Kitchen Design

Help Me Not Mess Up My Kitchen Renovation...

July 20, 2018

I love our house. I knew it was meant to be our home the instant I walked in the door. Sure, every room was painted a different, non-complementary color, and it’s a pretty compartmentalized layout (true to its 1947 roots), but I could feel that it was the one for us.

Eight years later I still feel that way, and bit by bit we’ve made it our own. We’ve renovated a bathroom, added a front porch and a back patio, opened up the main living space, completely overhauled the landscaping, and generally have figured out how to make the small spaces work well for us.

Despite how much sweat equity we’ve put into the house though, there are some spots that just don’t work well. And that’s why I need your help.

The kitchen is fairly small, without room for people to hang out in (comfortably, anyway), and is completely cut off from the rest of the main floor. Upstairs, our daughter is in a small, closet-less room, which is fine for now—she’s six, she doesn’t take up a lot of space—but definitely won’t work down the road. Also, the three of us currently share a small (are you sensing a theme here?) bathroom. Again, workable for now, but not great for long-term, and in all honesty, my husband is already craving a little more privacy. But I digress, back to the kitchen.

Current kitchen (as seen from outside of the west window). Photo by Lindsay-Jean Hard

Because of how much we love our love our house (and how much we’ve already customized it and how much we love the location), we’ve opted to renovate instead of move. We’re nearing the end of the design process with our architect, we’ve found our builder, and we’re all set to start construction in the spring—so we’re well on our way, but still have a lot of important decisions to make.

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We’re adding a (two-story) 15- by 12-foot addition, so we won’t be going from small rooms to enormous ones, we’re adding just enough to improve the function of all of them. For example, in the kitchen, we’ll gain an entryway, a sitting area, and direct access to our backyard—but not more actual kitchen. Given that it’s not a huge increase in square footage (it's the space above the dashed line in the drawing below), I want to make sure that we’re making really smart choices to maximize the spaces.

Our whole first floor, with addition. Photo by Ed Weir


Above you can see the current (not finalized) plans for the renovation. I need help thinking through the eating area and the layout of the kitchen—I’m not entirely sold on the holy trinity of stove, sink, fridge layout as it's shown above. I think the fridge should maybe go where the stove is, with a tall, pantry to the west of it. The stove would then go on the east wall, with some open shelving between the stove and the fridge. And maybe one more window should be added at the end of the countertop? For access to the backyard, I’m also thinking a sliding glass door might be better than one that swings open.

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Top Comment:
“Bench seating - I think a combination of bench and chairs would likely work best for your layout. It's true all bench makes seating a musical chairs nightmare. Why not a bench under the window with complimentary chairs around the rest of the table? Good luck with this Reno. Looks great already! ”
— JIll

As for the north side of the room, the half wall that you see at the top, across from the closet, I envision looking like this, and for the seating area, I’d like to incorporate bench seating, maybe wraparound seating or a wide daybed. (I’m admittedly, not entirely sure how a wide seating spot would work, I’m partly just dreaming about a space big enough for a catnap in a sunbeam.) Check out my rough edits in the image below where I've mapped those thoughts out.

My layout thoughts (pretend I have Photoshop). Photo by Ed Weir/bad edits by me


Flooring will be wood to tie in with the rest of the house, but countertops and cabinets are fair game for flooding me with opinions. (Thoughts on both what to use and what not to use welcome!) I only have a few guiding principles: I want it to feel cozy, warm, and welcoming, not sterile, and I want to respect the age of the house. On that last point, that doesn’t mean I’m putting in retro appliances, but I don’t want anything starkly out of place—so a completely sleek, modern kitchen is a no-go.

Hello, cozy.
Sleek, but not stark.

Oh, and just in case it impacts your advice in any way, we won’t be living in our house during construction, so we won’t need to set up a temporary kitchen.

So, what do think? Fill me in on all of your suggestions below and I'll share my learnings at a later date.

brainstorming makes me hungry

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • chefrockyrd
  • Lisa Cox
    Lisa Cox
  • Jenn Kelly
    Jenn Kelly
  • Ron Dobson
    Ron Dobson
  • calendargirl
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


