Building a house: How to design a kitchen


I make no claim on being a kitchen designer. Neither am I an expert on spatial design, cooktops, cabinetry, rangehoods, refrigeration, or well, very much really (that’s probably become clear if you’ve been reading this column for a while). We have, however, designed and installed a new kitchen before. We loved it, and so did the 100 or so people who came to view it at the open home.

Like choosing your paint colours, there are about a million blog sites providing helpful advice on the hows, whys and wherefores of kitchen design. Some of it is useful, some of it is probably, well, decorative at best. There are galley kitchens, U-shaped cooking alcoves, moveable countertops and more.

When it comes to layout, it’s one of those things where you like what you like, but the space you have to play with sometimes makes the call for you. And because it’s not as easy or cheap to change as a coat of paint, you want to get it right.

The pantry seems enormous when it’s up on a bench and in the middle of the workshop.

So if you’re not a kitchen designer, why risk it?

Of course there are plenty of professional operators who will draw up, build and install your kitchen for you. But because we are trying to do things as cheaply as possible, yet with as high a finish as possible, we’re working with Peter, our Man of Cabinetry, and we’ve designed it ourselves.

We pay Peter direct, buy materials direct and generally cut out the mark-up and design fees of the kitchen design firms. It means we can afford things like upspecing the Blum fixtures which worked so brilliantly in the last place. It’s that thing that Kevin McCloud always bangs on about; spend as much as you can on the things you touch every day. The handles and closers on this kitchen will get a good hammering from The Destruction Specialist and Lego Engineer. ‘Nuff said.

The big chain DIY stores do provide a kitchen design service too, and in a new build that’s a lot easier to use as you can design your kitchen shape to fit the standard sizes. But Mr BuildingBoxes wanted what he wanted, and our Man of Cabinetry is a true artisan. So custom built is the way we’re going.

The overhead cabinets are almost complete.

Any stuff ups?

Well it’s not installed yet. So there’s still time… We did, however, work out quite quickly that thinking through material sizes as part of the design process is just as important as where the cabinets are going to go if you’re trying to save money.

We’re using an engineered stone on the benchtops for example (again because it worked so brilliantly in the last place), and as it comes in 3060 x 1440 slabs, when we got creative with sizes and positions, we managed to get the whole kitchen out of two sheets rather than three, which is a big saving.

Even better, we were able to factor in making the leftovers the right size for the tops of both bathroom vanities. This is something a kitchen designer will know, of course, and might discuss with you. But I’ve discovered that passing on little titbits of information that would help shave costs isn’t necessarily part of the packaging in many parts of the building process.

So what’s the design?

As I said above, we loved our old kitchen so we’ve taken many of the elements from it. The space in this place is slightly narrower, but hopefully with the large window and pantry, which we didn’t have in the old place, we won’t miss the space.

We’re using solid ash for the kickers.

Essentially we have a U-shaped kitchen, lots of bench space (all covered in Caesarstone Sleek Concrete), and an inbuilt pantry. We’ve tried to think through the workspace triangle (sink to stove to fridge) that worked so well last time and seems to be the true linchpin of good, and when I say good I mean functional, kitchen design. A charming young Irishman sent me a graphic he’d made of kitchen design essentials via the Building Boxes blog – check it out if you’re interested.

We’re using Melteca Puregrain in Snowdrift on the bottom cabinets, and Tasmanian Ash Veneer on the top ones. I ummed and ahhed over the splashback – we had stainless steel in the last place, which was super cost effective, but because we have concrete floors rather than wooden ones in this place, it seemed a bit cold to have steel as well so we’re going for a sheet of copper (at the moment anyway).

I really wanted a black wall too, but I couldn’t quite make it work with the windows and lower ceiling, so I’m painting the fridge in black blackboard paint instead. We’re still painting so the kitchen’s not in yet, but it’s not far off. Promise I’ll share pictures when it’s done (and you’ll be able to see if I’ve chickened out on the copper splashback or not)…