Experts reveal the 13 secrets to designing the perfect kitchen

How to create your dream scheme, from start to finish

Planning a new kitchen – whether it’s from scratch for a new extension or simply to update an existing design – can feel a little scary. There’s seemingly a lot to think about, whether it’s choosing furniture, appliances and storage, or making sure plumbing is in the right place.

However, whether you’re on a tight budget or investing in your forever home, the same ingredients go into every kitchen in roughly the same order. Here’s how to plan your dream design.

White kitchen with green island and patterned floorCredit: Caple

1. Planning is key – so get help

How much you receive will depend on where you buy your kitchen

The key to getting it right is in the planning. Right from the start, you need to be thinking about the layout, how you’ll use the space, and any structural or electrical work that may be required. Because when it comes to kitchens, as the old adage goes – failing to plan is planning to fail.

Thankfully, there’s always help at hand. Where you buy your kitchen from will dictate the level of service you can expect to receive.

“If price is important, national kitchen retail chains, DIY stores or buying online may be a good route for you,” suggests Bill Miller, MD at My Kitchen Specialist. “These offer an easy way of buying a kitchen, but with a simple in-store design service and limited after-sales support. If you are looking for value for money and expert knowledge, consider an independent kitchen specialist. They will look after your project from start to finish, including sourcing reputable tradespeople.”

For awkwardly shaped spaces, or if you’re looking for something tailored to your lifestyle, a bespoke kitchen can work well – this will be made to your specification, and will fit perfectly around uneven walls or architectural features.


Kitchen renovation stages: what happens when

This can include removing walls, extending the space and adding walls for a utility room or similar. Next, your existing kitchen will be removed.

This is when any supplies – such as electrics, gas, connections for lighting, plumbing, and wet underfloor heating – are installed or relocated, before the walls are made good and painted. A poured floor (such as concrete) would be installed at this point, but most flooring would be fitted after the units are in place.

The furniture is fitted. Allow around five days, depending on the size of your kitchen. Once the cabinets are in, a template will be taken of the worktop area.

Some worktops can be cut and fitted on site straight after the furniture. For those that need to be fabricated – such as most quartz composite and stone – allow at least seven to ten days. Tiles and splashbacks will be templated or fitted at this point.

An electrician or builder will fit and connect your appliances.

This stage can include painting the cabinetry (allow around a week), installing internal fittings and handles, and adding additional lighting, such as LED strips.

2. Make change your starting point

Decide what you don’t like about your current kitchen

White kitchen with marble worktops and AgaCredit: Martin Moore
Providing guests with a place to perch will ensure you’re not left to cook alone.

It may sound counterintuitive, but working out what you don’t like about your current kitchen is the best place to start when planning a new one. Perhaps you find yourself walking around it constantly because the sink isn’t near the fridge, or there isn’t enough storage.

“It’s crucial to get an understanding of what works in the space, the light at different times of the day, and how the space could be used better,” says Richard Moore, design director at Martin Moore. “Think also about whether the existing space works or whether it needs to be opened up or extended out.”

3. Make a mood board

Gather ideas to show your designer

Next, gather plenty of reference material: photos of kitchens you like from magazines, wish-list appliances and samples of paint, tiles, flooring, etc. Use these to make a physical mood board or compile a Pinterest board. When everything is set out together, any clashes of style should jump out at you, so you can tweak them accordingly.

All of these can be used to show your designer the look and feel for the new kitchen.

4. Set a budget

It’s best not to do this first

Only when you have decided what changes are needed and what style of cabinetry, worktops, tiling and appliances will suit the space can you accurately assign a budget to your kitchen project.

The cost of your kitchen can vary wildly depending on whether you choose flat-packed or fully assembled cabinets, what worktops you choose (from affordable laminates and timber to premium quartz and granite), the appliances you’ve set your heart on and other details such as sinks and taps. You might also need to factor in kitchen extension costs. And then, of course, there’s the fitting.

