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Building a Home

9 Tips for Designing a Functional Kitchen

Published on:

2/23/22

written by:

Carrie Barker

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Building a home is overwhelming (been there, done that!) … and one of the hardest parts is designing your kitchen layout. The kitchen is the most utilized room in the house and the top place for friends and family to gather … so you want it to be FUNCTIONAL for both entertaining as well as everyday living (e.g. putting away your dishes)! In this post, I’m sharing 9 tips for designing a functional kitchen. These are all things I LOVE about my own kitchen layout. I’ll also include a couple of things that I wish I had done differently in my kitchen (so you can learn from my ‘mistakes’).

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MY OPEN KITCHEN LAYOUT

First of all, I personally LOVE having my kitchen open to our family room. These are the two rooms my family (and probably your family) spends 90% of our time in … so why not combine the rooms so we can all be together?! I highly recommend an open kitchen floor plan :).

Here is a visual of my exact kitchen layout. I apologize for the blurry photo, but this image shows you in detail my kitchen floor plan …

Designing a Functional Kitchen Tips Caroline on Design

MY KITCHEN LAYOUT

Interested in seeing my entire custom floor plan for ideas?! Please visit my FLOOR PLAN PAGE for details.

DESIGNING A FUNCTIONAL KITCHEN: 9 TIPS

All tips below are based on things I LOVE about my own functional custom kitchen.

1. AMPLE WALKING SPACE ON ALL SIDES OF ISLAND

Be sure to have plenty of space to comfortably walk around your kitchen island.

We have at least 42″ on all four sides of our kitchen island. This allows us room to open the dishwasher or the refrigerator without our back bumping up to the island.

 

Tips for designing a functional kitchen walkway

PLENTY OF WALKING SPACE ON ALL FOUR SIDES OF ISLAND

SHOP THIS LOOK

 

2. STOVE DIRECTLY BEHIND SINK

I find it very functional to have my stovetop directly behind me when I’m standing at my sink. 

This allows me to easily ‘transport’ a full pot of water to the stovetop to boil. I simply turn myself around (as opposed to walking across the kitchen with a full pot of water). You can even go a step further (no pun intended) and include a pot filler above your stove!

3. SILVERWARE + EVERYDAY DISHES NEAR DISHWASHER

One of my least favorite kitchen tasks is unloading the dishwasher (which is why we make our daughters do this as one of their chores)! However, unloading the dishwasher is more pleasant (and faster) when your silverware and everyday dishes are stored very close to the dishwasher.

tips for designing a functional kitchen dishes. white kitchen with grey subway tile backsplash and quartz counters.

I STORE SILVERWARE IN THESE DRAWERS AND EVERYDAY DISHES IN THESE CABINETS

SHOP THIS LOOK

4. PULL OUT GARBAGE/RECYCLING CABINET

Including a rollout garbage/recycling cabinet by your kitchen sink allows for VERY easy cleanup when cooking or doing dishes. A word of caution if you have a dog … our pup sneaks in the cabinet when it’s open (to find crumbs) and she’s been nearly closed in the cabinet a couple of times!

Tips for designing a functional kitchen pull out garbage can. white kitchen island with sink and dishwasher.

PULL OUT GARBAGE CABINET ON LEFT SIDE (CENTRAL VAC TOE KICK ON BOTTOM LEFT)

SHOP THIS LOOK

5. DRAWERS, DRAWERS + MORE DRAWERS

Drawers allow for SO much storage! Our large drawers under our stove have proven to be much more practical than traditional cabinets.

I highly recommend installing drawers inside your lower cabinets (shown below). Installing large drawers inside your lower cabinets makes it MUCH easier to reach dishes in the back of a cabinet. Just sayin’!

Tips for Designing a Functional Kitchen Cabinet pull out Drawers

Tips for designing a functional kitchen open drawers

LARGE KITCHEN DRAWERS (INSIDE CABINET TOO)

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6. DRAWER UNDER OVEN

Adding a drawer under your oven (if you have a wall oven) is very practical as well. This is a great place to store cookie sheets.

Tips for designing a functional kitchen oven drawer

SLIM DRAWER UNDER OVEN

7. SOFT CLOSE DRAWERS + CABINETS

We have soft close on all drawers and cabinet doors. While this isn’t necessary, it definitely is a great feature to have.

8. CENTRAL VACUUM VACPAN TOE KICK

If you have a Central Vac system, consider installing a vacpan toe kick on the bottom of your kitchen island. When turned on (with your foot … hence the name), the intense suction allows you to sweep crumbs and debris right into your central vac system. 

