How to design a kitchen

Whether you're updating your existing space or adding an extension, follow these 15 steps to designing a dream kitchen

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Whether you’re updating your existing kitchen or planning a kitchen extension, follow these key steps to design the perfect kitchen first time round. 

Proper planning and preparation will help make sure you the final outcome fulfils your needs, but always use the skills of an architect, architectural technician or kitchen designer – they have a wealth of design knowledge and know how to create a kitchen that works perfectly with the rest of your house.

1. Draw up a kitchen floorplan

Kitchen diner extension

Locate your kitchen in the darkest part of the room, with the living and dining areas closest to the glazing. Find out more about this Scandi-inspired extension

Before you start choosing units and tiles, you need to understand the space you’re working with. Ask a kitchen company, an architect or architectural technologist – or use graph paper – to carefully make scale drawings of your kitchen's floorplan. 

Think about the location of internal and external doors and windows, so you have the best flow possible between your kitchen, outside space and the rest of your house. 

If you're designing an open-plan kitchen, diner and living space or creating a family kitchen check out our features, too, to get a successfully cohesive, well-laid out room.

This will enable you to see exactly how much room you have to work with, and you can start planning how to make the most of it. It will also give you a clear idea of how much you want to spend before beginning the design process proper, ensuring you end up with a scheme you can afford – and helping you to cut the cost of your kitchen early in the process if your plans don't match your budget.

2. Consider the best kitchen layout

The kitchen layout should be designed to perfectly fit your lifestyle. If you want an open-plan kitchen-living-diner, think about where each zone will work best. It usually makes sense to have the kitchen in the darkest part of the space, with the dining and living areas – where you will spend more time relaxing – closest to windows overlooking the garden.

There’s a growing trend for ‘broken-plan’ living, where the spaces are only partly separated – you may want to include a half wall between the kitchen and living space, or a pocket sliding door that allows you to divide off the dining room for more formal entertaining.

Breakfast bars or kitchen islands are a key component of most kitchens these days, so work with your designer to decide the best location for yours. You don’t want it to interrupt the flow of the room, and may want to integrate your sink or hob into the island to allow the chef to interact with people using the rest of the space.

You’ll also need to consider your glazing choices carefully, as this can make or break a design – do you want bi-fold or sliding doors? Would rooflights help bring natural light into the depths of the room? Now is the time to make these major decisions.

3. What to include in your kitchen

  • Kitchen wall units
  • Kitchen base units
  • Glazed kitchen display units
  • Kitchen larder units
  • Kitchen island
  • Kitchen island seating
  • Breakfast bar
  • Ovens
  • Hob
  • Kitchen sink
  • Taps or boiling water tap
  • Ceiling or downdraught extractor
  • Dining area
  • Living area
  • Underfloor heating
  • Pantry
  • Utility room
  • Rooflights
  • Bi-fold/sliding doors

4. Which kitchen style?

Ikea kitchen

Kitchen, Ikea

(Image: © Ikea kitchen)

Once you’ve decided on the best kitchen layout, you can start finalising the details. Do your research to find out exactly what style of kitchen suits your taste and lifestyle. For instance, if you have young children, smooth, wipe-clean units will be easier to keep clean than painted Shaker-style ones.

You’ll have to live with the design for years, so it’s worth spending time getting it right. Browse our kitchen case studies to pull together a mood board of what you like. Allow yourself some time to do this and you’ll soon see key themes emerging.

You’ll also need to finalise and, if necessary, cut your kitchen budget at this stage to make sure you’re not looking at options out of your price range. Remember that just because you can’t afford high-end design choices like marble kitchen worktops, it doesn’t mean you can’t get the look with a cheaper alternative, such as a quality laminate. The huge range of kitchens on the market means, if you are willing to shop around, you can get a kitchen you love at a price you can afford.

5. Kitchen lighting ideas – bringing in daylight

Kitchen diner extension

Getting the layout and design of your kitchen just right will result in a space that fits with your lifestyle. This side-return and rear extension has a modern finish

If you're considering structural work, take the opportunity to introduce daylight from as many directions as possible — including rooflights and high-level or obscure glazed windows where privacy may be an issue. Prioritise the best quality space – with the best daylight and nicest views – to the functions that are most important to you, usually living and dining.

6. How much does a kitchen cost?

At the lower end of the kitchen cost scale, expect to pay upwards of £3,000 for good quality units for an average sized kitchen. On top of this, you'll need to add worktops, which cost upwards of £100, appliances and fitting, which can vary from a few hundred pounds to more than £2,000, depending on the kitchen's complexity.

Follow these tips to manage the cost of your new kitchen:

  • If your budget is tight, keep the kitchen's layout and design simple.
  • A good-quality painted kitchen can be good value, as instead of replacing it, you can change the colour and look inexpensively by painting the kitchen cabinets yourself.
  • If you have to prioritise, invest in high-quality worktops and taps. 
  • High-fashion kitchens can look great, but may date quickly, so go for a classic look.

Kitchen island and kitchen island seating

This Shaker-style design has been finished in shades of blue and grey

(Image: © Fiona Walker-Arnott)

7. Does your new kitchen need planning permission?

If you’re planning to make internal structural changes to your kitchen, such as knocking down internal walls between your kitchen and dining room, you won’t usually need planning permission, as this is covered by permitted development.

The majority of single-storey extensions are also covered by permitted development; however, certain exclusions and criteria apply, so always check with your local authority’s planning department before starting work.

Even if you don’t need planning permission, it may be worth applying to your local planning authority for a lawful development certificate, which proves that the work is lawful, and can be useful when you come to sell. If you are planning structural changes, make sure you use the services of an approved structural engineer.

