, so you can work out the right balance in terms of how much space will be given over to storage and how much will be used up by your new kitchen equipment.
Do not forget to factor in a cooker hood. The best kitchen extractor fans will ensure your new kitchen won't be filled with steam and cooking smells every time you decide to use your hob.
"Good extraction is key to taking away the general cooking smells and steam within an open-plan setting and I also advise opting for integrated appliances as these are designed to be a lot quieter than freestanding ones which is so important in an open space," says Stacey Cobley.
7. Pay careful attention to kitchen lighting design
It may seem odd to put lighting ahead of units when it comes to your kitchen design but it is really important that you do.
This is because, before your units are fitted, you will need to have your first fix electrics installed. You should, at the planning stage, have come up with all your kitchen lighting ideas. If your new kitchen is part of a larger renovation project, you may well have employed a specialist lighting designer or asked your lighting supplier to come up with a plan. Alternatively, you might decide to take on the task of planning your lighting design scheme yourself.
Think about where bright, focused light will be required — above food prep hot spots, for example. Downlighters designed to shine a beam of light exactly where it is needed, unaffected by the shadow of the person working at the work surface are ideal, as are spots on tracks.
Elsewhere, use strip lighting under wall units and even concealed beneath base units to provide a nice ambient glow. Low-hung pendants work well over island units, breakfast bars and dining tables.
8. Find a kitchen style you love
There are quite literally thousands of kitchen styles, colours and designs out there to choose from (not always a good thing if decision making isn't your thing.)
You probably have a fairly good idea of the type of interior decoration you're after and if not, a browse in kitchen showrooms, magazines, interior design websites and even at friends' houses can give you a good dose of inspiration.
Those after a contemporary kitchen design should focus on unfussy unit doors. Handleless kitchens are perfect, replacing knobs or handles with discreet grooves in the top or side of units or else a push-click mode of operation.
Modernists could also consider banks of full height kitchen units, combined with built-in eye level appliances and stick to flush doors too. High gloss units have fallen from favour a little in the last couple of years (perhaps something to do with the way they show up greasy smudges so readily) so consider matt instead for a more forgiving finish.
If you are after something more classic, a Shaker kitchen is the way to go, offering a simple, timeless look that can easily be updated with different handles or knobs as time goes on. Simple tongue-and-groove unit fronts offer a nice, classic look too.
Keep in mind, a good quality wood kitchen can potentially be repainted in the future, allowing you to change the look without having to re-invest in a new kitchen.
Don't feel you have to have wall units — these days many people opt for alternatives such as shelves or full-height units and replace some base units with large deep drawers to house pots, pans and crockery, as well as cutlery.
“Kitchen cabinetry is the biggest part and therefore your biggest investment when designing a bespoke kitchen, so spend the time designing the kitchen layout and how you want your cabinets to look — both inside and outside," says Alex Main.
9. Select kitchen units that meet your storage needs
The importance of good kitchen storage cannot be overemphasised when it comes to kitchen design. You will need to look around your current kitchen and take stock of what you need to keep in your new one. How much equipment do you own now and are you likely to gain more in the future?
Think too about the way you shop. Do you do one big shop a week? A month? Consider where you will keep all your dried goods. What else will you need to keep in this room?
You can then come up with the kinds of storage you will need. Options include extra deep drawers, dressers, corner units and those with pull out shelves and rotating carousels. Hanging racks, open shelving on walls and within island units, alcoves built in either side of the cooker and racks placed on the ends of runs of units — all should be considered when it comes to keeping your new kitchen ordered and tidy.
Next you need to think about how you want to store items — by this we basically mean, are you super tidy and love to clean? If so, hanging racks, open shelving and glass-fronted units could be for you. If not, stick to solid doors and drawers that can hide your clutter instead.
10. Choose your worktops based on practicality and look
Your kitchen worktop ideas will form a major part of your kitchen design — as well as affecting how the space works from a practical perspective.
While you can choose work surfaces from the selection on offer from your kitchen supplier, it is often be cheaper to buy them from a specialist worktop supplier, timber merchant or stonemasons. There are also online worktop companies who will cut worktops to fit.
Laminate worktops have come a long way in recent years and are now available in a multitude of colours and finishes and with benefits such as heat and stain resistance.