Tip: we installed our toe kick on the inside of the island so it wouldn’t be visible from the family room. You can see my toe kick in the kitchen island photo above.

9. SINK IN THE KITCHEN ISLAND

I personally love having my sink in the island because it’s right in the middle of all the action and I can keep an eye on my kids while doing dishes.

I do love the look of a sink under a window, but my husband didn’t want to worry about pipes bursting during our sub-zero winter temps. However, I have been repeatedly ‘schooled’ in the comments that pipes on exterior walls are perfectly fine for most people … even those who live in harsh climates as I do. 

MY KITCHEN DESIGN ‘MISTAKES’

Ok, so these aren’t exactly mistakes … but they are two (significant) things I would change about my kitchen design if I were to build again. 

HIDDEN PANTRY CABINET DOORS

First of all, I love my hidden pantry … however, I would do our pantry cabinet doors differently. Our pantry doors are opened and closed probably 20 times a day … so these tall cabinet doors take a beating.

They’ve held up fairly well after 8 years of use, but they aren’t perfectly straight anymore (which annoys me). I’m not exactly sure what I would do differently (possibly a swinging pantry door?) … all I know is that I will NOT do tall cabinet pantry doors again :).

KITCHEN ISLAND SIZE IS NOT IDEAL

I would LOVE to have a huge (12′ -14′ long) kitchen island with tons of prep space and storage on all four sides! Obviously, my 8′ x 4′ isn’t terrible, BUT a large island with ample storage is a MUST in my next home build.

Tips for Designing a Functional Kitchen Hidden Pantry Closed

HIDDEN PANTRY DOORS CLOSED

Tips for designing a functional kitchen hidden pantry open

HIDDEN PANTRY CABINET DOORS OPEN

SHOP THIS LOOK

I hope you now feel more excited and ready to create your own list of kitchen layout and function must-haves (as well as ‘no-nos’) to communicate to your builder or architect. If you want to dig deeper, download my *FREE* guided Design Decision workbook to help you choose kitchen design finishes with confidence :).

  1. Tasha says:

    My kitchen conundrum is the vent under my kitchen sink. Heat is nice on a cold Winter day, but cold air even in Summer is a little much . And since my sink is on an exterior wall, the I see the necessity of heat.

  2. Meg Holycross says:

    Your kitchen is beautiful! Would you please be willing to share what your hardwood floors are? We are getting ready to replace all the flooring on our first floor. Thank you!!
    P.S. I love your “hidden” pantry…so clever!

  3. I love this post! I like to know practical things about what makes a kitchen work well and not just how pretty it is. I’m not in the building process (yet!) but I like to think about what I would want in my home when the time comes and I got some great takeaways from your post.

    We’re currently renting and my main complaint about our kitchen is the need for drawers inside of cabinets. ALL kitchens should come with them standard! And the layout of the dishwasher vs the cabinets that hold everyday dishes doesn’t really work the best but we make do for now. Again thanks for the great post!

    • It’s always great to make a list of things you ‘must have’ in your future kitchen (home) and things you don’t enjoy about your current kitchen (home)! I did that … and I still have a running list for my next home (Far in the future)! So glad you enjoyed this post, and I am SO excited for your future home build!

  4. The Furnshop says:

    Designing a kitchen properly is very important. Much appreciated for sharing these tips for designing a functional kitchen.

  5. Emily Petrak says:

    Hello,
    Are your plans “editable”? For example I love the layout but we may have room to extend the family room and kitchen to be deeper.
    Emily

    • Absolutely, Emily! When you purchase the construction drawings, your builder/architect can draw in any changes to the plan. The easier option is to purchase the CAD file and your builder/architect can easily make changes directly to the plan. You can email me (hello@carolineondesign.com) if you have any questions!

  6. I appreciate that you brought up how adding a drawer directly under your oven can be the perfect place to keep appliances like cookie sheets. When my wife and I moved into our home, we noticed that the kitchen’s layout was particularly cluttered, we have a difficult time locating anything inside of our kitchen. It may be time to redesign our kitchen so that we can prioritize functionality and accessibility.

  7. […] Recommended Posts: 9 Tips to Design a Beautiful & Functional Master Bathroom  AND 9 Tips for Designing a Functional Kitchen […]

  8. Susan McAbee says:

    Hello Carrie,
    I am so happy to have found you. I love your designs in your home. I have never had an interest in home design until a few months ago when we purchased our retirement fixer-upper. Every room has been completely gutted and here I sit going through hours of Pinterest trying to learn about everything from room textures, support beams, kitchen designs, tiles, floors, to venting for fireplace. There is so much information out there it gets overwhelming. Thankfully, I have found you. I will study your designs. Thank you

  9. Very helpful tips. I like bright, large kitchens with lots of space.

  10. Lindy says:

    So my kitchen design (we are about to break ground) I have been back and forth on. My fridge is to left side, (back wall), 48” stove in middle of back wall and sink is on right wall under a window bc I LOVE looking out the window at my sink. My island is 12’ with nothing in it. Just large space with storage. I have gone back and forth about whether or not to put sink in the island!!!! Help!

