Step 1 - How to Plan your Kitchen Renovation
Cover Photo: Paul Warhol - Source: Home & Garden. This loft kitchen has the kitchen block built in along the back wall. This allows for ventilation and cabinetry above the long countertop with the sink and cooktop spaced properly along that wall. Fridge can be seen to the left of the sink. This design allows for a long linear island that accommodates seating, storage as well as a huge preparation area. Great for entertaining as well. Note how the skylight reflects the length of the island. Wonderful detail!
I am going to devote the next four weeks to kitchen renovations so you have all the knowledge and information you need if you are planning for a new kitchen this year. When a client approaches me for a kitchen renovation I go through a specific process to gather information about the client, their family and lifestyle before I even start thinking about design. With this information as well as that of my previous blog on renovating a kitchen, you will have all pertinent details to a successful renovation.
I am going to walk you through this process so you too can be prepared for your kitchen renovation without making mistakes. I highly recommend you follow these steps before you start any design process. There are plenty of critical elements which need to be reviewed since they will impact the design and ultimate functionality and look of your kitchen. No to mention your budget!
I will review the most critical ones as follows:
Size or Square Footage
Electrical & Plumbing (Mechanical)
Size or Square Footage
We have all heard it many times: size matters. When planning a kitchen renovation it is important to assess the square footage you have available in your existing kitchen. Is it big enough to serve your family’s current needs? Will the size be sufficient enough ten to twenty years in the future? Most people undertake such an important renovation only once in their lifetime. You want to do it right.
Old homes typically have small kitchens. Decades ago kitchens were strictly for preparing and cooking meals. Some might have had a breakfast nook. Today’s kitchens have become so much more. For one, people tend to entertain more than before and this entertaining often centers around the kitchen. Secondly, we have many more small and large appliances and gadgets available to us, all to make cooking a pleasure, an art and frequently a time-saver. And these need room! Thirdly, kitchens have once again become the space to live in! Back to the old days…in a good way.
If your kitchen is too small for your family or if it does not function properly you can consider enlarging the space by (re)moving walls or adding an extension to your home if the location of the kitchen allows for this. If planning to move a wall or two, or knock walls out, it is important to make sure whether the affected walls are non-load bearing so they can be (re)moved easily. Should the wall(s) of your choice be load bearing wall(s) you will have to get an engineer involved to give you recommendations on what needs to be done. Often this means that a new beam will need to be installed to carry the weight from above. The engineer will advise what type of beam you will need to install.
When homes are designed initially, foundations and load bearing walls are carefully calculated to ensure that they can carry the weight of the structure, roof and all. I have come across a couple of situations where even the foundation of a home would not be able to carry any additional weight than it already had, limiting what could be done with the renovation.
A larger kitchen, of course, can accommodate more storage and/or a kitchen island which will contribute to a better functioning kitchen. If you decide to enlarge your kitchen you will have the opportunity to create the kitchen of your dreams. In London, UK, many old row homes are cleverly receiving all sorts of additions to the back of the homes making room for spacious live-in kitchens allowing for lots of light to penetrate the homes.
If the kitchen does not allow an extension or moving and/or elimination of walls there are other ways an existing footprint can be made more functional by relocating cabinetry and appliances, and by installing up-to-date storage solutions (more on storage in a following blog). A professonial in particular will be able to help you with solutions that will give you more storage and flexibility to make it feel like a larger kitchen.
Size does matter in a kitchen and realizing in advance what your needs are, the better your planning process will be.
The next thing to consider is how does your family function in your kitchen. Often kitchens are dysfunctional for a modern family. We used to joke that older kitchens were designed by men who never baked or cooked in a kitchen: that’s how dysfunctional these older kitchens were!
Is there more than one cook in the family? If so, how is the flow of the existing layout? Are people in each other’s way when certain tasks are performed?
What is the cultural background of your family? Asian families often require a second smaller cooking area for wokking. This alone may mean that a kitchen needs to be enlarged. Kosher kitchens frequently feature two sinks and extra storage to accommodate duplicate cooking utensils and chinaware.
Homeowners who love cooking seafood and fish will need very good ventilation since the odours of these ingredients can overpower and linger.
Do you love to bake? If so, a drop in the countertop with a marble top can accommodate rolling and kneeling dough. An extra oven will afford the luxury to bake multiple items.
One of my former clients loves to can and pickle foods and she needed storage for the equipment used in canning. Ultimately we added drawers in all the kicks to accommodate all the jars and lids she had. Ask yourself whether extra storage is needed for prepared foods? How about the fridge and freezer capacity. Are they what is required? Does you need more? I have had clients who were avid fishermen and they liked to bring home fish for consumption which required extra freezer storage.
What about kids! How do the kids relate to their parents. Depending on their ages kids may still hang around Mom and Dad when playing or doing homework. And, since so much time each day is spent in the kitchen, can the kitchen accommodate these activities.
Where does the family like to have their breakfasts, lunches and dinners? Is every meal planned to be consumed in the kitchen or only one or two. Is the family casual or more formal? A casual meal can be eaten in a nook or at a kitchen island. Formal dinners typically use dining rooms. Today we see more and more dining rooms become part of the kitchen. It is a lovely look to see a great dining table with comfortable chairs adjacent to the hub of the kitchen in an open layout. Even fireplaces are now introduced as a luxury element in the kitchen. Imagine having a hot toddy at an island eating bar with a fireplace behind you warming up your back after coming in from our cold winters. Sounds so good to me.
People like to entertain in kitchens these days. Is there enough space to do that and if so, how is it done? Do you prepare elaborate sit-down dinners or buffet style eating extravaganzas. Sit down dinners require a large area whereas a buffet style one often only needs a kitchen island or peninsula. Grand rooms have a kitchen, eating room and family sitting area. These have been popular for a couple of decades now and they remain popular.