Kitchen designer Emma Reed has two great tips that will stop you from overspending. The first is to use the 5-15% rule. “The entire remodel should cost no less than 5% of the current value of the home,” she explains, “and no more than 15%.” Fail to follow this advice regarding the higher percentage and it’s unlikely you will recoup the value of your new kitchen should you decide to sell.

Reed also has guidance when it comes to budgeting for each aspect of the kitchen. She recommends allowances of “30% for kitchen cabinets, 10% for kitchen countertops, 14% for kitchen appliances, 4-5% for kitchen plumbing, 5% for electrics, 2-5% for kitchen flooring, and the rest for labour and unexpected costs”.

A contingency of at least 10% and ideally 20% of the budget should  be set aside for any unforeseen spending.

5. Plan the perfect layout

It’s time to measure up

Off white handleless kitchen with colourful dining chairsCredit: Kitchens International
Give yourself plenty of space for manoeuvre between cabinets, particularly if your kitchen is busy or you have mobility issues.

Once you’ve found a designer or kitchen supplier, it’s time to think about the layout. Measure up your space and make a note of where the services (gas, water, electricity), doors and windows are, as well as any potential obstacles. “Look at your existing layout – even if you are planning to change everything around,” says Simon Collyns at the Symphony Group.

“Think about how you like to cook and socialise in the kitchen. Are you a keen cook or happy to delegate the chopping and mixing to other family members? Think about how much storage space you need, where the natural light enters the room and what kind of artificial task lighting you will need.”

Collyns adds: “There are endless layouts to choose from, yet many kitchens follow similar plans for good reason – they work! Popular layouts include an island with an L-shaped or U-shaped run of cabinets on the perimeter, L-shaped or U-shaped with a breakfast bar, or for tight spaces, a single or double small galley kitchen.”

Next, roughly plan where different parts of the kitchen work well together – for example, siting crockery drawers near a dishwasher, so plates can be put away easily, or creating a good expanse of worktop space near the fridge and sink for food prep.

Many layouts use a ‘working triangle’ as their basis: keeping the sink, fridge and hob in a loose triangle only a few steps away from each other, so that food preparation is practical.


6. Power up

Lighting and plug sockets shouldn’t be an afterthought

White kitchen with circular hoop pendants over islandCredit: John Cullen Lighting
Plan your lighting carefully at all levels – here, low pendants create a romantic mood.

The best time to think about your lighting and electrics is when you’re planning your plumbing. It’s always better to have more electrical sockets than you think you’ll need and in several places around this kitchen. This allows you to power small appliances without moving them around the room, as well as to charge phones, tablets or add a kitchen TV.

For your lighting, choose more than one source (eg overhead, pendants, task lighting), and put each on a different circuit. “Kitchen lighting works best when you allow for flexibility to change the mood from the daytime, when you want it to be bright, to the evening, when you are looking for subdued light to entertain by,” explains Sally Storey, creative director of John Cullen Lighting.

“Wall lights, under-cupboard lights, downlights and feature lighting should all be controlled individually and, ideally, on dimmers. Often, overhead lighting is put in a grid, which creates a flat even light that will not effectively light the space. Instead, place downlights to highlight features, such as washing down the front of cupboards to reflect light back into the space or as task lighting over an island.”

7. Choose cabinetry to suit your lifestyle

Those units look pretty, but will they stay clean?

Two-tone green kitchen with islandCredit: Et Lorem
Choose a tough paint finish that’s easy to wipe down.

Kitchen cabinetry comes in a wealth of different styles, from contemporary to classic. However, beyond personal style, it’s a good idea to choose colourways and furniture that’s practical for your home and how you live.

“When deciding on the colour scheme for your kitchen, it’s important to consider the amount of space you have available,” explains Doug Haswell, furniture manager at Caple. “If you’re working with a small area and minimal natural light, opting for pale colours, such as white or pastel shades, can help create the illusion of a bigger space. A gloss finish can be useful as it reflects light, making the room appear brighter and more spacious.