    • Hi Lindy! If you love looking out the window when you’re at the sink, then go with that setup! I LOVE that look, but our winters are too harsh to have any pipes on exterior walls here in the MidWest. I’m totally jealous of your huge kitchen island! One thing you could do to break it up just a little bit is to add a smaller beverage sink in it. Does that make sense? It would just be a little sink (off to the side of the island) that is maybe above an ice maker so people can easily get ice water or something like that. Just a thought to break up your large island a little bit.

      • Molly says:

        I live in Iowa and we have our sink under the window. On an exterior wall. I love being able to look outside while at the sink.

        • That’s great, Molly! I wish my husband was willing to do this, but he is too worried about pipes freezing. So great that you don’t have issues with this. I imagine your Iowa weather is very similar to my Illinois weather 🙂

          • Britt Ivan says:

            I live in Canada, and you can absolutely put your kitchen sink under a window. That’s where mine is now. Thanks for the article! I love hearing what works and what doesn’t. It really helps in planning projects.

          • Angie says:

            I’ll second (third? Fourth? 😉) plumbing on exterior walls in midwest. I’m in Minnesota and sink has been on exterior wall in all my homes without a single issue (and come to think of it, virtually all my friends’ homes also…)

          • Looks like I need to remove this from my blog post … there are many of you who are proving my husband wrong. He told me there was no way we could do plumbing in an exterior wall. Sounds like we can. Thanks for your input.

  11. Blake Riley says:

    I love the idea of installing drawers inside cabinets. It would makes so much space for everything. I m planning on renovating my kitchen next month and i m gonna bookmark your post and plan its renovation accordingly, Thank you for sharing such helpful tips Carrie.

  12. Jane says:

    Just FYI – I have my dish cabinet above my dishwasher and I would move it anywhere else if I had a choice. I have to unload the dishwasher on to the counter, close the dishwasher, then put my dishes away. When open, the washer blocks me from getting close enough to the cabinet to put them away directly. Although, I am rather short, taller people may not have this issue.

    • That is great insight, Jane! I actually didn’t think about it that way. My family is tall so I don’t know that it would be an issue for us. However, that is a really great point! Thanks for sharing :).

  13. MJ says:

    Certain soft close cabinet hardware allows for small adjustments to move the cabinet fronts. You might be able to adjust the pantry door slightly more towards center to close gap. I’d check what type of cabinet hardware you have and see if it’s possible.

    • Thank you, MJ! I did have my builder try to adjust the pantry ‘cabinet’ doors a few years ago and we didn’t have much luck. At this point, I just live with the small gap :).

  14. Ann K. says:

    When we remodeled and expanded our kitchen I did a lot of thinking and planning. One thing I do not like is anything involving extra, what I think of is unnecessary steps or action.
    1. A pull out drawer for trash means you need both hands (one is holding the trash) to open it. We designed it so that it is wide enough to hold 2 trash cans side by side, and left the top, where a drawer would be, open. This way we just drop in our garbage or paper recyclables in with out having to open a drawer. If we need to add something larger or empty we just open the door. The top opening is large enough for most items yet too small for our large dog to fit her head in! One less step, especially if you have dirty hand (then need to wash again, another unnecessary step).
    2. I too love large drawers but regret having my pots and pans in roll-out shelves. Have to open both drawers completely to roll out the shelves. An unnecessary step. Would have rather had 2 large drawers that just pulled out.
    3. I find 2 smaller doors to gain access to a cupboard or room (pantry, bathroom, or in my case the pans drawer) just doesn’t make sense if you need to open both. Just another unnecessary step.
    4. Having a counter next to fridge is a must for me to make loading groceries and taking out items easier.
    I may have learned about efficiency working in food service for my career so was glad to be able to eliminate some, albeit small, time consuming actions needed when working in a kitchen. I am in Wisconsin and if insulated properly your pipes should not freeze. One thing I absolutely love about our kitchen is the 6×6 window overlooking my garden. Can watch wildlife, flowers and dog when at the sink. Regret putting a skylight where we did. When looking up we can see the upstairs window, rather than a tree and sky. Love having the extra “free” light but should have placed it a few feet over. Some things you just do not think of until it is too late. Hope these items may help those planning a new kitchen.

