Your kitchen is one of the most used rooms in your home. It’s a social centre, it sometimes serves as a home office, but most importantly it’s where we store and prepare our food. Every minute of our hectic day is precious, and cooking healthy, delicious food takes time. A good kitchen design can help you get things done efficiently, but a poorly planned kitchen can be a frustrating time waster. If there’s one room in your home where you have to get the design right, this is it!

There’s a certain amount of personal tailoring that goes into an effective kitchen design. A lot will depend on how you cook and the appliances you favour. But there are certain things that all cooks have in common: we store food, we cook, and we need to clean up afterwards – and to do these we use the fridge, stove and sink.

Last week I introduced you to the basics of the working triangle in the kitchen, which talks about the ways in which these three areas can be arranged for maximum efficiency. This week I want to cover some basic mistakes we see in some homes – these are the mistakes our kitchen designers correct in their plans for new kitchens for our clients.

This list will help you steer clear of some of the most common mistakes we’ve seen in kitchen design. We’re going to focus on the practical side for now, and talk about décor elements in a later post.

1. Placing the 3 points of the working triangle (sink, stove and refrigerator) too close together.

It’s especially important to make sure that there’s enough room between the sink and the stove, so you have room to work without bumping into anything. For example, think about this common task: vegetables are rinsed at the sink, chopped, and then moved over to the stove to be cooked. If there’s no counter space between the sink and the stove, you need to go out of your way to find a chopping area.

The fridge needs some breathing room as well. Remember that people often open the door and spend a few moments looking at the contents if they’re trying to decide what they want. This can get in the way of someone who’s in the middle of cooking a meal.

In general, if the 3 main appliances are too close together, you’re going to feel crowded.

2. Obstructions in the path of the work triangle appliances.

You’re going to want to be able to walk directly from station to station. If, for example, a pantry door swings out in front of the stove, or the corner of an island juts into the shortest path between the stove and the sink, walking around them is going to be really inefficient in the long term.

A big one to pay attention to is the direction the refrigerator door swings (on some models the door can be mounted on either side). In smaller kitchens, bifold doors on the fridge can be a big help in saving space – and energy.

3. Placing the sink and the dishwasher too far apart.

These two work together as a cleaning station – people often give the dishes a quick rinse before stacking them in the dishwasher or even soak them to loosen debris. You want to be able to transfer dishes directly from the sink to the dishwasher.

Similarly, the sink and the garbage area need to be close together as well.

4. Not enough counter space – especially beside the sink or the oven.

A sink should have as much counter space as possible on both sides – not just one. This creates two areas for pots and dishes: a place to stack them when they’re still dirty, and a separate counter on the other side to put the dish rack on. Even if you have a two-hole sink that contains your dish rack, a counter to put dishes on when they’re clean and dried and ready to be put away is a huge asset.

Ideally you have counter space on both sides of the stove as well, although in smaller kitchens you may not have a lot of options. At the very least you should have enough counter space beside the oven so that you can put down a heavy turkey or roast after you’ve pulled it out of the oven.

When deciding on how much counter space you need, make sure you account for things like multiple people helping to prepare food, sorting groceries after a shopping trip, or children working on homework after school.

5. Having the height of a cooking surface below the height of the top of the counter.

The top of your stove should be ideally level with the top of the counter, or if needed slightly higher. This is to avoid heat from the cooktop damaging the counter over time. For this reason and others, you should choose your appliances before finalizing measurements on your kitchen cabinets.

6. Not enough storage.

Make sure that you have enough cabinets for storing cookware and appliances so that you don’t need to go to another room to get the things you need. Your cabinets and drawers need to have enough room so that you don’t need to move anything to get access to something else.

7. No plan for trash management.

These days, especially in cities like Ottawa, it’s not just about a trash can: there are different types of recycling and compost as well. You will need a convenient spot to place these so that you don’t need to sort them later. Ideally, the trash station is somewhere near an exterior door so that it’s easy to take it outside when the time comes. But the essential thing is that containers and scraps easy to get out of your way while cooking.

8. An island that’s too big for the space.

Islands can be a great way to get more room for storage, seating space and even an appliance. But if it’s too large, it will be in your way as you go to the different areas in the working triangle. Also take cleanup into account: will you need to walk around the island to clean it up, and will that be a problem?

9. Not enough lighting.

Catharine Beecher recommended that kitchens have more light in 1843, but many of us are still trying to make it happen.

After all, you’ll be chopping and using heat, so you need to be able to see well for safety reasons. Strong light is also needed to make sure you’re getting everything when cleaning. If your kitchen is a social space or includes an eating area, ambient light is needed as well. Dimmer switches are always a good investment so that you can have bright light when you need it, and mellow light when you’re relaxing after the meal.

10. Skimping on quality when it comes to kitchen cabinets.

Your kitchen cabinets and their hinges need to be sturdy enough to withstand many years of opening and closing. Invest in well-made, good quality cabinets.

11. Inadequate ventilation.

Some cheap range hoods don’t evacuate the air, they just filter and recirculate it. Get a system that pulls the air out of the house through a duct. If you’ve ever smelled fried food in your home the day after you cooked it, you’ll know exactly why I’m telling you this! A range hood that vents externally really is an essential if your kitchen is open to the rest of the house.

There’s another reason besides getting rid of smells. Excess heat generated by the stove can also raise the overall room temperature. This will cause your refrigerator and (in warmer months) your air conditioning to work harder than it needs to, which costs you money.

12. Not enough outlets for the appliances you need.

Most of us can’t live without a food processor, toaster, or coffee machine handy. Make sure your kitchen designer knows what you use regularly so that they can plan accordingly.

Know Your Priorities

When it comes to budgeting for your kitchen renovation, spend your money on making sure the things in this list are taken care of. The delicious details like granite countertops, the trendiest tile, or top of the line faucets are not as important as making sure the overall layout is effective.

This all may sound like a lot to consider, but thinking ahead can save you years of grief in the long run. The good news is that when you work with one of our designers, these things are all taken into account for you!

Do you have any kitchen design pet peeves? Please share them in the comments below.