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Building a Home

9 Tips for Designing a Functional Kitchen

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written by:

Carrie Barker


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 and everyday living (e.g. putting away your dishes)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’)!

9 Tips for Designing a Functional Kitchen plus Mistakes to Avoid

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First of all, I am SO confused about the open concept kitchen haters on the internet! I personally LOVE having my kitchen open to the 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


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


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

1. AMPLE WALKING SPACE ON ALL SIDES OF ISLAND. We have at least 42″ on all four sides of our kitchen island. This allows us enough space to open the dishwasher or the refrigerator and still have plenty of space to stand without bumping up to the island.

Tips for designing a functional kitchen walkway




2. STOVE DIRECTLY BEHIND SINK. When I say ‘behind the sink, I mean that when I stand at my sink, the stove is directly behind me. This allows for easy transportation when I have a full pot of water to boil … I simply turn 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 DIRECTLY BEHIND DISHWASHER. One of the worst kitchen tasks (IMO) is unloading the dishwasher! However, it is more pleasant (and faster) when your silverware and everyday dishes are stored directly behind the dishwasher … or above it if your dishwasher is not in a kitchen island. 

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




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 smooshed a couple times!

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




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 as well (shown below)! Incorporating large “drawers” within your cabinets makes it MUCH easier to reach dishes in the back of a cabinet!

Tips for Designing a Functional Kitchen Cabinet pull out Drawers

Tips for designing a functional kitchen open drawers




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


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 in 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! 

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! I can keep an eye on my kids while doing dishes. I do love the look of a sink under a window, but plumbing in exterior walls is NOT a reality for our cold winter climate!


Ok, so these aren’t exactly mistakes … but they are two (significant) things I would change about my kitchen design! 

1. 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 the tall cabinet doors take a beating!

They’ve held up fairly well after 5.5 years of use, but they aren’t perfectly straight anymore (which annoys me). I’m not exactly sure what I would do differently (possible a swinging pantry door?) … just know that I will NOT do tall cabinet pantry doors again!

Tips for Designing a Functional Kitchen Hidden Pantry Closed


Tips for designing a functional kitchen hidden pantry open




2. KITCHEN ISLAND SIZE 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!


I hope you now feel more excited and confident in creating a list of kitchen layout must-haves (and no-nos) to communicate to your builder or architect! My FREE guided worksheet, How to Balance Style vs. Budget’ will walk you through this exercise (just change the word ‘home’ to ‘kitchen’ in the freebie)!

I would love to hear from YOU! Please comment below with your own FAV and NOT-SO-FAV things about your own current kitchen layout! This is super helpful to others who are on the same kitchen design journey as you … it’s always great to learn from others’ experiences!

  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:

    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.

    • 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.

  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.

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I designed my own custom home from the ground up, inside and out. A home that is cozy, comfy, laid out perfectly for the way my family lives, and makes us happy every single day. Oh, and did I mention I did this all without blowing the budget?! 

Yep, it’s true. I’ve been there, done that, and actually lived through it … and you will too. Pinkie promise!

a.k.a. Caroline on Design

I’m Carrie Barker.

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