chefrockyrd March 24, 2020
Just noticed that this is from 2 yrs ago. Did you ever complete your project and how did you arrange the kitchen? If so are you happy with it? Just wondering.
Lindsay-Jean H. March 26, 2020
Hi! Our project was (mostly) completed in the fall, we ran out of time to get the stairs on the right side out to the yard, so those should be happening soon. It ended up fairly different from what you see above and we're really happy with it! We cut the closet, half-wall and built-in seating (and have a bench with hooks on the wall for coats and a table and chairs for seating). The island became a peninsula, the access to the yard on the right is a sliding door, and we nixed the open shelving in favor of cabinets. If you happen to be on Instagram, you can see it in highlights on my profile (@lindsayjeanhard).
chefrockyrd March 23, 2020
After remodeling 7 kitchens I have some ideas of my own. You may or not like them. As soon as I saw the plans I moved the appliances as you have in your second photo. One thing that has worked for me is to move the fridge all the way to the left in your photo except for about a foot or so and have a
Pantry cabinet that opens on the end (like in the hall). A narrow space with top and bottom doors holds a multiple of food items/canned goods whatever. That would give you a longer counter next to the fridge. Another thing that would mean a lot (to me anyway) is to move the d/w to the right side of the sink. That way it would not open into your range. Say you have some very nice helpful person unloading your dishes and you are cooking. I would not do that extra window to the left of the range and have a top cabinet on that wall for plates/glasses etc and drawers under neath for flatware, so you can open the d/w and unload it right across the way. And yes, do a sliding french door, rather than one that opens in. In my present home we have 4 lovely but pita french doors. They look great but take up space. A built in banquette with storage in the seat is a great idea. And I agree with others about the open shelving. They are the trend, look pretty but its a chore to keep clean. And to the ceiling cabinets hold much more.
As for counter tops, we have had granite, marble and my last two kitchens I put in quartz. Its much easier to take care of and comes in a myriad of choices. I always put a 2' section of butcher block at the end of the island since I bake a lot. One question, were you going to have seating at the back of the island?
Lisa C. October 16, 2018
I agree with Moody B. although you might want to consider putting the fridge at the end of the run closest to the eating nook and keep the cooktop where the architect has it. That way everyone else is out of your space if they hop up to refill a glass while you are cooking. I love my husband and the kids love him too, but if he gets in the cooking aisle then there's not much cooking happening till he's done doing what he came for.
Jenn K. July 26, 2018
If you're doing a tile backsplash, strongly consider dark grout! We have white subway tile with grey grout (replaced the 70s beige-brown tile with nasty old stained grout that came with our house) and I love it. We've had it for two years and so far the tomato sauce and espresso splatters haven't shown up at all on the grout and of course wipe off of the tile very easily.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 26, 2018
Ooh great point Jenn, thank you.
chefrockyrd March 23, 2020
Is the grout sealed? If you clean it well, then seal it may help.
Hit it with some weakened bleach to get rid of them first.
Ron D. July 25, 2018
I really like these types of cabinets: (the ones in the picture at the top of the page).

Dark cabinets against a cream or light blue backsplash would look great, in my opinion.

