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8 Things to Know Before You Remodel Your Kitchen

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You may or may not have had the good fortune to design your kitchen from scratch. At worst, it's a rental situation that gets the job done but irks you at every turn—and at best, it's probably a cleverly laid-out melange of disparate parts: a dishwasher from one supplier, a butcher block from another, cabinets you proudly sourced from IKEA.

Henrybuilt, a Seattle-based custom kitchen company founded in 2001, has bested this best: They design kitchens as a whole unit that can be customized to suit your needs.

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A tiny, high-efficiency kitchen.
A tiny, high-efficiency kitchen.

But even if you're not thinking of springing for an integrated system like theirs, there's still something to learn from a company that values overall flow and connectivity in a kitchen's design over everything else. Here are 8 things we can all stand to learn about kitchen design by taking a closer look at HenryBuilt.

1. Kitchen "systems" aren't a new thing.

When Scott Hudson founded Henrybuilt about 15 years ago, "integrated" kitchens had long been a trend in Europe, where consumers wouldn't have thought twice about purchasing an entire kitchen from the same supplier. Yes, these kitchens were modular and customizable, but known for looking rather processed in an otherwise homey home—so Henrybuilt brought the concept stateside and tweaked it for quality. (Scott's grandfather, for whom the company was named, had been a cabinetmaker and carpenter; their parts would be warm and inviting aesthetically, but also long-lasting and architecturally sound.)

The concept makes sense: At the very start of the design phase, consider that your kitchen is a team of parts, a whole hard-working tool; then build it with that in mind. (Rather than starting with the appliances you want and moving everything else to fit around them).

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Shelves—just where you want them.
Shelves—just where you want them.

2. Not all materials must be traditional.

"Rather than use every new material we can find," Scott explained, "we try to find fundamental materials that we can use in many different ways (like flour in a kitchen)." So: Wood and marble can be used for backsplashes or countertops. Leather adds a softer touch, as on drawer pulls, and brass shows up to add punch. But new isn't necessarily off limits.

For parts of the kitchens that "take a beating but are usually made of lesser materials because they are not seen as clearly," such as drawers, and shelves, and even low kitchen cabinets, the Henrybuilt designers are incorporating a material called Paperstone, a super durable and waterproof composite made of paper and resin. It even works for a countertop, looking glam but heavy-duty all at once.

A Paperstone counter and backsplash, looking rather like soapstone.
A Paperstone counter and backsplash, looking rather like soapstone.

3. Cost can be misleading.

When you compile a kitchen piecemeal, you're paying a host of dealers and stores in the process—which has its perks if you're looking for a host of experts, but it does create a lack of transparency in overall cost (and therefore your budget!). According to HGTV, the average upscale kitchen remodel is upwards of $80,000; just how much of that is going to the stores you buy from?

When you order a Henrybuilt system, on the other hand, there's no middlemen to speak of, so every penny you pay goes to the quality of what you're getting (and the average cost for one of their modular systems falls below that number above). Which is not to say that it's the best or the only way to buy a kitchen—but taking the time to understand where your dollars are going will make you a smarter, more economical shopper.

The protruding part of the counter, called a "Bar Block," houses storage but also serves as counter space.
The protruding part of the counter, called a "Bar Block," houses storage but also serves as counter space.

4. It's possible to organize a drawer efficiently.

There's a section on the Henrybuilt website called Interior Components, which opens up a whole range of designs that are going on behind closed drawers: shallow knife blocks, a "utensil board" that separates spoons and spatulas with simple pegs, and a spice rack that looks like amphitheater seating—each level cradling jars of spices so you can see them all with equal prominence.

Conversely, even the most tightly-organized kitchens usually reveal some chaos inside their drawers (those store-bought utensil holders never seem to fit quite right!). But by going custom where you can't see it, less precious space is wasted and you'll actually be happy to go fishing for utensils.

If you own more spices than this person, just add in another rack for them (all the drawer inserts can be moved around).
If you own more spices than this person, just add in another rack for them (all the drawer inserts can be moved around).

5. Details matter, maybe the most.

"Our priority is functional elegance," says Scott, and that elegance bit can be traced to extremely thoughtful consideration of the little things: cutting boards that slip seamlessly into nooks design to hold them, but also clip onto the countertop for sturdy chopping. D-shaped drawer pulls that won't pinch your fingers, that are designed to look balanced with other knobs and hooks throughout the space. A fridge handle that extends just to meet the edge of the counter (eliminating any weird corners or gaps).

Itty bitty details, well-considered, will make a collection of parts feel like a whole.

6. "Integrated" doesn't mean 100% custom.

To be clear, Henrybuilt's wide range of components are dimensionally customizable to 1/8 of an inch—which is pretty darn specific. But it's really just a highly adaptable version of modular design, which is what on one hand keeps the costs down since they aren't building every single kitchen from spec. IKEA cabinets might be cheaper, but you're going to have to work around them rather than work with them (which might indeed be your prerogative).

A functional Henrybuilt wall, with pot racks and shelves only where you want them.
A functional Henrybuilt wall, with pot racks and shelves only where you want them.

7. Kitchen walls can be tools, too!

What Scott refers to as interior architecture—"not cabinets pushed into corners"—is really the thinking that the kitchen is itself a tool, every inch of it worth making work for you.

In keeping, the Henrybuilt "functional walls" are smarter than your average enclosures: brass knobs can be extruded to rest shelves (or shallow pot racks) where you want them, and cutting boards can be given hooks to fit into right on the backsplash. Even if you aren't going Henrybuilt, it's a good reminder: Where there is a wall, there is room for both storage and breathing space—and it's possible to bend them to your needs without the whole space looking cluttered.

Base units can be "floated" for a more weightless effect.
Base units can be "floated" for a more weightless effect.

8. Don't let appliances lead your design.

It's tempting (since we wait many pre-adult years to purchase that first dishwasher that really gets the job done) to insist on certain brands and models before even considering what the rest of the kitchen will look like. "Appliances can be very seductive," Scott says, "but they also can quickly become the tail that wags the dog."

For Henrybuilt, it might be more a matter of what best fits their components ("there are certain brands and models that integrate better than others," Lisa Day, their Director of Marketing, admits), but the point remains for any consumer: There are lots of great appliances out there, but the overall flow of your kitchen design—how efficient and how hardworking the room is, how much you end up enjoying cooking in it—might be more important than the specs on your dishwasher.

Integrated kitchens: Would you or wouldn't you? Tell us in the comments.

Tags: henrybuilt, kitchen renovation, kitchens