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Cooking up the kitchen of your dreams

For years you've been planning, leafing through catalogs and magazines, and admiring your friends' homes. Now it's your chance - you finally have the opportunity to design your own kitchen. You're thrilled to find that your dreams will come to fruition... thrilled, that is, until reality sets in. Then you realize what a monumental task you are facing, a task with a maze of decisions and myriad of choices.

Don't despair-this kitchen-design job can remain fun and relatively easy under the guidance of an architect, a trained design professional, and a reliable contractor. Whether your project is large or small, high or low budget, new construction or remodeling, the combined wisdom of these experts can make your kitchen the one you've always envisioned.

Getting Started
An architect is a necessity if you are planning an expansion or any architectural changes to your existing home. The architect will prepare drawings indicating the size and shape of the addition, along with window and door locations and all structural requirements.

These plans - or plans from the developer if your home is new - will provide a kitchen designer with an outline to begin his or her job.

There are several options regarding the type of designer to retain. You might begin by contacting the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) to find local kitchen dealers (retailers who sell different manufacturers' cabinets) that employ designers.

NKBA certifies members who have completed a required course and have passed an examination on all phases of kitchen design. Visit the showrooms of these members, or other dealers and home improvement stores you have located on your own, to meet their in-house designers. Find out their rates, design experience, and educational training. During your interview, review the styles, quality, and price range of the cabinets they sell.

Another option is to retain an independent interior designer who specializes in kitchen design. Independent designers, many members of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) will not have showrooms, but they can create plans for the dealer or cabinetmaker of your choice.

These designers, who may also be members of NKBA, may work on a commission basis or an hourly rate, giving you the flexibility to act as the general contractor. An interior designer is able to complete your entire kitchen from layout and window treatments to paint and wall coverings, right down to the last accessory.

Guidelines for finding a reliable contractor are vague, at best. If you have done any work on your home, you know that finding conscientious trades-people can be frustrating.

Remember, should you choose a kitchen dealer who does a turnkey job, the contractors are the dealer's problems. If you hire an interior designer on a commission basis, the job site problems are the designer's responsibilities. And if you hire a designer on an hourly basis and you are the general contractor (usually the most economical route), all the headaches are yours! You will also spend hours running to suppliers for the different purchases needed to complete the kitchen.

The Design Phase
However you decide to handle the project, there is no doubt that the design of a kitchen is the most complicated and most important design project in your home. The kitchen is the center of family activity, and therefore requires a thorough study of the family's lifestyle and the head of the household's organizational needs, as well as his or her cooking requirements.

Today's kitchens can include an office area complete with a computer, file cabinet and bulletin/message center. They also include a recycling station and even large screen televisions. Of course, modern kitchens do still serve as a cooking space. And your designer must begin by creating a layout based upon your kitchen wish list.

In this layout, you need to establish a "work triangle" to accommodate your work flow. This triangle is built by creating an imaginary line from the sink to the refrigerator to the cook-top, and back to the sink. The total linear footage connecting these three items should not exceed 21 feet, and nothing should intersect the lines. Once you've confirmed your work triangle, you can address the preparation and cleanup area.

From here, the designer should be able to determine if the five-burner cook-top, the double oven, warming drawer and the trash compactor you would like to include in your new kitchen will fit.

Next, you must address cookware, tableware, and food and spice storage issues.

Small appliances, such as electric can openers, mixers, and electric coffeepots, must also be accounted for. They can either be hidden in an appliance "garage" or left exposed on the counter.

After you've handled the essentials, you can see how elaborate your desk and recycling areas can be- and whether you'll have leftover space for that desperately needed "junk" drawer.

Appliances and Fixtures
Now the fun of shopping for appliances and fixtures begins. Visit your local appliance dealer as well as larger retailers to learn as much as possible about all available products. Don't be embarrassed to travel with your pots and pans to try them out for size.

From my own experience in kitchen design, here are some helpful hints in selecting your appliances:

Refrigerators
Look for the flexibility of door swings. A standard model gives you the option of changing the door swing to either the left or the right. This may be something to consider if you are looking at a side-by-side model where the narrower freezer side and wider refrigerator side are not interchangeable.

Review the placement and size of freezers. Bottom freezers will give you access to the refrigerator without bending. And always be sure to check that a turkey will fit in a side-by-side model.

Cook-tops
Four burners are truly enough for the average cook. However, five- and six-burner tops are now commonly available. Check out all of the manufacturers.

If the unit comes with a griddle or grill, make sure you can remove it for easy cleaning. These components always tend to look dirty.

Ovens
If you have room, opt for the double oven; you will love it during the holidays. If you do a lot of cookie and cupcake baking for the PTA, this is a great feature. You can bake several trays at once and have them all finish at the same time.

Make sure that a cookie tray will fit in the oven. Some of the smaller units cannot hold a large cookie tray.

Sinks
If a double or triple sink is an option, make sure a large spaghetti pot fits in the basin. There are many extra-deep sinks to choose from, but beware-water tends to splash because of the extra depth.

A vegetable or bar sink away from the work area is a great way to keep kids out of the cook area.

Trash Compactors
Consider it carefully if you have a bad back. The heavy compacted trash may pose a problem if you're the one who will be responsible for taking the garbage out.

Cabinets
For a more interesting look or to break up the monotony of all-wood doors, consider using all-glass doors on the upper cabinets. Curtains can always be added to the interior to hide a mess.

Dish racks look pretty ... and collect a lot of dust.

While the small apothecary drawers look great, they serve little purpose.

Countertops
There are pros and cons to all of the available options-laminate, solid surfaces, recycled composites, concrete, granite- the choice will be a matter of budget. Just pick an edging detail that will not collect dirt. A bull nose is the best; its completely rounded edge allows you to brush off crumbs easily.

Floors
Although ceramic tile is the easiest to keep clean, it is very hard on your back and feet. Keep the grout color dark for easiest maintenance, but remember that the more of a contrast between the tile and grout, the more busy the floor will become. The end result is a choppy look, which will make the room look smaller.

Wood floors are easy to keep clean but do need to be refinished occasionally. The darker and shinier the color, the more those dust balls will show!

Linoleum still has its dimples where dirty water dries after washing.

Laminate floors are slippery and noisy when walked on.

Hardware
There is such a variety of decorative styles available that you can take a basic stock cabinet and make it look truly unique by installing unusual pulls.

Lighting
Under-counter lighting is a must. Your cooking experiences will be so much more enjoyable when you don't have to strain your eyes. Be sure to check out LED lighting for under the counter.

General illumination should be addressed with care. Chandeliers are great with additional recessed lights. Be creative and use more than one chandelier.

Paint, Wall Covering, Window Treatments, and More
Leave enough in your budget for these essential kitchen flourishes; they are really what make the kitchen look and feel like home.

Have fun and good luck on this design adventure. Before you know it, you'll be dining in the kitchen of your dreams.

Published in Montage Magazine - Fall 1999, updated 12/09.

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