Planning Your Dream Kitchen

By Joseph Truini

The first question most homeowners ask when they decide to remodel their kitchen is, “Where do I start?” And that’s not surprising considering all the different components that go into the average kitchen, including cabinets, counters, appliances, lighting, storage and flooring.

Even if you’re only refinishing the cabinets and replacing the countertops and appliances, the remodeling process can quickly become overwhelming. Fortunately there are ways to prevent your dream kitchen from becoming a nightmare, starting with devising a sound design and sensible budget long before you ever lift a hammer.

Planning & Design

Developing a clear, well-conceived plan will ensure that work progresses smoothly and stays on budget. Start by listing all the things you dislike about your current kitchen, including small annoyances and major problems. And then make note of any existing features that you do like and would like to keep.

Here are the top 12 reasons why homeowners remodel their kitchens. How many of these complaints apply to your kitchen?

  • Cabinets are outdated
  • Appliances are old
  • Not enough counter space
  • Too few electrical outlets
  • Floor space is cramped
  • Countertops are badly worn
  • Inadequate storage space
  • Lacks eat-at counter
  • Bad lighting, especially task lighting
  • Insufficient ventilation
  • Flooring is worn out
  • Kitchen is closed off from the rest of the house

Kitchen Layout

Once you’ve created a list of all the improvements you’d like to make, you must decide whether or not to change the kitchen’s layout (floor plan). Changing the layout is a big deal and it’ll have a profound affect on the budget and construction timeframe.

Altering a kitchen layout typically involves rearranging the cabinets and many of the appliances. It may also include tearing down walls, moving doorways, adding new electrical circuits and re-plumbing the entire room. Here are brief descriptions of five common kitchen layouts:


The L-shape layout is the most popular of all kitchen layouts. It’s functional, doesn’t require a lot of room, and provides an adequate amount of cabinet and countertop space.


The U-shape layout wraps around three walls, providing more cabinets and countertop space than the L-shape layout. This design works well in mid-size kitchens, but feels cramped in smaller spaces.


A galley kitchen has two parallel runs of cabinets and counters along two facing walls. This layout works well in narrow kitchens with a doorway at each end. It creates a relatively efficient workspace, but provides limited cabinet and counter space.

L-Shape with Peninsula

Adding a peninsula to an L-shaped layout effectively converts it to a U-shaped kitchen. You gain a few extra feet of cabinets and countertops, and can even create an eat-at bar. This design is often used when a wall is removed from an L-shaped kitchen to open up the kitchen to the adjoining room.

U-Shape with Island

U-shape layouts don’t work very well in large kitchens because the walking distance from one side of the layout to the other is too great. To solve that problem, add a center island. The island not only shortens the distances, it also increases storage and countertop space, and provides a spot to install a second sink, dishwasher, range, or oven.

Kitchen Design Guidelines

The National Kitchen and Bath Association has established a set of rules to help architects and designers produce safe, functional, and space-efficient kitchens. Keep these 15 design rules in mind when planning your kitchen remodel:

Traffic and Work Flow

  • Walkways between walls and counters or appliances must be at least 36 in. wide.
  • Work aisles between two counters or a counter and appliance should be 42 in. wide or 48 in. for two cooks.
  • The work triangle, measuring from the sink to range to refrigerator, shouldn’t exceed a total of 26 ft. And no one side of the triangle should be shorter than 4 ft. or longer than 9 ft.


  • The dishwasher should be within 36 in. of the primary sink.
  • Provide at least 21 in. of standing space to one side of the dishwasher.
  • The bottom of a microwave oven should be approximately 3 in. below the principle user’s shoulder, but no more than 54 in. above the floor.
  • If a microwave is place beneath the countertop, the bottom of the oven should be at least 15 in. above the floor.
  • Do not place a cooking appliance below an operable window.


  • A kitchen should have two waste receptacles, one for garbage and another for recyclables.
  • At least one corner cabinet must have a functional storage device, such as a rotating turntable.
  • Cabinets with 36-in.-tall eat-at counters must have at least 15 in. of knee space.