Good luck! It's an exciting process!
Lindsay-Jean H. July 26, 2018
Thanks Ron!
calendargirl July 25, 2018
Having done three very different kitchens, from custom to IKEA, and preparing to do a fourth, these are my takeaways for virtually any kitchen renovation:
Open storage is beautiful in magazine spreads but not practical for all the reasons mentioned by others.
One cannot have too many drawers! Different depths and widths will solve so many storage issues. I adored the bank of six shallow IKEA drawers in my last kitchen and miss it still.
A single deep sink, as wide and deep as your space will allow, will become your new best friend.
Storing spices in a shallow drawer, away from a heat source, will preserve them much longer than a pretty spice shelf near the stove, and you will be able to see what you have.
When ordering your upper cabinetry, spring for an extra shelf for each cupboard.
Quartz counters are carefree and do not have to be re-sealed, unlike granite.
Standing on wood or linoleum is much more comfortable than on standing on tile, and when you drop things they are less likely to break. I loved a Marmoleum floor (linoleum brand which was mounted on a layer of cork).
Happy new kitchen!
Lindsay-Jean H. July 26, 2018
Thanks calendargirl! Will your fourth have custom cabinets or IKEA?
calendargirl July 26, 2018
I am now an IKEA convert. There are so many ways to hack it for anything one may feel is missing and the quality of their high-end cabinetry is excellent. Still deciding whether to use other doors and drawer fronts.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 26, 2018
So helpful, thank you!
Moody B. July 25, 2018
Windows can put off coldness whether they are energy efficient or not. If you are going to have patio doors I would lose the side windows on both sides of the patio doors. Otherwise you might be sitting there with a sweater on all the time. I like the idea of a peninsula but I would bring the counters into the center to be sure to have room for bar stools without interfering with the patio doors. It will also help with room for carrying things in and out from the patio area. No tripping. I would put the refrigerator where you have the tall cabinet then you would have your perfect triangle of appliances. You may still have room for a movable island for extra prep space and storage. It is easy to change the swing of your refrigerator doors. See your manual. You don't have to worry about it if you have the half door model. Don't forget storage under your bench seats of the nook. You can never have too much storage for table linens, holiday roasting pans etc.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 26, 2018
Thanks for all of the thoughtful input Moody Britches.
chefrockyrd March 23, 2020
Sorry but I don't agree with that about the windows. If they are properly installed and insulated it is not cold. I live in Maine on the ocean and have a bay window in my eating area. Its not a problem.
Erin July 25, 2018
The best thing we did with our kitchen was find a picture of the overall look and feel we wanted at Selecting finishes with just samples of flooring, countertop etc. is risky- it's helpful to see the whole room with those finishes. If you go to link below and click on 'View All Photos' you can apply helpful filters. (style, size, color, layout etc.) You save the photos you like, and when you're ready to order i.e. doors for the pantry, they're all there.
chefrockyrd March 23, 2020
Yes! Great idea Erin.
Corrin C. July 23, 2018
Love your canvas, what an exciting project. I remodel homes as a devout cook that prizes function over aesthetics in the kitchen only. Elsewhere I can be found wearing improbable shoes, likely a wee overdressed. If it were mine I’d put the frig on the stair wall and build the entire thing in for storage with the frig opening from the galley, right of the stove (from the drawings perspective. I’m a plant based eater and gardener so I need my prep space and stove side by side. Personally I spend more time on prep so I want the best view while doing so, facing outward. So naturally I’d put the stove in the island, offset so as to maximise my primary prep zone. That surface would be butcher block overlaid a solid stone of some sort. Think of an island wide strip of boos block wrapping over both sides of the island. I’m tall, so chopping 2.5” above counter height is ideal. I’d then keep your window idea onto the patio at counter depth, extending the counter to a small shelf outside for passing food through. Being right handed I’d put the dishwasher to the right of the stove so that it opens into the aisle rather than island, that way others can get around you when your loading the dishwasher. I’d put open shelves in the island that were concealed from the back and both sides. The book will be lovely with children, and even lovelier concerted into a nest once your little birds fly.

I would consider eliminating the two western windows and replacing them with a larger window that is centered with the island so you have a view at the stove, but that depends on structural and archaic rural design elements that I don’t have access to. If you did do that you could extend the closet over a bit for additional pantry storage. There is a lot of dead space with multiple entrances and hallways. I’d likely forgo the patio door in exchange for more counter space and a pass through window and use the new entry door as my way outside. If you flip flopped the book with the closet putting it instead on the west wall you could extend your kitchen to the north wall and put the sliding door where the existing nook is. Eliminating one entry point and subsequent hallway. It’s beautiful as is, and I can’t wait to see your reveal. Personally I’d need more playing/work space for large projects.
Nancy July 24, 2018
Lots of interesting ideas here.
Made me think of another possibility:
If the outside back view is good, and you simplify the layout of the North part of the room, maybe rotate the island so it's on an east west access.
That would give the cook the nice back view, more light on the island, and have her facing people (child doing homework, or guests with a glass of wine) as she finished meal prep.
More social, more open room.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
Thank you both! I left out crucial information for you all, both entry points are needed. The north one leads to our garage/driveway and the east one to our fenced in backyard. Nancy, I'm with you! One of my colleagues suggested that too, so I am leaning towards turning the island into a peninsula.
M July 23, 2018
-Unless pre-made perfectly fit, go custom cabinets. Otherwise, you end up with tons of extra space walled up around them and forever think about all that would have fit in the wasted space.
-Beware induction if you use cast iron a lot. Induction is great for many things, but it really, really doesn't like piping hot cast iron, and it will turn off.
-If the cupboard doors aren't smooth (either flat or curved), edges will become a cleaning hassle.
-Open shelving will lead to cooking steam mixing with any dust in the air and coating stuff in sticky grime, and other concerns listed below (like smoke).
-Dark countertops (I like quartz) mean that even if something stains or tarnishes, esp with kids, it won't immediately ruin the look of the countertop.
-Unless you actively use both sinks (like soap/rinse), look at huge, deep, one-sinkers. They are an absolute dream for large things like pots and pans, and can store most dirty items so countertop space isn't taken up.
-Avoid big, under-mount lights hidden with deep wood trim. It'll bar you from keeping mixers, etc, pushed back on the counter.
-If there will be deep cupboards, especially fridge-depth, opt for doors with shelves and shallower shelves inside. Otherwise you'll have half your food buried in the back.
-Pull-out drawer pantries, etc, are convenient, but the mechanisms take up a TON of space.
-Use multi-purpose appliances: big oven with door oven underneath, microwaves that also convect or bake, toaster ovens deep enough to put a basic square pyrex inside. Those, plus one or two plug-in solo elements will mean that you can cook everything you need for Thanksgivings, etc, without worrying about getting everything done at the same time, pots that take up too much stovetop, etc.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
So many thoughtful points M, thank you.
Nicole O. July 24, 2018
I was also going to comment on open shelving. It looks pretty but unless you're going to wipe everything down weekly, it gets gross fast :-) Good luck!
M July 24, 2018
np! Wish I didn't have to learn some of these through experience, and do what I can to help others avoid the woe!
M July 24, 2018
Also: Backsplashes are a pain to clean, so consider the easiest surfaces to wipe, and avoid metal at all costs as it stains almost immediately.

