Whether your kitchen is tired and out of date, or you're starting from scratch in a new kitchen extension, knowing how to design a kitchen well is vital. And by 'design', we don't just mean concentrating on your kitchen's looks or cabinetry style. Planning your kitchen storage options and practicalities such as lighting and flooring are essential to the room's success, too.
Why a kitchen needs careful planning
Kitchens used to be hidden-away work spaces, but today they’re rooms in which we spend huge amounts of time. Not only do they need to offer the preparation and cooking facilities that suit all the home’s occupants, but they must also be stylish space we want to enjoy being in. Often, they’re a zone in an open-plan kitchen diner and living space, so the kitchen’s decor must work harmoniously with dining and relaxing areas as well.
List the elements you want in your kitchen
Use our checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything your new kitchen needs:
- Kitchen wall units
- Kitchen base units
- Glazed kitchen display units
- Kitchen larder units
- Kitchen island
- Kitchen island seating
- Breakfast bar
- Kitchen sink
- Taps or boiling water tap
- Ceiling or downdraught extractor
- Dining area
- Living area
- Underfloor heating
- Pantry storage
- Utility room
- Bi-fold/sliding doors
Draw up a kitchen floorplan
It’s important 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.
Mark 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. You may be working in an open-plan layout, when you’ll need to add the other zones to your plan.
Once you see exactly how much room you have to work with, 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.
If you're designing an open-plan kitchen, diner and living space, planning a small kitchen or creating a family kitchen check out our features, too, to get a successfully cohesive, well-laid out room.
Consider the best kitchen layout
The kitchen layout should be designed to perfectly fit your lifestyle. Focus on the layout of the working part of the kitchen, as well as on its relationship with a dining table, if there is one, or – in an open plan kitchen-living-diner – the other zones.
To plan the preparation and cooking space, use the design concept of the working triangle of the kitchen. The three points are the fridge, sink and hob with imaginary lines between these forming the triangle shape. The three points should be near enough to each other to make meal preparation efficient but each work station should be uncramped.
Think of the triangle imposed on the possible layouts a kitchen can take. These are:
This may consist of a single run of units along one wall, or a double galley, which has a second run directly opposite. In an open-plan space, the facing cabinetry may take the form of an island, leaving the run of units on an exterior wall.
A galley is an efficient working arrangement. In a double galley, putting the sink opposite the hob makes for a sensible design. Plan in worktop space either side of the hob.
Beware of hanging too many wall units, which can make the space feel narrower. Open shelves or glass-fronted units may be better alternatives.
See our galley kitchen design ideas for inspiration.
Here, the units are positioned around three walls to make a U shape. It’s simple to form the working triangle with one each of the hob, sink and fridge on each of the unit runs.
A U-shape is especially valuable if you want plenty of worksurface and don’t have the space for an island. However, in a larger kitchen you could add in an island at the U’s centre as well. Consider, too, using the shape in an open-plan room with the third run of units creating a peninsula between kitchen and dining space.
Browse our U-shaped kitchen design ideas for advice and tips.
In these layouts, units occupy two walls. The working triangle can be formed with, for example, a sink on one wall (especially if this is where the window is), and hob and fridge on the other.
Ensure you leave preparation space either side of the hob in an L-shaped kitchen, whichever section of the L it’s on.
Don’t overload an L-shaped kitchen with wall units. Try limiting them to the longer part of the L. A bank of tall units on the short part of the L, meanwhile, can be space-efficient, if there’s not a window positioned there.
See our L-shaped kitchen design ideas to get you started.
Planning an open plan kitchen-living-diner? 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.
Glazing choices should be considered carefully in an open-plan kitchen, or kitchen extension. Bifold or sliding doors across the back of the room will limit the wall space available for kitchen units here. A door with less width plus a window will leave you with an under-window area for kitchen cabinets.
Which kitchen style?
With the layout planned, it’s time to consider the look of your kitchen. Overall, the choice is between cabinetry with a contemporary look, and more classic designs.
Contemporary flat-fronted or slab kitchen units have a modern appearance. They can be handleless, have recessed handles, or complement them with a similarly modern finishing touch like bar handles.
Shaker-style cabinets feature a simple frame around a centre panel. The design has stood the test of time, and if you choose a wooden painted door, they’re easy to update in future. Shaker units sit happily in a modern country style room, too.
