How to create your perfect kitchen

Whether you're updating your existing space or adding an extension, follow these 10 steps to achieve your dream kitchen

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Whether you’re updating your existing kitchen or adding an extension, there are 10 key steps you will need to follow. Proper planning and preparation will help make sure you the final outcome fulfils your needs.

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 room that works perfectly with the rest of your house.

Related articles: How to save money on a new kitchen | 11 contemporary kitchen ideas | How to build the perfect kitchen extension | 12 kitchen extensions all under £100k

1. Understand the space you have

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 for scale drawings. 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.

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. Have a clear idea of how much you want to spend before contacting a designer, as this will ensure you end up with a scheme you can afford.

Locate the dining and living areas closest to natural light

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

2. Consider the best layout

You need to design the kitchen layout to 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 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.

Here are some of the items you may want to include in your new kitchen:

  • Wall units
  • Base units
  • Glazed display units
  • Larder units
  • Island
  • Breakfast bar
  • Ovens
  • Hob
  • Sink
  • Tap or boiling water tap
  • Ceiling or downdraught extractor
  • Dining area
  • Living area
  • Underfloor heating
  • Pantry
  • Utility room
  • Rooflights
  • Bi-fold/sliding doors

3. Decide on the style you want

Once you’ve decided on the best 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. Use homes magazines, architectural websites, kitchen company catalogues, design books and Pinterest to pull together a mood board of what you like. Allow yourself a few months to do this and you’ll soon see key themes emerging.

You’ll also need to finalise your 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 work surfaces, 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.

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

  • Remodelling costs less than extending, but as the kitchen is the most important room in the house for most people, it’s worth investing in the space to get it right
  • If your budget is tight, keep the design simple
  • A good-quality painted kitchen can be good value, as instead of replacing it, you can change the colour and look when you decide to redecorate
  • If you have to prioritise, invest in high-quality worktops and taps. High-fashion kitchens can look great, but may date quickly

Shaker-style kitchen

Gather pictures of kitchens you love. This Shaker-style design has been finished in shades of blue and grey. Photo: Fiona Walker-Arnott

4. Get the permission you need

If you’re planning to make internal structural changes to your kitchen, such as knocking down the wall 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.

Try our handy quiz, which will tell you instantly whether you’ll need planning permission for your kitchen extension.

5. Find the right team

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 builder, joiner, plumber, electrician and decorator.

For each of the different trades, you should get at least three detailed written quotes. 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.

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

6. Finalise the details

Once work starts, making changes can be costly. Agree on all of the final details, including the handles, appliances and other details, and stick to them.

It’s especially important to confirm the location of appliances, 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.

Industrial-style kitchen extension

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

7. Start the building work

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 the work is complete. Alternatively, you could set up a makeshift kitchen – perhaps using your old cooker, sink and couple of units – in a different room. If you decide to stay, be prepared for dust, noise and disruption. 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 an 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.

8. Decorate the space

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 decorate the walls and ceiling. By painting before the units are installed, you’ll minimise the risk of drips and spills ruining your new 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.

9. Install your new 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 costs. 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.

Choose the right flooring for your new kitchen

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

10. Complete the tiling and flooring

You could tile, add a splashback to your walls or install your chosen flooring before fitting your units, but you’ll be paying for extra materials that won’t be seen once the kitchen is in place, so it makes sense to complete these tasks afterwards, instead.

Most competent DIYers will be able to tile or fit flooring themselves. Once the walls and floors are complete, it’s time to introduce the furniture, accessories and lighting, and start enjoying your brand-new kitchen.

Natural light

  • 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.

Click here to find our advice on creating space and light in your home with glazing

Take time to get the design of your kitchen just right

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

Dos 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
  • Draw plans to scale. They are absolutely no use if not to scale. Use square/gridded paper as a basic scale
  • 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 – both in different finishes

Don’ts of kitchen design

  • 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