The huge range of timbers out there means that there is a wooden worktop for every style of kitchen and every budget — but be aware that they require maintenance to hold on to their good looks and are best avoided around sinks where water damage can occur.
Durable composite surfaces and solid stone look beautiful and are highly practical — but do tend to lie at the upper end of the price scale.
"The worktops are the next element to consider as they are used heavily everyday, so opt for a material that is durable, sturdy and able to keep up with your lifestyle," says Alex Main. "Some materials are more affordable than others, such as wood or reclaimed wood for example, compared to quartz or ceramic.”
11. Don't forget the kitchen sink and taps
As with appliances, sometimes sinks and taps will be included in a package from your kitchen supplier — but it is possible to source them separately.
When it comes to choosing a kitchen sink, think about the way in which you plan on using your kitchen. Will you be washing up a lot or will you rely solely on a dishwasher? Do you need to do handwashing? Do you have bulky items of equipment that will need to be washed in the sink?
Think about your answers — they should give you an idea of the size and configuration of the sink that will suit you.
"For compact kitchen spaces with limited worktop space, choose a built-in sink with a cover accessory so you can convert this into additional worktop space when the sink is not in use," suggests Stacey Cobley at Harvey Jones.
With regards to a kitchen tap, many models are now available that do far more than dispense water. From filter taps to those providing instant boiling water — there are even taps that give you sparkling water these days. If you plan on installing one of these taps, let your plumber and kitchen fitter know early on.
12. Opt for a beautiful yet practical kitchen floor
The best flooring for kitchens should, first and foremost, be practical. It needs to be easy-to-clean and able to withstand a lot of footfall, along with being able to cope with hot liquids and stains.
It should go without saying that hard flooring is the best option. Ceramic tile is amongst the most cost-effective of options and is also easy to lay on a DIY basis — plus it is available in almost every colour, size, shape, pattern and finish you could want.
Porcelain tiles tend to be more expensive than ceramic but are denser and less porous so are more durable.
Polished concrete and natural stone are both brilliant options too. Some natural stones are softer and more porous than others and can become stained if not properly sealed so do research which stone flooring seems best for you.
Timber flooring can be used in kitchens, but be aware that softwoods in particular are prone to movement and can warp and twist when exposed to changes in temperature and moisture levels — a common occurrence in kitchens. Engineered timber is a more stable option than solid boards.
“As well as kitchen cabinets and worktops, another area I’d recommend allocating budget for is kitchen flooring," says Alex Main. "From high foot traffic to frequent spills and moisture, the floor is challenged throughout the day so a cheaper floor may result in you needing to replace later on — it’s worth investing for longevity,” advises Alex Main.
13. Don't overlook kitchen wall finishes
While it is just fine to paint your kitchen walls (a durable and wipeable paint is recommended) there are other options to consider — and there is no need to use the same wall coverings throughout the space.
Around the hob and sink it is a great idea to think about kitchen splashback ideas that will minimise maintenance and are easy to keep clean — tiles, glass, sheet metal and kitchen wallpaper are all options.
Those will small kitchens in particular might like to consider how their choice of wall finish could affect the space visually.
"It is a good idea to keep the colours and materials similar, so soft light woods and flooring and similar colour walls and cupboards," says Helen Parker of deVOL. "This will have more of an impact than just painting your walls in a light colour. It is also worth mentioning that a small kitchen filled with dramatic colours, textures and eclectic accessories can become big in personality which can also visually give a sense of a large space."
14. Heating shouldn't be an afterthought
Don't neglect to give some thought to how you will heat your kitchen. This needs to be decided early on in the planning stage of your kitchen design.
Although standard radiators are still a great option for heating a kitchen, other heating sources can be better in this room, where wall space is usually in high demand.
"If budget permits, get rid of bulky radiators to free up wall space for additional cabinetry and install underfloor heating instead,” says Stacey Cobley from Harvey Jones.
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Natasha is Homebuilding & Renovating’s Associate Content Editor and has been a member of the team for over two decades. An experienced journalist and renovation expert, she has written for a number of homes titles. Over the years Natasha has renovated and carried out a side extension to a Victorian terrace. She is currently living in the rural Edwardian cottage she renovated and extended on a largely DIY basis, living on site for the duration of the project. She is now looking for her next project — something which is proving far harder than she thought it would be.