As a Kitchen Designer I am often asked this question during a kitchen design project:
“What would you do if this was your kitchen?”
A Kitchen Designers job is to advise and do what is best for the client and I always respond “I am designing your dream kitchen not mine so let’s figure out the best solution for you.”
But in this blog I’m going to share with you some of the things that I did do!
I have designed multiple kitchens for myself over the years and here are some of my favorite choices and design solutions.
Since the sink is used in approximately 70% of all kitchen tasks, I have always put a lot of thought into choosing one.
My first major kitchen renovation was in a home I owned on an acreage. We had a mini “farm” on the land with a massive garden. I learned to can and preserve food while living there and chose a sink to fit that lifestyle.
The sink I installed had an integrated trash chute that allowed food scraps to be easily swiped into it. Below was a pullout trash can I could take directly to the compost pile to be deposited. This was a great system for all of the fruit and vegetable scraps process in that kitchen.
When I moved to the city I was able to install a disposer (garborator) in the sink so I chose a 1 and 1/2 bowl sink with a smaller bowl for this appliance. I went with an over-sized model to get the largest sink sizes possible.
The shape of the sink was a big part of the decision in this kitchen. Most sinks on the market at the time were very “round” and my kitchen design had a lot of angles. I was thrilled when I found this sink. It had the function I wanted with a great angular shape to the bowls.
It was also an under mount model which I was excited to try in my own kitchen. As an added bonus I had a drain board routed into the countertop, sloping into the sink. The drainboard was great for draining a few washed crystal wine glasses and a convenient place to drain washed fruits and vegetables.
I loved having my kitchen sink under mounted but wanted an even cleaner look in the renovation of my townhouse. I chose a Corian brand sink and had it installed in what is called an integral installation.
An integral installation provides a smooth transition between sink and countertop with a seamless look and feel between the two. This was the easiest sink I have ever had to maintain. There were no ridges or hiding places for dirt to accumulate.
I choose the largest Corian single bowl sink available and as with my angled sink, I included a routed drainboard as part of the installation. The flexibility of the large single bowl sink was great. You can easily fit large pots and barbecue grates inside it and it even doubles as a bathtub for little ones!
As I contemplate my next renovation, these are the features I would like for the sink in my kitchen:
- A large single bowl sink
- Multiple sink accessories including a drainboard, a cutting board and a colander
- A countertop compost bin built-in beside the sink
- An under mounted or integrated installation
The first new dishwasher that I purchased for myself was an Asko. I ordered it in white to go with the other white appliances that came with the kitchen at the farm.
European technology was new to the North American market then and the long cycle times took a little getting used, to but the results were worth it. It was also one of the quietest dishwashers I ever owned. This was really important in this kitchen since it sat on a tiled floor and was in a peninsula. There were lots of areas where noise could escape but that was never a problem with this dishwasher.
I experimented with other brands of dishwashers over the years. I tired out Bosch, Miele, Kitchen Aid, Whirlpool and miscellaneous brands that came with the houses. The hands down winners were Mieli and Asko. The stainless steel interiors and upper cutlery rack were the best.
I also liked dishwashers with the controls on the top of the drawer. This design gave a nice clean look to the front of the appliance.
For installation, one of my favorite experiments was the raised dishwasher. This was how I installed the dishwasher in my largest home (the City home). It was great. Sharing the home with my husband and son, who are both tall, made this raised installation easily accessible to all. That extra foot off the ground really made a difference.
This is what I will be looking for in a dishwasher for my next kitchen:
- European designed model
- Stainless steel interior
- Pull out top cutlery rack
- Sterilizing cycle (for canning jars)
- Top controls
- Raised installation if I can make it work
Cooking appliances have been fairly basic in my own kitchens. Even though I specify very high end appliances for many of my client’s kitchens, entire suites of high end units have not been in the budget.
I like to incorporate a “luxury light” philosophy with appliances and install a high end unit when I can.
At the farm I had double ovens which came in handy while cooking holiday dinners. I found however that one of them became mostly storage for roasting pans and cookie sheets with the top oven being the one I used the most.
The top oven of my double oven stack was the most conveniently place oven for me. It worked for me ergonomically not requiring bending to get access to the interior.
When I built my designer “dream” home in the city , I opted for a single wall oven installed at counter height along with a 5 burner gas cooktop. I was able to place a bank of pots & pans drawers under the cooktop and the drawers under the oven were used for baking supplies.