8. Find the best kitchen fitter and a reliable builder

Kitchen diner extension

You may want to move out if you’re having major building work done. Take a look at this industrial-style addition

Once you’ve had your plans drawn up and permissions granted, you’ll need to find tradespeople you trust to carry out any structural work and install your kitchen. This could include a finding a reliable builder, joiner, plumber, electrician and decorator.

For each of the different trades, you should get at least three detailed written quotes – use our guide to find out how to compare quotes from tradespeople. Recommendations are always the best way to find people to work with, so ask friends and family before searching online.

Bear in mind that the cheapest quote may not be the best if it does not meet all your requirements, and you need to feel comfortable with the people you choose to work with.

Some kitchen companies offer a complete design, build and installation package, meaning you won’t need to find individual tradespeople, although this is often more expensive. If you choose this option, again always get quotes from at least three different kitchen companies. Even if you’ve fallen in love with a kitchen offered by one specific company, chances are others will offer something very similar.

Useful contacts

BuildersFederation of Master Builders

ElectriciansNational Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting

PlumbersAssociation of Plumbing & Heating Contractors 

ArchitectsRoyal Institute of British Architects 

Architectural technologistsChartered Institute of Architectural Technologists 

Kitchen installersThe British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom Installers

9. Finalise the details of your kitchen

Once work on your kitchen starts, making changes can be costly. Agree on all of the final details, including the kitchen cabinet handles, kitchen appliances, kitchen storage solutions, kitchen worktops, kitchen flooring and kitchen island seating, and to stick to them.

It’s especially important to confirm the location of appliances, kitchen lighting and sockets, making sure sockets are in places that will be convenient, such as by the fridge and kettle. You should also consider where to put charging points and whether you’d like USB sockets.

And think carefully about extraction. Will you have a traditional overhead extractor, or could you install a downdraft model, which slots into your kitchen worktop and can pop up at the touch of a button?

When it comes to artificial lighting, make sure you include a combination of task, ambient and accent lighting. By finalising the details and ordering materials now, you’ll help the project run smoothly.

10. Start the building work on your kitchen

Now you have the team you want to work with and quotes agreed, it’s time for construction work to start. If you’re having walls demolished or an extension built, you may want to consider moving out while this work is completed. Alternatively, you could set up a makeshift kitchen – perhaps using your old cooker, sink and a couple of units – in a different room. 

If you decide to stay, be prepared for the disruption of a kitchen renovation. If you decide to move out, make sure you visit the site regularly and are available to answer questions.

While knocking down internal walls and stripping out an old kitchen should take a few weeks, building a kitchen extension is likely to take three months or more. During this time, walls, floors and ceilings will be constructed, cables inserted for electrics and pipes for water.

11. Decorate the new kitchen

Decorating the kitchen is the fun part. Once the walls plastered, you should be able to get a feel for how your new kitchen will look when it’s finished.

Now is the time to paint the walls and paint the ceiling. By painting before the units are installed, you’ll minimise the risk of drips and spills ruining your new kitchen. Choose the right paint type and colour for your kitchen: opt for a wall colour that either complements or contrasts with your units. Although a plain white kitchen is timeless as it can easily be updated with accessories, consider going for a bolder wall colour, such as dark grey or petrol blue, for more of a style statement. Be inspired by our favourite paint colour schemes for kitchens.

12. Fitting a kitchen

Now it’s time for the most exciting part of the project – the installation of your new kitchen. Many kitchen companies offer an installation service for around £2,000, although most units can be fitted by a competent DIYer if you’re looking to cut the cost of your new kitchen

If you do choose this option, your extractor and cooker will need to be installed by an accredited electrician, and you may need a plumber to fit your sink and water-based appliances. Due to the cost of most worktops, it’s always best to ask a professional to fit these for you – mistakes can prove expensive.

Kitchen diner in an extension

The owners of this Mid-century style kitchen-living-diner chose different flooring to help separate the cooking and relaxing areas

13. Installing kitchen splashbacks

Once the worktops have been templated and fitted, and after you've decorated, you can tile your kitchen walls or fit a splashback.

Most competent DIYers will be able to tile themselves but large expanses of splashbacks need templating and fitting by professionals. 

14. Fitting kitchen floors

You could install your chosen kitchen flooring before you install your units, but you’ll be paying for extra materials that won’t be seen once the kitchen is in place. Most competent DIYers will be able to tile or fit wood flooring themselves, but sheet materials, such as rubber flooring or vinyl flooring, or poured flooring, such as concrete or resin flooring, should be installed by professionals. 

Once the walls and floors are complete, it’s time to introduce the kitchen furniture, kitchen accessories and kitchen lighting, and start enjoying your brand-new kitchen.

15. Dos and don'ts of kitchen design

Do:

  • Analyse your current space and create a list of its pros and cons;
  • Consider the kitchen as part of the overall redevelopment, not just a space in isolation;
  • Consider a larder and utility to free up room and to move the noisy appliances out of the kitchen;
  • Really imagine using the new kitchen – this is more important than just looking at a 3D image provided by a kitchen designer;
  • Research design rules – but don’t be a slave to them;
  • Contrast the various elements – a bank of tall units, a run with no wall units – in different finishes.

Don't:

  • Replicate what you already have with a different style of units. Changing a design is an opportunity to innovate and improve your daily life;
  • Cram in as much storage as possible. You could go without wall units and create a lighter, airier space. You’ll always be able to find somewhere else for those rarely-used serving dishes;
  • Assume that big is better. Large kitchens be cavernous and create an echo;
  • Just copy what is fashionable now – to avoid it dating quickly, try and have a broader understanding of where kitchen design is heading or stick to classic concepts.

More kitchen design tips and tricks: