Our Kitchen Design

I've been giving our kitchen design some thought. Nearly three years' worth of thought, to be honest, as I toil away preparing meals in our hideous kitchen-in-bay-window with our too-small-to-fit-a-turkey-in oven and god-only-knows-what's-lurking-behind-the-stove cooker.

Kitchen design has moved on a long way since the basic concept of the work triangle. As the loving possessor of a work triangle that involves leaving the room, entering a foyer, and entering second room to access the fridge I'm a big fan of the good ol' traditional work triangle, but there are plenty of other things to think about. Kitchens are not just spaces for preparing meals - they're also places to quickly make a brew or some toast, social areas where people want to sit and chat, or children might want to do some light homework or help prepare a meal. They're often the place where the post ends up, and the soft play party invitations and school reminders like to hang out. In short, we all know that the kitchen is the hub of the house, but often the design only looks at the work triangle and perhaps the storage, but little else.

For example - it's no use having a great work triangle if everyone has to cut through it to get to the kettle or the fridge with the snacks and cold water. Ideally you need a coffee, tea and even breakfast making station that's separate to the main cooking area. And think about where the kids will play in relation to the stove top - I saw a kitchen recently where the children had to pass through a small gap between the hob on one side and the island on the other to get to the back door, meaning hot pans of sizzling oil were seriously hazardous.

If you want people to sit at the island, where are the stools going to do? Are they likely to end up tangled with the legs of the dining room table a metre away? Where will the plates go when you're ready to plate up for ten people? And where will the dirty dishes go if your kitchen is open to the dining table and you don't want to sit and look at them while you're eating your homemade lasagne?

And my absolute favourite requirement, which so, so, so many kitchens get wrong - how do you move seamlessly from vegetable washing to chopping to cooking to removing hot dishes from the stove and putting them somewhere sensible that doesn't involve carrying pans of hot food across the room? Is your sink on the same work surface as your prep area, or will you have to chuck a pile of sodden vegetables across the floor to your chopping board? (Reference - our old kitchen, which like an idiot I actually designed this way.) And do you actually have any space to chop carrots and throw flour around in, or are you crammed up against the toaster, not because you don't have the space, but because the space isn't well designed?

Most right-handed people work from left to right. Wash veg, move to right, chop veg, move to right, cook veg. I certainly do. So the requirement to have a stretch of unit connecting sink to prep area to hob with the prep area being as large and empty as possible was hugely important for me.

I dug out the kitchen wish list I wrote a year ago (what?! where has the time gone?). It largely still stands, which is good to know - I've edited with strikeout to show the changes.

  • Drawers rather than cupboards - we had these in our beloved scarlet red gloss kitchen in our first house and they were fantastic. We even had a drawer under the sink for all our cleaning products.
  • Laundry basket for all the filthy towels and baby bibs we seem to accumulate on a daily basis.
  • Conversely, somewhere to store clean towels and tea towels and bibs.
  • Drawer in the kitchen island to be used for storing random crap and sweeping contents of island into it in order to tidy up quickly. Apparently this is often called a man drawer, but in the interests of gender equality I'm going to call it the random crap drawer.
  • Filing cabinet and shredder - this may sound like an odd thing to have in the kitchen, but we end up with paperwork hanging round in the kitchen for days before it gets taken upstairs and either filed or shredded - it would be much more efficient to deal with it immediately.
  • A floor that won't smash everything that gets dropped on it (so no tiles, stone or slate). Tiled floor as there basically aren't any other viable options apart from rubber (which apparently scuffs badly and only comes in solid colours that will show up every dog hair) or wood (absurd choice for a kitchen unless you plan on having a dishwasher or taps that never ever leak). Anything in a pale colour or with pale grout is also off the list thanks to our mud-lovin' dogs. If it's cold underfoot, we'll also need underfloor heating.
  • A dedicated cupboard for all the recycling.
  • Kitchen bin in cupboard - maybe the kind where the lid opens automatically when you open the cupboard door? We also need to make sure that if we have underfloor heating, we don't extend it underneath where the bins will be located...
  • I like the idea of having some kind of small round hole (with a lid) in the kitchen island with the green recycling container below, so vegetable scraps can be swept directly into it from the worktop.
  • Induction hob with flexinduction zone. After years of cooking only with gas, I'm planning to be converted to the 30 second pan boil.
  • Ideally a French-door style fridge-freezer. It doesn't need to include a water and ice unit (which take up valuable space inside) because we also plan to include...
  • ... A separate cold filtered water tap that isn't located within the main work triangle.
  • Pop-up sockets in kitchen island with USB port.
  • Two dishwashers!
  • Various places for storing oddly sized things like tall cereal boxes, baking trays, cookery books, and long rolls of tin foil and clingfilm.
  • An extractor fan with an external motor so it won't be noisy in the open plan area.
  • Plate warming drawer.
  • Pull-out sprayer attachment on the kitchen tap for rinsing things off more easily.
  • Belfast sink.
  • 90cm integrated oven.
  • Separate 60cm integrated oven.
  • Countertop combination microwave (yikes, have you seen how much an integrated version costs? No thanks!). Upgrading to an integrated microwave to free up counter-top space.
  • Worktops at a comfortable height so you don't have to stoop over.
  • Tall larder cupboard with individual pullout shelves (rather than one single pullout unit)
  • Wire basket storage for potatoes and other vegetables.

So, how will this all fit together in real life? Hold onto your seats, because boom! Here comes the design...

Check out that prep area - nearly 3.5 metres of glorious unbridled worktop between the sink and the hob. The lightbulb moment with the design came when I realised I could move the sink - which had originally been under the window in the centre of the U - to the left-hand side. I can see why putting the sink under the window might make sense for reasons relating to symmetry and having a nice view when donning one's marigolds, but for the way we both cook it makes so much more sense to have it over on the left.

Some of the lengths are flexible - for example, we may reduce the size of the fridge-freezer (we've got another one in the cellar so don't need a massive one in the main kitchen) and also the larder next door in order to create a slightly larger space on the left of the sink. Currently there's 60cm there as we've got a tower of 60cm ovens on top of a 90cm undercounter range oven. We don't do a whole lot of washing up (*cough* two dishwashers *cough*, and what we do wash up by hand tends to get dried and put away immediately, but I think a slightly larger space for a small drainer - say 90cm - would be useful.

We've got a second dishwasher in the utility area to deal with the "we've had two families of four over for tea and there is no way this frankly extraordinary number of bowls and spoons is going to fit in one dishwasher" problem. I know it's extravagant but what the hell. It also means we can chuck the dirty cooking pans into this area and close the door on it if there isn't time to clean up before eating (we're mostly tidy-up-as-you-go-along cooks but sometimes this goes awry).

What else? Another dishwasher under the prep area so we can chuck the items we've used to prepare the meal into it straight away. No problem with people wanting to access it to put a glass inside when I'm busy cooking as they can just use the other one. I love U-shaped kitchens because you have the opportunity to create a little cooking domain. And by placing the fridge on the left at the start of the worktop run, people have no reason to enter the main prep area because the snacks and cold water are located at the other end of the room. We'll probably put the kettle, toaster and Gaggia in the utility area for the same reason.

OK. That's three years' worth of kitchen-related thoughts on a page. Go on, tell me what I've missed before we get the builders in to start knocking walls down :-)

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