“On the other hand, if you’re blessed with a larger kitchen, you may want to experiment with a combination of light and dark. Using a light shade as a base and adding a splash of a much darker colour, such as dark grey, green or blue, can make a real statement.”

Similarly, the style of kitchen you choose can impact on how simple it is to maintain. Flat, handleless doors tend to be easier to keep clean than panelled fronts, while matt finishes tend to be fingerprint-proof compared to high-gloss kitchens.

8. Create a place for everything

Having enough and the right kind of storage is crucial

Airline-style cabinets filled with storage jarsCredit: Crown Imperial
Airline-style doors lift up, so there’s no danger of banging your head.

Making sure that your kitchen has enough storage – and the right kinds in the right places – can make a difference to how easy it is to use. There are multiple options available, from fully extending drawers that allow you to see the contents at a glance, to internal storage solutions that maximise space in corners, tall larders and the end of a run.

“Planning storage helps design your kitchen to your personal needs,” explains Helen Parker, creative director at Devol. “If you have a lot of pans, then a ceiling rack can make access easier than stacking them in cupboards.

“If you have a collection of vintage crockery, again open racking or shelving is the easiest and most attractive option. Rather than thinking ‘I need loads of storage’, think about the types of storage you need, and the design will come to life.”

If you’re not sure what type of storage you might need, a visit to a showroom is a must: here you can test drive different drawers, pullouts and alternative wall unit solutions to see what works for you. It might be the less glamorous side of kitchen planning but it’s an essential one for a clutter-free result.

9. Do look down (at the floor)

Make sure your flooring is up to the task

Pale wood parquet floor in kitchenCredit: Woodpecker Flooring
If you’re planning to use wood in your kitchen, make sure it’s engineered – or pick wood-effect tiles.

Flooring is often left to the last minute but it’s important to consider it alongside your other colour and material choices. Think of it like the fifth wall of your kitchen – especially in the working area of the room, it should be as practical to keep clean as the rest of the surfaces.

If you’re opting for stone or tiles, you may also want to include underfloor heating, so it’s snug underfoot in the cooler months, or, if you have a busy lifestyle, low-maintenance laminate or vinyl may be more suitable.

Flooring also lends itself well to zoning different areas in an open-plan room. For example, you could choose a stone-effect, durable porcelain tile in the kitchen, with timber planks in a living area, for a more relaxed feel.

“Remember that your kitchen floor has to put up with a lot – spilt food, muddy feet, pets and high traffic,” explains Tom Howley, design director at Tom Howley. “There are many durable options, whether you want a sleek finish or a bit of character. If you have an open-plan living space, try using the same material throughout, as this will give the illusion of one seamless space. We tend to use brushed or honed marble or limestone, which are hard-working finishes, great for large, busy spaces.”

10. Pick practical appliances

How did we live without self-cleaning ovens?

Blue kitchen with stack of built-in ovensCredit: Tom Howley
Build your ovens in at eye level so you don’t have to bend to check on or retrieve food.

There’s a huge range of appliances on offer, but what you choose should be tailored to your space and lifestyle as well as your budget and wish list. For example, if you like to cook from scratch, a fridge freezer with a greater amount of storage for fresh food will be a must, whereas busy family life may dictate more frozen space over fridge.

“In many homes, there is a ‘fridge war’,” explains Paul O’Brien, director at Kitchens International. “One partner may see the fridge as a food storage area, while the other seeks a designated area for drinks. In this case, make sure the fridge is located conveniently to accommodate both requirements, or, if space (and budget) allows, consider having a second smaller fridge located close to the cooking area, with a dedicated wine cooler in a social area.”

Similarly, if convenience is the order of the day, a built-in microwave will free up work surface area, while an instant boiling water tap dispenses with the need for a kettle. Oh, and an oven with a pyrolytic function, which reduces grease and grime to ash, will mean you never need to scrub away burnt-on food ever again.