Georgian and Victorian panelled door kitchens are also available, and details such as cornices and pelmets can make the effect grander. They can suit period rooms with high ceilings, as well as kitchen extensions to Victorian homes.
Freestanding kitchen or fitted? Don’t forget that kitchens don’t have to be composed of fitted units. A freestanding kitchen with its individual furniture pieces can complement a period home, or make a focal point in an open-plan room, and can be taken with you if you move home.
The materials from which both unit doors and carcases are made will affect how much you pay for your kitchen. At the budget end of the market, cabinet interiors will be made from materials such as MDF, while high-end kitchens may have carcases made using wood.
Ultra modern high-gloss cabinetry may be vinyl-wrapped at the more economical price points, lacquered or made from or faced with acrylic. Prefer matt finishes? Vinyl-wrapped and lacquered matt doors are also on offer.
Solid wood doors come in a big range of timbers. These can also be painted if you prefer a natural material but a coloured finish.
Wood veneered doors can make a statement with gorgeous grain patterns and colour tones on show.
You’ll have to live with the design for years, so it’s worth spending time getting it right. Browse our kitchen case studies and cabinet design ideas 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.
Opt for the right kitchen worktops
Kitchen worktops need to work with your budget as well as tastes. Laminate, at the budget end of the market, can take on the appearance of other materials and is easy to look after. Opt for the best quality you can. Wood looks warm and is pleasing to touch, but does need regular care. Natural stone can look spectacular and each piece has a unique appearance. It should be sealed. Man-made composites are hard-wearing and easy to look after.
Don’t rule out more unusual materials. Stainless steel will create a professional look; concrete and concrete-look quartz can look beautiful and coloured as well as the expected shade; and glass is eye-catching as a worksurface.
Pick a kitchen splashback
Kitchen splashbacks can repeat the worktop material as an upstand or larger area, or be created with a contrasting material.
Don’t just think tiles. Glass, mirror, stainless steel and timber are all possibilities to give your kitchen the look you want.
Go for the right kitchen appliances
Remember than opting between freestanding and built-in appliances will change the look of your kitchen. An American-style fridge-freezer can make a great focal point. Even if you’re not sizing up, retro-look fridge-freezers or colourful finishes create impact. Built-in ovens, microwaves, warming drawers and coffee machines banked together in tall units look smart. A range cooker makes for an appealing feature in both more traditional and contemporary kitchens. Fully integrated appliances will leave cabinetry to the fore and can suit period homes better.
Find out how to choose the best appliances for your kitchen.
Design a kitchen lighting scheme
Planning kitchen lighting carefully is a must. Ambient, task and accent lighting should all have their place in a kitchen lighting scheme whether it’s in a separate room or part of an open-plan area.
Ambient light for a kitchen needs to be good enough for working with sharp knives and hot dishes. Ceiling spotlights can be supplemented with wall lights. Task lighting should illuminate work surfaces, cooker and sink area. It includes under-unit lights and directional ceiling spotlights. Accent lighting can include pendants for islands or a dining table, and LEDs beneath units that make them appear to float. Consider, too, lighting cabinet interiors to show off beautiful tableware placed on glass shelves. Make sure you plan in separate lighting circuits to operate the different types of light individually.
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.
Dress kitchen windows
All kitchen window treatments need to stand up to the room’s moisture, be unaffected by splashes if they’re near the sink, and should be easy to clean. Consider the following: shutters work on both windows and French doors in a kitchen extension for a consistent look; kitchen blinds are practical and kitchen specific designs are on offer; window films brings privacy and doesn’t take up any space leaving windowsills free.
Focus on kitchen flooring
Kitchen flooring has to be hard wearing, deal with splashes and a room with high condensation, and be good looking to boot. Choose from:
Tiles Ceramic, porcelain or real stone are all possible for a kitchen. Take care requirements into consideration as well as costs.
Wood It’s not generally recommended for kitchens because of the moisture in the room, so opt for engineered rather than solid wood as it’s designed to be stable in the conditions.
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.
How much does a new 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.
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.
Who can fit a 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.
Alternatively, if you’re working with a kitchen designer, they may take charge of the entire project.
If you're planning on carrying out any structural work, you might need to find 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.
Builders – Federation of Master Builders
Architects – Royal Institute of British Architects
Architectural technologists – Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists
Kitchen installers – The British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom Installers
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.
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.
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.
Dos and don'ts of kitchen design
- 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.
- 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.