I always review my clients’ lifestyle. If both husband and wife work full time, do they cook at home a lot or do they eat out frequently? I remember one client who never cooked or ate at home. The family had two small children at the time. They would eat a cold cereal breakfast, but all other meals were taken outside the home. The kitchen in their large home had a very awkward, out of date cooking area, but it was not a priority for them. When I designed a new kitchen I presented a much more functional layout, particularly in light of the resale value of the home. A properly functioning kitchen was not on their wish list due to their lifestyle, but resale value definitely was. Something to think about as well. After all, a well designed and renovated kitchen dramatically increases the value of a home.
Is your family outdoors oriented and therefore not home that much? Do you prepare meals to take out with you? Is your family a stay-at-home family with lots of indoor activities? This type of family may want a larger social area in the kitchen. Some families barbecue a lot, winter and summer. Easy access to a comfortable outdoor area is required for this.
Are the homeowners gourmet cooks or foodies? This type of person(s) will have different requirements of their kitchen than a regular cook.
Again, entertaining is an important thing to consider. Is the family very social and family oriented with plenty of get togethers, both formal and casual. Or only one or the other. Does the family throw parties frequently and if so, are these large parties or small intimate affairs?
As you can see many elements need to be taken into account when review a kitchen’s functionality or desired functionality. Before even thinking about design and layouts, having this information to consider considerably decreases the risk of making major costly mistakes.
How is the flow of the existing kitchen? Does it makes sense? Is the fridge located in the right spot with plenty of landing space nearby to put groceries and ingredients. Are the cooking area and the prep area in close proximity. What about the cleaning area. Is it nearby or at the other end of the space? Old kitchens often feature an old range somewhere lost in the corner and the cook will have to carry hot pots and pans to the sink by crossing the space. You know what I mean. Flow and ease can always be improved on by relocating appliances and cabinetry.
Where in the home is the kitchen located? Is there a mudroom or laundry room nearby? Some clients want the kitchen to be central and have a mud/laundryroom leading from the kitchen to the outdoors. This may mean relocating the entire kitchen, or adding that extension I mentioned earlier.
Is there enough storage for the family or is a pantry required? Can a pantry be added by creating a separate room or by adding tall cabinetry to serve as one. I don’t know about you, but you can never have too much storage.
Electrical & Plumbing
The older the home the more the likelihood that any electrical wiring will have to be updated to conform to the new building codes. If the homeowner wants to gut the kitchen and do a complete renovation it is important to consider whether the existing electrical panel can handle more appliances and lighting. If not, this is the time to consider increasing the electrical capacity.
In the case of plumbing it is important to find out whether the sink can be relocated and will the structure of the house allow for a relocation of the drain. Water lines are typically not a problem, but the drain needs to connect to the home’s drainage system. Particularly when adding a kitchen island which is to function as the kitchen block and would therefore house the sink with waterlines and drain. Without opening up too many floors, can this be accomplished without too much trouble?
In the case of enlarging a kitchen by moving walls or adding an extension this may not be that big of a deal. If, however, the existing square footage is being renovated but the sink is moved to a different wall, can this be done without too much trouble.
Electrical and plumbing changes can be costly so they need to be carefully considered whether it is worth the effort of relocating them.
In older homes lighting can be terrible. One ceiling fixture and that’s it. Often this ceiling fixture is of a fluorescent nature or just a plain ceiling mount. I abhor these with a passion. A good kitchen has three types.
General ambience lighting, such as recessed pot lights which throw lots of light downward. Another type of ambience lighting are pendants over a kitchen island.
Task lighting to perform specific tasks such as cooking, prepping or cleaning.
Accent lighting to highlight a specific part of the kitchen. This could be art, cabinetry or a gorgeous ventilation hood.
It is important to think about what kind of lighting you need and want. How does extra lighting impact your electrical requirements and existing capacity.
This is also the time to think about the appliances. Are you planning on replacing them or some? Are you adding to your appliances? Gourmet cooks may want a professional cooking range. Canners may want an extra freezer built in. Wine enthusiasts probably want a wine cooler. These days there are all sorts of ovens, microwaves, cooktops, ranges and warming drawers.
How is the ventilation in the kitchen? Lots of moisture is produced when cooking and cleaning. The type of cooking you do will also determine what kind of ventilation hood you need. And, depending on the model selected you may have to adjust the ventilation pipes. These can be too narrow to accommodate the modern hoods with a higher capacity.
It is important to decide on appliances very early on in the renovating process. If you are chasing out your existing units for new ones, these new ones often have different dimensions. No kitchen can be correctly designed without the dimensions of existing and future appliances. Typically, appliances are the very first purchases a kitchen renovator will have to make.
As you can see a kitchen renovation is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a lot of thought and work and, yes, a lot of money! It is important to set a budget early on since it is really easy to spend way more than you intended in the first place. Even when planning a high-end kitchen you need to set a budget.
Setting a budget will allow you to see where you will need to make compromises and where you can splurge. Often a wonderful effect can be created by spending little money - think of your backsplash or a special faucet. Even amazing door hardware can make or break a look. You need to ask yourself which elements of your kitchen mandate a higher expense and where you can budget. Then, as you work your way through the process try to stick to the your budget. It has been my experience that people tend to like the more expense items better. However, if you have no monetary guidance you will go over your budget in a very short time! Buyer beware!
As you can see there is lots to think about before you start the planning process. I recommend you involve professionals to work with you so you can avoid expensive mistakes and follow the process in the correct order.
Meanwhile, thank you for visiting and let me know if you are planning a kitchen reno this year. Stay tuned for kitchen ideas, new plumbing fixtures available these days, cool new appliances and countertop solutions in the coming articles.