Once upon a time, the kitchen was hidden away in a dark corner of the house or even a separate building. Smelling of smoke and garbage, it was a place of work, separated from the social parts of a home.
Today’s kitchens couldn’t be more different. Furnished with efficient, hard-working appliances and built for comfort, they’re the heart of a home. Besides being the place where meals are prepared, families use their kitchens for dining, entertaining, studying and even relaxing.
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Looking to modernize your own kitchen? This resource guide, compiled by the team at The Home Depot, will help you make your kitchen more attractive and inviting. With helpful advice from interior designers and Coldwell Banker real estate experts, this guide will cover the room layout, appliances, finishing touches and more. Read on to start designing your own modern kitchen.
I. The New Living Room
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Interior designer Kerrie Kelly caters to many clients who are looking to make their kitchens more comfortable. “You can think of your kitchen as an extension of your living areas — a space for collaboration, visiting and high interaction,” she says. “Sliding doors and armoire-style appliances that accept sleek cabinet fronts allow a kitchen to look more like a living area. Outfitted with banquettes covered in color and fabric, pizza ovens and even fireplaces, the kitchen can be a loungy, livable space.”
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Some families are even bringing back the “keeping room,” a Colonial-era sitting room situated in or near the kitchen. Bryan Bufford, an agent with Coldwell Banker Upchurch Realty in Athens, Ga., says that some clients won’t even consider a house without a keeping room. These kitchen extensions often boast a fireplace, breakfast table and sofa.
“In my mind, it’s the evolution of builders learning that people spend more time in the kitchen,” Bryan says. “I believe it’s the builders’ way of saying, ‘This is where people spend their time, so let’s do this.’”
II. The Lay of the Land: Layouts and Zones
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More than any other factor, a kitchen’s layout influences its functionality. Are you working with a narrow galley shape, or do you have a larger U-shaped space with room to spread out? Is there an island or a breakfast bar breaking up the space? Is the kitchen open to the rest of the house or is it a stand-alone room? This article will help you determine your own kitchen layout.
Once you understand your layout, you can develop working zones throughout the kitchen. Because the three hubs of a kitchen are the sink, the stove and the refrigerator, the most traditional model is the ergonomic “work triangle,” which places those three areas within approximately six feet of each other. For more advice on planning out your kitchen work zones, check out this article from ForResidentialPros.com.
Work triangles are still a popular approach, but the concept has evolved to accommodate modern needs. Many homeowners now have more space and more appliances, and they use their kitchen for more purposes than ever before, so it makes sense to embrace flexible, task-specific zones.
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Some people want their island to be the hub of the kitchen — or even the home. It’s crucial for the island to have enough space for at least two people to pass by at once, plus room to pull out stools, if they’ll be included. Here are some measurement guidelines from the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
PRO TIP: “We’re seeing innovative solutions for achieving a spacious feel, without necessarily changing the kitchen’s footprint. People are painting and replacing dark cabinets, swapping upper cabinets for open shelving, or incorporating glass fronts. They’re also opting for soft and neutral color palettes to make their kitchens appear more expansive. Multi-purpose surfaces, such as work islands that double as furniture and storage units, have been especially popular.” – Hometalk Director of Community Development Miriam Illions
III. Choosing the Right Appliances for You
Today’s appliances — with their sleek appearance, quiet operations, energy efficiency and ease of use — are often a lifesaver for hard-working homeowners. “Our lives are getting busier, and more often than not, the households are dual-income,” interior designer Jeanne Chung says.
“This makes for little time for meal preparation at the end of the day. Speed cooking on appliances such as the GE Monogram Advantium (where four methods of cooking are rolled into one appliance) or convection cooking is important, saving valuable time while still retaining taste and texture.”
Every kitchen relies on the same basic appliances, but there’s a different model for every type of homeowner, whether you’re a gourmand, a frequent entertainer or you’re more likely to use the oven for storing pots. Realistically consider your needs and desires before embarking on your appliance-buying adventure.