I choose this particular cooktop for the burner and knob placement. At the farm, my gas cooktop had the control knobs down the side and I never intuitively knew which knob turned on which burner. I was constantly turning on the wrong one.
This Jenn-Air 5 burner cooktop had the knobs placed intuitively. At a glance you could see which knob turned on which burner.
At the townhouse, the kitchen was small with a range the best choice for cooking equipment. I choose a smooth top electric one with a convection oven in stainless steel. The oven also had a basic steam option which I used occasionally when baking fish.
I really liked the convection option in the oven for baking trays of cookies at the holidays, but did not like the lack of heat control with the smooth top. The steam option was OK but not something I would go looking for.
Above the oven was a microwave hood combination to match the range. I hated it. It did not vent very well because the hood portion did not reach over the front burners and overall it was too high. I found it to be a dangerous location for a microwave and I would never recommend one for a client.
My ideal set up for cooking in my next kitchen would look like this:
- Gas cooktop with 5 burners
- Intuitive knob placement on cooktop
- Single convection wall oven
- Basic microwave placed near the refrigerator
Countertops are the work horses of the kitchen and need to be highly functional.
The first home I purchased came with laminate counters that were fine, but I undertook a minor renovation installing wood butcher block counters on either side of the range. One side was dedicated to chopping vegetables while the other was used for rolling out dough for bread.
Having a butcher block always out and at the ready was a bonus in that first kitchen. I was fine with the minor nicks and cuts it received and when needed I would give it a light sanding and apply a mineral oil to season it.
When we moved to the farm I tried tiled countertops. Even though this countertop was heat proof it was very high maintenance. I was bleaching my white grout monthly in this kitchen. Not something I would do again.
For my new build home, I choose solid surface countertops, offering the large kitchen a seamless countertop install. I really liked the easy maintenance of the solid surface counters and the matte finish did not dominate the great room the way that a glossy granite countertop would have.
When it came time to renovate my summer cabin, I choose quartz in a black tone. It was new to the market at the time and the cabin was the best place to try it out. The kitchen was small enough to not require any seams and it was great for a summer home with multiple cooks and guest in an out of the kitchen. This counter stood up to everything we threw at it.
I used quartz again in a small renovation of a galley kitchen. This time I choose a light grey toned material. Again this was a good choice because the kitchen runs were small enough to not require seems. There was a pass through to the living space where I specified a radius quartz bar top.
I found when sitting at the bar and leaning on the quartz counter it was quite cold to the touch. Not really an issue during the summer months but in the depths of winter you really did not want to lean your forearms on that cold surface.
For my townhouse renovation I went back to solid surface, choosing the Corian brand. The one I picked had a directional pattern so some planning had to go into the fabrication of this material. I loved how the waterfall counter turned out. It had a very smooth transition from horizonal to vertical.
Thinking about countertops for my next kitchen, this is what I would like to see:
- Inclusion of more than one counter material
- Counter material choice based on the work zone it is going into
- Simple edge treatment
- Waterfall edge for easy maintenance and style
Experimenting in the backsplash area can really add personality to a kitchen design.
In my city home I had a metal laminate in a copper finish installed as a backsplash. Different metals were just beginning to get traction in kitchen design and this copper finish was the perfect accent and picked up the tones in the floor.
It was an easy install with the laminate being placed on the wall in the backsplash area prior to the cabinets being placed. Since it is so thin there was no problem overlapping the cabinets top and bottom.
The flat surface of the metal laminate was also very easy to maintain with only a quick wipe needed to clean the area. It was also a very affordable option for a kitchen backsplash.
In other kitchen renovations over the years I experimented with tile backsplashes using everything from mosaics, slate and porcelain tiles. All giving a unique look to the room.
One of my favorites was the full wall of backsplash tile installed in the townhouse renovation. The design included a detailed pattern using a white and an off-white subway tile in a matte finish.
Since there was no window in the kitchen area this light backsplash visually expanded the space. It was a fun experiment using a very basic, cost effective tile choice for this renovation.
My next backsplash will have these features:
- An easy to maintain surface
- A solution for finishing the outside edges
- Something unique but classic
- Backsplash to the ceiling where appropriate
Most of my homes have been open concept and my preference is to have one continuous flooring throughout the space.
