All designers and homeowners have their own ideas about what makes a great kitchen, but throughout my years in the design world, I’ve come to rely on several go-to strategies for creating a successful, functional, beautiful space. The addition of any one of these items would greatly increase the appeal of a space. Combine them all, and you’d have one spectacular dream kitchen.
1. Adequate lighting. Incorporating various types of lighting in any room is fundamental, but it’s especially beneficial in the kitchen. An abundance of natural light is fantastic, but kitchens also need practical sources of artificial light: ambient lighting to create an overall glow, task lighting to illuminate workspaces and accent lighting to highlight features in the space.
Brightening on a budget: Not ready for a lighting overhaul? Start by replacing your old bulbs with LEDs — they last longer, are more energy efficient and are available in cool, warm and neutral color temperatures. Undermounted LED rope lighting or puck lights are also affordable options for illuminating areas where cabinets cast shadows.
2. Abundant seating. One of the biggest requests I hear as an interior designer is a need for more guest seating. People tend to congregate in kitchens, so make sure there is ample room for friends to gather in areas that won’t interfere with the functionality of your prep space.
Round tables are a great way to provide easier traffic flow and can usually seat four to six people. Drop-leaf or extendable tables give you flexibility. They can be pushed against the wall out of the way when not in use or adjusted to create additional seating for entertaining guests. This is a good solution for a house that lacks a formal dining room.
3. Surface area. A large island with lots of counter space and seating offers room for collaboration. Routine tasks such as paying bills, sorting through mail, doing homework or whipping up dinner can be executed without first having to move things around to make space. Having this clear surface also has a psychological effect that makes the home seem tidy even if other areas of the home are haphazard or covered with piles of items.
No room for an island? Here are a few space-saving tips:
- When every inch counts, don’t sacrifice surface area for the small stuff. Mount your paper towel holder to get it up and out of the way. Instead of using a knife block, store cutlery on the wall using a magnetic strip. Find a cutting board that fits over your sink or cooktop so that valuable counter space doesn’t go to waste.
- Fold-down workstation surfaces are the Murphy bed of the kitchen. They give you extra space when you need it and are out of the way when you don’t. They’re also fairly inexpensive and easy to install.
- Or look to our next must-have kitchen accessory: the movable workstation.
4. Movable workstation. An island on wheels, or even a bar cart, is great for cooking and entertaining. It provides more storage and a versatile surface area for prepping and serving.
What to look for: Stainless steel is great because it’s durable and easy to clean, or opt for the more affordable option, butcher block, for a different look and feel. When it comes to size, make sure you have about 36 inches between the edge of the island and surrounding countertops so as not to impede traffic flow. Depending on your preference, you can opt for counter height or bar height. Take note of what’s most comfortable before you head out shopping.
5. Organized drawers. Divide and conquer! Save your time and sanity by keeping things neat and easy to find. Inserts and dividers add structure to drawers where loose items tend to pile up. Having designated spaces for all odds and ends will help you avoid overflow.
When shopping for organizers, remember to first measure your drawers. Avoid cheap plastic options that warp over time, and instead search for something just as durable as the cabinetry.
Utensil storage is key. It’s better (and cleaner) to neatly tuck away tools than to have a bouquet of spatulas sitting out on the counter.
Shallow spice storage allows you to quickly see what you have rather than fumbling through a crowded cluster of jars. Bonus points if you move your spices from their original packaging into matching containers.
Stack baking sheets and cutting boards vertically in deep drawers (if you have them) or narrow cabinets for easier access. Dividers will keep them upright. Don’t forget to define separate cutting boards for produce, meats and breads.
Organization for food storage containers always seems to be an afterthought (and one of the messiest parts of most kitchens). How many times have you reached for a piece of Tupperware only to find its corresponding lid has vanished? Cabinets eat loose lids, so keep them together. We prefer glass storage for food as it is microwaveable and stays in good shape longer.
6. Pot and pan (and lid) organization. If you are able to grab a pot or pan and its lid without shuffling the rest of your cookware around, you’re golden. Hanging them from hooks is a great way to achieve this feat and make efficient use of vertical space.
7. Pullout corner storage. Clever cabinet organizers offer easier accessibility and help maximize the otherwise dead space where your Tupperware lids are probably hiding.
You can find a multitude of products like this online or through your local cabinetry company, and most corner features can be retrofitted to your existing cabinetry.
8. Dedicated appliance storage. Hidden storage for small appliances frees up counter space for more valuable uses.
When designing your kitchen or remodeling cabinets, consider adding an appliance garage to keep your tools tucked away. Homeowners also can convert an existing cabinet by installing pullout shelves that offer quick and easy access to appliances when you need them. Whatever you do, assign a designated space for each gadget so they don’t end up awkwardly stacked on top of the fridge or out on the counter.
9. Sturdy hardware. Protect your cabinets with hardware. Over time, oil from hands can wear down the finish and dirty up or scratch the paint. Avoid unnecessary wear and tear with sleek pulls or knobs that will extend the life of your cabinetry. Look for a solid metal or something sturdy with substantial weight. It will benefit you — and your cabinets — in the long run.
10. Citrus. When life gives you lemons, put ’em to work. Whether you’re adding a little zest to your meal, spritzing up a refreshing drink, loading up on vitamin C or just cleaning up the kitchen, citrus is a useful item to have on hand (plus, it displays well as a nice splash of color).
Lemons and limes are great for organic garbage disposal cleanup. Running the rinds through with water helps to clean the blades, and the oils freshen up the scent. You can also concoct your own organic cleaning solution with lemon, baking soda and vinegar — just steer clear of marble countertops. The acid can cause staining and etching.
11. Hand towels. Use decorative linen towels to reduce waste by using fewer paper towels. Not only are cloth towels more eco-friendly, they save you money and add a little charm to the kitchen.
In addition to your pretty tea towels and cloth napkins, you’ll want to keep a stack of cleaning towels or microfiber cloths on hand so they’re ready to grab when you need them. It will be less painful to forgo the convenience of paper towels if you’re well-stocked for the next mess.
12. A well-defined catch-all space. Daily life makes it impossible to have an organized home 24/7. Papers, keys, footwear, water bottles, bags and other various items tend to pile up quickly in certain areas. Avoid surface clutter by giving each of your things a designated home. Keys, mail, phone chargers and pens should all have a dedicated landing spot, whether it’s a full-fledged, built-in command center, the back of a cabinet or organized space inside a closet.
13. Enclosed trash and recycling. Trash bins take up floor space, can smell bad and are a source of mayhem for family pets. Hidden storage is optimal, but if you don’t have that option, at least make sure your containers have lids. Keeping bins and bags together makes it easy to separate waste and recyclables.
Cabinets can be retrofitted to house custom pullout containers, but if you’re looking for an easy solution, check out popular retailers like The Container Store or Ikea for a variety of bins that will work to fit your existing space.
14. Coffee station. Life is just a little bit easier when you have everything you need in one spot. If you can find a way to build it in or enclose it, even better. While a full-on coffee bar isn’t always practical, having all your cafe accoutrements — coffee maker, grinder, beans or grounds, filters, mugs, sweeteners — in one dedicated place will simplify your morning routine.
15. Character. Whether it’s fun, colorful accessories or an unexpected piece of artwork, a kitchen should have an inviting atmosphere that allows for comfort, relaxation and good times.
Play up your home’s interesting architectural details. If you have beautiful old glass-front cabinets, show off some colorful bowls or maybe some vintage glassware. Indulge in little accents, such as quirky doorknobs or vintage curtain tiebacks. These small details add fun, unexpected flair and personality.