Kitchen Design

8 Things to Know Before You Remodel Your Kitchen

April 20, 2016

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.

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.)

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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).

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.

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Top Comment:
“The cabinet system looks really neat, but I wish you would talk about how they decide about shelves and using what's normally wasted space instead of focusing on drawer customization. I find those spice drawers to be a waste, same with knife separation drawers. If you're not taking your spices out ahead of cooking or leaving your common ones in easy reach, you're an unusual cook. If you are doing your basic mise en place, then by all means, save a ton of drawer space and use a cabinet or an inside door rack! I suspect that's why this feels a little stilted - the focus is a bit more on the faddish bits and less on what appears to be some good space-reclaiming design. Love that under-bar space, for example - let's see more. ”
— Jennifer S.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Monica T. April 18, 2017
I already had too many things to worry about and I didn’t wanted to get more stressed with all these kitchen remodeling works and all. We hired the people at American Imrovers Inc ( and they did it very nicely. You should see how my kitchen looks like now. I never thought it could be turned into something like this.
Jade B. February 7, 2017
It is good to know that one should not let appliances lead the design when it comes to a kitchen remodel. Considering what the rest of the kitchen will look like before selecting brands and models of appliances would be best. My aunt recently got her kitchen redesigned and did not have trouble finding appliances because she took exact measurements.
Christine L. October 15, 2016
I for one called Henrybuilt up as an option for when I redo my kitchen. I found it to be very functional and is my top choice.
Jennifer S. April 25, 2016
I agree with M about the appliances being important. My new dishwasher looks and functions wonderfully with the cabinets because it came with the option to be covered by a cabinet front panel. And after waiting until age forty before I finally got a decent freezer, you bet I care about appliance quality; it matters, a lot. So, it would be nice to know if this company lets me choose my appliances from any place I like or if I am confined in my choices.
Question: how would I not know what my appliances cost? How is my cost opaque if I buy direct from the manufacturers, e.g. from Miele USA?
The cabinet system looks really neat, but I wish you would talk about how they decide about shelves and using what's normally wasted space instead of focusing on drawer customization. I find those spice drawers to be a waste, same with knife separation drawers. If you're not taking your spices out ahead of cooking or leaving your common ones in easy reach, you're an unusual cook. If you are doing your basic mise en place, then by all means, save a ton of drawer space and use a cabinet or an inside door rack! I suspect that's why this feels a little stilted - the focus is a bit more on the faddish bits and less on what appears to be some good space-reclaiming design. Love that under-bar space, for example - let's see more.
Sarah T. April 24, 2016
This is just a commercial for a business not a helpful article.
Noreen F. April 21, 2016
I find this very appealing. If I ever get around to building my tiny house, I'll look into it!
Smaug April 20, 2016
It would have been nice to offer some explanation of how "Paperstone" differs from Formica or Melamine- appears to maybe be thicker.
Author Comment
Amanda S. April 21, 2016
Good question! To start, Paperstone is made from recycled paper and resin, which makes it environmentally-friendly, solid, and actually designed to be resurfaced (from what I understand, it develops a leather-like patina over time). Formica and melamine are both plastic (and often used as laminates).
Smaug April 21, 2016
Actually, melamine and formica are both paper impregnated with resin, which is what brought the question up.
amysarah April 21, 2016
Well, sorta. Formica can be a laminate (applied thin plastic surface, with various patterns/colors printed on a - loosely defined - integral "paper" surface.) It can also be a solid surface, like Corian - both are resins. (Melamine is a plastic too.) Paperstone is recycled paper pulp, bound with resin; similarly, IceStone is recycled glass, bound by resin, and Caesarstone (or, I think Silestone) and several others are quartz bound in resin. Various finishes - matte, gloss, etc. contribute to its look. All are available in various thicknesses, colors, edge profiles, etc.

Probably TMI, but Paperstone is a great product, but not unique in using recycled material, or even paper (Richlite does too, maybe others I'm not familiar with.)
Smaug April 21, 2016
All solid plastics are from resins; Corian has no known relationship to formica; it's purely a plastic product. Melamine is paper impregnated with resin (or plastic, if you prefer), as is formica.
amysarah April 21, 2016
Wasn't suggesting formica and corian are related, beyond both brands offering 'solid surface' products. Regardless, am sure you're right about everything.
magpiebaker April 20, 2016
Love the aesthetic of this brand, and obviously the people on this site spend a lot of time in the kitchen so it makes sense to tell people about a vendor that they might be interested in...however, the way this article is presented strikes me as strange. It seems like obviously sponsored content, but it doesn't say anywhere that it's partner material. It seems insincere, awkward, and stilted, despite (I'm sure) the writer's best efforts. If it's advertising, fine, but please just admit it. We all know the site has to make money somehow and sponsored content is nothing new. But if it's not advertising, it would make more sense to have a range of companies/approaches mentioned.
Author Comment
Amanda S. April 21, 2016
Not sponsored or advertised! What they do is singular, and there's something to learn from it.
Kenzi W. April 21, 2016
To expand on this, magpiebaker, sometimes we just love what a company is doing so much that they become the focus of a post (an unsponsored one). That's the case here, though we try to provide clear takeaways even for those who aren't planning to commission the specific company, or don't want to.
magpiebaker April 21, 2016
Ok, good to know. Thanks for the response. I see so much sponsored content these days (and this felt similar) so I admit I jumped to conclusions.
M April 20, 2016
I find the argument that kitchen design is more important than appliance specs to be really strange and flawed. "Functional elegance" is really great, but elegance shouldn't trump what you require from your appliances. You need your appliances to function as well as your design!

I'd rather have a dishwasher that holds and cleans my particular dishes well, an oven that meets my cooking/energy requirements, and a fridge sized and designed for my needs than brands/models picked because they fit a design plan.