Where your appliances live can also make a difference to your design: ovens and even dishwashers can be mounted at waist height so dishes can be removed with ease, and installed in a ‘bank’ with other built-in appliances to create a pleasing symmetry.

11. Select hard-working surfaces

They can be chic and easy to clean

Composite worktops and panelling by CosentinoCredit: Dekton by Cosentino
Lighter weight composites make it possible for splashbacks and cladding to continue the look of your worktop.

Kitchens are messy places, so it makes sense to choose surfaces that are easy to keep clean for both your worktops and walls. Granite is a classic choice, but composite quartz is equally popular for its consistency, low maintenance, and colour options, such as marble-effect designs.

“Worktops are an area of the design that is always visible and often in use, so it is important that the materials are suitable,” says Simon Boocock, MD at CRL Stone. “If you are planning an open-plan kitchen, worktops can be chosen with zoning in mind, with different materials and colours being used to add definition, or an island topped in a contrasting surface to the rest of the kitchen to make it a focal point.”

It’s common to continue worktops up the wall, either as an upstand, or a splashback behind busy areas, such as sinks and hobs. However, there are other options, such as toughened glass and tiles, which can be used to add colour, pattern or texture. Whatever you select, look for materials that are non-porous, and resistant to stains and heat.

12. Get a handle on things

Door hardware is a great way to change things up

Pink kitchen with gold handles and terazzo splashbackCredit: Husk/Plank
Consider your kitchen to be an outfit and that the handles are jewellery.

Handleless kitchens are sleek but there’s no option to add flair with handles. Think of door hardware like jewellery for your kitchen – you can choose from a variety of metallic finishes, from brushed steel to burnished brass, and from classic pieces through to modern knurled and industrial-style designs.

“As you near the completion of your kitchen renovation, it’s important not to overlook the finishing touches, such as cabinet hardware,” says Haswell. “It can truly define the look you’re going for.”

“While there are no hard and fast rules for choosing handles, it’s important to think about the overall look. For a more traditional feel, knobs, cups, or pull handles in brushed finishes, such as polished brass, nickel, or pewter, are excellent choices. On the other hand, if you’re aiming for a sleek, modern feel, then chrome or polished nickel handles are the perfect fit.”

It’s important to consider your cabinetry, too. Small knobs can look lost on wide drawer fronts, while long bar handles may be overpowering in compact kitchens. While it’s not a must, many people like to coordinate their hardware with the other metallic finishes in the room, such as taps and lighting, so it’s worth considering handles at the same time.

13. Layer your design with freestanding furniture

Bar stools, dressers and trolleys top things off beautifully

Grey kitchen banquette with dining tableCredit: LochAnna Kitchens
Bar stools aren’t always comfortable or easy to manoeuvre – this banquette is more a more practical seating option.

Depending on the style of kitchen you’ve chosen, a few pieces of furniture can really bring it to life. For example, you may want to add bar stools to a worktop overhang for casual dining, a dresser to display and accommodate crockery and glassware, or a freestanding larder.

“Unlike fitted units, a freestanding larder can be moved around a room, and even from home to home,” says Elena Mellowes, head of buying at Oak Furnitureland. “They’re a tasteful way to break up neutral kitchen units by adding a touch of colour, or, in natural wood, tone down brighter shades, as well as add practical storage.”

Larger pieces of furniture can also serve a purpose in an open-plan kitchen, such as helping to subtly divide the space between different zones or providing a visual barrier between the working section of a kitchen and the more social one. They can double up as storage for multiple areas, too.

What next?

Ready to start your project? You can find an independent designer near you at My Kitchen Specialist; try creating your own room plan using online software, such as Ikea’s Kitchen Planner; or see a range of high street kitchen prices and services ranked at Kitchen Compare.


Written by Rachel Ogden she/her