Common kitchen design myths and blunders

Common kitchen design myths and blunders
Photo/Rory Callaghan

By Rory Callaghan

Everyone has a basic understanding of kitchen design because we each know how we use our kitchens. But usually when we move into a house, we just put stuff away as fast as possible because we are so tired after a move-in – we just want the house to feel organized. Then we live there for years, maybe never questioning the efficiency of our random stowing methods that date back to the weariness of move-in day.

Sometimes, we come to understand what makes our kitchens better workspaces just by organizing items’ locations for easy use. Other times, we get stuck in our habits with a kind of blinders that conceals a better way.

I’m working now on a plan in a woefully cluttered space. It’s an easy fix by my reckoning, and the clients eagerly hired me because they want a great kitchen. But they are reluctant to change the layout enough to make it truly great.

I want every step you take in your kitchen to be efficient. Adaptability to change is a personal matter, but humans are highly adaptable. It doesn’t matter if you open your dishwasher with the left or right hand; it matters that the dishwasher is in the correct location in relation to space and flow. You’ll learn to open it the reverse of what you’ve been doing for 20 years and come to realize why it’s better in its new location. The layout of a kitchen contributes to its utility, and that makes it yours every bit as much as its appearance.

There are no “golden rules” that must be followed – every space is as unique as our tastes – but let me debunk some of the most common kitchen design trends.

Myth: The sink must be centered on the window. Placing a sink directly under a window was the norm for decades because without a dishwasher, kitchen clean up was a long and tedious affair. The window provided some respite from that boredom. But if you are open-minded about improving functionality by modifying design, place your sink where it belongs in a sensible plan, not where a window exists. It will improve cooking efficiency, and the floor will catch less fallen food because you’re no longer swinging pans and cutting boards across the aisle.

Myth: A corner Lazy Susan is a required cabinet. Corner Lazy Susan cabinets waste a lot of space. I use them only in large kitchens where essential requirements have already been met. You can ruin a kitchen by insisting on a Lazy Susan, and carousel cabinets can give you shelf space totaling half the footprint space of Lazy Susan cabinets. Eight square feet of box delivers four square feet of storage – You have better ways to use your money and your space.

Myth: A huge pantry is a must. Big pantry cabinets require roll-out shelves and sometimes even more sophisticated methods to bring the contents forward where they are convenient to grab. They are great, but they require a lot of space and the hardware is pricey. I like wall depth pantries where they work. They are low tech, easy to access and cost-efficient. Sometimes a side-opening pantry on the end of a refrigerator is the perfect place to add food storage in a small space.

Myth: Hide a microwave for a better appearance. I understand why people want to hide their microwaves, but you should do that only if you rarely use it. In our house we use the microwave from morning to evening for everything from heating up cat food for my kitty’s breakfast to warming milk for coffee so we’re not chilling the coffee we pour ourselves with cold milk. The point is: Own your lifestyle. If you use your microwave every day, then don’t hide it. Put it at a convenient level in an open cubbie. Do children use it? That affects location too. Plan accordingly.

Myth: All appliances must be matching brands. Miele makes arguably the best dishwasher. Liebherr does the same for refrigerators. Almost all microwaves are made by Sharp. Few range manufacturers make their own range hood. When you’re shopping for best performance appliances at each specified task, you will end up with a mix of brands. If you must have them all match for style reasons that are important to you, expect compromised performance and even additional cost for an inferior product to get the matching name badge. This is a personal matter, so do what’s best for you.

Myth: I don’t need two sinks. If your kitchen is large enough, consider two sinks. These are relatively inexpensive appliances that add lots of convenience to food prep and clean-up. The smaller sink becomes the prep sink and is located near the cooktop. The big sink is dedicated for clean up, and it’s flanked by a dishwasher and a twin trash cabinet. Better yet, put a second dishwasher next to your prep sink too.

Myth: “Fancy” means lots of architectural elements like turnings, corbels and moldings. Tastes have become simpler than in the past. I rarely have clients asking for a formal look anymore. They want either Shaker or contemporary slab doors. Simple does not mean inelegant, by any measure. In plain slab door cabinets, the materials become the star, not the millwork. A plain door made from figured wood is gorgeous. Get a type of wood that is special because it adds only hundreds, not thousands, to the cost, and yet it provides a significant visual impact.

Food feeds the body. Beauty feeds the soul.

The writer is kitchen planning director at M&M Appliance and Cabinets on South Washington Street. For questions about kitchens, cooking or anything existential, contact Rory Callaghan.