Designing a Great Kitchen:
How to avoid the top 10 mistakes in kitchen design
by Nicholas Cusano
Sometimes in all the excitement of new appliances, gorgeous tiles and wonderful cabinets, we forget that
beneath it all, the kitchen must meet its primary function as a place where food is stored and cooked. Yes, it
is the center of the household and the favored gathering place of every party, but this should not interrupt
its ability to function as a seamless workspace for the cooking experience.
Follow these strategies to avoid the top 10 kitchen design mistakes and you will be well on your way to
creating a kitchen that works as wonderfully as it looks.
1) The Work Triangle
There are few universal truths in kitchen design, but one is that if the distances between the sink, stove and
refrigerator are too far or interrupted with pathways, door openings or islands, your kitchen will not function
well. Try your best to keep the work triangle separate from where guests or children will gather or walk
2) Island Design
Islands can be wonderful workspaces and kitchen centers or they could be literal roadblocks to the proper
function of your kitchen. Bigger is not always better; the island should be in proportion with the size of the
room. The space between the island and the counters behind should be at least 3”-6” , but not more than
4’-0”. One can use the island to separate the work triangle from the gathering area in the kitchen.
3) Refrigerator Placement
This is a key element in the kitchen because it is part of the work triangle, but also needs to be easily
accessible by the rest of the household as well. Its placement should be on the edge of the work triangle so
that the work triangle is not interrupted every time someone wants a glass of milk or an apple. It should be
positioned near the kitchen table for easy access during mealtime.
We have all walked into a lime green kitchen and wondered what could they have been thinking. The
answer is they were following the trends of the day. If you want your kitchen to last longer than bell
bottom jeans, choose a timeless palette. Be adventurous and original in your accessories, but not in the
Next to the sink, the garbage will be your most frequent stop in the kitchen, and now with recycling, the
space demands for this purpose has increased immensely. A little pail under the sink will no longer do it.
Position this cabinet well and if possible have dual pails for dual functions.
There is nothing sexy about storage, but when you don’t have enough it is very annoying. The only way
to assure you have the proper amount of storage is to do an inventory of all the items you need in your
kitchen and design a home for each of them. Although kitchen designers (who make money by selling
cabinets) won’t tell you this, an open walk in pantry is the most efficient and convenient storage method.
Vary your shelf depths, 6” for cans, 12 inches for boxes, 18” for appliances; 24” shelves are usually too
deep and bury things out of site. They should only be used sparingly for tray storage or larger appliance
7) Workstation Organization
Each work station in the kitchen (sink, stove, refrigerator, prep counter, etc) should be thought out and
organized. Everything you need for that workstation should be at your fingertips. To often this step is
overlooked and items are just spread around the kitchen as you unpack. For example, at the range you
should have instant access to your pots and pans, oven mitts, spices, and cooking utensils. Each one
should have a home before you finalize your cabinet design.
The need for proper counterspace seems obvious, but is so often overlooked during the design process.
Avoid being tempted to exchange clear useful counterspace for a desk area or multilevel counter which
ends up cluttered and inefficient. Make sure you have plenty of room on either side of the sink and range,
and always have a counter on the side of the refrigerator as a staging area for items going in or coming out.
Every kitchen needs a good mix of general lighting, task lighting and accent lighting. Hopefully, much of
the general lighting can come from the sun during the day if the kitchen is properly placed in the floor plan.
Task lighting should be directly over the task. If lights are placed behind you, you will cast a shadow over
the workspace. Accent lighting should be used sparingly to cut down on cost and avoid visual clutter.
If there is nothing sexy about storage, ventilation is downright unsexy, but it does not make it any less
necessary. There are very hard and fast rules one must follow to achieve proper ventilation at a cooktop or
a range, and these are often disregarded in the name of aesthetics. But aesthetics suffers from off-smells
and that ever present layer of grease on all high shelves and trim. If you work the proper sized hood into
your design from the beginning you will see that it is easy to achieve great looks as well as great function.
Architecture + design