Have you considered taking a cue from campers and making a bench/table area where the table can be lowered to turn the whole thing into a sunbed for yourself? Then you wouldn't need to worry about particularly deep benches.
Nitpicker July 23, 2018
I would locate the fridge closer to the door (when the D/W is open there's a lot going on in that corner).
I'd lose the half wall (it cuts the space in half) and the door there (add another 32/56 window) and take advantage of the large space with a big farm table and long farm bench with upholstered seating. I've never been a fan of seating that's hard to get in and out of.
No on upper shelving, use cabinets, it keeps contents cleaner and looks cleaner, then drawers in lowers.
In the dining I'd consider a cabinet lower, counter top and glass door uppers.
I'd also move the hall closet under the stairs and make a larger bdrm closet.
Whatever you decide it will be a great improve and look wonderful!!!
Nitpicker July 23, 2018
If the door next to the closet is the one you'd rather keep since it goes directly to the backyard, consider a windowed door closer to the corner, move the closet to the opposite wall in more of a cabinet/pantry style. Eliminate the door on that wall and run the cabinets all along the back wall. I'm guessing its not a west facing wall so you could add an under cabinet window. Best to you and thanks for letting us chime in.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
I left out crucial information for you all, both entry points are needed. The north one leads to our garage/driveway and the east one to our fenced in backyard. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, you all are convincing me that I likely need to nix that half wall!
Beth A. July 23, 2018
I’m all for a sliding glass door. I grew up in a home with one and now I miss is terribly. It lets in so much natural light.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
Same! That northwest corner looks out on our backyard, so I want as much glass as possible (I'd turn it into a pseudo-greenhouse if I could!).
fitzie July 22, 2018
We did our kitchen about 20 years ago. We used 9 shades of white and a white Corian counter top. All white because the kitchen was so dark. Now we've removed the west facing porch and the light is wonderful. Occasionally I wish we had used black Corian and if I had it to do again I probablywould. Overall, we are still pleased with our white kitchen.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
9 shades of white is such a unique idea, what fun!
Moody B. July 21, 2018
OR I hate "nooks". I would make bench/window seat in center of that wall and put tall storage on either side of it and with storage above too. Then you could have table in front of bench with room for seating all around the table. Have a big or two double hung windows above bench area.
Nancy H. July 21, 2018
I'll second a number of thoughts here: one big undermount sink. Hard countertop like quartz, Drawers for all lower storage. You'll be happy you spent the extra money. Make sure you have a landing spot next to the fridge. Consider an induction cooktop. That's what I have and I love it.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
Thanks for taking the time to weigh in Nancy, I appreciate it.
Moody B. July 21, 2018
Layout: I would put the refrigerator on either end of the L shaped kitchen. The door beside the half wall by the nook I would have open towards the nook. The closet I would get rid of and just have a bench (shoes under it, coats on hooks and shelving above for storage of hats, gloves etc) and have it run to the window. IF you decide to get rid of that door (because I agree there are too many windows and doors) Then I would put the nook there instead and have bench/storage area where the nook currently is and have sliding patio doors. I'd also get rid of the two widows along wall of closet and make one big window in middle to be able to look out when working at kitchen sink. You could even have it kick out for a window seat. Hope this helps and is not to confusing. Good luck.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
I left out crucial information for you all, both entry points are needed. The north one leads to our garage/driveway and the east one to our fenced in backyard. Thanks for all of the thoughtful input!
Ali W. July 21, 2018
We redid our kitchen a couple of years ago and there were a few things we did that we continue to be happy with everyday: 1) we chose one large deep sink that we can leave dirty pots and pans during dinner without seeing them, 2) we compromised on open shelving vs. cabinets by using glass front cabinets. We used water glass to add interest and allows for some messiness. 3) we used linoleum floors - they're neutral temperature, softer than wood or tile, they have a solid core so our knife drops aren't so obvious, and they're earth friendly! 4) we learned what dolomite stone is and love it. We dreamt of marble but knew of the problems with it in the kitchen. Dolomite was the perfect option. I wish you all the best with your project!
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
Thanks Ali! And thanks for taking the time to share the winners from your reno.
Nancy July 20, 2018
Got lost in all the specifics of moving the fridge.
The working part of the kitchen looks fine, either design (your choice).
What worries me is the fussy break-up of space in the back half. Two doors is too many doors (opening inward) and windows restrict the placement of furniture.
Simplify and clean up the back area. That gives more options for use as the family grows and your use of space may change.
Maybe have only one door (sliding or outward opening) at the northeast corner where you were going to have a table.
Eliminated the built in closet for now. Or move it to the place where the patio door is showing.
Then you have a nice open space where you can have (moveable) dining table and chairs, or even an easy chair for someone (cook or friend) to read and talk.
Also, later, if you find you need the storage space, you can insert it.
Good luck with all the decisions, dust and later enjoying the new kitchen :)
Nancy July 20, 2018
Duh. Just reread comments and found the 2 doors question addressed by 3 other people and you at beginning of discussion. If you still want both, still talk with your family and designer about ways to simplify and NOT cut up that back area so much.
Fa July 20, 2018
I am not a fan of open shelving in a kitchen. In the real world they are difficult to keep organized or clean. A friend had a kitchen fire, it was more than a year before she stopped finding smoke or smokey smells on upper cabinet items. If an open feeling is the goal maybe remove door panels and insert glass, clear or textured glass. Another option would be mirror inserts, that reflects light and adds the appearance of additional space. Since you prefer a country vibe here's an interesting, fun and DIY option: use sheets of cut to size clear glass, spray a light mist of water and vinegar over the glass, spray silver paint over the misted area, use a towel or old tshirt to dab of the bubbles that are paint over the water and vinegar mix. Allow to dry, usually less than: 30 during dry weather. Once completely dry spray black paint over the silver paint. The end result is the appearance of aged, lovely and unique mirrors. I practiced on glass from cheap Dollar Tree picture frames with glass, and the glass from the front of an old TV. I also painted the $Tree picture frames, inserted the treated glass and sold them. Of course I embellished them but they were lovely. I have some windows from a reno on my late parents home - the technique made them truly stunning as wall art.

