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Helpful tips and ideas on designing your dream kitchen
by Maggie T

Thought I would share our trials and tribulations about designing a kitchen for our new home and maybe save you some of the stress we experienced.

The most important lessons I have learned is:

  • Kitchens are personal spaces - one size or one design does not fit all!
  • Engage a professional kitchen designer - saves time and effort in long run.
  • Start by choosing your appliances - saves a lot of time as you have all the measurements when you start designing.
  • Take into account your lifestyle.
  • If I could do it over, i would design my kitchen first and then build the house around it

For me the kitchen is the hub of the house, not just a space for preparing meals, its for entertaining/ socialising - like long cozy meals with friends, chats with hubby after a long day and lazy meals at week-ends, plus of course all the facilities to indulge my passion for cooking.

Remember at the end of the day, your kitchen must be what you want, not what your friends have or what your designer/renovator wants, so keep in touch all the way through from design to installation and finish - stay true to your vision.

Since I wrote the email out to FoodFreinds members asking for advice (thanks for all replies), I have received numerous phone calls asking me for advice and sourcing of materials.

One person asked - "can you purchase all in Penang?" From my experience the answer is Yes.

Penang has a huge range of appliances from local brands to a huge range of imported brands, several designer kitchen showrooms, at least two different ranges of 'solid' work-surfaces and almost everything you need for your dream kitchen. Two areas I found lacking - a good set of kitchen knives and gadgets.

Many of our friends have also bought new homes here in Penang, so I viewed their kitchens, got their advice, asked what lessons they learned and what would they change it anything?

Advice and lessons learned:

1. Create a Natural Workflow
Kitchens are organised into three main work zones - storage, washing up and cooking. kitchens designers call this the Work Triangle, and most designs are planned with these components in mind.
Now, based on extensive research with kitchen experts and everyday kitchen users - kitchens should be planned with Five Zones:

  • Consumables - includes fridge/freezer
  • Non-Consumables - includes dishes, glasses, cutlery as well as empty plastic containers
  • Cleaning - the sink and dishwasher form the centre of this zone
  • Prepartion - where meals are prepared- utensils, knives, electric appliances and spices
  • Cooking - arranged around the hob and oven, pots and pans and cooking devices

Note: That while the oven is for cooking, food in an oven does not require the attentions that cooking on a hob needs stirring, turning etc. So the hob has to be conveniently placed, but the oven does not.

2. Made to Measure
The standard bench height is 900mm. However, if you are taller or shorter than the average person, you should have bench height modified to suit your height. As a general rule, a bench-top along a wall should be around 600mm - 650mm in depth - any deeper and it becomes too far to reach the back.

3. Easy Access
A good kitchen gives you room to move but is compact enough to allow easy reach between different activities. Make sure it isn't a thoroughfare. Bear in mind that left - to right handedness affects lay-out.

4. Room To Move
Leave ample bench space between the sink and the cooktop and next to fridges and freezers, as it makes unpacking easier.

5. Safety Tips
Try and avoid having to cross the kitchen with hot pots and pans. Close proximity of the hob to the sink makes it easier to drain pasta and vegetables.

6. Location, Location
Locate the dishwasher near the sink to allow easy loading. This also concentrates your plumbing in one space and saves money. The dishwasher should be close to the crockery and cutlery. It should also be away from doorways and ovens, so it can be loaded easily.

7. Waste Disposal
A multi-bin sorter under the sink is a great solution. It means you can separate your rubbish for recycling straight away. Also think about putting in a waste disposal unit - these certainly get rid of a lot of bulky vegetable waste.

8. Open Up
Ensure appliances and cabinetry fit, accounting for the 'sweep' of doors and opening drawers and allowing for normal movement.

9. Electric Points
Have more electric points than you think that you need - plan out where you think you want them and go for double sockets.
There are interesting system on the market - strips that enables you to move the sockets to any point along it. Makes it a very flexible system.

10. Think about your Liftstyle
Questions to ask: Are you a Delia Smith? Size of your family? Use of kitchen? Will you eat in the kitchen? Type of food you prepare? Do you entertain?
Also consider the design of the appliances for your personal use. For example if you like lots of fresh fruit and vegetables - then you need a fridge with lots of fresh food space, good chiller space and less freezer space. So think of uses before you purchase.

11. Lighting
Make sure there is enough, whether natural, ceiling, or under wall cabinets.

12. Flooring
Non-slip, water proof, sealed for easy cleaning and resistant to oil and heat.

13. Cabinet finish
A kitchen is normally expected to last a long time - at least ten years. Think carefully about your choice of colour. What is trendy this year will be immediately dateable in a few years time. White or neutral colours are the colours of choice and additional colour can then be introduced by means of storage jars, crockery, kitchen towels etc.
So many choices - find out what they will be like a few years down the line (e.g. some laminates/gloss finishes can peel away from the core between them). Everything at floor level should be water proof. Avoid laminated chip board touching the ground.

13. Bench-Tops
Carefully consider the choice between a real granite or marble work surface and a 'solid' surface - these days the price is about the same.
(A) Solid surface bench-tops are made of a solid block (a mix of natural minerals and acrylic), ensuring a uniform colour with no visible joins. The advantage of using a material such as this is that it is stain-resistant, hygienic, can be custom-made to your specifications and comes in a huge range of colours and patterns. Also if there is damage to surface it is possible to sand down and repair.
(B) Marble and granite are porous, although durable it can scratch and chip and will need to be sealed regularly. Marble will be dissolved by acids like lemon juice and vinegar. Colours may vary and joins are visible.

14. Extraction
Extractor fans have to be at optimum distance from the work surface to be efficient. If you are going to extract to the outside ensure that you have a suitable external wall or else consider a recycling system (not so efficient).

15. Island
If you are going to have an island ensure that it will be big enough - a lot of them are not and simply take up a lot of space for no good reason. Mark the site out and ensure that you have enough space all the way round to open doors and drawers, pass by etc. Kitchen designer will give you the required measurements. Consider if you want a sink in the Island so you can have the water supply and drain installed as the building is constructed.

16. Cookery Books
Think about where to put cookery books so that they are easily accessible.

Different Shapes
Big or small, basic or elaborate, most efficient kitchen designs fall into one of a few basic arrangements. Your existing kitchen probably fits one of these. Think about which appeals most to you.

  • L-shape kitchens have one long "leg" housing two of the three basic appliances (range, fridge, sink) and one short "leg" housing the other. This layout often places the fridge at one end, the range at the other, and the sink in between.
  • U-shape kitchens have two "legs" of equal length, so the range and fridge are opposite each other and the three appliances are equal distance apart.
  • G-shape kitchens are L- or U-shaped with an added peninsula partly separating the work area from an adjoining breakfast area or family room.
  • Corridor or galley-shape kitchens, sometimes called step-saver kitchens, have
  • range and sink on one wall, a fridge directly opposite, and a narrow (but not less
  • than 36- to 40-inch) walkway in between. Very efficient use of space and work
  • flows, but no space for eating.

With the above information advice in mind - go create your dream kitchen and enjoy!


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