PRO TIP: “Stainless steel has been the choice for appliance finishes in recent years, but that is slowly starting to change. While it’s still relevant in the kitchen, many designers are opting to break the monotony of stainless steel by adding in a burst of color.” — Interior designer Jeanne Chung
Modern refrigerators do a lot more than keep your food fresh, with handy features like middle drawers, quieting systems and in-door water dispensers helping them work harder than ever before. There are several things to consider before you choose a refrigerator:
- The amount of space you have available in your kitchen
- How much capacity your family will need
- Which layout will work best for you (top-freezer, bottom-freezer, French door)
- Which features are most important to you
- Which finish matches your kitchen design (white, black, stainless steel, etc.)
If you’re looking for a refrigerator that’s energy efficient, make sure you fully understand the meaning of Energy Star ratings. This guide will help you read the labels.
PRO TIP: “The convertible refrigerator, where a refrigeration compartment can be changed to freezer or wine storage with a flip of a switch, has been quite important. In short, appliances that can do double duty are and will continue to be important, as the consumer feels as though they are getting more value out of their investment.” — Interior designer Jeanne Chung. To see The Home Depot’s selection of convertible refrigerator options, click here.
Once considered a luxury item, dishwashers are now a must-have appliance in most kitchens, saving homeowners precious time so they can focus on more important things. Today’s dishwashers are quiet, energy-efficient and hard-working cleaners built to last at least a decade — so it’s important to choose your model wisely.
PRO TIP: “Consider installing two dishwashers to make clean-up a breeze. Dishwashers can be rotated for use or you may try a standard dishwasher with a back-up of a dishwasher drawer for smaller runs.” — Interior designer Kerrie Kelly. To see all the dishwasher options Kerrie mentions, visit homedepot.com.
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C. Cooking Appliances
Between ranges, cooktops and ovens, today’s cooking appliances are faster and more powerful than ever, with an expanded selection of features appreciated by all levels of home cooks. Besides the classic four-burner gas and electric ranges, modern cooks have some truly impressive technology at their disposal.
- Induction cooktops use a special high-frequency coil under the cooktop’s surface to heat the cookware by magnetic touch. The cooktop stays cool while the cookware gets hot. This is an increasingly attractive option because it’s safer, heats food more evenly than traditional cooktops and it’s easier to clean! Browse Home Depot’s induction cooktops here.
- Convection ovens use fans to offer faster, more even baking than conventional ovens. They’re available both in gas and electric versions.
- Gas is often preferred for cooktops, while electric is generally viewed as better for baking. To get the best of both worlds, consider a dual-fuel range.
- Who says the oven and cooktop have to coexist? Many modern homeowners are choosing to separate the two by installing a wall oven (or even two wall ovens!) apart from their cooktop. Besides offering easier access for cooks, wall ovens save space by fitting seamlessly into the cabinetry. Browse The Home Depot’s wall ovens options here.
- Even the best chefs have the occasional accident in the kitchen, resulting in plumes of dark, smelly smoke. That’s where a range hood comes in. The ventilation system rids your kitchen of unwanted smells, heat and moisture, and it comes in styles to fit any kitchen, including over-the-range, downdraft and microwave/range hood combos. Check out Home Depot’s collection of range hoods here.
PRO TIP: “A nice appealing item is the fifth cooktop burner, as opposed to the traditional four-burner cook top. Commercial-style ovens are still a popular item as well.” — Steve and Heather Ostrom, agents at Coldwell Banker Sun Ridge, Roseville, Calif.
These fast cookers are beloved by even the most demanding gourmand. Shoppers should consider where they’ll be putting their microwave (on the counter, over the stove, built into the cabinetry), the wattage they need, and special heating options (convection, inverter) they might use.
E. Small Appliances
They may not be as big or powerful as some of your kitchen’s major appliances, but sometimes the smallest appliances are the most important — just ask any coffee drinker. Toasters, blenders, juicers, mixers, griddles and coffee makers can be some of your kitchen’s hardest working and most beloved items.
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IV. Storage and Surface Space
Having plenty of space to prep food and store supplies is crucial to an efficient and organized kitchen.
“Storage is important,” says Jeanne Chung, “especially storage that is cleverly integrated into the space, maximizing efficiency in the kitchen and making previously unused areas of the kitchen usable and easily accessible.”