  • Kitchens should have a minimum of 158 in. of countertop space.
  • Provide 15 in. of counter space on the handle side of a standard refrigerator, and 15 in. on each side of a side-by-side or French-door refrigerator.
  • Provide 36 in. of counter space next to the sink for food prep.
  • There should be a minimum of 12 in. of counter space to one side of each cooking surface and 15 in. to the other side.

Remodel vs. Renew

Worx Switchdriver

If your existing kitchen cabinets are structurally sound and you’re not planning to change the layout, then you can save a considerable amount of time and money by having the cabinets professionally refaced or refinished.

With cabinet refacing, you essentially get a brand-new kitchen. The old cabinets remain, but all the doors, drawer fronts, hinges, handles and pulls are replaced with brand-new items. The great thing about refacing, besides the obvious savings, is that you can choose from many different styles and colors of doors and drawers to completely change the look of the kitchen—without replacing a single cabinet.

For an even quicker, more affordable makeover, consider having the cabinets refinished. With refinishing, the existing cabinets stay put, but the old finished is stripped off of the doors, drawer fronts and face frames. Then, a new finish is applied, which affords you the opportunity to change the color of the cabinets, if desired. All the hinges, handles and pulls are replaced with new hardware.

Budgeting for a New Kitchen

To establish an accurate kitchen-remodeling budget, start by breaking down the project into smaller jobs. Get prices for each new appliance, and be sure the quotes include exact model numbers and all taxes and delivery fees. Next, visit a kitchen showroom or home center and get estimates for the cabinets and countertops.

Then call in contractors to bid on any work you’re not planning to do yourself, including cabinet and countertop installation, tiling, flooring, electrical, plumbing and lighting. If you’re working with a general contractor (GC), he or she will hire the subcontractors, such as plumbers, electricians, and tile setters. If not, then you’ll have to act as the GC and hire and supervise each individual subcontractor. Obtain written quotes from three licensed contractors for each phase of construction. If the quotes include building materials, be sure that they’re specified in writing.

Worx 20V Oscillating Tool

Finally add up all the numbers and tack on an additional 15% to 20% for cost overruns, which are often unavoidable. If the total cost is more than you’ve budgeted, now’s the time to scale back the original plan.

Finally be aware that each step of the remodeling process is a minefield of hidden costs that can blow the lid off your budget. The biggest budget busters of all are change orders. That’s when you make a change to the original plan after construction has begun. Now some change orders are unavoidable, such as when you uncover serious structural damage, but avoid any change order that could be considered a luxury upgrade. Here are some other common budget busters:

  • Code violations to electrical or plumbing systems, which then must be upgraded.
  • Permit fees charged by the town’s building department.
  • Debris removal and landfill drop-off fees.
  • Accidental damage to lawn, driveway caused by construction vehicles.
  • Rental costs for Dumpsters, scaffolding and other specialty equipment.
  • Cost of tools that you must buy.
  • Shipping delays due to out-of-stock items or bad weather that forces you to buy readily available items at higher costs.

Where the Money Goes

Here are rough cost estimates based on percentages of the total budget. The actual costs will vary depending on the size and complexity of your remodel, and on the specific items chosen.

  • Cabinets: 40% to 50%
  • Appliances: 10% to 20%
  • Counters, sinks and faucets: 15% to 25%
  • Lighting: 5% to 10%
  • Flooring: 5% to 10%

DIY or Not

Remodeling an entire kitchen isn’t a do-it-yourself project, but there are many parts of the job that you can tackle yourself. For example, you can save a significant amount of money by demolishing the cabinets, removing the old appliances, disconnecting the sink, and prying up the countertops.

Removing drywall or plaster from walls and ceilings is another good DIY job. It’s dusty, dirty work, and not every kitchen remodel will require it, but it’s a good way to invest a little sweat equity. Just be careful not to cut into or damage any structural framing, wiring or pipes.

Do-it-yourselfers should not attempt to do any wiring or plumbing. Leave those jobs to licensed pros. Also, hire contractors to tear down and reframe walls, fabricate counters, install cabinets, and lay new flooring.

So, there you have it: Create a well-conceived plan, stick to your budget, and show a little patience, and your dream kitchen will soon become a reality.

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