  15. Thanks for the tip that getting drawers will complement traditional kitchen cabinets very well. I plan to remodel my kitchen soon because I’d like to start making cooking videos online someday. Having more space for more kitchen appliances would surely be a welcome addition.

  16. Michele says:

    Thanks for the tip about the pantry doors. We are going to have cabinet doors for our pantry. I’ll be sure to look at perhaps going with one solid door to avoid having my the issue of my doors not looking up over time. I would have never have thought of that. I do have a 14′ island in our plans. I figure you can never have enough prep and storage space!

  17. Kelly says:

    Thanks for the chuckle! I live in Canada and we have as low as -40F for week long stretches. More often than not our homes have the sink on an outside wall so we can face the window when at the sink. It really is a non issue.

  18. Shari says:

    Very informative article. We’re in the planning stage of our build & intrigued by hidden pantries. I’m a neat freak & would use this as a work pantry w/possibly a small sink. Thanks to your advise will go w/one door.

  19. Krissy says:

    These are all great thoughts. Thank you. In our custom build, there wasn’t a good place next to our dishwasher for silverware and plates. In fact, they are almost as far away as you can get. But they are stored right next to the kitchen table so setting the table is a breeze and no one gets in may way while I’m finished up meal prep. In the end, I love that they are not near the dishwasher. Also, I live in Michigan and my kitchen sink is on an exterior wall looking out a window – I believe they had to make that wall 6 inches rather than the standard 4.

    • Thank you for your comment, Kristy! Yes, I keep hearing from people further north that they have their sink on the exterior wall. My husband was against this because he feared the pipes would freeze, but maybe we would have been ok. Oh well … I like how our kitchen is laid out. – Carrie

  20. Rede Batcheller says:

    Hey! I’ve been trying to find information on “making” a functional kitchen and your article here is one of the first I’ve seen that seems to have anything to do with a kitchen that is actually used as a KITCHEN. I thought I would ask your opinion about MY kitchen. I will provide details on two aspects. My kitchen is mostly DIY, from design up. If you’d like to weigh-in, please proceed. If not, thanks for reading this far and I’ll explore your website. (1 of 2) I have a space 9 feet E-W and 15 feet N-S. The S wall has a 30:inch wide door to living area, and the E wall has a 36 inch wide door to the dining room. The wet wall is on the N side, and has a large-ish single window, off-center to the W, with the E side roughly on the half-way mark E-W. Obviously the sink, the dishwasher and refrigerator are on that wall as well. (2 of 2) I bake — and until osteoarthritis began to take a serious toll it’s all been by-hand-from-scratch. I have now invested in an Ankarsrum to alleviate a lot of the physical demand. I also cook — also scratch — ovo-lacto-vegetarian, for what that’s worth. I ‘put food by’ — usually canning (which would be called jarring but cans were first to the party), but also drying both from fresh and cooked states. (Dried herbs are an example of the first; berry “leather” is an example of the second.) I also cook and prepare food for my parrots, which is a slightly different task than kitchening to feed my husband. Outside of the kitchen, at least at the beginning, I garden A LOT — not just edibles but also flowers and herbs. If you’ve gotten this far — thank you! Any and all suggestions gratefully accepted. Thank you.

    • Hi Rede! I am so sorry but I am unable to give advice specific to my readers’ design dilemmas. It would be impossible to keep up as I have over 100K visitors to my blog each month. Thank you for understanding :). – Carrie

  21. Amber says:

    By chance, do u have the measurement of the wall that your stove runs along? I’m trying to figure out if this layout will work in my space.

  22. […] Garbage and recycling bins can take up too much space when they stand alone. If you build them into your cabinets as pull out drawers, you save space and boost the aesthetic view of your kitchen. It is out of sight and gives you more space to work with. […]

  23. Wer ruft AN (HTTPS://WWW.TELE-CH.INFO/ says:

    Great post! I love your hiden pantery!

  24. Kitchen Design says:

    This is nicely describe Kitchen Designand very helpful from me. Thanks for sharing this.

  25. Diane Ellixson says:

    Thanks for sharing. We are in process of building. Waiting on plans. I have looked at so much information that I am driving myself crazy. I think we finally have the plans right. Thanks for helping me with my kitchen. I have about the same plan as your kitchen.