When it comes to storage, some modern homeowners opt to show off their dishes with open shelving. Others give just a hint of what’s inside with glass-front cabinetry, while solid wooden cabinets in all shades are still the most popular — and practical — choice. You may want to consider installing custom storage options depending on your cooking habits, whether you regularly cook with wine (a built-in wine rack) or you want to keep your shiny copper pots within easy reach (a hanging pot rack).
PRO TIP: “The pop-up kitchen counter, which rises from the island below to reveal an appliance garage, is an especially innovative solution. Pull-down cabinets also provide a great solution to reach the hard-to-get upper cabinets without the use of a step stool.” — Interior designer Jeanne Chung
V. Water World: Sinks and Faucets
Between cooking and cleaning, most people spend the majority of their time in the kitchen standing over the sink. Having a cramped, shallow sink can seriously dampen your cooking experience, which is why it’s important to find just the right model — and accessories — for your needs.
As for the faucets, options include single- and double-handle versions, various finishes (rustic bronze, brushed nickel, chrome), and popular pull-down models. Some newer faucets even have motion sensors.
- What’s the difference between copper, stainless steel, cast iron and all of the other sink materials? This guide from hometips.com breaks down the differences.
- A garbage disposal is a sink’s best friend. Healthguidance.org offers some tips for keeping your disposal healthy.
VI. Bright Ideas: How to Lighten Up Your Kitchen
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Lighting may be the hardest-working — and most underrated — element of your kitchen’s design.
“All the color, plumbing and appliances in the world sit flat and lifeless without the appropriate lighting,” Kerrie says. The good news? Lighting is also one of the most affordable design elements in your kitchen.
- Choose appropriate lighting for different areas of the room, including above the sink, dining, and prep areas. Options range from overhead lights to task lighting, recessed lighting and even chandeliers. Reference this guide from The American Lighting Association to help you decide which type of lighting to choose for the different areas in your kitchen.
- Hanging lights come in all shapes and sizes, offering serious style as well as functionality. Whether you choose rustic barn lights, sleek glass orbs or handmade Mason jar fixtures, it will automatically become a major feature of your space. Here’s a photo gallery from digdigs.com of fun hanging lights.
- Feeling crafty? Lighting is an easy area to test out your DIY skills, as with this simple pendant light project from tatertotsandjello.com.
PRO TIP: “The secret key to good lighting is to layer it. An ideal lighting scheme starts with natural light and supplements with ambient, task and accent lighting. While the fixtures themselves can add drama and style to a room, a sparkling chandelier or sophisticated sconce can also provide the finishing touch to your space or simply add another layer of design and functionality to the room.” — Interior designer Kerrie Kelly
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VII. Finishing Touches
The most minor, inexpensive details can sometimes have the biggest impact on your kitchen. From wall color and window treatments to chairs, décor and accessories, these are the elements that will add style, comfort and color to your kitchen.
- Choosing your kitchen’s wall color is crucial; the wrong shade can be a big turnoff, or even worse, unappetizing. You can choose a neutral color and add interest with your accessories, or settle on a shade that complements your countertops and cabinetry. Need help choosing a paint color for your kitchen? Maria Killam has some great tips
- Regular rules for window coverings don’t apply in the kitchen — it’s a whole new territory, whether you’re adding a bamboo shade over the sink or dressing a bank of windows in the breakfast nook with drapes. From Roman shades to folding shutters, this article highlights some popular window covering options from Centsational girl.
- The backsplash makes post-cooking cleaning easier while adding subtle style to the kitchen. Brighten the room with colorful hand-painted tiles, keep it sleek with white subway tiles or add shine with galvanized metal. This decorpad.com slideshow will give you some inspiration.
- Kitchen rugs protect your floors from the inevitable splashes of water, sticky food and cooking grease. Here’s a fun DIY project to customize your kitchen rug.
PRO TIP: “For finishing touches that require little or no investment, I suggest painting the back wall of a cabinet or shelves a contrasting color or even applying a patterned wallpaper or grasscloth, and then styling the shelves by stacking sets of bowls, plates, etc. This breaks up the continuous color and provides more visual interest.” — Interior designer Jeanne Chung
At the end of the day, the modern kitchen is exactly what you want it to be: a space that is fully customized and comfortable for you and your family. What does your dream kitchen look like?
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