Five Tips for Designing an Efficient Kitchen Layout


There is no one size fits all when it comes to designing the optimal kitchen layout, since everyone is different in how they cook and use their kitchens, say designers.


However, there are guidelines that can help. Here are five recommendations from designers across that country that will help you make the most of your kitchen remodel:


1) Information, please. Designers agree that gathering information from clients on how they cook and use their kitchens is key to a planning a successful kitchen.


"Remodeling inherently is a series of trade-offs," says Tacoma Park, Md., designer Jackie Braitman, "and even if it weren't, we're all different, [so a kitchen for] someone with two or three cooks is different from a family with one cook. That's the fun of design, to try to come up with something that works, in a price they can afford, that takes their lifestyle into account." To that end, Braitman makes liberal use of questionnaires she has developed to suss out exactly how her clients use their kitchens. For example, she will ask: What do you cook for dinner; how often do you eat together as a family; do you entertain, and will have them walk her through a week of their activities in the kitchen. Information she gleans from questioning her clients helps Bainbridge Island, Wash., designer Molly McCabe figure out everything from ventilation needs to where the curry and turmeric go. "If they cook Spanish food, and are making a lot of paella, those paella pans are large and hard to fit; Indian food needs a lot of ventilation, and spice storage."


2) Create zones.
While the old work triangle formed by refrigerator, stove, and sink, works reasonably well in closed off, small kitchens, today's larger, open-plan kitchens are better served by zones.


"My philosophy is to design in zones, depending on client needs," says McCabe. "The kitchen is command central, so the work triangle, [a concept] developed in the early 1940s for the 10x10 kitchen, when the little lady was in the back of the house, really doesn't apply anymore," she says.


"Zones typically will overlap, unless you have a gargantuan kitchen." San Francisco designer Jennifer Ott also likes the zone concept for larger kitchens, especially for clients who cook a lot and entertain frequently. In such a space, she might design a cooking zone, a prep zone, and an entertainment area, where she locates bar paraphernalia as well as guest seating. Optimal kitchen design takes careful account of how the end users cook and use the kitchen, and match that to budget. Says Braitman: "It is often the case that with couples in their sixties and older, the only thing the man is doing in the kitchen is preparing a sandwich and coffee, so you might have a separate area for that."


3) Materials matter.
Consider a client's lifestyle and cooking style when picking materials for a kitchen, and don't let their eagerness for a certain countertop material or flooring choice lead them astray, designers advise. When it comes to her clients, McCabe wants to know, "Are they meticulous when they cook or more of a whirling dervish? It's important to pick materials that fit their lifestyle in order to have a kitchen that looks beautiful for years to come." For example, the designer wouldn't suggest marble surfaces for an active family, because "those countertops are going to look terrible after a while; etched and awful. If clients do their own cleaning, then I suggest solid surfaces."


4) Leave some room. When it comes to working space between counters, or between island and wall, designers say 42 inches is the minimum for a two-cook kitchen, and 48 inches is even better. "When you have a dishwasher door pulled down, you want to be able to walk by it," says McCabe.


5) Value versus want. Sometimes clients may want something they may not end up using, and it's one of the designer's jobs to guide them, gently, to that realization. That's especially important when budget is a real issue. A client may specify double wall ovens, says Ott, and I always ask, "Do you really do that much baking?" Sometimes just asking the question brings the realization that that second oven, or dishwasher drawer, isn't necessary. "Value is different for everybody," says McCabe, "and my goal is always to find that sweet spot between value and want."—Kate Tyndall






Helping Customers Choose the Right Windows


With so many features to consider, choosing the right windows can be a daunting task for a homeowner.


As a remodeler, helping homeowners make the right window choice for their project can save you time, money, and angst.


"There's a lot of information to digest," says Jeff Lowinski, vice president of technical services for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA). "As consumers get several quotes that means they're having to digest not only that information, but also, one guy said this, and another guy said this."


If a window package is part of your next remodeling job, use this seven-point checklist to help you find the best window for your client's project.


1. Cost. Prices can vary from a few hundred dollars a window to a few thousand, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The trick, experts say, is to find that sweet spot of style, value, and practicality that fits the trim level of the home—and clients' intentions for staying in it. "If there's anything a homeowner needs to think about when it comes to new windows, it would be resale value," Lowinski says. But that can only go so far. "If you have a $250,000 home, you shouldn't spend $20,000 on windows because you're never going to get that money back," cautions Dave Hull, vice president of franchise development for Glass Guru, a Roseville, Calif.-headquartered window replacement and restoration specialist. He adds that if homeowners are planning to stay in their home long term, a bigger investment may be worth the cost.


2. Manufacturer. Manufacturers offer warranties on their windows—some even give lifetime warranties. "You pay a little more," says Seattle remodeler August Bergdahl," but you get peace of mind." However, those guarantees are worthless if a company goes under. Hull recommends looking for an established manufacturer with a track record for quality customer service.


3. Materials. Window frame choices have grown in recent years. Along with the standard wood and vinyl, frames also come in fiberglass, aluminum, and steel. All have pros and cons. Wood-framed windows offer the bonus of good insulation but can be heavy and high maintenance. Vinyl-frame windows insulate well and don't need painting. Fiberglass, one of the newest frame materials, offers the benefits of vinyl, with a higher-end look and can be painted, says Bergdahl. Aluminum windows, once considered cheap, are now on par with the quality of other windows, he adds.


4. Style and Color. The basic style choices are single-hung, double-hung, sliding casement, or awning and hopper. You also need to decide on grids or divided light, fixed or operable. Hull says grids can help with curb appeal, but they can hamper the indoor view. Bergdahl cautions that some grids have a cheap look, and says remodelers would be wise to advise their clients to visit a showroom to look at window choices. He also notes that narrow frame windows work well with modern style homes if clients prefer that look over a more traditional style. When it comes to color, even vinyl windows can now be custom-ordered to fit the hue of your home, though it adds significantly to the cost, Hull says. Lowinski adds that it's important to think about color both outside and inside the home. And don't forget about how the hardware works with the color, he says. A visit to a window and door showroom is a great way for remodelers to show clients the wide array of window styles and options available, and help them pin down their choices.


5. Energy Efficiency. Look for the National Fenestration Rating Council's window label. It helps compare how well windows let light in, while blocking cold, heat, outside air, and condensation. Most ratings, such as air leakage, are self-explanatory. U-factor, which rates how much heat escapes through a window, is important in cold climates. Solar heat gain, which rates how much heat from the sun is allowed in, is important in warm climates. Low-E, short for low-emissivity, simply means the window has a special coating for better energy efficiency. Some windows seal argon gas between panes of glass to increase energy efficiency. Hull says most of these windows aren't worth the extra cost, unless they help reach a rebate requirement. To determine optimal ratings, check the Energy Star requirements for your area, then shoot for ratings just above those minimums, Lowinski advises.


6. Cleaning and Maintenance. Consider the home's location. If the windows will need frequent cleaning, clients might be better served by windows with a tilt-in sash that allows easy cleaning. Bergdahl says this option is especially popular for upper-story windows. The rest of a window's maintenance is in the frame. Consider sun exposure and overall weather conditions to determine the best frame material and cladding, says Bergdahl.


7. Codes and Regulations. Check local codes to ensure that any windows under consideration comply with them, Lowinski says. Building codes provide structural, impact resistance, and strength requirements, and let the remodeler know whether special windows are called for due to climatic conditions (hurricanes, tornadoes) or location (earthquake zone). It's also worth advising clients to check their homeowners' insurance and utility companies to see if there are discounts or rebates available for certain kinds of windows.—Gary Thill



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