Counter tops, I love the durability, ease of use and beauty of quartz. I gravitate toward quartz that is solid white or that resembles marble. I always shop the Closeout and Marked Down area. Just today I was at Floor & Decor and finalized my plans for my kitchen reno. Subway tiles are Classic and Timeless. I found lovely 3x12 subway tiles for 35cents each. Much better price than the Big Box stores! (They have a vast online presence and they ship. For me it would be worth the drive to shop Live.) I also found a great option for an accent tile strip, I will also use that for the shampoo and soap shelf in the Master bathroom. I will use the same accent tiles and subway tiles behind the stove, the balance of the kitchen will be painted beadboard. (Due to a water stain caused by a now replaced roof I may have beadboard over my entire Great Room ceiling - painted bright white.
Sandra July 20, 2018
100% on the open shelves. Lots of maintenance involved and you have to wipe everything down before you use it.
Sandra July 20, 2018
Meaning NO to open shelves for day to day dishes and glasses
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
Thank you both for weighing in!
MelissaH July 20, 2018
As far as countertops: that's actually something really easy to replace after the fact. When we did our kitchen, we spent the money on things that weren't going to be as easy to swap out later: cabinets, the stove of our dreams, a linoleum floor that I still love. When all was said and done, we had enough money left for a plain old laminate countertop, so that's what we did. (We have something like 53 square feet of counter, so anything more was approaching the price of a nice little used car.) After 8 years, the laminate had gotten beat up enough that it was ready for replacement, but we'd saved up so we could replace it with quartz. (We'd thought soapstone initially, but in the end decided that quartz was more practical and indestructable and easier for us to get locally.) When we replaced the counter, we also replaced the sink with a similarly-sized undermount sink. That was four years ago and I'm still absolutely thrilled with it.

On the subject of sinks: think really hard about what kind of sink you want. My husband originally thought he wanted a traditional two-basin sink, but when I asked why, he said he wanted one for a dish drainer and the other to wash in, just like he'd always had all his life. I pointed out that with a dishwasher, most of the dishes would never see the drainer, and that the things that would need to get washed in the sink would be the larger items like the pots and pans, and whatever else didn't go in the dishwasher. We instead went with a very large single basin sink, after measuring our largest roasting pan and choosing something large enough to accommodate it.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
Great input, thank you Melissa.