In my large city home, ceramic tile was the choice. With the large amount of flooring needed for this space budget was a consideration. I choose a fairly cost effective tile that had a companion accent tile.
By laying the tile in an interesting pattern with a border running around the island, the cost effective tile was elevated.
Tile floor was a very durable choice and really worked well during the “teen” years in this home. It’s only down side was that anything that dropped on the floor shattered.
During the renovation of our cabin, I choose a laminate flooring for the entire space. It was a easy install in a remote area and offered good durability. It was so much better than the original “indoor/outdoor” carpet installed when the cabin was built.
Laminate offers many different looks and in this setting the maple toned wood really lightened up the whole home.
For the townhome renovation we splurged and installed wide plank fir flooring. I had it custom milled with a micro bevel with a clear finish.
The real showstopper of this floor was the lengths. Because it was custom I received planks up to 20′ long with the shortest ones 8′. It was a spectacular looking floor that really set the tone for the whole renovation.
All of the flooring choices I have installed in my homes have worked well for the setting.
Here are my thoughts on flooring for my next renovation:
- A single continuous flooring through out the open concept space
- A medium toned floor to anchor the space but still keep it light feeling
- Material to be determined!
Kitchens are the gathering spaces of most homes and I always incorporate some type of seating area in my personal kitchens.
For many years the raised dining bar was the go to seating space in kitchens. In my city home I included a raised dining bar at the end of my 13′ long island. This shielded the mess of the kitchen from the rest of the great room and also put diners at eye level with the cook.
For a contrast to the raised dining bar, I included a window seat at the opposite end of the island in this home. The window seat design evolved because I wanted the kitchen at the front of the house and the exterior facade looked better with a low window. The window seat was the solution and it became a favorite place to sit to have a morning coffee or to read a cookbook.
When designing the townhouse kitchen the space was small so I placed a bench against the back of the peninsula. Adding a custom table and a few chairs produced a dinning space for the great room.
This set up work extremely well in this compact space and did double duty as a home office and a dining room.
Thinking about my next kitchen renovation this is what I want for seating:
- An informal dining bar, this time at counter level
- Room for two to three stools
- A pullout dining table that hides away when not in use
- Table comfortable for four
Display and Details
I have incorporated a variety of display areas into my kitchens over the years. Since I collect glassware, tableware and pottery, I like to have easy access to these items.
Adding interesting details made the display areas even more unique.
The cabin renovation was all about creating function and style in a very small space. The function came from a unique layout while style was provide by cherry cabinetry with wrought iron accents.
Since the kitchen was used by multiple people open storage was important. A wrought iron pot rack put copper bowls, pots & pans within the cooks reach over the range.
Above the sink, but not pictured, was a plate rack constructed from iron and wood to store all the dishes for the home.
In the entertaining center, an upper cabinet above the wine fridge is accented with an iron pediment and includes an open shelf for glassware.
Some additional open storage was provided by an upper cabinet above the refrigerator facing the living space and again accented with wrought iron piece.
In the city home I designed a unique upper cabinet door to echo the clerestory windows throughout the home. Above the sink the upper cabinet was recessed and fitted with glass doors. The perfect place for a collection of wine glasses!
The townhouse renovation repurposed the existing cabinetry and included a narrow pantry unit with glass doors. Placing this unit beside the refrigerator, facing the living area provided the perfect place for all of my dishware and glassware.
Above the refrigerator an open shelf unit displayed part of my pottery collection and wrought iron plate hangers were placed on the tile wall for platters.
For easy access to everyday plates I placed a decorative wrought iron plate holder on the counter above the dishwasher. Even in this small space a variety of functional open storage was incorporated.
My next kitchen will definitely have display areas with these features:
- A modern material for shelves such as black iron and glass
- Specific area to display my glassware and pottery collections
- Open shelving for decanted pantry items in glass jars
- An easy to maintain system so open shelving looks neat and tidy!
A Kitchen Designer has many options when designing their own kitchen. Knowing all the options opens up many possibilities.
Whenever I design a new kitchen for myself and my family I very much enjoy the process. I always introduce something unique but functional to the design. Experimenting on myself helps me advise my clients.
I’m not sure when my next kitchen renovation will start but that just means I will have more time to come up with new and exciting plans for the space!
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Jan Rutgers is a professional Kitchen Designer with more than 25 years experience. She is the founder of VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN, where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design industry.