  26. […] home can be complete without a large and functional kitchen. It is the source of nourishment and wellness for your family and guest. It also provides a central […]

  27. Kate says:

    Thank you for sharing this article! We are moving into our new construction in two weeks (CAN’T WAIT!) and our kitchen layout is incredibly similar to yours (pantry however is not “hidden” but is a walk in on the opposite side yours is located). Anyhow, I have never had large drawers under our built in stove like you have prior to this new house, so I have been churning over how to best use them effectively. What do you store in those and how do you keep them organized? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Kate! How exciting that you’re moving into your new home (you’re probably already in since I’m responding to this comment so delayed)! We use one of the drawers below our stove to store placemats, oven mitts, hot pads, and spices. The drawer below that is basically a catch-all for platters that have no other ‘home’ in our kitchen :). You’d be surprised how much you can fit into a big drawer. Good luck! – Carrie

  28. […] remodeling your kitchen, it is essential to consider that the space needs to be functional. This means that you will need to think about how you currently use your kitchen and what changes […]

  29. […] an updated, pleasing space for families and friends to gather, as well as an area with optimal functionality, can be especially enticing for house […]

  30. Cheryl says:

    We finished our custom home last year and Carrie provided a lot of great advice. We have 9′ ceilings which means we had an extra foot in the upper cabinets. I didn’t want stacked cabinet, i.e., a one foot cabinet above the upper cabinets. I can’t reach the top cabinet anyway and didn’t like the look. Instead, I had the cabinet maker build a frieze around the upper perimeter of the kitchen with crown molding similar to Carrie’s kitchen. I repeated this in the walk-in pantry. The extra molding gives the ktichen a high-end look.

    One comment if you are going with 9 or 10′ ceilings: Be sure to size your windows and doors larger as well, along with your base molding and crown molding.

  31. Mare Glenn says:

    Great layout and good tips! Totally, totally agree on the base drawers – no more crawling on the floor to get something from the back. One more tip I’d love in a new kitchen I’d a narrow, 6” or 9” wide cabinet where cookie sheets, cooling racks, muffin tins etc can be stored vertically! No more picking up a and b to get to c.

  32. Maria says:

    One thing I notice all the time, that I consider a mistake, is dishwashers are often placed to the right of a sink, which is perfect if you are left handed, but are wrong if you are right handed. When you’re right handed and you scrape a plate, You were holding it in your left hand meaning you have to bend and twist to place it in a dishwasher on your right. I learned this from an architect and I can’t unsee it now.

    Also, consider if you are sharing the kitchen with more than one user. If someone else is doing cleanup while you’re cooking, you don’t want them standing where you are at the stove. I’d like to create a cooking zone and a clean up zone that never crosses paths. This is also something I rarely see, because most kitchens are not designed by people who cook, let alone by people who bake, which requires more prep space. I believe, but can’t recall off hand, so don’t hold me to it, but one needs at least a 48” uninterrupted run of counter to get prep area and two baking sheets of work space. Refrigerators should always be on the perimeter of the space so snackers don’t walk into prep/cooking area. Traffic patterns are sometimes over looked.

    • Great recommendations, Maria! I am NOT a cook, so your suggestions on how to create a functional cooking/baking space are very helpful. As far as the dishwasher, I guess I’ve never noticed it being a problem to load my dishwasher on the right side (and I’m a righty). My left hand isn’t very functional, so even if I’m holding a plate in my left hand, I wouldn’t be able to easily get it into its proper spot in the dishwasher. A Dishwasher to the left of the sink might work for some people, but I don’t think it would work for me (personally). Thanks! Carrie

  33. Liana says:

    Yes! These are all the things I’m glad I have in my new kitchen. We almost didn’t do the pull out trash/recycle and we would have regretted that big time! Our’s was a complete gut job and addition, so we were able to make our kitchen open to the new living room, instead of closed at the back of the house. I wish I could have a pantry like yours, but we’re bound by the idiosyncrasies of a 4-level home, so we have an “overflow” pantry in the basement. And I 100% agree with the space around the island! Our kitchen designer told us a one-person kitchen typically has 38″, a two-person 45″. When they were installing the island cabinets and I stood there in the gap, I told them to add two more inches, lol.

  34. […] Caroline on Design recommends designing a kitchen based on how you’ll use the kitchen. For example, using an awkward side cabinet to hold a roll-out trash can is a great way to use dead space, and it allows you to place the trashcan near the prep area, making cleaning up a breeze. Additionally, drawers may not be trendy at the current moment, but they allow for a lot of space. Instead of installing traditional cabinets that are builder grade or look trendy, opt for large drawers or built-in freezer drawers to increase the kitchen’s functionality. […]

  35. Sage says:

    Thank you for sharing your tips! I’m in the middle of a cabinet refinishing project and I’m excited to see how they turn out. I will definitely be using your tips to make the rest of my kitchen look beautiful.

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